Drivers half-season report – Part 1

The Canadian Grand Prix marked the halfway point in the 2006 season, which seems a worthwhile time to take stock of how the drivers are faring up and down the pitlane. Don’t miss the second part coming up before the United States Grand Prix.

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23 Yuji Ide

It’s easy to be harsh on Ide, especially after the humiliating circumstances of his dismissal from Super Aguri. After just four races he was dropped at the insistence of the FIA. Hacing plainly struggled for pace, he compounded his disgrace by tipping Christijan Albers into a frightening barrel-roll at the start of the San Marino Grand Prix.

The FIA edict was hard to argue with. But the short amount of time he had spent testing the Super Aguri, which was car miles off the pace, before racing it on tracks he hardly knew, are all mitigating factors.

22 Tiago Monteiro

Tiago Monteiro, MidlandF1-Toyoya, Sepang, 2006You have to feel for both the MidlandF1 drivers, engaged in a seemingly pointless struggle with a team who’s reputation and attitude towards the sport seem indifferent at best.

Perhaps as a result, each driver has crashed into the other on one separate occasion. Monteiro’s blunder, at Montreal, was clearly the worst, so he ranks just behind Albers.

21 Christijan Albers

Christijan Albers, MidlandF1-Toyota, 2006While Monteiro has shown much of his legendary consistency from 2005, Albers has had some intriguing flashes of speed. They’re just so hard to spot in such an ungainly machine.

His needless run-in with Albers at the start of the Monaco round haven’t helped his cause either. But his close links to a potential Midland buyer linked to his Lost Boys sponsor may see him into a third season.

20 Franck Montagny

Kudos to Montagny for finally getting his foot in the door. The unsung tester of Renault’s double-chapionship-winning R25 was sadly dumped by the team for Heikki Kovalainen, as was contemplating a move to America when the Super Aguri call came.

Happily, he had the nous to guarantee that his F1 ride would not compromise his plum seat with Pescarolo in the Le Mans 24 Hours, which proved a far better showcase for his talents than the lumbering Super Aguri.

19 Takuma Sato

Super Aguri can’t be all that likely to criticise Sato, as all outward impressions would suggest that he is the reason why the team was put together (with Honda backing) in the first place. But he has put in some fine drives, such as holding off Rubens Barrichello in the Australian Grand Prix.

Alas, the last round at Montreal suggested he is the same old shunt-prone Taku. Relishing a chance to finish ahead of Monteiro’s Midland, he smacked the wall and retired. It’s still hard to see him as team-leading material.

18 Scott Speed

Scott Speed, Toro Rosso-Cosworth, Montreal, 2006In the ‘junior’ Red Bull team Speed’s team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi has something of a head start, having done a handful of races last year and plenty of testing at the race tracks.

Speed was in fine form at Montreal, though, perhaps because this was one of the tracks where he got to test instead of Liuzzi last year. But Liuzzi’s superior qualifying form and Speed’s much-criticised personality (by peers as well as journalists) shows the American has some work to do.

17 Christian Klien

Christian Klien, Red Bull-Ferrari, 2006Persistent rumours insist that Dietrich Mateschitz will only keep one of his ’06 Red Bull drivers in the top team, and the experienced David Coulthard who recently bagged the team’s first podium looks like a dead cert.

This is harsh stuff for the likeable Klien, who flew in Bahrain and has often had his Red Bull wings clipped by unreliability. But up against Coulthard and even Liuzzi, Klien seems to be lacking that crucial final percentage of performance. He is being linked with Red Bull’s interest in the Champ Car World Series.

16 Ralf Schumacher

Are Toyota’s drivers the cause or victim of the team’s malaise? Ralf Schumacher increasingly seems to be a case of, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Of course, he did take a well-earned podium at Australia, his reward mainly for keeping the car on the track and not falling victim to the mechanical problems that always claim team mate Jarno Trulli.

And no summary of Ralf’s season should overlooked his blundering, ham-fisted attempt to pass Trulli at Barcelona, which destroyed Ralf’s race and very nearly Jarno’s too. It reminded you of his similar stunt at Indianapolis in 2002.

15 Jarno Trulli

Trulli remains an enigma, able to extract qualifying laptimes from the TF106b that Ralf Schumacher cannot touch – yet often melts into the background on race day. How much this is a continuation of the Trulli we have seen in later years, and how much is a consequence of said car’s inability to achieve consistently quick race lap times, is a matter of conjecture between his fans and detractors.

Of more concern to Trulli, one suspects, is the constant mechanical failures that have ruined his season, most notably at Monaco where a podium was on the cards.

14 Vitantonio Liuzzi

Vitantonio Liuzzi, Toro Rosso-Cosworth, Silverstone, 2006Liuzzi is one of few drivers this season who has consistently squeezed more out of his car – the controversial Scuderia Toro Rosso with Cosworth V10 – than anyone else, especially his team mate. Liuzzi has become a regular feature in the second part of qualifying while Speed seldoms reaches there.

Often Liuzzi has demoted Klien in the Red Bull to get there. His race day performances, too, have been strong, none more so than at Melbourne when he pounced on a struggling Michael Schumacher and sliced past him with no compunction whatsoever.

13 David Coulthard

David Coulthard, Red Bull-Ferrari, Montreal, 2006Two years age there were plenty of people saying that David Coulthard was washed up and didn’t stand a hope in hell of getting another drive.

Now, in his second year with Red Bull and having scord their first podium position, he looks set to sign again for 2007. And with an Adrian Newey-penned car with Dietrich Mateschitz’s resources at his disposal, who’s to say he couldn’t win again?

12 Jacques Villeneuve

Jacques Villeneuve, BMW, Monte-Carlo, 20006At a recent F1 Fan Forum hosted by Radio Five a panel of Formula One experts including the likes of Murray Walker and Pat Symonds were asked which driver was most likely to be without a seat in 2007. Most of them answered that it would be Jacques Villeneuve – and that it would be a terrible shame.

Villeneuve, rather like Coulthard, is driving better in this later stage of his career perhaps than he ever had done before, and a change of team has brought about a sea change in his once notoriously bad attitude towards media work.

Yet for all this, he is fighting a rearguard action to keep rapid Pole Robert Kubica out of his seat for next year. It is time for fortune to smile on Jacques Vileneuve.

11 Nico Rosberg

Nico Rosberg made a dream debut in Bahrain with a combative drive to finish in the points-paying top eight. Since then the flaky reliability of the Williams-Cosworth has often thwarted him, but he does look a little rough around the edges still, as well.

His collision with Juan Pablo Montoya on lap two of the Canadian Grand Prix was a classic example of a rookie trying too hard to assert himself in premier league company.

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