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


Six reasons to look forward to F1 2015

With the start of the 2015 Formula One season just ten weeks away, here are just six of the many reasons to get excited ahead of the new campaign.

The revival of the McLaren-Honda partnership
Undoubtedly the most talked about change for 2015 is the return of the legendary McLaren-Honda partnership that was made so famous in the days of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.

An iconic partnership that stirs memories and emotions among motorsport fans across the world, McLaren has returned to the engine supplier that served it so well between 1988 and 1992 as it looks to make its way back to the very pinnacle of the sport after two disappointing and winless years.

While the relationship with Mercedes that spanned two decades brought much success to Woking, the marriage between the two had fizzled out over recent years following the Silver Arrows’ decision to take over its own team, making a change of scenery a wise move for all concerned.

Much has changed since the partnership’s previous incarnation, but with the return of Fernando Alonso from Ferrari to join the vastly experienced Jenson Button, allied with the increased contribution of Peter Prodromou – the aerodynamicist that was so influential in Red Bull’s success – and the marked signs of improvement towards the end of last season, if Honda can produce a turbo unit worthy of its legendary efforts of the past, few would bet against the team challenging at the sharp end.

Hamilton v Rosberg: Part II

Despite Mercedes’ systematic obliteration of the field throughout 2014, sweeping all before them on their way to a record 16 wins, the title race reached a thrilling climax in Abu Dhabi thanks to the titanic duel between eventual champion Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

With a refreshing policy from the pit wall allowing the two to fight it out on track, there was precious little between the pair on race days, leading to thrilling scraps for victory on several occasions, most notably when Hamilton just edged out Rosberg following a mammoth race-long tussle in Bahrain.

While Hamilton emerged ahead more often than not on race day, Rosberg’s superior qualifying pace and consistency ensured he was always a threat to his teammate, and with the experience of having fought for a championship now firmly under his belt, the scene is set for the pair to resume her personal scrap in the new season.

Williams’ renaissance

Without question the feel-good story of 2014, the return to form of the Williams team after several years in the doldrums was much welcomed by all.

Through a combination of a strong driver pairing in Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, the pure grunt of Mercedes horsepower behind them and a substantial boost in prize money owing to their third place finish in the championship, Williams now has a perfect platform on which to build an even better challenger in 2015, and if the team can continue its steady rise back to the front, they look well placed for a return to the top step of the podium in the near future.

Mexico’s return

One of the highlights of the 2015 calendar is the return of the Mexican Grand Prix at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez after a 23-year absence.

With the success of Sergio Perez having reignited interest in the sport in the country – borne out by the hordes of Mexican fans who make the trip to Austin each year – the race looks set to be a welcome return to a classic venue that looks set to pose a significant challenge to the drivers.

Although the circuit will have undergone a facelift to bring it up to the standards of modern F1 by the time the Grand Prix circus arrives in town – including the unfortunate loss of the legendary Peraltada corner – as the successful return of Austria last year shows, when you take the sport back to areas with vast history and strong support, the rewards are plentiful.

Fresh blood at Ferrari

Embarrassing isn’t a strong enough word to describe Ferrari’s 2014 campaign.

Whichever way you analyse the Prancing Horse’s fortunes of last year, failure lurks around every corner, be it the inability to provide a star-studded line-up of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen with a car worthy of their talents, its pitiful attempt at building a power unit even vaguely competitive in comparison with Mercedes or the constant hiring and firing behind the scenes, it was the Scuderia’s first winless season since 1993 and a blot in the vast history books of the team from Maranello.

Now, with Alonso leaving to be replaced by Sebastian Vettel, the first car overseen by James Allison, who brings with him a great pedigree from his Lotus days and a whole raft of new team personnel, 2015 heralds a new era for Ferrari, and whether a clean slate can spark the return of the sport’s most famous team to the sharp end or see fortunes continue to decline will be one of the big talking points as the year progresses.

And…more great racing

Despite the deafening criticism of the new power units that overshadowed the start of last season, once the initial cries of discontent had settled down, F1 showed that it had lost none of its ability to throw up a feast of on-track action, with Bahrain, Canada and Hungary in particular producing three of the most memorable races of recent times.

With the turbo era now entering its second year, there seems no reason to believe that the on-track product won’t continue to go from strength to strength, and if any of the frontrunners is able to pose a credible threat to the dominance of Mercedes, the wheel-to-wheel action should be as good as ever.

Performance Podium: A Quick Update

Having not blogged for a few weeks, one thing that was somewhat neglected was the Performance Podium feature. With points at stake based on how well a driver is ranked I kept a record of the best performers from each race, and so to bring the rankings back up to date, here’s a quick summary of my Performance Podiums for the Spanish, Monaco and Canadian Grands Prix.

The feature will return in its entirety for the British Grand Prix in three weeks time.

Spanish Grand Prix
1) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2) Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
3) Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari)
HM) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault)
HM) Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari)

Monaco Grand Prix
1) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2) Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes)
3) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault)
HM) Giedo van der Garde (Caterham-Renault)

Canadian Grand Prix
1) Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso-Ferrari)
2) Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes)
3) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault)
HM) Valtteri Bottas (Williams-Renault)

2013 Performance Podium Rankings
1) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – 23pts
2) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 15pts
3) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault) – 13pts
4) Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) – 10pts
4) Sergio Perez (McLaren-Mercedes) – 10pts
4) Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) – 10pts
4) Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes) – 10pts
8) Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes) – 7pts
9) Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) – 6pts
10) Felipe Massa (Ferrari) – 5pts
10) Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) – 5pts
12) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault) – 3pts
13) Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) – 2pts
13) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 2pts
13) Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber-Ferrari) – 2pts
13) Jules Bianchi (Marussia-Cosworth) – 2pts
17) Giedo van der Garde (Caterham-Renault) – 1pt
18) Valtteri Bottas (Williams-Renault) – 1pt

The Performance Podium rankings are calculated depending on where each driver places in each race. 1st place receives 10 points, 2nd place = 5pts, 3rd place = 2pts and an Honourable Mention = 1pt

Stephen D’Albiac

Vettel beats the weather (and everyone else) to pole in Sepang

Sebastian Vettel beat the weather, and everyone else, to take his second consecutive pole in 2013.

Vettel benefitted from the decision to fit a new set of intermediate tyres in the closing stages of Q3, and set the pole position time on a rapidly drying track at the end of qualifying, beating the Ferrari of Felipe Massa by almost a second.

It had not been all plain sailing for Vettel though, with his Red Bull lacking pace in the dry conditions, and his passage through the first two sessions could be considered somewhat fortuitous. However, the German, as he so often has in the past, delivered the goods when it mattered and with it came his 38th career pole.

Massa’s second place marks the first time he has qualified on the front row of the grid since the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2010, and the Brazilian’s dramatic return to form is further underlined by the fact that this is now the fourth race in a row that he has outqualified Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso, who starts third.

Lewis Hamilton qualified fourth, although he will be disappointed after being on provisional pole towards the end of the final session and the Englishman also squandered a more favourable track position at the end of qualifying and with it, the opportunity to improve his time.

Mark Webber starts fifth, ahead of Nico Rosberg. Jenson Button will line up in seventh, although McLaren still have work to do in order to get their car back up towards the front, despite managing to get both cars into Q3, with Sergio Perez qualifying ninth.

Splitting the McLarens is Adrian Sutil, who was mightily impressive in the first two sessions, backing up his excellent performance in Melbourne with the quickest time in Q1. However, the Force India driver struggled when the rain hit the Sepang circuit, managing no better than eighth when it really mattered.

Kimi Raikkonen had qualified seventh, but the championship leader was penalised for blocking Nico Rosberg in the closing stages of Q3. As a result the Finn was given a three-place grid penalty and will now start the race from tenth.

After a dry start to qualifying, rain hit the circuit half-way through Q2, causing panic amongst several of the frontrunners who had yet to set a quick time, most notably the Ferraris, who just managed to put in a lap before the worst of the shower hit. Paul di Resta was the biggest name to fall victim to the weather, going off at turn seven as the rain beat him to the middle sector. He will start 15th.

The other victims of Q2 were Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Esteban Gutierrez and Pastor Maldonado.

Jean-Eric Vergne and Valtteri Bottas were the big names to fall during the first part of qualifying, with the exceptional Jules Bianchi only two tenths off Bottas’ pace in 19th. Charles Pic, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde completed the grid.

The Grid
1) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – 1:49.674
2) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – 1:50.587
3) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – 1:50.727
4) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – 1:51.699
5) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – 1:52.244
6) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – 1:52.519
7) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:53.175
8) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – 1:53.439
9) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:54.136
10) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – 1:52.970*
11) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – 1:37.636 (Q2)
12) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:38.125 (Q2)
13) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:38.822 (Q2)
14) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:39.221 (Q2)
15) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – 1:44.509 (Q2)
16) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – no time set (Q2)
17) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:38.157 (Q1)
18) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – 1:38.207 (Q1)
19) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:38.434 (Q1)
20) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – 1:39.314 (Q1)
21) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:39.672 (Q1)
22) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – 1:39.932 (Q1)
* Raikkonen given three-place grid penalty for blocking during qualifying

Stephen D’Albiac

Season Preview: Ferrari

Ferrari enter the 2013 season chasing its first drivers’ championship in six years.

With a car that was arguably the Scuderia’s worst in nearly 20 years, and despite problems with the team’s windtunnel at Maranello impacting on performances on the track, Fernando Alonso somehow put together a title challenge, leading the championship for a large part of the season before losing out to Sebastian Vettel at the final race by just three points.

The Prancing Horse have worked hard over the winter to ensure the mistakes of last year are not repeated, and from pre-season testing it looks like the new car is a much better machine than the one which left Brazil last November.

With a determined Alonso paired up with a reinvigorated Felipe Massa raring to go for the new season, Ferrari have all the ingredients to consistently challenge for wins this year, and if the F138 lives up to its promise then he should be seeing F1’s most famous team right in the mix for honours once again.

3) Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso produced arguably the best season of any driver in the last decade in 2012 by taking the title fight right down to the wire.

Despite having at best the third fastest car for a large part of the season, Alonso took the fight to the vastly superior Red Bulls and McLarens, scoring more podiums than anyone else and taking three wins in a display of relentless consistency.

Given his talents and the way he has driven in the last few years, it is incredible to think that Alonso has not added to the two titles he won whilst at Renault in 2005 and 2006, with Ferrari not giving him a car capable of winning the title since the Spaniard joined the team.

If Ferrari can give him a car able to challenge for the world championship, then it would be incredibly brave to bet against Alonso breaking Sebastian Vettel’s stranglehold on the drivers’ title and adding his name to the exclusive list of triple world champions this year.

4) Felipe Massa

There were signs towards the end of last year that Felipe Massa was finally beginning to rediscover the form that almost won him the world championship in 2008.

The Brazilian struggled massively in the first half of 2012, with a series of lacklustre performance leading many to doubt whether Massa deserved to remain at Ferrari, and the likes of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg were linked with his seat.

However, the 31-year-old fought back in style in the second half of the season, outqualifying teammate Alonso in the final two races and taking his first Formula One podiums in nearly two years. It was a run of form not seen by the Brazilian since his dreadful accident in qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix.

With a new one-year contract behind him, and a good run of form at the end of last year under his belt, this season is shaping up to be much better than the last few for Massa.

Hopes for the season
Last year was a disappointment for Ferrari. The Scuderia let both their drivers down with a car that, quite simply, wasn’t good enough. For a team with the history and success of Ferrari, they know that they must produce a better car this time around.

The team chose to develop the best parts of the F2012 and vastly improved the weak areas of the car, and from pre-season testing it looks like that evolutionary approach could well be paying off for them.

With a driver of the ability of Fernando Alonso in the car, Ferrari will always have a chance of coming out on top, and as long as they can keep up in the development race (an area that cost them dearly last year), they should be primed to challenge for both titles.

The pressure is on Ferrari this year. The tifosi expects victory, and after a relatively long run without success by its standards, they will be wanting to reclaim their spot at the top of both championships this year.

Stephen D’Albiac

Barcelona testing – Day seven analysis

There is no doubt that the eye-catching performance of testing at Barcelona today was Lewis Hamilton’s stunning laps in the morning session.

Hamilton’s time of 1:20.558 followed a time of 1:20.817 earlier in the morning, and the Mercedes man finished nearly a second clear of second place Felipe Massa.

Although there is no doubting that Hamilton’s time was extremely impressive, there are bound to be question marks over how representative that was of the Mercedes’ true performance and whether the team were doing a full qualifying simulation.

Ferrari had another productive day with Massa setting the second quickest time, although there was an alarming moment for them near the end of the session when the Brazilian’s wheel came off the car on the back straight. A problem of that kind indicates a sizeable failure on the car and so there could be worries for Ferrari as they try to find out what caused the incident.

Judging exactly where Ferrari are at the moment is not easy. There is no doubt they are at the front end of the grid, but with the Scuderia bringing a major upgrade to the first race in Australia, it is impossible to tell just where they’ll be, although delaying improvements until Melbourne suggests they may be fairly confident about where they stand.

Adrian Sutil was impressive in the Force India, while both Williams drivers underlined their new car’s potential by setting the fourth and fifth quickest times respectively.

Another impressive performance came from newly signed Marussia driver Jules Bianchi. The Frenchman, on his first day of running for the team, completed 67 laps and went faster than the Caterham of Giedo van der Garde. Furthermore, his time of 1:24.028 is quicker than anything his teammate Max Chilton has managed in six days of testing at the Barcelona circuit, which is a very positive performance from the newboy.

Lotus’ day was disrupted by Kimi Raikkonen’s bout of food poisoning. As a result, the team’s reserve driver Davide Valsecchi was drafted in to drive this morning, while Romain Grosjean was made to travel back to Spain to run in the afternoon.

Tomorrow is the final day of testing before the grid sets off to Australia for the start of the season, but with everything looking so close, it looks like we will have to wait until then to see exactly who is where.

1) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – 1:20.558 (106 laps)
2) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – 1:21.359 (90 laps)
3) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – 1:21.627 (109 laps)
4) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – 1:22.305 (34 laps)
5) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Lotus-Renault – 1:22.468 (27 laps)
6) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari – 1:22.553 (98 laps)
7) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – 1:22.694 (94 laps)
8) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – 1:23.116 (52 laps)
9) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 1:23.223 (110 laps)
10) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – 1:23.380 (35 laps)
11) Davide Valsecchi (Ita) Lotus-Renault – 1:23.448 (16 laps)
12) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – 1:24.028 (67 laps)
13) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – 1:24.235 (121 laps)

Stephen D’Albiac