F1 Driver Previews: The Midfield
16 March, 2011
Mar.16 (Daniel Chalmers) We look at the midfield pack of drivers and predict how they will perform in the 2011 Formula 1 World Championship. This is the second of a three part series by Daniel Chalmers analysing this year’s drivers ahead of the the season opening Australian Grand Prix weekend starting on 25 March in Melbourne.
Kamui Kobayashi – Sauber F1 Team
It goes without saying that Kamui has become a big fan’s favourite over the last 12 months or so. You have to admire his desire to attack, and always go for overtaking moves which don’t look possible. He is brave and has absolutely no fear. If Sauber can cement a position at the front of the midfield then it’s going to be very exciting seeing him take on some of the big guns.
This season will be a tougher challenge though. In his second full year Kamui has to take on the task of being the team leader. So far he has had very experienced team mates to rely on. Let’s remember that even Lewis Hamilton struggled to fulfil that role initially in his second year of F1. The question will be whether Kamui’s car development skills will be as strong as his banzai overtaking moves. A weakness Kamui will have to improve on this year is his one lap pace. Whilst his race pace has been strong, he was out-paced by Pedro De La Rosa at times over a single lap. He only started in the top 10 twice in 2010, and he will have to improve on that record in 2011.
Verdict: I am sure we will see more fireworks from Kobayashi in 2011, but this season will tell just how good a driver he could become. Can he take the next step up? We’ll see. Driver rating: 7/10
Sergio Perez – Sauber F1 Team
Perez could make a big impact in 2011. We know that Peter Sauber has a good eye for young talent, and doesn’t often get it wrong. Perez comfortably won the British F3 championship back in 2007. Last season he finished second in GP2, after just his second season in the series, and scored nearly double the points of his team mate in the process.
Perez has plenty of raw pace and seems like a very confident driver. There has been the odd mistake in testing but he has been very fast. His time on his final day of testing in Barcelona really put the cats amongst the pigeons. He will be a star if he replicates his testing pace once the season starts. He could give Kobayashi a very stern examination. If he could out-qualify Kobayashi he will certainly make a name for himself given how highly rated the Japanese driver is. This is realistic as Kobayashi’s one lap pace has never set the world alight yet.
Verdict: Perez seems confident he can challenge for points from the off in 2011, and there is no evidence that makes me doubt that whatsoever. Driver rating: 6/10
Adrian Sutil – Force India
When Sutil is performing at his best he is a very able driver, and demonstrates why many rate him highly. We have often seen this ability in wet races such as Monaco 2008, or China 2009. However in 2010 he became a much more consistent driver scoring points on a regular basis, with far fewer incidents (if you exclude Korea).
Sutil clearly doesn’t want to be driving for Force India forever and wants to be with a bigger team soon. Therefore it’s very important that he continues to be very consistent, and deliver his giant killing performances more often so that his dream has a bigger chance of coming true. However his biggest threat could be talented rookie team mate Paul Di Resta. It’s vital Sutil tames Di Resta because if he is beaten by him the top teams won’t be showing any more interest in Sutil.
Verdict: If Sutil has any desires on a race winning car in the future then 2011 is make or break. Another solid season like 2010 won’t be good enough. Driver rating: 7/10
Paul Di Resta – Force India
On paper you have to say Di Resta looks extremely promising. In 2006 he beat current F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel to the F3 Euro title. Kobayashi and Sebastien Buemi also featured in that championship. After winning the DTM championship last season, he comes into F1 with a winning mentality which is no bad thing.
Furthermore he has won the team over with strong performances during Friday practise sessions last year. He wouldn’t have been hired if he was slow in those practise sessions. The team must know he has real speed by the fact that he isn’t a pay driver, and that they were willing to pay to terminate Liuzzi’s contract early in order to accommodate him. Let’s remember Force India isn’t the richest team on the grid.
The young Scot seems very confident of his ability, but it is very important that he keeps his feet on the ground. Coming into F1 too confident has caught out rookie drivers in the past.
Team mate Sutil is a very good yardstick to aim for. Sutil still has many admirers in the F1 paddock so if Di Resta could beat him he would be making a big name fot himself. With Anthony Hamilton as his manager, don’t be surprised if a strong performance over the next couple of seasons leads to a McLaren drive in the future.
Final Verdict: Could make a strong impression on 2011 if Force India gives him a competitive car. Driver rating: 6/10
Rubens Barrichello – AT&T Williams
At 38 years of age Rubens shows no signs of wanting to quit F1. Despite his age Rubens is still as competitive as he always has been. At Brawn GP he showed he was still more then capable of winning races if you give him a race winning car. Putting Nico Hulkenberg completely in the shade was a pretty spectacular feat by Barrichello.
It also seems as if he has really galvanised the Williams team. It is clear that he really is having a big impact on the development of the car. The end result is a much more aggressive car from Williams than we have become accustomed too. With major rules changes including fast degrading Pirelli tyres, KERs and adjustable rear wings Ruben’s vast experience could give him a big advantage. He has experienced many rule changes during his time in F1.
A couple of his long runs during winter testing have looked extremely competitive and consistent. At the moment don’t be surprised if Rubens is in regular contention for a podium this season. Verdict: There is plenty of life in the old dog yet. I think Rubens could be another of the surprises of 2011. Driver rating: 7.5/10
Pastor Maldonado – AT&T Williams
Fans have had plenty to say about this driver appointment. Many are disappointed that he has replaced Hulkenberg. However it’s only fair that Pastor is given a chance to show us what he can do. After all he did win the GP2 championship last year so therefore deserves to have his chance in F1. Other GP2 champions have gone on to be very successful in F1.
However it has taken four years to win that GP2 title. Testing hasn’t gone completely smoothly either, and there have been a few mishaps. He will need to cut out the mistakes once the season starts. The hardest thing is going to be keeping up with Barrichello, which even the super talented Hulkenberg found extremely tough. If he is a long way behind his F1 career could end up being very short-lived. The pressure is really going to be on Pastor to prove that he was worthy enough to replace Hulkenberg.
Verdict: At the moment I sense he is another of the runners in the F1 sack race. Driver rating: 5/10
Nick Heidfeld – Lotus Renault
It’s an absolute crying shame that Robert Kubica can’t start the season. He is a definite loss to Lotus Renault. There is no doubt that Heidfeld is the best replacement for the team though. It was absolutely essential that there was experience in the team to go alongside Vitaly Petrov. It’s very clear already that he is having a significant impact on developing the car, which wouldn’t have been the case with Bruno Senna.
It’s not just experience that Nick brings, but he is also a very quick driver. Over his three full years with Kubica at BMW Sauber he actually out-scored him by 140 points to 131, which is certainly food for thought. Nick is also a very safe pair of hands. He very rarely makes mistakes, and will nearly always bring the car home to where it deserves to be. With his experience and driving style he may be able adapt more effectively to the Pirelli tyres, which would put him in a very strong position in races.
What he does lack though is those moments of pure brilliance which we often see from Kubica, and that would be needed to win Lotus-Renault the title. It’s also rare that we see Nick transcend the performance of his car, and take it to places it doesn’t belong.
Verdict: He will do a decent job for the team but losing Kubica is a devastating blow which ultimately will be costly. Driver rating: 8/10
Vitaly Petrov – Lotus Renault
Petrov had a far from perfect 2010, and was given a complete thrashing by Kubica. However there were flashes of brilliance from Vitaly throughout the season. He had a great battle with Lewis Hamilton in Malaysia, and performed very well in the wet in China. Let’s not forget he famously held up Fernando Alonso in Abu Dhabi preventing him from being world champion.
However in between these moments of brilliance there were far too many simple rookie errors made. He didn’t score enough points for the team either. What is very clear though is that Vitaly does have plenty of potential. Many rookies improve enormously in their second season of F1. If we see less of the mistakes and more of the flashes of brilliance Petrov could become a very strong F1 driver.
The pressure will be on to contribute a bucket load of points to the team, so that they have a chance of being champions even without Kubica. Also it’s important for his career overall so that he can remain in a top team. The seats in the top teams are very exclusive so it would be a big blow if he lost his seat at the end of the year.
Verdict: Hard to say how well Vitaly is going to do in 2011. My gut feeling is that he could surprise people. Driver rating: 6/10