Driver Ratings: Russian Grand Prix!/image/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_630/image.jpg

Credit: Mercedes-Benz

Nico Rosberg extended his lead at the top of the drivers’ standings to 43 points after a seventh straight win at Russia, but whose driving most stood out in Sochi?

44) Lewis Hamilton (8/10)*** – Relegated to tenth after power unit gremlins in qualifying, Hamilton took advantage of the first lap chaos to climb to fifth before passing Massa, Raikkonen and Bottas on track. Water pressure problems denied him a shot at the win.

6) Nico Rosberg (8/10) – Yet again left with all of the cards in his favour as his rivals fell by the wayside, Rosberg took full advantage to record a fully deserved seventh win of the season and further extend his lead at the top of the standings.

5) Sebastian Vettel (N/A) – He may have been criticised for lampooning Daniil Kvyat following the Chinese Grand Prix, but Vettel would have had every right for deploying a similar tactic against the Red Bull driver in Sochi after the Ferrari was an innocent victim of the Russian’s first lap shenanigans.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (7/10) – Raikkonen is looking like a much improved driver compared to the last two years and the Finn delivered another impressive drive in Russia to comfortably beat countryman Bottas into the final podium place.

77) Valtteri Bottas (7/10) – After three ordinary races, Bottas finally showed what he was capable of in Sochi. Drove well to keep Hamilton at bay throughout the opening stint but ultimately his Williams just lacked the speed to clinch a podium spot.

19) Felipe Massa (6/10) – A solid if unspectacular drive from the Brazilian, who lacked a couple of tenths compared to his teammate throughout the weekend en route to fifth place.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (7/10) – Innocently knocked out of contention on lap one following his teammate’s collision with Vettel, Ricciardo fought back well with a damaged car and only missed out on a point as a result of a poor call by Red Bull to fit his car with medium tyres.

26) Daniil Kvyat (3/10) – A home Grand Prix to forget for Kvyat, who clumsily hit Vettel not once, but twice, in a dreadful first lap showing. The Russian limped home in a sorry 15th place after a day that will do little to convince Red Bull bosses that he is worth keeping ahead of Max Verstappen in 2017.

11) Sergio Perez (8/10) – After suffering a first lap puncture, Perez drove two extremely strong stints on soft tyres to claw his way back into contention and take his first points of the season. Only an equally impressive drive from Grosjean in the Haas stopped him finishing higher up.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (N/A) – Hulkenberg is yet to fully get going this season, a pattern that continued after he was an innocent victim of the first lap crash caused by Gutierrez.

20) Kevin Magnussen (9/10)* – An assured and consistent drive by Magnussen to take seventh place in a Renault lacking the grip or horsepower of many of this rivals. Undoubtedly the Dane’s best performance since his debut podium in Australia in 2014. Driver of the Day.

30) Jolyon Palmer (6/10) – After running in the points early on, Palmer slipped back as he struggled to match the speed of his rivals in superior machinery. A solid enough drive, but will have to up his game if he is to remain in Renault’s thinking beyond 2016.

33) Max Verstappen (8/10) – A strong start catapulted the Toro Rosso into a sixth place position that he would undoubtedly have held had his car not given up the ghost. A mature display that will only strengthen his case to be promoted to the Red Bull team next year.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (5/10) – A disappointing drive for the Spaniard as he struggled to match Verstappen’s speed throughout. Lost any chance of a points finish when he earned a time penalty for a clumsy chop on Palmer.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Nasr looks a shadow of the driver that impressed in his rookie season, and after finally getting the upper hand on Ericsson in qualifying after reporting feeling happier with a new chassis, he flattered to deceive once more on Sunday.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – Sauber has been reduced to fighting with the Manors as a result of the team’s struggles so far this season, but Ericsson is doing all he can on the track, and once again beat Nasr in Russia despite having to make a first lap pit stop.

14) Fernando Alonso (9/10)** – Alonso showed that he is still up there with the very best after a storming drive to sixth place. Never looked like being threatened after he benefitted from the first lap chaos and set the fifth fastest lap after deciding to “have some fun” late on. McLaren’s best race since its reunion with Honda.

22) Jenson Button (6/10) – Sochi will be a case of what might have been for Button, who could finish no higher than tenth after spending much of the race stuck behind Sainz’s Toro Rosso.

94) Pascal Wehrlein (6/10) – Wehrlein enjoyed an eventful first half of the race as he was left slugging it out with the Saubers, before a problem in the pits that left him stationary for nearly half a minute consigned him to last place.

88) Rio Haryanto (N/A) – Blameless in the first lap collision that also ended Hulkenberg’s race, an early retirement meant we will never know whether the Indonesian could have joined teammate Wehrlein in taking the race to the Sauber drivers.

8) Romain Grosjean (8/10) – After a low key race in China, Grosjean was back on form in Sochi to climb into the points as a result of the opening lap melee and calmly held off Sergio Perez on much fresher tyres in the closing stages of the race to take a deserved eighth place.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (4/10) – The sister Haas endured a wretched afternoon as he caused the collision that ended the races of Hulkenberg and Haryanto, earning him a drive-through penalty that left him unable to recover to higher than 17th place.

These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Russian Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
=1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 36 points
=1) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 36 points
3) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 32 points
4) Kevin Magnussen (Renault) – 30 points
=5) Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 22 points
=5) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 22 points
=5) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 22 points

Driver Ratings: Chinese Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg

Credit: Associated Press

A thrilling Chinese Grand Prix saw several drivers fight back through the field after a number of early setbacks, but up front it was a serene afternoon for Nico Rosberg as he kept out of trouble to take his third straight win in 2016.

But whose performances stood out most in Shanghai?

44) Lewis Hamilton (7/10) – Strong fightback from Hamilton after losing his front wing in the first lap melee. Could have finished higher up with a better strategy call, but the world champion would have taken seventh after turn one.

6) Nico Rosberg (9/10)* – Driver of the Day.A simply dominant race by Rosberg to notch up his sixth win in the row. Never looked back once Ricciardo was out of the way and finished in a different postcode to the rest. At this rate, it’s going to be tough for Hamilton to catch him in the championship race.

5) Sebastian Vettel (7/10) – Not entirely blameless in the first corner crash that left Raikkonen in trouble, but fought back strongly after a front wing change to take a deserved second place finish.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (8/10)*** – An innocent victim at the start, Raikkonen was given a lifeline by the early safety car but worked his way back through the field with a different strategy to the other frontrunners and thoroughly deserved his fifth place.

77) Valtteri Bottas (6/10) – Another low key performance for Bottas, who was outperformed by Williams teammate Massa and faded in the closing stages as the Toro Rossos breezed past him.

19) Felipe Massa (8/10) – Running as high as second at one point in the early race chaos, Massa continued his impressive start to the season with a fine drive to sixth place. Did an exceptional job to fend off Hamilton in the closing stages.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (9/10)** – After taking the lead at the start, Ricciardo was desperately unlucky to suffer a puncture as Rosberg went past him. Showed characteristic determination to fight back to fourth and take more than ten seconds out of teammate Kvyat in the final stint.

26) Daniil Kvyat (7/10) – Unfairly blamed by Vettel for the collision between the Ferraris at the start, Kvyat took advantage of the chaos around him to keep out of trouble and take a deserved second career podium.

11) Sergio Perez (6/10) – A clean race for Perez, but he will be disappointed to leave Shanghai without a point after the Toro Rossos demoted him to 11th in the final stint.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (5/10) – Fastest lap is little consolation for Hulkenberg, whose poorly judged decision to hold up the pack as he pitted under the safety car earned him a penalty and ensured his thoroughly mediocre start to the campaign carries on.

20) Kevin Magnussen (6/10) – After an impressive qualifying which saw him beat teammate Palmer by nearly a second, the Dane was hamstrung by a hugely uncompetitive Renault and finished a lowly 17th.

30) Jolyon Palmer (4/10) – Palmer has struggled to reach the heights of his impressive debut in Melbourne, and suffered the ignominy of finishing the race 22nd and last. Work to do.

33) Max Verstappen (7/10) – Another strong race for the teenage Dutchman, whose eighth place finish was probably the maximum on a day in which bulletproof reliability ensured that no-one could benefit from the misfortune of others.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (6/10) – After outqualifying Verstappen on Saturday, Sainz failed to match his Toro Rosso teammate in the race but enjoyed a solid afternoon to record his seconds points finish of the season.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Nasr has reported trouble with his Sauber chassis, and another completely forgettable race to 20th place – well behind teammate Ericsson – will do nothing to kickstart his campaign.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – In an uncompetitive car, Ericsson is quickly working his way into the team leader role at Sauber and another consistent drive will do him no harm.

47) Fernando Alonso (6/10) – Still work for McLaren to do to challenge the leading teams on the evidence of his race. Alonso ran as high as fourth after the safety car but spent the rest of the race looking in his mirrors as he slipped back to 12th.

22) Jenson Button (6/10) – Also hampered by a lack of pace that saw him fending off the challenges of others for most of the afternoon. McLaren have made a clear step forward from last year, but another big step is needed for the Woking squad to challenge.

93) Pascal Wehrlein (6/10) – Held his own in the top ten for several laps after not pitting during the safety car, and Wehrlein rebounded well from his qualifying crash to enjoy a trouble-free race.

88) Rio Haryanto (6/10) – Lacks the outright speed of Wehrlein, but the other Manor driver enjoyed a solid afternoon and beat the faster Renault of Palmer on merit.

8) Romain Grosjean (5/10) – After the fairytale of the opening two rounds, it was back to reality for Grosjean and Haas. The Frenchman suffered damage on the first lap and was overshadowed by teammate Gutierrez for the remainder of the afternoon.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (6/10) – The Mexican will be relieved to see the chequered flag for the first time this season, and with nobody else falling by the wayside, his 14th place finish was probably the best Haas could have hoped for during a weekend in which they struggled for speed.

Credit: Associated Press

These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Bahrain Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
=1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 28 points
=2) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 28 points
3) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 25 points
4) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 23 points
5) Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) – 22 points

Stephen D’Albiac

Driver Ratings: Bahrain Grand Prix


Under the lights of Bahrain, we were treated to a fine spectacle as plenty of dicing in the midfield more than compensated for a rather sedate affair up front. But how did the drivers fare in the third night race at Sakhir?

44) Lewis Hamilton (6/10) – Lost the initiative to teammate Rosberg at the start. Was not at fault for the first lap collision with Bottas but would have been out of harms way with a quicker getaway. Decent recovery to third.

6) Nico Rosberg (8/10) – Flawless drive to a fifth straight win. Beat Hamilton off the line and never looked back as his rivals hit trouble to record a convincing win.

5) Sebastian Vettel (6/10) – A day of wretched misfortune for Vettel, who didn’t even make it to the start after the German’s engine blew on the formation lap, robbing him of the chance to challenge for victory.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (7/10) – A strong drive for Raikkonen who bounced back strongly from his non-finish in Australia to record a deserved second place. Consistent speed meant he was never under huge threat from Hamilton.

77) Valtteri Bottas (5/10) – The Finn ruined his race with a lunge at Hamilton that earned him a drive-through penalty. Battled back to ninth place, but could and should have been so much better.

19) Felipe Massa (6/10) – That the other Williams of Massa finished eighth was through little fault of the Brazilian, who was hamstrung by a poor decision from his team to run two stints on the medium tyres.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (7/10) – An entertaining race from the Australian as he found himself involved in good battles throughout the race. The speed of the front three meant fourth was the best he could have hoped for.

26) Daniil Kvyat (7/10) – The Russian recovered well from a dismal qualifying performance to take seventh from Massa on the final lap, with some exciting battles as he recovered through the field. Quickly needs to improve his speed on Saturdays.

11) Sergio Perez (5/10) – A day to forget for Perez, who made contact with Carlos Sainz Jr’s Toro Rosso on lap two and was forced to pit for a new front wing. Wound up a disappointing 16th.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (5/10) – Hulkenberg’s race proved as inauspicious as Perez’s, with the German also forced to change his nose after first lap contact, condemning him to 15th place.

20) Kevin Magnussen (6/10) – A respectable job from the Dane, who finished just one place outside the points after a pit lane start. A good effort in a Renault that was clearly lacking in speed.

30) Jolyon Palmer (5/10) – After an action-packed debut in Melbourne, it was back down to earth with a bump for Palmer, who pulled in and retired from the race at the end of the formation lap with technical troubles.

33) Max Verstappen (7/10) – After flattering to deceive in Australia, Verstappen bounced back in Sakhir with a strong drive to sixth, Toro Rosso’s first ever points finish in Bahrain.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (5/10) – A thoroughly forgettable time under the lights for the Spanish driver, who suffered a puncture in a collision with Perez early on and endured a botched pit stop before he retired from the race.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Sauber have clearly dropped back in performance over the winter and it looks like the Brazilian has suffered the same fate. An almost anonymous drive to 14th place.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – The Swedish driver looks to have gained the upper hand on teammate Nasr, with 12th place the best he could have achieved in what is clearly a dog of a car.

47) Stoffel Vandoorne (8/10)*** – Having only found out he would be making his Grand Prix debut on Thursday, the Belgian hotshot announced himself to Formula One in style with a mightily impressive drive to the final points finish in tenth, having outqualified world champion teammate Button the day before.

22) Jenson Button (5/10) – A weekend to cause nightmares for Button, with his outqualification by Vandoorne and early power unit failure sure to result in questions about his McLaren future beyond the end of this season.

93) Pascal Wehrlein (8/10)** – Another eye-catching performance from the German youngster, who outperformed his Manor all weekend with a fine drive to 13th after a superb qualifying display.

88) Rio Haryanto (6/10) – Although overshadowed by the mercurial Wehrlein, the Indonesian drove a solid, clean race on his way to a first Formula One finish.

8) Romain Grosjean (9/10)* – Driver of the Day. The Frenchman’s move to Haas looks even more inspired now after an astonishing drive which bettered his fairytale sixth place finish in Melbourne.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (6/10) – An encouraging performance by the second Haas driver, who would surely have scored his first points since 2013 had car failure not ended his race after just ten laps.

Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Bahrain Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 23 points
2) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 17 points
3) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 16 points
=4) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 14 points
=4) Jolyon Palmer (Renault) – 14 points
=4) Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) – 14 points

Stephen D’Albiac


The last thing F1 needs is yet another rules overhaul

Those following testing in Barcelona this week only have to look at the lap times to see that there has been a clear step forward in speed.

We are still nowhere near seeing the true potential of any of this year’s cars, but that has not stopped Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg lapping already more than a second under Nico Rosberg’s pole time for last year’s Spanish Grand Prix.

Just three weeks remain until the start of the third season of the current hybrid era, a period that has been crying out for stability while the teams continue to conquer an array of new technology that, once properly honed, should naturally provide us with the fastest cars that have ever graced the sport.

Yet while the need for time and patience is staring the rulemakers in the face, it seems as though we are about to have another handful of changes thrown our way.

News that plans to rip up the rulebook and introduce yet another set of regulations aimed at producing high-performance cars and make them seconds faster will most likely get the go ahead for the 2017 season is disappointing, but not unsurprising, given the manner in which we have seen the F1 Strategy Group and F1 Commission work in recent years.

These, after all, are the same bodies that brought us double points, the thankfully never introduced standing restarts and are now attempting to have a new “elimination” style qualifying system – a part of the Grand Prix weekend that did not need changing – rubberstamped in time for Melbourne.

Once we see the class of 2016 truly unleashed, those already improved times will only tumble further. A step forward of between two and three seconds looks more than achievable. Take into account the inevitable development of the cars over the course of this season and into next, and come 2017 they will be faster still.

This would be more than achievable by sticking to the set of regulations that exist now, not by forcing teams that are already strapped for cash to spend millions building new cars that, while likely to increase speeds, will be more aero-dependant and almost certain to harm the quality of the racing.

Formula One is far from in rude health. Fans are being turned off for a number of reasons, chief among them the domination of the Mercedes team that, at first glance, is likely to continue into 2016.

Yet the fact remains that when naturally aspirated V10 engines made way for hybrid power in 2014, the Silver Arrows simply did the best job with the set of rules that each person in the paddock was given.

Single team superiority has always existed in F1. Each decade is underpinned by an era in which one manufacturer was better than the rest.

It started with Alfa Romeo in the 1950s, before Lotus took over in the sixties and again in the seventies. The late 1980s saw McLaren in a class of their own, before Williams dominated the nineties and Ferrari ruled the early 2000s. Entertaining it may not always be when we are in the midst of such a spell, but history dictates that a dominant team is always caught.

Mercedes may not be beaten this year, but they will be eventually. If the current rules remain, the laws of diminishing returns will take over and they will be caught. Completely overhaul the regulations, and what’s to say that they won’t simply steal another march on the opposition, aided by their vast reserves of wealth, and pull even further ahead of everyone else?

Formula One is crying out for changes that encourage more competition, but by going after the technical regulations, it is its own product that is being harmed.

One idea would be a complete overhaul on the way in which prize money is distributed, scrapping payments to constructors just for being there longer than everyone else and ensuring that all teams receive a fair slice of the cake for their efforts.

Testing is another aspect that requires urgent attention, with an increase in pre-season running needed so that teams no longer turn up in Melbourne still battling to get to grips with their new cars.

The number of engines available to each driver over a season is also in need of reassessment, as are the senseless grid penalties handed down to anyone who dares go over their allotted amount.

These are changes that would be pure and easy to implement with the right people in charge. It would result in a more competitive sport as the gulf in class closes up, and in turn would get people watching again, but instead a combination of yet another aerodynamic revolution and laborious gimmicks such as a Driver of the Day award appear set to win the day.

If those at the top remained sensible and focused on promoting the fact that the current hybrid powerplants are some of the most impressive innovations seen in the history of the motor car, did not use the media to publicly lambast their own product and stopped suggesting laughable ideas in a futile bid to “improve the show”, maybe, just maybe, the sport would not be in its current predicament.

Someone just needs to hand them the memo.

Stephen D’Albiac

NOTE: I will be writing a series of follow-up blogs in the coming days about the changes that I would make to Formula One. Stay tuned!

Maldonado out, Magnussen in: A refreshing change…

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A growing poison within Formula One in recent years has been the way in which able talents have been so readily cast aside for no other reason than the lack of contribution they have been able to make in the funding department.

Since 2010, no fewer than nine drivers, all of whom had proved themselves worthy of a place in the cutthroat world of Grand Prix racing, have been left unceremoniously dumped from the sport.

The sole reason? Simply that their pockets were not deep enough to satisfy a litany of teams who are struggling to survive in this age of rising costs, declining sponsorships and an ever-growing calendar.

Although some of these drivers list fell victim to the ruthless world that is the Red Bull Young Driver Programme, that the likes of Sebastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari and Jean-Eric Vergne were unable to find drives at other outfits after they were culled by Toro Rosso had little to do with performance.

Similarly, Kevin Magnussen did little at McLaren to show that he could not cut it in the pinnacle of motorsport.

And yet, of these ‘cast-offs’, only Nico Hulkenberg managed to get a proper second chance en route to becoming arguably the best racer on the grid currently plying his trade outside a top team.

Instead, the volume of money is only increasing when it comes to earning a place in the promised land. Forgetting Pastor Maldonado, and the likes of Marcus Ericsson, Esteban Gutierrez and Max Chilton – among others – can all claim to have bought their way onto the grid at one time or other at the expense of their more talented companions.

That is why the news that Maldonado is to be replaced at Renault by Magnussen comes as a welcome relief.

In five seasons of broken front wings, rebuilt cars and a permanent pass to the stewards room, only the odd flash of brilliance prevents the Venezuelan’s CV from amounting to nothing more than a high-speed dodgem.


The sight of Pastor Maldonado in a barrier became an all-too common one during the Venezuelan’s five years in Formula One.

It is easy to look no further than the PDVSA petro-dollars that have funded Maldonado’s career and forget that he was more than deserving of a Formula One drive when he made his debut for Williams in 2011.

An inconsistent yet occasionally brilliant junior career that earned him a reputation as a specialist around the fabled streets of Monte Carlo and culminated in the GP2 Series crown of 2010 would have made Maldonado a candidate for graduation to the top tier, even without his grotesque level of backing.

His second season in 2012 that saw the still scarcely fathomable win in Spain and a number of top three qualifying performances showed that he had the speed to survive in Formula One, if not the temperament.

And that was always Maldonado’s problem. A driver who earns his staying power in Formula One on merit cuts out the silly collisions, reckless petulance and embarrassing prangs by the time he enters his second season, but far from honing his speed and developing into the well-rounded midfield runner that he had the potential to be, he became little more than an imitation of a Wacky Races character.

It was why his move from Williams to Lotus in 2014 was met with indignation by most, why a website charting his every collision in exquisitely humorous fashion continues to flourish, and why his continued presence in a team famous for its true racing spirit has become little more than a frustration.

But where one door closes, another one opens, and Maldonado’s demise now looks set to give Magnussen a refreshing opportunity to revitalise a stalled career.

Cut adrift at McLaren for the sole reason that Fernando Alonso became available, the Dane should have had teams queuing up to secure the signature of a man who bagged a remarkable second place on his Formula One debut and proved more than an able foil for Jenson Button.


Kevin Magnussen spent 2015 on the sidelines through circumstance more than any lack of performance.

Yet until Maldonado’s funding dried up, he was left high and dry and faced with a switch to IndyCar or the World Endurance Championship just to get some racing under his belt.

Thankfully, the buyout of Lotus by Renault has turned the financial situation at Enstone into one of rude health, and means that placing a driver of Magnussen’s quality alongside Jolyon Palmer, himself a beneficiary of high value backing, is now a reality rather than a far flung dream.

Once the transition season of 2016 is done and Renault prepares its first fully-fledged manufacturer entry since 2010, one can only hope that a second opportunity for an established driver will arise at the team.

Although not a necessity, the prospect of a French driver delivering the goods at a French team would do Renault’s image across the Channel no harm. Of the talented cast-offs, Jean-Eric Vergne, a man who proved more than a match for Daniel Ricciardo at Toro Rosso, is another, like Magnussen, just crying out to be given a second opportunity.

Just imagine, a year down the line, the prospect of Renault signing Vergne to partner Magnussen, and in so doing securing one of the most exciting young driver line-ups on the grid.

If so, it would make a welcome, and refreshing change.

Stephen D’Albiac

Five facts about the Australian Grand Prix

Podium by numbers
Incredibly, Sunday’s race marked the first time in Formula One history that each driver’s position on the podium directly corresponded to the number of titles he has won. Kimi Raikkonen (1 title) took victory, followed by Fernando Alonso (2 titles), while third place was taken by Sebastian Vettel (3 titles).

New millennium racers

Following the departure of Michael Schumacher and Pedro de la Rosa from the sport at the end of last season, Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix was the first time in Formula One history that all of the drivers competing had made their Grand Prix debuts in the 21st century. Jenson Button is currently the most experienced driver on the grid, having made his debut in Australia in 2000.

Bad luck Nico

Nico Hulkenberg’s failure to start the race following a problem with his fuel cell meant that the German has never completed a racing lap in Australia in three attempts. In his previous two efforts, he was taken out in crashes on the first lap.

Finnish success

Kimi Raikkonen’s victory on Sunday was the third time a Finnish driver has won in Melbourne, following his own success in 2007 and Mika Hakkinen’s win in 1998. On both other occasions they went onto win the championship. A good omen for the future perhaps?

Flying Bianchi

Jules Bianchi’s fastest lap time of 1:30.454 was the 11st quickest time set during the race, but incredibly was also the fastest time that anyone set on the super-soft tyres, an astonishing achievement by the Marussia driver, whose best lap was just 0.058 seconds shy of that of Sebastian Vettel on the faster and more durable medium tyre.

Stephen D’Albiac

Season Preview: Sauber

2012 was by far Sauber’s best season in Formula One since the team’s BMW days.

With an exciting driver line-up in Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi, coupled with a car that was kind on its tyres, the Swiss team regularly punched above their weight, securing four podium finishes on its way to sixth place in the championship.

This year is one of significant change for Sauber, with Perez and Kobayashi making way for Nico Hulkenberg, who has joined the team from Force India, and young rookie Esteban Gutierrez, who came third in GP2 last season.

Despite having to adapt to an all-new driver line-up, Hulkenberg and Gutierrez are just as good a combination as Perez and Kobayashi were, and with a new car that has gone extremely well in testing, Sauber look set to surprise many people once again this year.

11) Nico Hulkenberg

Arguably the most talented young driver in Formula One, Nico Hulkenberg joins Sauber off the back of a hugely impressive season with Force India.

Hulkenberg began his career with Williams in 2010, but despite showing huge potential, including a stunning pole position in drying conditions in Brazil, he found himself shoved out of the team in favour of Pastor Maldonado and his millions.

He joined Force India as a reserve driver in 2011 before being promoted to a race seat last year, and Hulkenberg comfortably got the better of former teammate Paul di Resta, producing several eye-catching performances, most notably leading the Brazilian Grand Prix for many laps before a collision with Lewis Hamilton put him out of contention.

The German driver has attracted the attention of several leading teams in the sport, most notably Ferrari, and all eyes will be on the 25-year-old as he begins the season as team leader at the Sauber team looking to prove he is worthy of a seat at the sharp end of the grid.

12) Esteban Gutierrez

A rookie with a formidable junior career behind him, Esteban Gutierrez has a lot to live up to as he makes his Formula One debut.

A former Formula BMW and GP3 Series champion, Gutierrez finished third in the GP2 Series last year after a good season in which he won three times and persuaded Sauber that he was worthy take of a race seat in Formula One this year.

Although Gutierrez is not expected to be straight on the pace of teammate Hulkenberg, he knows the team well having been its reserve driver for the last two years, and if he settles down well will almost certainly be a regular contender for points as he competes for rookie of the year honours with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.

With Hulkenberg being so highly regarded, the pressure is slightly off Gutierrez and if he can regularly perform within a couple of tenths of his teammate, the Mexican’s rookie season will be considered a success.

Hopes for the season
Despite the loss of Perez and Kobayashi, Sauber will be confident of challenging for points and podiums on a regular basis again this season.

With a car that has looked very strong in pre-season testing and appears to be an improvement on last year’s model, Sauber really should be looking at retaining their sixth place in the championship and closing the gap to the teams above them.

However, if they are to achieve that they may well have a fight on their hands with Williams, whose car last year was just as strong as Sauber’s at times but were let down by several poor performances from their drivers.

Sauber still enjoys an advantage over Williams in the driver line-up aspect, and if both team’s cars are on the same level it would be brave to bet against the Swiss team coming out on top in that fight for sixth.

Stephen D’Albiac

Barcelona testing – Day six analysis

Romain Grosjean became the first man to top two sessions in pre-season testing by clocking the fastest time around the Circuit de Catalunya on Friday.

The Frenchman’s time of 1:22.716 was half a second quicker than Jenson Button, with Pastor Maldonado, Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hulkenberg rounding out the top five.

Track conditions were once again far from ideal in the morning session as overnight rain made the circuit wet. As a result, the best times were not seen until the track dried in the afternoon, although running was once again compromised in the latter stages of the day as showers hit the circuit.

Lotus will be happy with their day’s work. Having regularly troubled the top of the timesheets during testing, they have clearly made a step forward from 2012 and look in much better shape. Grosjean’s times in the afternoon were consistent and as one of the better teams in terms of managing tyre degradation last year, they will be confident as the first race approaches.

Button also had a strong day in the McLaren, but despite looking one of the strongest teams throughout testing, the car appears to be lacking speed on long runs compared to that of the Red Bull and Ferrari.

Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso propped up the rear, although that will not be a concern to either them or their teams as they were concentrating on long runs when the track conditions were at their peak.

One team that will be having strong concerns is Caterham. The car appears to have gone backwards from last year and they are struggling with reliability issues, a fact further reinforced when Giedo van der Garde’s car ground to a halt in the final hour of running. With the battle for tenth place in the constructors’ championship with Marussia expected to rumble through the season, it is not the start to the new season they would have wished for.

The weather forecast looks much better for the weekend than it has been for the first two days, so with just Saturday and Sunday left to test their cars, we should expect a frantic weekend as the teams look to extract every last bit of performance from their 2013 packages as the first race approaches.

1) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – 1:22.716 (88 laps)
2) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:23.181 (72 laps)
3) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – 1:23.628 (75 laps)
4) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – 1:23.743 (65 laps)
5) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:23.744 (79 laps)
6) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – 1:24.215 (62 laps)
7) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:25.483 (61 laps)
8) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:25.598 (75 laps)
9) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – 1:26.316 (48 laps)
10) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – 1:26.655 (120 laps)
11) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – 1:27.878 (102 laps)

Stephen D’Albiac

Barcelona testing – Day three analysis

With the chequered flag having waved to signify the end of the Thursday’s running at the Circuit de Catalunya, there is no doubt that Fernando Alonso and Ferrari will be incredibly happy with their day’s work.

Alonso was undoubtedly the stand-out performer in the morning, with the Spaniard setting a series of impressive and consistent times on the soft tyre and his best time of 1:21.875 remaining unbeaten throughout the day.

Although Alonso’s time was just shy of Sergio Perez’s benchmark from yesterday, Ferrari can draw confidence from the fact that they appear to have fixed their problems over one lap and are now able to challenge their rivals in this department, a weakness that almost certainly played a part in costing them the championship last year.

Nico Hulkenberg also showed Sauber’s hand over a single lap with an impressive time that was around a quarter of a second off Alonso’s pace. Having spent the first two days of the test concentrating on long runs, the Swiss team will be confident they have a car that can challenge for Q3 on a regular basis this season.

Romain Grosjean was undoubtedly the busiest driver on track on Thursday, with the Frenchman completing 119 laps which included a full race distance simulation in the afternoon. Grosjean set the third quickest time and continued Lotus’ relentless appearances near the front end of the timesheets in pre-season.

Williams continued their strong start to testing with their new car, with Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas sharing driving duties and finishing up fifth and sixth respectively. It has been a positive start to life with the FW35, but those question marks over the legality of the team’s exhaust will linger on over the coming weeks.

Elsewhere, McLaren and Red Bull had low-key days as they focused on long runs rather than going for the outright pace they’d shown on the first two days. Adrian Sutil had a good first day’s running on his return to Force India as he completed 75 laps and ended the day in eighth place. It remains to be seen whether the German lands the team’s remaining race seat as he fights it out with Jules Bianchi for that honour. Jean-Eric Vergne, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde completed the times.

With Friday’s running looking likely to be a washout, we could well have seen the last meaningful action of the second pre-season test.

1) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – 1:21.875 (97 laps)
2) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:22.160 (91 laps)
3) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – 1:22.188 (119 laps)
4) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – 1:22.611 (106 laps)
5) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – 1:22.675 (79 laps)
6) Valtteri Bottas (Ven) Williams-Renault – 1:22.826 (66 laps)
7) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:22.840 (71 laps)
8) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – 1:22.877 (78 laps)
9) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – 1:23.024 (107 laps)
10) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:23.366 (106 laps)
11) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:25.690 (56 laps)
12) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – 1:26.177 (93 laps)

Stephen D’Albiac

Why Force India have messed up with their second driver

With just four weeks remaining until the start of the new Formula One season, testing has begun and the teams and drivers are preparing for the first race of 2013 in earnest.

The one exception in all this is Force India. The first pre-season test finished over a week ago and yet with just 26 days until first practice gets underway at Melbourne, Paul di Resta is still the only race driver to be confirmed at the Silverstone-based team.

It is a situation that is as farcical as it is baffling. For a midfield team like Force India, who have had no problems building their car and – despite team owner Vijay Mallya’s ongoing problems in India – no immediate financial problems heading into the new season, it is ridiculous that at this late stage of proceedings nobody has been confirmed to be driving the team’s second car.

Ferrari academy driver Jules Bianchi had seemed to be the frontrunner to drive alongside di Resta. The Frenchman was the team’s reserve driver last season and it has been reported that Ferrari want him to be promoted to a race seat this year, possibly in return for a cheap engine supply starting in 2014. Bianchi impressed in testing at Jerez and had looked to have given himself a great chance of landing the drive.

But then last week came the news that the team’s former driver Adrian Sutil had had a seat fitting and is expected to test in Barcelona next week. Sutil, who was dropped by Force India at the end of 2011 after the German driver’s well documented brush with the law, was said by AUTOSPORT last week to now be the favourite for the drive, which would then leave Bianchi out in the cold.

Now it’s possible that this could all be part of a political game to try and persuade Ferrari or Bianchi to stump up some extra cash and take the seat, but all it does is further complicate a frankly ridiculous situation.

Whatever the motives behind this delay, there has been plenty of time for Force India to sort out their plans and reveal the identity of their second driver. The team has known since last October that Nico Hulkenberg was leaving them to join Sauber. It wasn’t as though he just decided to walk out on them at the 11th hour. That is way more than enough time for the team to find someone to replace Hulkenberg.

If Force India wanted a pay driver to fill the second seat it’s hardly like there’s a shortage of them floating about at the moment, whereas if they wanted to sign a driver based purely on talent the likes of Kamui Kobayashi and Heikki Kovalainen were both available and would have both been perfectly good signings for them.

It’s also not as if it was ever going to be difficult to sign up any of the drivers that were linked to the second seat. Both Sutil and Jaime Alguersuari did not drive competitively last year and (any possible visa issues for Sutil aside) would not have taken much persuading to put pen to paper, Bianchi has the support of Ferrari in finding a seat on the grid and was the team’s reserve driver in 2012, whilst Bruno Senna was released by Williams at the end of November.

Whoever ends up getting the drive, the only losers out of this situation will be Force India themselves. Whoever gets the seat will be thrown in halfway through pre-season testing, possibly with no mileage and be expected to play catch-up with every other driver on the grid. As a result, the team’s second driver will have less time to adapt and get to grips with his new car, and is therefore likely to turn up at Melbourne without the correct form of preparation.

To put no finer point on it, Force India have shot themselves in the foot. It is a problem entirely of their own doing and one that could, and should, have been so easily avoided.

Will it cost them? Only time will tell.

Stephen D’Albiac