F1 07 review: Driver rankings (2/3)

Bahrain Grand Prix, start, 2007 | Ferrari MediaHere’s the second part of my driver rankings for 2007.

Yesterday covered the first 16, here are a further seven and tomorrow there’ll be the final three.

For now, check out the first part of the top ten and argue your case for any driver you think is rated too high or too low…

10. Jenson Button

Poor though the Honda RA107 was, Jenson Button managed to overcome its shortcomings in a way Rubens Barrichello seldom looked capable of.

Although Button was rightly lauded for his measured drive to fifth in the wet at Shanghai, I thought the Italian Grand Prix was his most impressive showing. He dragged the car into the final phase of qualifying and scored a point on a day when there weren’t many retirements. His tooth and nail scrap with Nico Rosberg in the opening stint was as ruthless as it was fair.

He shined in the wet as well, and would surely have scored more points at the Nurburgring if he hadn?t been among the drivers who hit the lake at turn one when it was at its deepest. In the wet qualifying at Japan he was an excellent sixth. Next year he’ll be hungrier than ever.

9. Mark Webber

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Bahrain, 2007 | GEPA PicturesFor the second year in a row Mark Webber was the driver who suffered the most mechanically-induced retirements. They came at Bahrain, Barcelona, Monte-Carlo, Silverstone, Istanbul and Interlagos.

Adding to his poor luck he was shunted out of second in the Japanese Grand Prix ?ǣ a race he might have won ?ǣ by another of the Red Bull drivers.

On the occasions that fortune allowed him to finish he raced well, getting on the podium at the N???rburging, something few people who weren?t in a McLaren or Ferrari managed all year long.

And he remained one of the best (perhaps the very best) drivers in qualifying, racking up 12 top ten starts to Coulthard?s four.

8. Robert Kubica

Robert Kubica, BMW, Silverstone, 2007 | BMW MediaAfter his scorching d??but in 2006 many expected Robert Kubica to show Nick Heidfeld the way in 2007. That he didn?t was mainly because Heidfeld upped his game, rather than Kubica losing the plot.

His shocking accident in the Canadian Grand Prix can?t have helped, but to his credit the Pole showed no ill effects on his return at Magny-Cours, where he achieved his best qualifying position and joint best finish of the year (fourth in both cases).

Kubica seemed to belong in the Fernando Alonso / Kimi Raikkonen camp of ex-Michelin drivers who were flummoxed by the Bridgestone tyres, at least in the early part of the season.

But even by the end of the year he was not quite on Heidfeld?s pace. That said, he came much closer to winning a race than his team mate did, being cruelly robbed when his car failed shortly after he took the lead in Shanghai.

7. Heikki Kovalainen

Heikki Kovalainen, Renault, Spa-Francorchamps, 2007 | Andrew Ferraro / LAT PhotographicAfter a very shaky start to the year Kovalainen got down to the task of shrugging off the rookie mistakes admirably well. The R27 was an ungainly car much of the time, and while Fisichella could apparently cope with it (having driven a fair few trucks in his time) Kovalainen took a few races longer to get to grips with its lack of aerodynamic stability.

The Canadian Grand Prix was unquestionably the turning point. Starting last on the grid after car trouble, with rumours gathering that he was about to be booted out of the team to make way for Nelson Piquet, he drove a perfect race on Sunday. Dodging the pitfalls that claimed countless others, he snatched a magnificent fourth.

From that point on he never looked back. He out-qualified Fisichella 8-3 over the remaining races and caught and passed the Italian in the points standings. But for a crash (caused by car damage) in the final race he would have finished every round.

6. Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Barcelona, 2007 | Ferrari MediaWith the same equipment that Kimi Raikkonen used to win the world championship, Felipe Massa scored half as many wins and finished fourth.

OK, that?s a little harsh. After all Massa gave away what would have been one of his wins so that Raikkonen could win the championship. And he suffered slightly more from Ferrari?s reliability and operational problems: the retirement in Monza, the failure to get away from the grid at Silverstone and the problems in qualifying in Melbourne and Hungary.

But of the four drivers in the best cars this year it was Massa who most looked as though he didn?t belong. At Sepang Lewis Hamilton passed Massa at a place where it should have been impossible, then duped him onto out-braking himself off the road.

Having started 14th at the Hungaroring he advanced only one place over the course of the race to finish a poor 13th. Worst of all was his attempt to keep Fernando Alonso from passing him at the Nurburgring by causing contact with the Alonso’s McLaren.

He did take a trio of deserved victories, the latter of which at Turkey was definitely the best as he out-drove Kimi Raikkonen at a point in the season when the Finn was totally tuned in to the Ferrari?s handling.

Halfway through the year I wrote that I?d revised my original opinion of Massa as being crash-prone and unworthy of a top-line seat. But I still think he is a notch of performance behind the very best in the sport, and it showed on several occasions this year.

5. Nico Rosberg

Nico Rosberg, Williams-Toyota, Istanbul, 2007 | Charles Coates / LAT PhotographicAfter a mixed d??but in 2006 Nico Rosberg marked himself out this year as a seriously talented young driver who could win races tomorrow given a good enough car.

Over the course of the season he became a regular visitor to the top ten in qualifying. He backed this up with consistent points finishes, aided by some badly needed improvements in reliability from Williams. His four consecutive points finishes late in the season helped lift the team past engine suppliers Toyota in the constructors? standings.

His race craft was excellent, which it had to be as Williams team strategy let him down on occasions. This was particularly so at the Hungaroring and at Monte-Carlo, the latter seeing him slip down the field as he got stuck behind Nick Heidfeld at the start. At Interlagos he saw off both the BMWs.

There is a suggestion that he was flattered by the performances of Alex Wurz, whose heart plainly wasn?t in it. But judged on his own merits, Nico Rosberg had a very impressive season.

4. Nick Heidfeld

Nick Heidfeld, BMW, Monte-Carlo, 2007 | BMW MediaHeidfeld was deservedly the ??best of the rest? this year, qualifying and racing very consistently with the ever-improving BMW team.

While last year he?d visibly had to work harder once Kubica had joined the outfit, this year he hit the ground running. In fact holding a grip on second place for much of the Australian Grand Prix was about as good as it got all season for Heidfeld. He got on the podium at Canada and Hungary, two of his 14 points finishes from 17 starts.

Given how secure his and BMW?s positions as ??best of the rest? were towards the end of the year it was a shame not see them adopt a more radical approach in pursuit of race wins in the late wet rounds.

But his only major blunder all year was the impetuous moved that punted both BMWs off at the start of the European Grand Prix. If BMW produced the goods next year, don?t bet against him scoring his first ever win soon.

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Photos: Ferrari Media | GEPA Pictures | BMW Media | Andrew Ferraro / LAT Photographic | Ferrari Media | Charles Coates / LAT Photographic | BMW Media

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11 comments on F1 07 review: Driver rankings (2/3)

  1. Journeyer said on 22nd November 2007, 11:59

    I’d put Massa ahead of at least Rosberg. If Nico had one weakness, it was that he was not able to take advantage of golden opportunities. He could’ve scored a podium in Canada (ahead of Alex too) if not for the pitlane incident. And he would’ve been on the podium too at the Nurburgring (or at the very least been challenging Webber and Wurz) if he didn’t spin off at Turn 1.

    On the other hand, Massa was more on the pace when it came to these. That win in Turkey was hardfought. And his bad luck was more mechanical than driver error (except Sepang, of course).

  2. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd November 2007, 12:27

    I think Rosberg’s penalty at Montreal was at least as much the team’s fault than his.

    And I wouldn’t blame any of the drivers who went off at turn one at the Nurburgring in those conditions – I think at the peak of the rainstorm the water had simply gotten too deep for the cars and it was sheer luck whether a given car got through or not.

    As for Massa, when the conditions were wet he really wasn’t very good at all. Compare his drive at Fuji with Raikkonen’s, for example.

  3. Massa’s a good, extremely fast, driver – but his racing is left to be desired. He can runaway from start to finish, but when it comes to competition we don’t see him do too well. The incidents at Sepang and Nurburgrin were big no-no’s and showed signs of desperation.

    Although, I think it’s a bit harsh to say he made only one place at Hungaroring and not mention his Silverstone drive where he went from last to 5th(?) – but I guess this is the kind of twitchy performance we see from him.

    Maybe he just needs to relax a bit more…

  4. Daniel said on 22nd November 2007, 12:57

    Keith, I think your confessed ‘harsh’ veredict on Massa was, despite that, pretty much fair.
    I just don’t understand why you didn’t take into account that Felipe was certainly the fastest of all in one lap distances, grabbing most poles (six) and most fastest laps (six, tied with Raikkonen) than anyone else.

    If Massa improves slightly his race consistence, he’ll be a champion soon…

  5. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd November 2007, 13:12

    Well partly I didn’t want to write War And Peace on every driver!

    Plus you have to be really careful with qualifying data for top ten drivers because of the fuel loads in the third part of qualifying. If a driver’s on pole but pits first by five laps, it doesn’t really mean anything.

    Fastest laps, similarly, can be influenced by pit stop strategies, traffic, changing track conditions and more, so they’re not necessarily useful barometers of performance. If a driver’s got, say, a dozen or more fastest laps out of 17 races, that’s a strong indication he’s been good over a single lap.

    Loki, point taken – his Silverstone drive was good, until he got stuck behind Kubica at least.

  6. Daniel said on 22nd November 2007, 13:44

    Agreed, but, without cientific evidence though, I clearly remember Massa grabbing pole despite being one lap heavier than Raikkonen, at least twice… Turkey is a fine example…

  7. Journeyer said on 22nd November 2007, 13:49

    Hmmm… Come to think of it, Massa always seems to do well at Istanbul and Interlagos, 2 anti-clockwise tracks with very similar traits.

    Interesting to note that…

  8. Michael K said on 22nd November 2007, 14:30

    well, I’m looking forward to the last part where you’ll have to balance the best rookie driver of all time, albeit pushed by a massive onslaught of PR which nobody can ignore, with one of the greatest comebacks of all time aided by massive problems of the aforementioned best rookie driver of all time to handle real pressure… Alonso will come in third, there is no question in my mind about that.

  9. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd November 2007, 14:36

    Well Alonso did come first in 2005 and 2006

  10. Michael K said on 22nd November 2007, 15:59

    If he comes in first this year you must have a secret love-bond with him ;-)

  11. I am a Felipe Flagwaver (but Jenson Button Maniac) and I think that your verdict is pretty fair.
    He was great this year but the only score that matters at the end is the championship and although he was very very fast (faster then Kimi on MANY occasions) he didn’t do the job at the end of the day.

    Good point about Mark Webber. Can that guy qualify a car or what!

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