10. Heikki Kovalainen, Team Lotus, Championship Position: 23rd
Much like last year, Kovalainen has proven himself to be considerably better than the machinery at his disposal in F1 2011, routinely outperforming team-mate Jarno Trulli – eight times in the opening nine races, out-qualifying a man widely-held to be something of a single-lap specialist – and on several occasions putting the Team Lotus T128 far higher up the order than it has any reasonable right to be. Deserves a much better car.
9. Sergio Pérez, Sauber, Championship Position: 15th
One of the most impressive F1 rookies seen in some time, Pérez has taken to top flight competition like the proverbial duck to water, scoring points on his debut Down Under – initially, at least – and producing several similarly eye-catching performances since. Perhaps most noteworthy of all was the manner in which the young Mexican rebounded from his hefty Monaco qualifying shunt to claim his best finish to-date at Silverstone just six weeks later.
8. Paul di Resta, Force India F1, Championship Position: 16th
Every bit as impressive as Pérez, di Resta had been tipped to start getting the better of Force India team-mate Adrian Sutil by mid-season this year; as it transpired, he out-qualified the far more experienced German for the first three races in swift succession, and has done so on four further occasions since. There were points, too, in the opening two grands prix, and his performance to claim seventh place in Hungary was superb. He may still be a little rough-around-the-edges, but the Scot has secured his immediate future in F1 beyond a shadow of a doubt.
7. Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing, Championship Position: 2nd
It has been a curious campaign for Webber thus far. He might be second in the drivers' standings at the midway stage, but the fact remains that he has been regularly and comprehensively outperformed by Red Bull Racing team-mate Sebastian Vettel. Struggling to adapt his driving style to take care of Pirelli's tyres, even when the Aussie has got the better of the runaway world championship leader in qualifying, the tables have generally been turned come the race. That he has yet to triumph in what is the quickest car on the grid is puzzling indeed.
6. Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber, Championship Position: 11th
Despite only being in his second full season of F1 competition, Kobayashi is effectively the team leader at Sauber in 2011, with a rookie alongside him – and the Japanese ace has responded to the challenge magnificently. Whilst retaining the hard-charging, uncompromising, balls-out style that has earned him a legion of fans all around the globe, the 24-year-old has complemented that with a consistency that does him credit. Seven times in the first eleven races he has troubled the points-scorers. He will likely be with a top team before too long.
5. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes, Championship Position: 5th
F1 2011 has in many respects been very similar to F1 2010 for Jenson Button, with a brace of inspired victories in changeable conditions – the kind of races in which he invariably excels – brightening up a campaign in which the 2009 world champion has by-and-large found himself outpaced by McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton. On his day, 'JB' remains an absolute class act; it would just be nice if there were a few more of them.
4. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, Championship Position: 3rd
A rollercoaster ride for the most rock-and-roll driver on the grand prix grid, Hamilton's season has lurched from glory to ignominy in equal measure, with as many column inches for his off-track shenanigans as for his performances out on the circuit. Shanghai and the Nürburgring were sublime; Monte Carlo and Montreal abysmal. Somewhere, the focus appears to be missing for the McLaren-Mercedes star, but if he can channel his emotions and frustrations into the kind of brilliance we all know he is capable of, he can be a world-beater once again.
3. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes Grand Prix, Championship Position: 7th
Still, incredibly, an underrated talent, Rosberg's stock is perhaps not regarded as highly as it might be were the Mercedes Grand Prix MGP W02 not as recalcitrant as it patently is. When a driver of the calibre of seven-time F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher is out-qualified ten-one – at times by as much as a second – by a man in the same car, observers should sit up and take note.
2. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing, Championship Position: 1st
It will be astounding if anybody can prevent Vettel from storming to a second consecutive drivers' world championship crown, so crushing has been the Red Bull Racing star's early-season dominance, and the fact remains that in terms of out-and-out qualifying pace and leading from the front, the young German is utterly peerless. When he is under pressure, however – just look at Montreal and the Nürburgring – the cracks still show. Not quite yet the finished article, but fast becoming it.
1. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Championship Position: 4th
For a driver of Alonso's calibre, reputation and success, qualifying just fifth for the opening four races of the campaign – and knowing that was the absolute maximum anybody could possibly have extracted from the car – must have been dispiriting indeed, but the Spaniard has never once let his head drop, and never once criticised his team (others, take note). Leading for the first 18 laps on home turf in Spain in a car more than two seconds shy of the leading pace was magnificent, the runner-up laurels in Monaco similarly so and Silverstone was superb. If anybody doubted that Fernando Alonso was still the most complete driver in F1, all doubts should now be shelved.