In the final part of the mid-season rankings, here are the top five drivers of the year so far.
5. Jenson Button
|Beat team mate in qualifying||6/10|
|Beat team mate in race||7/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||361/606|
The MP4-28 has proven an embarrassing step backwards for McLaren: having had the fastest car last year they find themselves languishing behind five other teams on pure pace. That has left Button with the unenviable task of trying to drag the car towards respectability.
He’s usually done this by relying on his knack for making tyres last, allowing him to make fewer pit stops than his rivals. In China he exercised considerable self-discipline to make a two-stop strategy work, yielding a fifth-place finish. In Spain he used a three-stopper on a day most drivers opted for four, climbing nine places from lap one to finish eighth.
Button has suffered some ill-timed misfortune. In Malaysia his two-stop strategy had him on course to challenge the Mercedes for the final podium place until the team botched his pit stop.
In Monaco a chance of a better qualifying position was wrecked by a faulty fuel pump, though he stayed out of trouble in the race to finish a useful sixth. And inattentive backmarkers cost him fifth in Germany.
Button has usually succeeded in wringing the most from his unco-operative chassis. But as we’ve seen before the very trait that helps him keep his tyres alive in the race can work against him in qualifying. Canada and Britain yielded little, but Hungary gave some cause for optimism about the second half of the season.
4. Fernando Alonso
|Beat team mate in qualifying||6/9|
|Beat team mate in race||7/7|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||411/460|
Separating the top four drivers was not easy: all have performed consistently well and made few mistakes. Having Alonso, who headed this list at the end of last year, down in fourth seems harsh.
But he must be marked down for that double-fault in Malaysia, where he compounded his error of hitting Vettel on the first lap by failing to pit for a new front wing, with predictable and disastrous consequences.
Compounding one error with another was unusual for a driver who seldom lets an opportunity slip through his fingers. Victory on home ground in Spain was Alonso at his best: a superb triumph which began with him picking off Hamilton and Raikkonen at the start then piling the pressure on Vettel and even coping with a slow puncture as if it were a minor hiccup.
Alonso’s other win came in China, where it was not so much the straightforward DRS pass on Hamilton that secured the victory as his rapid progress through traffic during his second stint. Unfortunately in the next race a DRS glitch cost him a likely podium finish.
He bolstered his points haul with second places in Canada, which was the best he could realistically get on the day, and Australia, where he might have had the beating of Raikkonen.
Once again Ferrari are not making the progress with the car they envisaged. Alonso has found it increasingly difficult to qualify ahead of the Lotuses, reducing his strategic options which has made life more difficult in recent races.
3. Lewis Hamilton
|Beat team mate in qualifying||7/10|
|Beat team mate in race||5/8|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||309/549|
Hamilton’s move to Mercedes set tongues wagging when it was announce but the move seems to have reinvigorated him, despite some teething troubles with the W04. Much as Raikkonen never really got comfortable with his Lotus’s steering last year, Hamilton has been unhappy with the braking on his car.
While he grappled with that we had the unusual sight of him being beaten to pole position by his team mate on three occasions. However Hamilton is now winning the qualifying battle at Mercedes and has racked up more pole positions than anyone else.
That only one of those resulted in a win can largely be put down to the rough treatment the Mercedes gave to its tyres earlier in the season. This was particularly extreme in Spain, where a bewildered Hamilton plummeted ten places and finished twelfth. That was the only race this year he didn’t finish in the top five.
Hamilton had the good grace to admit that his first podium for Mercedes in Malaysia would not have happened had Rosberg not obeyed orders not to overtake him – something other team mates would not have done, as events in the same race made clear.
His first Mercedes win might have come at home had he not been one of the drivers to be struck by tyre failure. His subsequent fight back to fourth was highly impressive. With three pole positions in a row and the W04 looking stronger than ever in race conditions, the second half of the year looks very promising for him.
2. Kimi Raikkonen
|Beat team mate in qualifying||8/10|
|Beat team mate in race||7/8|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||385/548|
Thanks partly to his car’s reliability but also to his own consistency, Raikkonen has finished every race in the points so far this year and is currently Vettel’s closest challenger in the championship.
Although he is yet to repeat the victory he opened his season with, five second place finishes have kept him in the thick of the championship chase.
As with Alonso at Ferrari, Raikkonen has a car which is stronger on Sundays than Saturdays – he’s only qualified inside the top three once so far. But by exploiting the strengths of his car over a race stint and making the passes he needs to, Raikkonen has often made big gains when it matters: he climbed from seventh to first in Australia and eighth to second in Bahrain.
In Monaco he salvaged a point by picking off three cars in the last two laps – yes, he had the benefit of fresher tyres, but still this was Monaco, not the easiest place to make such gains.
There’s not much you can take away from Raikkonen’s efforts this year. He was a little careless in Malaysia and Canada where he picked up minor qualifying penalties, and he had an odd collision with Perez in China where he seemed to expect the McLaren driver to move off the racing line for his benefit.
But usually when points have been left on the table it’s been due to circumstances beyond his control – as in Canada where he was delayed by brake problems, high fuel consumption and a slow pit stop.
1. Sebastian Vettel
|Beat team mate in qualifying||10/10|
|Beat team mate in race||8/8|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||508/571|
This has the makings of Vettel’s best championship campaign so far. He’s consistently been in the hunt for victory and with Mercedes now the team to beat on Saturdays he’s not always been able to rely on qualifying on pole position and staying there.
Early in the season Red Bull had similar concerns about tyre life as Mercedes’, though not as serious. Vettel gambled on an alternative strategy in China, opting not setting a time in Q3 and start on the medium tyres, and fought his way up from ninth to fourth.
In Bahrain he passed Alonso and Rosberg before DRS was activated to get himself into the clear air he needed, securing his second win of the year. Germany saw potentially his best drive so far this year, as he weathered severe pressure from both Lotus drivers despite a temporary KERS glitch.
His controversial move in Malaysia provoked howls of criticism from some, but from the point of view of a racing driver it was perfectly justifiable. Vettel has won two of his three world championships by less than the seven points he gained by defying team orders. And even if that weren’t true, expecting him to extend to Webber the same courtesy his team mate denied him at Silverstone two years ago is completely unreasonable.
Vettel’s position in the championship would be even stronger had he enjoyed the kind of reliability some of his competitors had. Had his gearbox not failed while leading at Silverstone his points lead now would be equal to more than three race wins – a sobering thought for his rivals. That race aside, he’s finished in the top four at every grand prix, and dominated a team mate who is much more of a threat than a Grosjean or a Massa.
How the rankings are produced
This is a ranking of how drivers have performed in the 2013 season so far, irrespective of their form in previous years. Among the data referred to in producing the rankings are notes on each driver’s performance at each race weekend, compiled data on car performance, direct comparisons between team mates and each driver’s form guide.
Over to you
How do you think each of the drivers have performed so far in 2013? Should any of the drivers be higher or lower? Give your view on how they’ve done so far in the comments.
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Images ?é?® McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Mercedes/Hoch Zwei, Lotus/LAT, Red Bull/Getty
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