With the recent speculation that Mark Webber will replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari, I started to get curious: who will be the first driver to be replaced this year? Next week’s Spanish Grand Prix will mark one quarter of the 2012 championship complete, and there are already a few drivers who are falling behind. Here are a few who I think really need to start improving, or else risk losing their seats:
Felipe Massa – okay, this one was pretty predictable; Massa is almost certainly under threat. He is nowhere near Alonso in terms of pace, though he does seem to be closing the gap of late. Ferrari are banking on their Barcelona upgrades to get them back on target, and if they work, then the pressure is really going to be on Massa to perform.
Nico Hülkenberg – after four races, Hülkenberg hasn’t really done that much. The only thing of note that I can recall is his first-lap retirement in Australia (though that wasn’t really his fault). The midfield is incredibly tight this year, and while some might argue that this means Hülkenberg should be given the benefit of the doubt, the fact remains that he still has two points to di Resta’s fifteen. Moreover, the tight midfield provides Hülkenberg with the opportunity to really shine, but he’s not doing it.
Kamui Kobayashi – poor old Kamui. Ever since Malaysia, Sauber has been the Sergio Perez show. But being overshadowed by Perez is not going to do him any favours, particularly since it’s been a year since he scored points in three (or more) races in a row. While popular with the fans – particularly in 2010 – Kobayashi seems to have lost the fire that was driving him. And with Esteban Gutiérrez impressing in GP2 and receiving backing from Sauber’s sponsor Carlos Slim, Kobayashi’s days might be numbered. The only thing that might save him is Perez moving on to another team.
Daniel Ricciardo – although highly-rated by Toro Rosso, Riccirado simply hasn’t been delivering in races. The speed is there – he was, after all, sixth in qualifying for Bahrain – but he’s just not converting it into race results. If this keeps up, it might be in Toro Rosso’s interests to remove him and put Buemi in the car to give Vergne a better benchmark.
Jean-Éric Vergne – on the flip side, Jean-Éric Vergne has the race pace, but has been eliminateing in Q1 for three consecutive races, so his potential is being wasted. At this rate, neither driver is making much of a case for being promoted to Red Bull (though if we could combine Ricciardo and Vergne into one person, then they would be in with a chance), so it might be in Toro Rosso’s interests to remove him and put Buemi in the car to give Ricciardo a better benchmark.
Bruno Senna – okay, this might be a controversial one, but I’m not putting Senna forward simply because I dislike him. Although he has more points than Maldonado, Senna does have a habit of making mistakes that have cost him front wings (Australia and Malaysia), or making errors in qualifying (Bahrain) that have resulted in early eliminations. It’s pretty clear that Williams want to get Valtteri Bottas into the car as soon as possible, and the combination of Senna’s frequent mistakes combined with the massive leap forward in car development since 2011 could motivate Williams to dump Senna for Bottas. It might seem unfair, but this was the team that got rid of Damon Hill the year he won the championship. If they can do that, they might be willing to do the same to Senna (whereas Maldonado’s money no doubt secures his seat).
So, that the six drivers who I think are currently at risk of losing their seats, and why. Your turn.