F1 2010 Season Review

Since the new Formula One season is just around the corner, now is the perfect time to have a look back at a thrilling 2010 for the sport. This post features a review of the 2010 Formula One season by my first ever guest writer, Thomas Brampton.

Thomas’ F1 2010 Season Review

Hello again. Given the fantastic nature of this year’s season, I thought it might be worth me looking back at one of the best (if not the best) F1 season ever. And what a great year it was: great racing (Bahrain aside), fantastic title battle and almost no politics! The drama stayed about the racing, and for once that is where I will stay.

Since I will do the preview of 2011 by team, I am going to do the review by driver. I will rank the drivers in the order I think they deserve, except I’m going to put all the title contenders at the end; since this season was all about them, they deserve to be put together. And because if I have ranked them too, my “number one” would not have been one of them…

So without further ado, bring on the also rans!

The Also Rans

22. Sakon Yamamoto

To be blunt, why? Why give Yamamoto a drive? Of course we all know why – Hispania desperately needed the money, something which Senna and Chandhok had both run out of by Silverstone. Sakon had plenty of that and to be fair he is not totally talentless. Not like say, me. By formula one driver standards, he is in the Zolt Baumgartner territory.

Mostly however he was solid and safe; he even out qualified Senna once and his drive in Japan was sort of acceptable. But driving out of the pits while a mechanic is fiddling in your cockpit? Yamamoto deserves this last place purely for that.

Champagne Moment: Out qualifying Senna in Korea

Reject Moment: Putting a Mechanic in hospital at Monza

Defining Moment: Being replaced by Klein the moment his money was no longer needed.

21. Lucas di Grassi

The writing was on the wall for di Grassi when the Virgin fuel crisis emerged. Forced to build a new, longer car on the hop, Virgin put everything into putting one together for Glock. Di Grassi did two races with a machine without enough fuel to make the end of the race at a reasonable pace while Glock could.

“Fortunately” for him, the car almost never made it that far. The Virgin was hopelessly unreliable and di Grassi had the bulk of the problems. His head and pace quickly dropped, as he was totally destroyed all season by Glock. Before long, Jerome D’Amboise was driving his car on Fridays and the game was up. We will never know what really went on behind the scenes in Lucas’ only F1 season, but whatever it was it really didn’t work. In the end, he was too slow.

Champagne Moment: Out qualifying Glock at Suzuka

Reject Moment: Crashing on the installation lap later that afternoon.

Defining moment: Malaysia – his only best result came as the only “class B” finisher, limping a car around that was on the verge of running out of fuel. If that is your best result…

20. Bruno Senna

Senna started strongly. His drive in Bahrain in a car with no miles on it was impressive, and in Australia he was thirteenth at the end of the first lap. But before long he was soon being beaten left right and centre by Chandhok – a reversal of my prediction. Soon his head seemed to drop, as the team soon ran into trouble and car development never even started. I believe his motivation died as he realised that he would never be able to make an impression on the other new teams, no matter how hard he tried.

This mood manifested in off colour performances mixed with occasional over driving mistakes – particularly in qualifying. All of this is understandable, but it didn’t affect Glock, Kovalainen or Chandhok.

Champagne Moment: Out qualifying di Grassi in Turkey, the only time an HRT managed this on merit all season.

Reject Moment: Being out qualified by Klein in Singapore, the latter’s first run in a modern F1 car.

Defining Moment: Being guest of honour at the Premier of the Senna Movie in Brazil, he remains firmly in the shadow of his Uncle.

19. Felipe Massa

Right, let’s get this part out of the way…

On 25th July 2009, Massa was in a medical helicopter being rushed to hospital for emergency surgery. Formula One journalists and fans alike held their breath. Exactly one year later, he was leading the German Grand Prix. Formula One journalists and fans alike waited delightedly for the fairy tale to be completed…

No one moaned when McLaren desperately informed Button of just how “Critical” his fuel level was in Turkey. In fact Red Bull were castigated by everyone for not applying such instructions. These were also team orders, but Ferrari had form and everyone wanted Massa to win this one. Everyone but Alonso.

As it turns out, Ferrari were right. Alonso did need the points. In fact he needed more. I believe that the backlash against Ferrari for the Germany incident was an emotional (and unfair) one, a residue of Austria 2002 and a result of a desire to see Massa take that magic win. My reaction certainly was.

So no more bias. Let’s look at Massa’s season objectively. In the end you can only be compared to your teammate and being honest, Rob Smedely could have told his charge that “Alonso is faster than you” at pretty much every track. Particularly anaemic were Massa’s “comeback drives” at Silverstone and Interlagos. The start line accident he caused in Japan defiantly deserved a penalty and even in his decent Belgium race he jumped the start!

Despite leading the title at one point, Massa only just beat Rosberg in the championship. I know he lost motivation after Germany, but given the car advantage, that is totally unacceptable. The only thing Massa really achieved this year was revenge – I have no idea how he failed to jump Webber in the pits at Abu Dhabi, but his failure to cover the Red Bull driver was what led to Alonso’s early and costly stop. Sometimes it pays to be slow.

Champagne Moment: Brilliant Comeback in Canada after start line shunt, only ended by a Schuey chop…

Reject Moment: Sitting behind Alguersuari for lap after lap in Dhabi. Or the first corner crash in Japan. Or Holding Alonso up for lap after lap behind slower cars in Australia. And Malaysia.

Defining Moment: Being hit on the head by Barrichello’s lose spring in Hungry last year. Seriously. Karl Wellinger, Christiano Da Mata, Kenny Brack… the list of drivers who never recover fully regain their form after head injuries is endless. Mika Hakkinen of course is the exception that proves the rule.

Stop Press: Remember how Massa kept on complaining that it was the new Bridgestone tyres that kept him off the pace? Well he was fastest on the first day of testing the Pirelli’s.

18. Tonio Liuzzi

Liuzzi sealed his drive last year with a brilliant display at Monza, which was particularly impressive given he had never driven a post 09 rules F1 car before and how much Grojsion and Badour had struggled to in the same situation. This year he completely failed to build on it.

At the start of the year Force India were fast but Liuzzi was always behind Sutil and his performance tailed off rapidly at the start of the European season. Later, as Force India dropped behind with disappointing update packages it was Liuzzi again who struggled the most to make them work – he never got the hang of the F-duct for example.

For sure it didn’t help that he had Paul – the work experience guy – di Resta breathing down his neck and pressuring him for his seat and of course Sutil is no slouch, but the most disappointing thing about Tonio is the contrast between his flashes of brilliance and utter failures. For example out qualifying Sutil around Monaco was an achievement any driver would be proud of, something that hints at true greatness that many junior team managers spoke of in his early career. Red Bull manager Christian Horner once said Liuzzi would be a future champion, but it was perched atop a faded champion that the Italian’s F1 career ended.

Champagne Moment: Driving an exceptional race for points in Korea. Aggressive yet smooth, we needed to see much more of this.

Reject Moment: Ruining his best grid position of the season in Canada by going banger racing with Massa

Defining Moment: Dropping out in Q1 in Monza, where he’d qualified fifth the previous year. By this time of course, Sutil was getting the better equipment.

17. Sebastian Buemi

For a driver who had finished 09 so strongly, Buemi was on the back foot almost immediately. Made to look a fool by Alguerari in Malaysia, he struggled to get the most out of his Toro Rosso at the start of the season, which was when the car had a chance. Points in Monaco, Valencia and Canada looked to have set his year right, but those were his only scores of the year.

The main problem for Buemi was perception. Last year he was the rookie, taking on (and destroying) the more experienced Boudais. This year he was the one who had to push on while under pressure from a fast rookie team-mate. The Red Bull junior management demand that a returning drive makes huge strides over a rookie teammate, despite only a nominal experience advantage.  Of course (as every Red Bull development driver bar Vettel has) he failed to do this.

He only didn’t make it to Q2 twice, but they were both at the end of the season, and this shows how the pressure and lack of support from the team had built over the season. And although he got more points them him, Alguessari had the more eye-catching performances. Those are what matter as a Red Bull rookie. He still has a seat next year, but unless he starts strongly it won’t last long.

Champagne Moment: Going wheel to wheel with Alonso as he battled for the lead in Canada.

Reject Moment: Inevitable accident with Glock in Korea

Defining Moment: The wheels came of the Buemi wagon this year, as did his front wheels in China in Practise, literally.

16. Christian Klein

The only experienced driver to step into a HRT all season, Klein raced Senna three times and out qualified him twice, despite not having driven anything since 2006. In the races he was solid too and thus has managed to launch himself back onto the F1 stage. He won’t have a race drive in F1 for next year for sure, but he may have secured a test drive, which will do.

Champagne Moment: Out qualifying Senna in Singapore, having only got the drive on Friday morning.

Reject Moment: Breaking down on the installation lap in Brazil.

Defining Moment: Getting the call to replace Yamamoto the moment money wasn’t absolutely critical.

15. Jarno Trulli

At the start of the season, Trulli seemed as happy as Larry. No longer stuck in the hopelessly top down bureaucratic world of Toyota, he was in a proper racing team again run by his favourite designer Mike Gassgocine. And it was Lotus! Sure, there would be struggles, but things where looking up.

However, despite getting on brilliantly with the team and even his new teammate, Trulli had a miserable year. Yes, he was expecting the car to be slow, but he was also expecting it to work! As he limped around the final laps in Malaysia, miles off the pace his hydraulics fading, he must have thought it was early teething troubles. His car however – unlike Heikki’s – would never be right.

In the end Jarno out qualified Kovelinean over the season 10-9, but in the races he was almost always beaten, let down by the car and then his motivation. Liking his team though, he took out most of his aggression on the HRT’s, with Senna in Korea and more spectacularly Chandhok in Monaco feeling his wrath. At least he apologised to Karun and gave him a case of this “home grown” wine to make up for it.

For my money Trulli did not earn the right for another season in F1 this year; like di Grassi he let his head drop. But his good teamwork and proven speed has kept him in F1, for now. Next year will be better I guarantee, but I also suspect it shall be Trulli’s last.

Champagne Moment: Starting from Class pole and winning at Silverstone, after gearbox problems had allowed him only 7 laps in practise.

Reject Moment: Has to be the attempt to pass Chandhok in Monaco

Defining Moment: When the rear wing dropped of for no reason in Abu Dhabi, everything that could have gone wrong had officially gone wrong. Expect launching Mark Webber into space obviously…

14. Michael Schumacher

Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit lenient here, you might think. And maybe you’re right. But judge Michael as a mortal, rather than the soulless wining machine we know and hate, and you’ll see that Schumacher deserves his slot, behind twenty other drivers!

Schumacher was far from great by anyone’s standards, but out of context his season wasn’t disastrous. There were few rookie mistakes. He was occasionally on the pace of his very fast teammate. He scored a descent amount of points, a drove some good races – see Spain and Japan. By these measures, he had an acceptable seasons compared to the two other “top team” drivers that had sat out 2009 – Petrov and Hulkenberg.

Except what the hell are we doing saying that “Michael had an acceptable season compared to Petrov and Hulkenberg!?” That is like saying Wayne Rooney is having an acceptable season compared to Jason Roberts! (Blackburn Rovers for the benefit of non-football fans).

This is Schumacher. Michael Schumacher. Seven times world champion Michael Schumacher. Schumey – the living legend. What is he doing, other than risking his neck (that Liuzzi nearly severed in Abu Dhabi) to keep out from under his wife’s feet?

We only saw flashes of the old master twice this year, once as he dived past Alonso on the final lap in Monaco (an event the stewards quickly reversed) and the other as he tried to murder Rubens. The rest of the year he was average, poor and on occasions embarrassingly bad.

Take the hint Michael. Seven world titles and not a scratch on your body? 41 years old and past your prime? Most racing drivers would take that as a key to live and let live. Or to race at Le Mans.

Champagne Moment: Racing Rosberg hard but fair at Japan.

Reject Moment: Calmly explaining away his Hungary move after the race, like a psychopath in a police interview who will not accept he has done anything wrong.

Defining Moment: Being passed by Petrov in China on a wet track. Those were the conditions he used to rule in. For me, it was when his return stopped being funny and started to be plain embarrassing.

13. Karun Chandhok.

No one expected much of Karun as he started his Formula 1 career. I wildly applauded his first lap – set in Q1 in Bahrain as his car was not built-in time for practise – as a massive achievement. He dropped on a bump in the race, but after that he didn’t look back.

Armed with the worst car in the world, Karun lead the class B title race until Canada, with mature yet spirited drives. He often out qualified Senna and almost always out raced him. A gritty fighter to the end, his faultless defence from Trulli in Monaco on tyres that had done the whole race bar the first lap was possible as good as his teammate’s uncles drive against Mansell in 92.

Then the money from the world’s “second fastest growing economy” ran out. Karun couldn’t even match the paltry sums Klein could put together and was out for the season. Down, but far from dejected, he spent the rest of the year entertaining us from the radio five live commentary box. A top man – who I used to ridicule in the junior formula, proving what an awful reader of young talent I am – it would be tragic if this is his only F1 chance.

Champagne Moment: Monaco

Reject Moment: Spending three hours stuck in traffic around Brussels despite being repeatedly warned by his co-commentators to avoid rush “hour”.

Defining Moment: Bravely charging on to a qualifying lap in Bahrain, in a car that had never even been fired up before.

12. Nick Heidfeld and 11. Pedro de la Rosa

As you can only be compared fairly to your teammate, I shall address the two occupants of the Number 22 car together; particularly since I can only justify rating Nick below Pedro by discussing the latter first. Let’s be clear before we start though, Koybayashi made both of them look bad at times, and without any funding, neither will drive in F1 next year, in an environment where even Williams needs a pay driver.

Poor Pedro never really got a chance this year. He was brought in for one reason and one reason only: to help the cash strapped “BMW” Sauber team develop the car. Sauber were one of the disappointments of the season initially (see my preview for how well we thought they were going to go) and with no money to speak of it was assumed that they would go backwards from there.

De la Rosa spent most of the season breaking down (recall he lost two engines in Malaysia and didn’t even start the race.) His qualifying was okay, if not spectacular, but he was often up with Kobayashi initially. It was his races that really let him down – when he wasn’t breaking down or shedding his rear wing; he was loosing time and ground on poor strategies.

The Sauber was reliable from Germany onwards, and this coincided with Koybiashi’s rise. Now De la Rosa was regularly beaten by his teammate (with the exception of Hungry.) But why were Koybayashi and Sauber suddenly more competitive? How – without any money to speak of – had they sorted a troublesome car, (and an erratic driver?) There were of course a lot of strong people in the Sauber technical team, but I guarantee you that Pedro was one of them. He did his job, and for that he got sacked. It was harsh, (and I suspect something went wrong behind the scenes although both sides deny this) but Sauber was a team fighting for its life, so I’m willing to be not too harsh on the ungrateful bastards.

Champagne Moment: Solid drive to seventh in Hungry, keeping Button behind all the way.

Reject moment: Not starting in Malaysia after an engine failure only three corners into his installation lap.

Defining Moment: Sitting on the jacks for three laps in Monaco while the team tried (and failed) to re-start his car.

Nick Heidfeld rejoined his old team to replace De la Rosa. He was brought in for one reason: to be fast. The hope was that a.) He’d score points so as to bring in more money and b.) To push Koybashi on to greater things. Did he manage his job? Err… Not really. This is why I have ranked him behind de la Rosa.

Sure, Koybashi was spectacular in the second half of the season, but Nick hardly pushed him into it. He wasn’t much better in Qualifying then Pedro and in the races he was solid, but not spectacular. He had advantages: a team that loved him and a car that never broke down (his only non finish was caused by a Michael Schumacher ram) but he scored only 6 points, which was of course the same amount as De la Rosa.

In conclusion, an invisible and brief F1 return for the ultimate young driver yard stick, Nick’s only achievement was discovering yet another F1 potential great in the form of his teammate.

Champagne Moment: Chasing the Mercedes in Japan for lap after lap.

Reject Moment: Blocking Rosberg for three laps in Brazil and then complaining about the resulting penalty.

Defining Moment: Being blasted by the flying Koybiashi at the hairpin in Japan, shortly after his own “Champagne Moment”

10. Jaime Alguersuari

What can one say about Alguersuari this year that will avoid having to write his name too many times (you try spelling it!) Well, he was better than Buemi…

Okay, the stats don’t show that. Jamie scored less points than Sebastian, and was out qualified by him 11 to 8. But pretty much every F1 insider think Alguersuari had the better season. So the question is why?

Some of it is short memories – Jaime was far stronger at the end of the season then the start, but most of it I believe is those little flashes of brilliance. Buemi – bar a brief cameo in Canada, was only in your eye line if he was doing something wrong, but Jaime was often the driver who brought a fast guy’s come back drive to an end. He kept Alonso trapped behind him in both Valencia and at Silverstone, and surely would have blocked both Webber and Massa in Dhabi, had he not been reminded who paid his wage…

As the season progress, Algeusuari slowly asserted himself as a driver who deserved to be in F1 – threatening to break into Q3 on occasions. Now remember he made his debut at Hungry last year, so he was effectively still a rookie, and you should agree he deserves this slot – as the middle man of the Also Rans.

Champagne Moment: Great drive to ninth in Abu Dhabi, holding off Massa despite the combination of F1’s second longest straight and no F-duct.

Reject Moment: Running over his teammate’s car on lap one in Germany.

Defining Moment: Holding off Massa in Malaysia and making a fool of Buemi at the same time.

9. Timo Glock

Glock’s decision to go for Virgin over the (at the time) uncertain Renault team now looks fairly disastrous. The Virgin car was not good – other then the fuel issue there were many handling problems cause by aerodynamic instability, probably related to the use of computer modelling (CFD) rather than a wind tunnel for the car design.

The advantage of a CFD car was that they were able to do quite a lot of development during the year and although not all of the new parts worked, Glock was soon challenging the Lotuses for class B pole. Sometimes he got it and sometimes he didn’t, but in the race, Lotus seemed to mostly have the legs, assuming the car held together.

Glock’s head did go down at times this season. It seems he couldn’t excite himself about the battle for best new team. Who could blame him too much after his great season last year? But his head didn’t fall as much as the most of the “B team” drivers, and when he got a sniff of anything, he went for it.

He ran strongly in both Singapore and Korea and was ninth fastest in wet practise in Germany. Whenever there was a “big team” around racing for position Timo came alive and showed his skill. For that reason, he is stuck up here.

Champagne Moment: Re-passing Schumacher in Australia as the German tired to fight through the field.

Reject Moment: Failing to pass Yamamoto in Japan, despite repeatedly getting along side.

Defining Moment: Failing to start in China – conditions that would have suited him – with the inevitable gearbox problem.

8. Vitally Petrov

Petrov this year was always worth watching. The “10 million reasons to sign him” (euros) Russian proved on multiple occasions this year that he was worth his place in F1. He also proved that he wasn’t.

Let’s just remind our selves of an eventful debut season:

  • Spun off pathetically in Australia
  • Raced Hamilton so hard in Malaysia that the McLaren driver had to resort to weaving
  • Passed Massa, Schumacher and Webber on his way to 7th in China
  • Crashed in Q2 in Monaco while miles off the pace of Kubica
  • Set fastest lap in Turkey after shadowing Kubica until puncture while racing Alonso wheel to wheel
  • Off the pace in Valencia, Canada, Britain and Germany, managing only one point from a clever strategy in the last of those (Kubica got 22 despite a gearbox problem in Britain)
  • Overtook Hamliton in Hungry on his way to faultless 5th
  • Spun off in Q1 right in front of us in Spa, but recovered to ninth with a brilliant race
  • Dropped it from seventh in Korea, wasting a brilliant pit strategy
  • Held off Alonso for 45 laps in Abu Dhabi to help win Vettel the crown

Clearly, consistent is not a word you could apply to Vitally. So what to make of him? He wasn’t as fast as Kubica for sure (17-2 in quail), but few are. No shame in that. But it did seem at times that he was not getting the most out of his Renault – even accounting for inferior equipments to his teammate.

However, those key flashes of future promise were there throughout the season. Renault, it seems, agree with my high rating here. Petrov will get a second season to knock off those rough edges and show that clear speed and aggression more often. Especially since those 10 million reasons have become more like 18 million…

Champagne Moment: Brilliant drive to 5th in Hungry; had Kubica all tied up there.

Reject Moment: Crash out of the points in Korea.

Defining Moment: Holding off Alonso in Abu Dhabi. Okay, not so much for this season, but think of it as a career defining one. It may well be what F1 remembers him for.

7. Heikki Kovalainen

Kovalainen’s career was on life support at the start of the season. Destroyed by Lewis at McLaren, he had everything to prove, and boy did he prove it!

So it was going to be hard to create positive attention in these back of the grid teams, but Heikki worked out how: win, win, win. Sure, he had less mechanical problems then Trulli and Glock, but I believe he was the only Group B driver never to get down about his predicament. Give him a trouble-free race and (Trulli’s Silverstone red mist win aside) he won them all. Wasn’t afraid to race the big boys too, as Webber discovered.

As final proof of Heikki’s deserving claim of this seventh place (and he could have been higher if his competition had been better), here is the unofficial class B Championship table:

1. Heikki Kovalainen       304      (10 wins, 13 finishes)

2. Jarno Trulli                  184       (2 wins, 11 finishes

3.Lucas di Grassi              184       (3 wins, 10 finishes)

4.Timo Glock                     183       (3 wins, 10 finishes)

5.Karun Chandhok           139       (1 win, 8 finishes)

6.Bruno Senna                   132       (0 wins, 9 finishes)

7.Sakon Yammamoto       60        (0 wins, 5 finishes)

8.Christian Klien                22        (0 wins, 2 finishes)

Contractors:

1. Lotus                            488

2. Virgin                          367

3.HRT                              353

I rest my case. [Look at Chandhok’s score too – Projecting results (i.e. adding Klein’s and Yamaoto’s scores to his), he would have been second! And for those of you now questioning my di Grassi rating based on this, he had a habit of finishing races no one else did, and retiring in those he was last in anyway.]

Champagne Moment: Overtaking Glock on his way to round one victory. Set the tone perfectly for his season, and the only unassisted pass all race in Bahrain.

Reject Moment: Getting beaten by Trulli at Silverstone

Defining Moment: Spinning again and again as he tried to force the Lotus into Q2 in Monaco. Showed how hard he was trying and he kept it out of the barriers – brilliant stuff!

6. Nico Hulkenburg

Hulkenburg arrived in F1 with sky-high expectations. Having dominated GP2, he was expected to explode on to the scene like Lewis Hamilton had – although with the handicap of a Williams. Even I declared him to be the driver Williams would look to for results.

The initial Hulkenburg “explosion” however, would not even have startled a rabbit. In Bahrain his only notable achievement was to liven up the race by spinning. He scored a point in Malaysia, but after that he didn’t score until Silverstone. Even that was miles behind Rubens and the in between races had been a hotpocth of poor and disappointed performances. At this point he could be bracketed with Petrov, as under serious pressure.

But Nico was slowly finding his way, Cosworth were fixing the underpowered and unrefined engine (through the programing) and Williams were fixing the car. The Hulkenburg fuse had been longer than expected, but everything came together for an explosion in Hungary.

6th place, ahead of Rubens was a great result and it kick started his season. The Williams still wasn’t the class of the field but strong points followed in Italy and a fighting drive in Korea recovered the best from a difficult tyre situation. And then there was Brazil…

Hulkenburg could have been in F1 next year (and still could with luck.) But his refusal to try to find money left him out-of-place. Williams offered to send him to HRT for a year (fully paid) so they could bring in some money in his place. He turned it down. Only time will tell if this was the right decision. Hulkenburg’s blessing is that as well as showing steady and secure driving, he also had that spectacular show of speed in Brazil. That will put him near the top of any mid field team that finds some spare cash. That might be a long wait though.

Champagne Moment: Not only on pole in Brazil, look at the margin. 1.4 seconds. Amazing.

Reject Moment: Monaco is usually a place for rookie’s to shine, but Nico was worse even then Petrov.

Defining Moment: Refusing to pay for his drive shows his spirit, pride and self-belief but may cost him his career, or at least a season.

5. Adrian Sutil

Okay, this is probably a bit harsh. Although fifth is a good result for Sutil, had the season ended in Italy, he would almost certainly be in the top three. Had it ended before Silverstone, he would have been challenging for the top.

Adrian and Force India carried a lot of momentum into this year and it was he who hit the ground running. He qualified in the top ten regularly and despite some bad luck in the first few races managed to score points in six consecutive races from Spain to Great Britain.

By Silverstone however, Force India were slipping back. Money shortages were the main problem. A lack of cash means that a team can only follow one development path; get it wrong and there is no plan B. Last year Force India got it very right, but this year they didn’t and were leapfrogged by Williams and Sauber.

A driver must take his share of responsibility for a drop in car development though, as they provide the information to the engineers, but Sutil wasn’t helped by the other problem a lack of cash causes – the inability to retain top staff. Force India lost key guys to Sauber and Lotus during the season. Sutil was still producing good results though – a fifth in the damp at Spa the stand out one. Having managed all this, and comfortably in the top ten in the championship, Adrian decided he’d like to leave Force India too.

This however is an “old world” driver market. No sponsors for the teams means the drivers have to bring some with them. Sutil has some  private backing but nowhere near enough, and I think this finally broke his motivation. Disappointed that Renault weren’t interested in a driver who had comfortably smashed their number 2, and perhaps fearing he was (and is) now “typecast” as “the Force India Driver (only appearing in act 1)” his performances became limp. Along with Liuzzi he anaemically surrendered sixth in the constructors to Williams – with no points in the last four races.

Overall though, it was still a good season. His career however, is standing still (which is still better than the direction his teammate’s is heading…)

Champagne Moment: Excellent drive to fifth in Malaysia, holding Hamilton for the last part of the race with some style.

Reject Moment: Korea: perhaps the unfinished surroundings made him think he was at a banger race?

Defining Moment: Eighth in Monaco after disappointing qualifying: good result yes, but you couldn’t help thinking that it could have been more.

4. Kamui Kobayashi

Eight races, six retirements, only once in Q3 and one point. That was Kobayashi’s start to the season i.e. the boring part. At this point, may were doubting that this was the same man who had shaken F1 in the last two races of 2009. Had they been a one-off, and was this his true form?

Valencia scotched that. First he ran comfortably in third on his unusual strategy, then after his late pitstop surged back into the points, on a track that had seen no passing in F1 before.

Two weeks later he was less spectacular but equally brilliant in taking a quiet but impressive sixth place in Britain. From there he was always impressive.

Only a crash in Singapore blotted his copy book for the rest of the year, but not before he had pulled a typically brilliant move on Schumacher. In Japan of course he was special. On a track where despite its popularity with the drivers, it is almost impossible to overtake, he seemed to spend the whole race overtaking.

Feisty, committed and aggressive, Kobayashi knows no fear and is not intimidated by anyone. Many Japanese drivers have had these traits. But Kamui seems also to be able use his head, pick his moment and can bring a car home. His speed is also consistent, rather than the “here today, gone tomorrow” pace of his fellow countrymen.

In 2010 then, Kobayashi proved himself a rare bread: entertaining and effective – a driver that is appealing and popular with both the fans and his team boss. He may not be the successor to Michael Schumacher, or even Jenson Button, but he may be the successor to Jean Alesi.

Champagne Moment: All Japanese drivers have been spectacular at home, so I’ll go with overtaking the furious Alonso on the final lap in Valencia.

Reject Moment: Dumping it in the wall on lap on in Canada, when in a good position for points on the only track Sauber’s much lauded (by me) tyre wear advantage would have been crucial.

Defining Moment: That “quiet” sixth at Silverstone proved he was the real deal, not just an effective circuit jester.

3. Nico Rosberg

Poor Nico. After four years charging round in a Williams with teammates that he couldn’t be compared to, he finally got a chance at the big time at a proper manufacturer team only to find his teammate would be Michael Schumacher!

As it turned out it was the car, not Schumy, that was Nico’s main problem. Built by the penniless Brawn team we had expected (not the title-winning team that turned up in 2009) even the might of Mercedes couldn’t make it work. In fact they did the opposite, as successive development packages failed, dropping the car further off the pace.

Nico stepped up to the plate though and appeared to make the most of his equipment. Always faster than Schumacher, he took podiums where he could and points everywhere else (excluding a few accidents.) He also proved his toughness and wasn’t afraid to race anyone as hard as they raced him (particularly with respect to Michael in Belgium.)

But the problem remains. Still not a proven race winner, Nico still lacked a teammate he could prove himself against. Sure, Schumacher has never been beaten by a teammate before, but was that Schumacher? What if that Mercedes was a race winning car? How would we have known?

For me Nico is still somewhat of a Heidfield – a driver constantly seeming on the verge of a breakthrough, but never quite making it. It’s an image he needs to shift; there are plenty of quick Germans who could take his seat at the end of next year…

Champagne Moment: Third place at Silverstone – when the car was at its least competitive – was a brilliant performance.

Reject Moment: Did nothing to remove question marks over him be throwing away victory in China.

Defining Moment: Korea again: passing Hamilton in a car that had no right to do so, and really challenging the Red Bulls when he was taken out. Rosberg in a nutshell – super quick but for various reasons not enough results. Yet…

2. Rubens Barrichello

Rubens completed his eighteenth season of Formula One this year, and probably one of his happiest. Okay, the results don’t seem to show it. No podiums (best result fourth) doesn’t seem that good for a driver used to winning, especially since it was his teammate who got the pole. But Rubens knows what he achieved this year and so do Williams – that’s why it’s Hulkenburg who has gone out the door.

It would be unfair, obviously, so say Barrichello fixed Williams. There are many hard working and brilliant engineers who work for the team. But in the end, they rely on the driver to communicate to them what is wrong with the car. This is something Williams has lack for years (another black mark for Rosberg there.)

Rubens has plugged that hole in the team structure. And then some. He suggested development routes. He told the team not only how the car should handle, but how to make it handle that way. And he helped calibrate the wind tunnel solving a problem that the team hadn’t noticed for years. The result was that Williams recovered dramatically from their mid-season slump. Without Rubens, it is possible Hulkenberg wouldn’t have scored any points this year, let alone gained a pole.

As for Rubens’ happiness? For him, it is just a joy to be listened to by the team! Barrichello has been ready to be a team leader for years, and now he is. What more could he want?

Oh yes, he’s still quick, still brave and still passionate about the sport. Three hundred Grand Prix not out, he looks to me like he could make four hundred. At least.

Champagne Moment: Enough boring technical stuff, sticking it to Michael in Hungary. Proper racing driver stuff.

Reject Moment: Ploughing into Alonso in Belgium – looked like a rookie in his three hundredth race.

Defining Moment: Being praised by the Williams management for the difference he was making to the team just before Valencia, when the team was at a low ebb. It takes a special driver to earn that praise from Williams.

1. Robert Kubica

Kubica was easily the best driver in formula one this year. Period. No arguing. Seriously, he was.

He made no mistakes (other than slightly over running his pit box in the rain at Spa), regularly transcended his car and destroyed his teammate. There is a reason he made into Q3 at every race except Dhabi (where he finished fourth in the race). There is a reason Renault kept Petrov despite being Kubica out qualifying him 17-2.

The Renault was not a bad car certainly, its characteristics suit Monaco and Suzka very well and in Spa they probably produced the best F-duct of the season. Robert qualified 2nd, 4th and 3rd at those three tracks. But those are also the tracks where the driver makes the most difference, the tracks where Kubica’s massive amount of talent could overcome the inferiority of his car.

With the exception of Hungry (where his race was cut short) Robert extracted the maximum from his car at every race. No one else can say that. Constantly balancing his car right on the edge of what appeared possible, he was always good to watch, even in practise.

Trust me, if he gets even a semi-competitive car next year this man will be in the title hunt. He is the best in the world right now.

Champagne Moment: A front row in Monaco is always special, but let’s goes with 4th on the grid at Suzuka given that the car had not been updated since Spa.

Reject Moment: None…. Okay, okay, he blew his engine on the preview stage of the Monte Carlo Rally so didn’t start. Happy?

Defining Moment: Charge back through the field after Singapore puncture showed the competitive spirit of the man.

Title contenders

Right, now for the title contenders. I’ll run through them in the order they finished in the title, since it’s easier for me to correlate my thoughts that way.

5th: Jenson Button

At the start of the year, in my totally rational opinion (ahem) Jenson Button was one of the luckiest men in the world. Although worthy of a place in the Formula one mid field, he was clearly the least talented world champion in history having genuinely only won because of his car, and Rubens’ bad luck. Up against Hamilton he would be eaten alive.

Fast forward a year and he has now become in my head a highly competent and intelligent driver, more than worthy of his McLaren seat and Giuseppe Farina has regained his top spot in the “Least talented World Champion” category. So what’s changed?

Well mostly it was Australia. Over taken by Lewis on track after a hard fight, he over ruled the hopeless McLaren strategy calls to make an inspired change to slicks and charged to a brilliant victory – and he was able to laugh about his out-of-pits-lap error that had conned the whole field. This victory epitomised Jenson’s season – clever, relaxed and in control of his own destiny throughout.

But, unfortunately, not quite quick enough. Too often was Button far lower on the grid then his title rivals, as typified by his 14th placed start in Silverstone. He recovered brilliantly to fourth, but second was up for grabs that day. Not fast enough to win the title on speed alone, Jenson tried to make the most of his superior consistency and circumstances that arose, such as the rain in China and his brilliant use of Mclaren’s F-duct in Italy to race a high downforce set up at the fastest track of the year. But his title bid was already a rocky prospect before Vettel speared him in Belgium: the McLaren just wasn’t quite good enough to allow him to fight with the best of them.

In the end analysis, Button’s silky smooth driving style maximises a good car, it won’t wrestle any extra from it. But Prost won four world titles that way and while Button isn’t Prost, he is closer to him then he to the driver I thought he was.

Champagne Moment: His win in Australia was possibly the best drive of the season, worthy of a world champion.

Reject Moment: His drive in Korea however, was barely worthy of the “old” Button.

Defining Moment: Cool and calm under pressure from Alonso and with a damaged car, he controlled the Italian Grand Prix with class, until McLaren messed the strategy up.

Moment the Title was lost: The moment steam erupted from his burst radiator after Vettel’s assault in Spa.

4th: Lewis Hamilton

If one driver in the field right now can really wrestle a bad car, it’s Lewis Hamilton. Throughout 2010 he had this uncanny ability to seemingly will more speed from his car. McLaren never seemed to have the best car this year but when it was near the pace, Lewis made up the difference.

His overtaking frenzies in Australia and Malaysia were fantastic to watch. In Turkey he pushed the Red Bulls into “that” mistake, and then dealt with his cheeky teammate (who was on much fresher tyres at the time due to some wise driving). Then In Canada overcame a grip less track to win a rare race in which all three of the top teams were up at the front. Tie in his brilliant drive in Spa and a fantastic second place at Silverstone (where a failed update to the car should have left him off the pace like Button) and you can see why many commentators feel Lewis was their driver of the year.

I disagree. That isn’t to say he wasn’t brilliant, but there is a side effect to Lewis’ all-out attack approach: he makes too many mistakes. It’s one of the reasons we love him of course, but if you are trying to win the title in an inferior car, mistakes are not an option. He lost vital time with a crash in practise in Suzuka, threw away second (that became first) sliding off the road in Korea, and lost vital points in Italy with a frankly dim lunge at Massa.

Off the track Lewis had a difficult year too. I’m not one for talking about private lives though, but it was disheartening when his anger slipped through into his job. Sure the team messed up a few strategies, but Lewis’ constant moaning and whining on the radio really got on our nerves so it must frustrate the team. Here he could learn a lesson from Button: if you don’t trust the team, take responsibility for your own tactics.

The only time I like the sound coming down Lewis’ radio was in Korea, as he castigated the officials for not starting the race. That’s the part of Lewis we all love – the racer part. It couldn’t win him this year’s title, but it certainly made the season more entertaining!

Champagne Moment: Driving around the outside of Rosberg at the suicidal “Chicane” in Australia was truly awesome.

Reject Moment: Being forced to weave to hold off Petrov (and then having the cheek to claim he was trying to break the tow) was way out-of-order.

Defining Moment: Sure, the Singapore collision with Webber was a racing incident that could have happened to anyone. But it didn’t happen to anyone. It happened to Lewis.

The Moment the Title was Lost: Left field pick here, but purely on points, his puncture in Spain cost him eighteen points and gained Vettel three. Do the maths.

3rd: Mark Webber

In 2009 Webber was beaten by Vettel fairly comfortably. But in 2009, Webber was recovering from a broken leg. He believed that this was the difference – not their respective talent. And early in the year, he seemed to have proved himself right.

After a lousy start in Bahrain and a chaotic home race, Webber was untouchable on pace in Spain and Monaco. These were brilliant drives; drives that thrust in your face what all the Webber fans in the media and his previous teams had been saying about him. Ruthlessly fast and leading from the front, Webber dominated these races in a way his teammate thought he had the patent for.

This seemed to rattle Vettel, much to Webber’s delight. Perhaps this was the problem. Vettel, like many great drivers, plays himself. What I mean by that is he knows he is the best, so just needs to maximise his own performance to win. The other drivers are just obstacles and if a teammate is faster than them, it almost doesn’t compute; hence Vettel’s discomfort.

Webber plays the man. He had to get on top of Vettel and beat him down. Now it is likely that Vettel was having his fighting done for him within the team by people like Helmet Marko (the Red Bull man in Red Bull Racing) and as such Webber’s well timed strops in Britain and Turkey were necessary. They proved to the team he was here to win, and brought the question of equality into the public eye, where Red Bull couldn’t hide. But his attack in Brazil was miss-timed and backfired – as he upset the important people in the team – Horner, Newey and the mechanics.

Webber had had the speed edge over Vettel when the blown exhaust was less user-friendly i.e. during the period when the accelerating provided more downforce. Sebastian couldn’t get his head round it as well as Webber could, so Mark was quicker. Once Red Bull had improoved the engine electronics to get exhaust gas flowing through the diffuser at all times, not just while on the throttle, Vettel was faster again. Mark held on with some great drives in Spa and a charging win in Hungry (when he had to make up a pit stop on Alonso remember,) but in the last four races he was beaten every time by his teammate. By then of course he had a broken shoulder after another bicycle accident.

This year Webber proved what to be honest we knew already – that he was very fast and as tough as iron. Given the best car, it was always likely he would have a shot at being world title. Unfortunately he had a quicker teammate. Webber fought hard and gave as good as he got, but the limp ending to his charge in Abu Dhabi only served to trick Ferrari into handing his “beloved” teammate the title. Only time will tell if Webber gets another shot.

Champagne Moment: There is no Champagne Moment like winning in Monaco.

Reject Moment: Yet another Australian Grand Prix where he let the pressure get the better of him, ending in a silly accident.

Defining Moment: His fantastic win at Silverstone, which really “wasn’t bad for a number two driver”, was it?

Moment the title was lost: Somewhere in that long, slow but inevitable spin into the wall in Korea.

2nd: Fernando Alonso

Alonso moved to Ferrari for one reason: to win. And he made the perfect start too, inheriting a win in his debut for the prancing horse.

After that? Well, he got involved in a start line crash in Australia (racing incident), blew his sick engine over stressing it trying to pass Button in Malaysia, Jumped the start by miles in China, crashed in practise in Monaco, was twice court out clumsily by traffic in Canada, lost his temper in Valencia, picked up a naïve race-destroying drive through in Britain, won by cheating (team orders were banned) in Germany and spun out all on his own in Spa. Yet he still went to Abu Dhabi in the Championship lead!

I suppose the above says more accurately things about everyone else’s season then Alonso’s, because it appears to suggest that Alonso was terrible. At times he was poor, yes, but at times he was his brilliant best. His three wins on the bounce in Italy, Singapore and Korea were top draw, as he absolutely maximised the performance of his Ferrari to deliver the goods.

Fernando still displayed his Latin temperament at times, but in Ferrari land they love that in a driver. He certainly succeeded in displacing Massa completely, which didn’t seem a certainty last year when he joined. But that temper seems to let him down more often than it helps. But despite all the development problems and mistakes, Alonso was one pit-stop call away from the world title. This must show the underlying strength of the man and the team; strength which they only just failed to exploit in what was generally a tough year.

So Alonso’s F1 record stands as such: After a debut season with a lower team (Minardi) he won two world titles in his first four seasons in a works team. Over the next four years he has twice been in the fight right to the end, but just missed out. Sound familiar? If Alonso isn’t to be Formula one’s Carlos Sainz (Wiki him) then he needs to find that title-winning spirit to overcome his mental weaknesses without losing his epic speed.

Champagne Moment: Winning the Italian Grand Prix for Ferrari is always extra special, as Alonso now knows.

Reject Moment: Of all his errors, the jump-start in China was the most unnecessary.

Defining Moment: Diving past Massa in the pit entry road later in the race was a typical Alonso move: brutal, effective and not calculated to improve team spirit.

Moment the Title was Lost: When Petrov and Rosberg pitted behind the safety car in Dhabi, they laid the trap Ferrari walked straight into.

1st: Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian only led the title race once – when it mattered. The question, I suppose, is whether he deserved it? Was Sebastian Vettel a worthy F1 world Champion?

Wins wise, Vettel was much like 2009. Give him the lead and a fast car and wave goodbye. Job done. Once again, all his wins in 2010 fitted this pattern: Malaysia: took lead at first corner – win. Valencia: Pole, lead through first corner – win. Japan: Pole, lead through first corner… We know Vettel can do that.

What about fighting drives though? How about Spain, when he skilful brought a car with only front brakes on one side home third? Or his vital charge at Silverstone – back through the pack to fourth with some fantastic overtaking. Or in Monza, where he made the soft tyres last until the final lap to allow him to recover fourth after an engine glitch had cost him it. All these points turned out to be crucial.

Mistakes? Well, he made a few. The Turkey collision was certainly his fault, as was the careless drive through in Hungry. Oh yes, he also wiped Button out in spa, but given the track conditions this was not as heinous a crime as the press made it out to be.

These driver errors cost Vettel about fifty points. Fifty points that arguable would have better represented the Red Bull package in the title race. But what about those points that were lost that weren’t his fault?

In Bahrain, a spark plug cost him 13th, in Australia a break failure cost him 25, and the Spanish one cost him a further 3. Another 25 went missing with a heart breaking failure in Korea, that appeared have cost him the title. So Sebastian lost Sixty six points through failures that weren’t his fault. So he could well have been 116 points better off.

The 2010 Formula one season was the best televised season ever – but it could not have been without all these lost points for Vettel. He could have walked it. Maybe he should have walked it. We should be grateful that he didn’t. This doesn’t prevent him in my eyes though, from being the worthy World Champion.

Champagne Moment: His tears down the Radio in Abu Dhabi.

Reject Moment: Shunting Button out in his disastrous Belgium Grand Prix.

Defining Moment: Korea, Japan, Brazil, Dhabi: Only an engine failure in the first of these prevented four wins in a row, which should underline his title-winning status.

Moment the Title Was Won: For me, it was his crucial, British Touring Car style lunge past Sutil at Silverstone that secured vital points at the moment of his teammates greatest triumph. The day was Webber’s but the Title would be Vettel’s.

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One thought on “F1 2010 Season Review

  1. Pingback: F1 2011 Season Preview | Michael's Blog

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