2012 F1 season review
The 2012 driver rankings continue with part two, which take us up to the top five.
14. Felipe Massa
|Beat team mate in qualifying||2/20|
|Beat team mate in race||0/17|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||70/1081|
Halfway through the season Massa appeared at number 22 in these rankings, so 14th represents a significant gain following his disastrous first half of the season.
Massa never mastered the F2012 when it was at its worst the way Alonso did. In Malaysia he dropped back from his team mate at a rate of over two seconds per lap and was almost lapped by him at the end. In Spain, as in Malaysia, the next car behind him at the finish was a Caterham.
As the Ferrari improved Massa made faltering progress. There were still wasted races in Canada (spin), Germany (went off during qualifying) and Singapore (collided with the other Caterham). While Alonso only failed to reach Q3 twice, Massa missed out in half of the races.
But there were also signs that race engineer Rob Smedley’s efforts to rebuild Massa’s confidence were working. At Silverstone he picked the strategy Alonso should have gone for. In Italy he made way for his recovering team mate. And by the Korean Grand Prix his pace had sufficiently improved that he had to be told to back off and not catch his team mate.
The final two races were a revelation: Massa was quicker than Alonso in qualifying and on race day. Ferrari went to the absurd lengths of deliberately incurring a penalty to drop him behind Alonso in America, but wisely decided not to repeat the trick in Massa’s backyard.
On the strength of the last two races he’d be well inside in the top ten, but that dismal start to the season ruined his year and almost cost him his place at Ferrari.
Lovely to see him progress from painful to watch, through signs of recovery from Monaco onwards, to looking like a winner again, with some blinding starts along the way. You have to wonder if he’s tough enough any more, but if he gets to lead a race on current form, watch him go (unless, of course, Alonso’s second…).
13. Romain Grosjean
|Beat team mate in qualifying||9/19|
|Beat team mate in race||2/12|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||230/803|
Grosjean was pilloried for triggering a dangerous crash at the first corner in Spa. But in the context of how similar incidents and repeat offenders were handled during the season his ban seemed harsh, particularly as the stewards admitted it was levied in part because he’d collided with championship contenders.
Claims after the race that this was the seventh such collision he’d caused were clearly at odds with the facts. But comparisons with 2012′s other repeat offender Maldonado are inescapable. Both wield considerable talent yet have not yet learned how to temper it with restraint.
After coming back from his ban Grosjean collided with Webber in Japan (earning the sobriquet “first-lap nutcase”) and spoiled his qualifying in Brazil by tangling with De La Rosa.
Weighed against Grosjean’s impetuous driving are several impressive performances against a world champion team mate. He narrowly came out on top in qualifying (Grosjean was slightly quicker on average), reached the podium three times and was robbed of a second-place finish in the European Grand Prix.
In Singapore he was called on to move over and let Raikkonen past. But later in the season Grosjean’s driving gave the impression he was too preoccupied with avoiding another ban to get involved with scraps like his excellent dice for position with Hamilton in Valencia.
There’s clearly potential in Grosjean, but too much of it is being wasted and it’s not hard to see why Lotus are making him sweat before revealing whether he will continue with them next year.
After the first half of the season, I was willing to give him the benefit of doubt and say that “the speed is there beneath the crashes”. But the crashes haven’t stopped. Ended up scoring just 20 points to Raikkonen’s 91 in the second half of the season.
12. Michael Schumacher
|Beat team mate in qualifying||8/20|
|Beat team mate in race||7/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||348/810|
It must be a source of huge frustration to Schumacher that by the time his W03 stopped breaking down it had lost its competitive edge. He could have enjoyed a very different start to the season without failures in Australia, China (due to a pit stop error), Bahrain (in qualifying) and Canada.
But he was also the architect of his own demise at times, not least with two unnecessary crashes in Spain and Singapore which cost him dearly. The former meant no pole position at Monaco, although there too any hopes of success were ultimately thwarted by another technical failure.
His worst performance came in Hungary where he crashed in practice for the second race in a row, then took up the wrong spot on the grid causing an aborted start and later retired.
After announcing his impending retirement in Japan it looked like he wasn’t going to see the points again before calling it a day. Having lined up fifth at the Circuit of the Americas he dropped quickly down the order in the race, struggling with his tyres.
Finally he rose to the occasion in Brazil and was holding sixth late in the race when Vettel appeared on his tail. Disappointingly, he passed on the opportunity to show Vettel what he was made of.
But there was symbolism and symmetry in this moment. Each of the three seasons of Schumacher’s comeback produced a world championship win for Vettel. Now Schumacher moved over to let his successor pass and move a step closer to his third title.
Best season since his comeback. Matched his team-mate through most of the year and even surpassed Rosberg at times. Car was unreliable and he made a few silly errors, however.
11. Kamui Kobayashi
|Beat team mate in qualifying||8/19|
|Beat team mate in race||4/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||252/783|
Most of Sauber’s headline-grabbing performances this year were produced by Perez. But Kobayashi had his day in Suzuka as well, and there might have been another at Spa had he not been caught up in the first corner melee.
Kobayashi had already improved on his career best with fourth in Germany after Vettel’s penalty. There were other fine performances too. In Abu Dhabi, with his career in doubt, he climbed from 15th to finish sixth.
Among the low points were a poor race in China, where he started third and only just hung on for a point at the end, and collisions with Senna and Massa in Valencia. He mowed down his pit crew at Silvertone and in Korea he ricocheted off Button and Rosberg at the start, ruining both their races.
It was wonderful to see him get the podium in Suzuka, and it was terrible seeing him retire after a front row start in Spa.
Some good drives and impressive overtakes, as well as some bad luck, but ultimately he just didn’t show anything that would convince me he’s a huge talent.
10. Paul di Resta
|Beat team mate in qualifying||9/19|
|Beat team mate in race||7/17|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||416/1020|
Both Force India’s drivers performed well during the season, but towards the end of the year Hulkenberg drew clear of Di Resta.
He began the year with points finishes in five of the first seven races when the VJM05 was not at its best. In Bahrain he produced a great drive in adversity, the team having missed the second practice session following a petrol bomb attack, rising from tenth to hold off Alonso for sixth.
As was the case last year, one of his best performances came at Singapore. This time he planted the car on the third row before finishing a career-best fourth.
He might have done better had it not been for an unfortunately-timed gearbox change penalty which costing him fourth on the grid in Italy. And a chance of a strong result in Spa was lost due to a KERS failure.
Di Resta’s head seemed to drop late in the year and in Abu Dhabi his eagerness to get past his team mate at the start ended in Hulkenberg’s retirement.
Overall a reasonable season on paper, but beaten by his team mate and he flagged badly in the latter half of 2012. Although he blamed chassis issues, he had a new one for the last three races and it didn’t seem to make much difference.
Touted as a potential 2013 driver at Ferrari and McLaren, his dip seemed to coincide with missing out on both those spots. Will need to do much better next year if he is to revive his dreams of ending up at a top tier team.
9. Sergio Perez
|Beat team mate in qualifying||11/19|
|Beat team mate in race||6/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||531/783|
McLaren’s choice of replacement for Hamilton made several excellent performances during the season. But his failure to score a point since signing for McLaren will surely cause them to wonder if they got the right man.
The first of three stand-out drives from Perez came in Malaysia, where he reaped the benefits of switching to intermediate tyres early to challenge Alonso for victory. He was back on the podium in Canada after getting the tyre game right, and passed both Ferraris on his way to second in Italy.
He added to these three major points hauls on just four occasions – though it should be noted he had five 11th places.
Qualifying was a weakness, though sometimes this was the precursor towards impressive climbs into the points, such as his run from the penultimate row to finish eighth in Melbourne (which would have been higher without the safety car) and climbing to sixth having started 17th in Germany.
When he did qualify well, as in Spain and Belgium, his race prospects were ruined at the start in incidents he did not carry the blame for. At Silverstone he was making progress when he was taken out by Maldonado.
Occasions when he was the architect of his own demise included going off while trying to pass Hamilton in Japan and his penalty for improperly rejoining the track in Abu Dhabi. There’s no mistaking the potential McLaren have spotted, but there’s still a bit of honing to be done.
Used his brilliant speed and amazing ability to make a set of tyres last, to score stunning podiums in Malaysia, Canada and Monza leading many pundits to label the Mexican as a future world champion.
After being snubbed by Ferrari, Perez was snapped up by McLaren yet since then Perez has failed to score a point, next year will be very interesting indeed.
8. Nico Rosberg
|Beat team mate in qualifying||12/20|
|Beat team mate in race||3/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||462/810|
Nico Rosberg finally became an F1 race winner in 2012. And he dominated the Chinese Grand Prix so comprehensively it looked like it might be the first of several victories.
That it didn’t turn out that way owes more to Mercedes’ development problems than missed opportunities on Rosberg’s part. His notable missed opportunities came in Monaco, where the car was clearly capable of winning, and in qualifying errors at Melbourne and Bahrain which kept him from starting closer to the front.
As Mercedes were increasingly overhauled by their rivals Rosberg’s better performances became harder to discern.
He took fifth in Singapore despite carrying damage from a first-corner collision throughout the race. In Belgium a gearbox penalty meant he started the race 23rd with virtually no dry-weather running, yet he recovered to 11th.
In Japan and Korea he was eliminated in first-corner collisions and Abu Dhabi went little better. But even making allowances for these there were some low-key weekends which gave cause to wonder how well Rosberg will fare now his ageing septuple-champion team mate is being replaced by his old karting rival.
Breakthrough win promised much, but he delivered little. Another disappointing year.
7. Jenson Button
|Beat team mate in qualifying||4/20|
|Beat team mate in race||4/13|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||320/958|
Button bookended his season with wins in Australia and Brazil. Unfortunately for him there wasn’t enough success between the two – his only other victory came in Belgium.
Although his final win was aided by a collision between Hulkenberg and Hamilton it should be remembered that, not for the first time, he judged challenging conditions better than his team mate and gained a considerable advantage over him before it was wiped out by the safety car.
Similarly in Belgium it was Button, not Hamilton, who sussed out the correct set-up after limited practice time and it was he who started from pole position, clear of the first-corner carnage.
In Spain, Monaco and Britain he failed to reach Q3 and made little progress in the races. In Canada he only made it in thanks to Maldonado’s crash and then suffered a race every bit as poor as his drive in Brazil was great.
Like Hamilton, Button experienced McLaren pit stop and reliability problems, though they did not cost him as much. The two-point gap between them in the points at the end of the season doesn’t adequately reflect that Hamilton did a considerably better job.
Despite a few dodgy races mid-season, Button was generally pretty good. Scored three wins and his first podium for McLaren with a dominant performance in Spa.
Still amazing in tricky conditions and surely will be somewhat of a force next year if the team builds around him.
6. Mark Webber
|Beat team mate in qualifying||8/20|
|Beat team mate in race||6/17|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||238/1103|
Nine races into 2012, things were looking rather good for Webber. His season had begun with four fourth-place finishes on the trot and a fine win in Monaco.
He’d just scored his second victory of the year at Silverstone and it had been a particularly sweet win, seized from the clutches of no less a driver than Alonso. It moved Webber within 13 points of the championship leader. And he sealed a new deal to continue driving Adrian Newey’s sublime racing cars.
But following his Silverstone triumph his season went completely off the rails. Technical problems spoiled his qualifying in Germany and Belgium, and his race in Hungary. In Japan he was taken out by Grosjean at the start.
Despite this he remained true to his own championship ambitions as long as he could, and even within the first few hundred metres of the season finale in Brazil he refused to give quarter to his team mate. That changed later in the race.
Looking at his performances since mid-2010 it’s clear that when Red Bull are able to exploit some degree of exhaust-blowing on their cars, Vettel’s advantage over Webber widens. Webber admits that he isn’t keen on the handling characteristics it creates, but as long as it makes the car faster he’s stuck with it.
Equal machinery to the world champion, yet finished sixth in the championship, and while he had two good wins, it’s hard to see any other stand-out drives, and he only finished on the podium four times the entire season. Rather disappointing.
Notes on how the rankings are produced
The F1 Fanatic Driver Rankings are my personal view on how the drivers performed across the entire season. Drivers such as Jerome D’Ambrosio who only competed in a small part of the season are not included.
Each drivers’ performance in all of the race weekends are taken into account and summarised. For more detailed views of how they fared in each weekend refer to the notes produced for each Driver of the Weekend article and the driver form guides.
A selection of F1 Fanatic readers’ views appear alongside the rankings. The full rankings will be published in seven parts, with individual articles for the top five drivers, after which there will be a vote for Driver of the Year.
Over to you
What’s your verdict on the drivers ranked so far? Who deserves to be higher, who should be lower – and why?
Have your say in the comments.
2012 F1 season review
- The complete F1 Fanatic 2012 season review
- What F1 Fanatics thought of 2012: The year in polls
- The drivers and cars of 2012
- F1 Fanatic’s 50 article highlights of 2012
- 11 different Driver of the Weekend winners in 2012
Browse all 2012 F1 season review articles
Images © Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Lotus F1 Team/LAT, Force India F1 Team, Sauber F1 Team, McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Red Bull/Getty Images