With the annual mid-summer break now upon us, what better a time to run the rule over the F1 2010 World Championship campaign thus far, with a school report-style rundown of the 'hot-or-not' of the season to-date. If you don't agree – or even if you do – feel free to post your own comments by following the link at the bottom of the story...
Part II will be posted on Friday.
1. Mark Webber – Red Bull Racing (161 points): A
Leading the world championship for the second time as F1 headed into its summer break, Webber is enjoying without doubt the best season of his top flight career. The 'winningest' driver of the campaign thus far, the Australian would potentially have five triumphs to his name now rather than four had he not been swiped out by team-mate Sebastian Vettel in Turkey. Occasionally prone to speaking his mind a little too publicly – witness the spectacular Silverstone fall-out – the 33-year-old is nonetheless arguably the least susceptible to errors under pressure as the title chase speeds towards the home straight.
2. Lewis Hamilton – McLaren-Mercedes (157 points): A
Hamilton has at times performed minor miracles in F1 2010, with a car that has never really been the pace-setter. The 25-year-old's back-to-back victories in Istanbul and Montreal that vaulted him to the top of the title standings were as fine as any that have been seen all year, but there remain the odd lapses – his burn-outs in Australia and overly-aggressive battle with Vitaly Petrov in Malaysia – that remind you that he is still a very young man, and one who has been cloistered for much of his adult life by the team with which he has to all intents and purposes grown up. That aside, exemplary.
3. Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull Racing (151 points): A-
Vettel could – and indeed arguably should – be well on his way to F1 2010 title glory by now, but for one reason or another obstacles keep appearing to trip the young German up, whether of his own making or outside of his control. A run of poor reliability early on in the campaign undoubtedly harmed his challenge, whilst his Turkish impetuosity – and somewhat childish finger-wagging response to it once he had extricated himself from his car – betrayed an immaturity and questionable temperament hitherto unseen. His post-Silverstone comments represented another example of the 23-year-old not exactly covering himself in glory, but on pure pace – witness seven pole positions from twelve races to-date – he has been a class act this season. Don't write him off.
4. Jenson Button – McLaren-Mercedes (147 points): B+
Ever the master of tricky and unpredictable conditions, Button's canny Australian and Chinese triumphs early on earned the reigning F1 World Champion the championship lead once more, and for a while, at least, it began to seem as though the 30-year-old might actually gain the upper hand over McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton – something many pre-season observers had opined would never happen. Over time, however, the Frome-born ace has conceded the advantage to his countryman, trailing his fellow Brit eight-four in the qualifying stakes and yet to start from the front row of the grid. With qualifying a clear Achilles' heel, should Button prove able to turn his Saturday form around, he still stands a chance – but if not, his title defence may now be fatally wounded.
5. Fernando Alonso – Ferrari (141 points): B+
After triumphing in the Bahrain Grand Prix curtain-raiser at Sakhir to get his Ferrari adventure off to a dream start, nobody – least of all Alonso himself – would have predicted that it would be a further three months before the Spaniard again ascended the top step of the rostrum, and even then needing to be 'gift-wrapped' victory by disgruntled team-mate Felipe Massa, a misdemeanour for which the Prancing Horse could yet face further sanctions. Not quite at his imperious best this season, that the Oviedo native is still in the hunt for glory is more testament to his consistency and the nature of the campaign more than anything else, but with the Scuderia
seemingly now back on-form, he remains a very real threat to clinch the crown.
6. Felipe Massa – Ferrari (97 points): C+
Seemingly a harsh rating, perhaps, but if you look at Massa's performances between the Bahrain opener and the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim that he should
have won, it is impossible to pick out a single stand-out drive. That the little Brazilian led the championship early on is something of an incongruity, given that he has still yet to win a race this season and has been routinely out-paced by Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso. Although he insists he is not yet out of the title fight, all the evidence suggests otherwise, and it can only be hoped that the Spaniard's Shanghai pit-lane aggression has not permanently cast Massa into the role of number two at Maranello.
7. Nico Rosberg – Mercedes Grand Prix (94 points): B+
One of the indisputable stars of the season so far, is Nico Rosberg. Three podium finishes in a car that frankly isn't really up to it, a ten-two qualifying record against legendary Mercedes Grand Prix team-mate Michael Schumacher and an impressively stoic determination to keep on plugging away even when things have fallen some way short of expectations for the defending double F1 World Champions this year have seen the young German's stock rise immeasurably. The jury might have been out pre-season about whether or not the son of 1982 F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg was the real deal. On the evidence of his performances for Mercedes thus far, you would have to say that he is.
8. Robert Kubica – Renault F1 (89 points): A+
If Nico Rosberg is one of the stars, then Robert Kubica is the
star of F1 2010 to-date, as the most consistent driver on the grid and dragging his Renault R30 to places that it really has no right to be. Podiums in Melbourne and Monaco were just reward for the Pole's efforts, and the Kraków native has played a key role in helping to re-inject the vitality and hunger into a team that at the end of last season appeared to be down-and-out. Given the limitations of the equipment at his disposal, sixth spot in the standings looks to be the best finish that the 25-year-old can hope for, but wouldn't a win along the way be the icing on the cake of a magnificent campaign..?