Thursday 13 December 2018

My Top 10 F1 Drivers of 2018: The Rest…

Here are my views on those F1 drivers from 2018 who didn't make my top 10 ranking from a few days ago. If you're interested, you can read the top 10 here.

Photo: Octane Photography
Going through the 'other 10' in final drivers' table order brings us first to Sergio Perez, for whom 2018 was more of the same – for good and ill. He racked up plenty of points plus in the way that apparently only he can bagged a podium finish when the very rare opportunity offered itself. Yet Perez couldn't alter his long-time predicament of lingering in the middle ground between being a good midfielder (with money) and a talent that a top team will covet. It didn't help that, while there as ever wasn't much in it, his Force India team-mate Esteban Ocon had the pace edge for the most part. Nor did his hooligan performance in Singapore, first showing not much effort to avoid a collision with Ocon then – far worse – having a rage swipe at Sergey Sirotkin.

Kevin Magnussen's season was rather a breakthrough. With him at last getting the many benefits of a second season in a race seat, the results flowed particularly in the early part of the campaign. He didn't always string things together though, and more broadly once team-mate Romain Grosjean sorted himself out Magnussen tended to be the second Haas. He also gave more evidence to sustain his enfant terrible image – the criticisms can be excessive but still his move on Pierre Gasly in Baku then on Charles Leclerc at Suzuka were hard to defend. He sometimes gives the impression of revelling in the status but equally it may become a burden.

Carlos Sainz was a little ill-served by the final points standings – indeed without mechanical failures in France and Mexico his points deficit to Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg would have been just two. His habitual polish was on show plenty and you could even make the case that Sainz's peaks were higher than his stable-mate's. In Hungary he defied his team's call to pit and bagged a fifth place qualifying slot in the wet while his tenth place in the Suzuka race was an act of alchemy. Yet even so it can't be denied that Hulkenberg over the piece shaded him on Saturdays and Sundays.

Photo: Octane Photography
Romain Grosjean had a Max Verstappen-esque season of two halves. He too had a desperate early-year run of form, with cringe-worthy low points of crashing under a Baku safety car then in Spain triggering a lap one smash by lighting up the rears after spinning. Like Verstappen too his upturn started in Canada, and in his case coinciding with a car upgrade which eliminated understeer that was not to his taste, though Grosjean admitted he had to sort himself out too. Then the strong drives came with something like consistency. It all was a reminder of how potent Grosjean can be when all is right. But then again the latter point has always been a glaring determinant with him.

Having entered F1 as a GP2 champion that Red Bull was oddly reluctant to take a chance on, Pierre Gasly's stock rose this year – yet still he retained something of the enigma. His peaks were high – in Bahrain, Monaco and Hungary. It wasn't nearly as good elsewhere, though many reckon that was a characteristic of his car rather than him. It didn't help that it wasn't clear just how tough a yardstick Toro Rosso team-mate Brendon Hartley was providing, yet whatever is the case Gasly didn't put him away quite as convincingly as the headline numbers suggest. But Gasly certainly is fast, confident and a tough racer. Next year alongside Max Verstappen he will face the most pitiless of comparisons.

The argument still stands - there remain plenty who maintain that in the right circumstances Stoffel Vandoorne can and will sweep all before him. That's what his time in the junior formulae indicated, the trouble is in two seasons of F1 he very rarely gave evidence of it. Granted he faced the toughest of shifts, a desperately disappointing car and with the majestic Fernando Alonso as team-mate carrying the McLaren on his back. Still it wasn't unreasonable to expect more from Vandoorne, especially if he is all that. He's off now to Formula E where his proximity to Mercedes will be an interesting one to monitor.

Photo: Octane Photography
There always was more to Marcus Ericsson than people liked to give credit for. Committed, good technically and with a persistently underrated turn of speed. But ultimately the man who'd spent his F1 time ruining team-mates' careers by running them much closer than anticipated found at Sauber this year a road too far in Charles Leclerc. The deficit was particularly large in qualifying. Ericsson would often show decent pace by the race – he was happiest doing marathon stints – but about as often his poor Saturday could not be overcome by then. There were too many crashes too. Now Ericsson himself is off, in his case to IndyCars.

Lance Stroll often gave the impression his heart wasn't in a season slogging with a desperately disappointing Williams. The occasional first lap was feisty and in fairness on the two occasions that the car had a presentable opportunity to score Stroll managed to do so. But for the most part there wasn't much to note. Still with a crushing F3 championship on his CV there remains a chance that there is a racing driver in there somewhere. Next year at Racing Point (nee Force India) and alongside Sergio Perez he gets a better opportunity to show us what he's actually all about.

Brendon Hartley as noted ran Gasly much closer at Toro Rosso than the topline indicators said. He had a maddening habit of falling just the wrong side of margins and had plenty of disrupted weekends too. Him starting from the back with engine penalties was for a time seemingly a race-by-race occurrence, though a good few times the disruptions were his own doing. Perhaps also the regularity with which he just fell short cannot have been coincidence; the vital last tenth or two rarely was in evidence. He improved as the year went on but it was an open secret that the Red Bull collective had long since made its mind up about him.

Photo: Octane Photography
Sergey Sirotkin's campaign was another book you shouldn't judge by its cover. A 'pay driver' propping up the table is unlikely to get sympathy - especially not when they delay the 'fairy-tale' Robert Kubica comeback. But Sirotkin was the more convincing Williams driver and had conspicuous spikes of achievement in a car that definitely wasn't up to it. Getting to a couple of tenths off Monaco's Q3 was one such, as was his Brazil qualifying pace and knocking on the door of points at Spa. They were interspersed with more average showings, especially early in the campaign, but it is a pity that he's not getting another go. SMP reducing its backing sealed his fate. 

1 comment:

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