Second Season Drivers part 2

 

Right then, it's time for an update. The first article I wrote for this blog (named Second Season drivers) looked at how three drivers (Paul di Resta, Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez) entering their second consecutive season in Formula 1 had faired after the first 4 races of the season. I thought it'd be an interesting thing to look into, seeing as though these three men were returning for a second season with the same team they'd driven for the year before. What comparisons could be made? Had they improved or shown signs of doing so?

But now it's time to revisit this. I don't know if this is a term, I may well have made it up, but it does to happen quite often, particularly in football. 'Second season syndrome' is what I'm referring to. Here's a quick example in relation to football. A team gets promoted into the top division, then in that first season they use the momentum built up from promotion to essentially over-achieve and finish fairly high in the league. Then when it comes round to the second season, the team struggle, whether it be through their best players being bought by bigger clubs or just the excitement and adrenaline of being promoted wears off (a recent example being Hull City). Apologies to non-football fans, but here's now how it could relate to Formula 1. A driver rises through the lower formula, winning races and championships along the way. They arrive in Formula 1 on the crest of a wave and because of what they've achieved in other categories, they in a way only know what it feels like to win and be successful. They use this winning mentality to perform well above where people would expect them to at the start of their first season and maybe tail off towards the end of the year. Then by the time the second season arrives and having spent a year racing without too much success (relative to what they're used to), they fade and slip down the field or out of the paddock all together by the end of season 2 or 3. I hope you're following and that it's making some kind of sense. It's only a theory I had at the start of the season, and I'll be writing 4 parts to this article throughout the year to monitor and comment on the progress of the three aforementioned drivers (and a few others from now on) to see whether my theory in anyway holds up. So, let's actually get to the article (apologies for my waffling there).

Ok, let's begin this second part by looking at Pastor Maldonado. He's certainly dividing opinion in Formula 1 at the moment amongst both fans and drivers. After the crash with Sergio Perez at Silverstone, the Mexican said that Maldonado was "dangerous" and "stupid". The incident was avoidable, but I'm not convinced all the blame should be placed on his shoulders for it. In no way was it Perez's fault either by the way. For me it was one driver defending his position from an opponent and the two came together, simple as that. If you watch the replay of the incident, Maldonado has a slight moment at the beginning of the corner which causes him to slide wide and into the Sauber. Perez wasn't ahead at the time, the two were more side by side than anything, so for Perez to say what he did isn't entirely fair. He was understandably frustrated, he could have been on for a solid top 10 finish, but he must have known that Maldonado wasn't going to give in easily.

The Venezuelan is unforunately gaining a bit of a reputation for these types of incidents. The crash with Lewis Hamilton late on in Valencia came about from him being a bit too impatient behind a much slower McLaren whilst battling for a spot on the rostrum. All he needed to do was take his time and he'd get by. He was in a far quicker car at the time, but unfortunately went for a rather ambitious move around the outside before being pushed onto the curb and then hitting the side of Lewis. Lewis was out; Maldonado went on to finish 10th but was later given a time penalty. What was clear from that race though was that he is quick. Let's not forget, he's driving for a team that last season only accumulated 5 points in 19 races. He was battling for, and really should have got, a 3rd placed finish in Valencia. Again though, in relation to the incident with Lewis, I don't think it's entirely his fault. Lewis knew he was slower at the time and probably should have given the place up. We've seen a new Lewis this season, one that appears more content with finishing consistently than going all out all the time and risking crashing out. A 4th place finish would have been better than a DNF for his title hopes, especially given the teams current lack of competitiveness. For Maldonado though, the last two races haven't been the best for his reputation. He has though shown how quick he can be.

Now let's look at the positives, of which there are many. He's first and foremost a racer. He's clearly naturally quick, he can overtake and he can defend his position (most of the time). Not only that but for the most part this season, he has blown his team mate out of the water. His qualifying has been far superior to that of Senna's and has appeared in the top 10 on most occasions. In Barcelona he qualified 2nd, but later promoted to pole position. It was in Barcelona that Maldonado's finest two hours in Formula 1 happened. He started in 1st position. He finished in 1st position. He won his first Formula 1 race and secured Williams' first since Juan Pablo Montoya's in Brazil back in 2004. It was a fantastic day for everyone involved. For me, it's the best thing I've seen in a Formula 1 race for years, even eclipsing Jenson's incredible Canadian victory of 2011. The 2012 Spanish Grand Prix was the day Pastor Maldonado put his name well and truly on the Formula 1 map. If you've read anything of mine before you'll know what a huge fan of his I am. I started following him in his GP2 days, and although last season was a struggle for him, the team and for me to watch, it was all worth it to see what happened that day. It was certainly the most excited I'd been watching a Formula 1 race since Canada 2011, and probably even further back than that. He showed the speed, control, guile and maturity of a Fernando Alonso or Jenson Button. He and the team controlled the race, outpacing and out-thinking Alonso and Ferrari. A truly awesome day for Williams, for Pastor and for Formula 1.

Maldonado's season to date has been an incredibly mixed bag. Yes, he's been involved in some questionable incidents, but he's more than combated that with his performance in Barcelona and to some extent Valencia. Pastor was under immense pressure and scrutiny this season after a less than impressive debut season (the car didn't really help mind), but seems to be thriving under it. Long may it continue, for both him and Williams.

Time to move on to Sergio Perez. He impressed hugely in his debut season, particularly when it came to tyre management. During Perez's stint in Formula 1 tyre management has been key to the success of a driver, and he's certainly one of the, if not the best at it. His superb drive at Malaysia definitely made people stand up and pay attention to a driver that is widely tipped to one day drive for Ferrari. He really should have won that race after clearly having the speed on the day to beat Fernando Alonso. But again, he certainly displayed one skill he's got, he's darn quick.

This came to fruition again at the Canadian Grand Prix where "Checo" achieved his second podium finish of the season by claiming 3rd place behind Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean. Again, it was his remarkable tyre management skills that enabled him to remain strong at the end of the race on worn tyres to pass both Alonso and Vettel. Let's not forget, Sauber is still an independent team, they don't have the budget of the bigger teams like Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren; yet they're proving that is possible to mix it up with these teams and from time to time beat them.

He again impressed at Valencia. An early change in strategy after getting held up behind slower cars forced Perez to try and fight through the field harder than he'd have wanted to, whilst still managing his tyres. It looked like he had done that heading into the final 10 laps of the race, gaining seconds every lap on the cars ahead of him. Unfortunately, in attempting to work his way up he'd taken too much out of his tyres and succumbed to the same fate as many others when his tyres dropped off in a big way in the final few laps. He went on to finish in 9th, but could have easily been 5th or 6th had his strategy not been hampered early on.

The incident with Maldonado at Silverstone cost Perez another potential top 10 finish (I think he could have taken at least 6th). In terms of points accumulated this season compared to last; Perez currently sits on 39 points compared to just the 14 he achieved in the whole of last season. But it's his increase in race performance that has been the most important factor. To already have finished twice on the podium in the opening nine races, especially with an independent team, is a remarkable achievement. Yes, this season has given more opportunities to teams like Sauber and Williams, but by 'eck aren't they taking them. Perez has impressed hugely so far this season, and with continued doubt of the future of Felipe Massa at Ferrari, could the young Mexican find himself in that spot when the 2013 season starts? He's part of Ferrari's Driver Academy and if he continues to perform the way he has so far, you'd have to say that soon than later he'll be there. It may be 2013, it may be 2014, but he will one day be there I'm sure. He's only 22 years old, but at times has shown the skill of someone who's been in the sport for 8-10 years.

Time for the third of the drivers I mentioned earlier on; Paul di Resta. Since the first part of this article was written he's achieved two more solid point scoring finishes. A 7th in Monaco followed by another 7th in Valencia saw the Scot continue his impressive streak of 23 consecutive Formula 1 finishes. He's not only quick, but he sure knows how to finish. Paul knows when the right time is to attack and defend. As I've often heard Martin Brundle say on commentary, it may seem like di Resta is giving up or not fighting for his position, but it only happens when he either knows the car behind is far quicker, or that he's not racing them (i.e a Red Bull that's pitted and come out behind him). He clearly understands that you don't get anywhere if you don't finish a race and that it's better to preserve early on in the race to make that you're there by the time the chequered flag is waved.

He's scored in 5 of the 9 races so far this season; and until the last race at Silverstone hadn't retired from a Grand Prix since Turkey in 2011. He is Formula 1's Mr Consistency. That is being a bit unfair though, as he's a lot more than that. Unlike the other drivers on the grid, di Resta hasn't spent the last few years working his way into Formula 1 by racing in single seater's. Instead he had been racing for 4 tough years in DTM, where he was very successful. During his time there he gained popularity, support and backing from Mercedes that would enable him to push forward into Formula 1. An opportunity arose at Force India (powered by Mercedes engines) and Paul took it; partnering Adrian Sutil who'd been with the team for several seasons. He more than matched Sutil throughout the season and the team kept him on for the 2012 season. He's kept up the consistency but has finished in the top 7 on 4 occasions, something he managed just twice last season. In fact, prior to Silverstone he'd finished in the points 11 times out of the previous 17 races. That, in a car that wasn't always in a position to challenge for points, is very impressive.

Di Resta had a bit of stinker at Silverstone however. A first lap collision with Grosjean left the Scot with a puncture that he had to nurse for almost a full lap before heading down the pit lane. By the time he came through Becketts on the second lap it was clear that he'd sustained more than just a puncture. He ran wide through Becketts, onto the grass before spinning across the track. A second trip to the pits in just two laps left the Scot sitting back in his garage watching a Formula 1 race unfold for just the second time in 28 outings. He, like Perez, has been rumoured to one day move up one of the so called 'bigger teams'. He's been backed by Mercedes right throughout his DTM and Formula 1 career, so the logical step would be for him to one day step up and replace Michael Schumacher at Mercedes GP. It remains uncertain as to how long Schumacher will continue, but when he does retire there is bound to be plenty of competition for the vacated seat. Di Resta is a candidate, a good one at that, but will need to have an equally impressive second half to this season and possibly be challenging for a podium finish to prove he is worthy of the drive.

So, that's the three drivers that I'd written about first time around. There are however three other drivers who are returning for their second season in Formula 1, so you may ask why I didn't write about them. Maldonado, Perez and di Resta are all returning for their second consecutive season with the same teams that they raced for in 2011. It is far easier and makes more sense to compare those three seeing as though they in the same surroundings that they were in before, but now have a full season under their belts. The other three drivers that are also returning are Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo. I'll briefly discuss (or at least attempt to) these three below, starting with the Austrlian; Daniel Ricciardo.

He entered Formula 1 half way through the 2011 season racing for HRT. His drive in that team was funded by Red Bull Racing and was a way for them to get one of their young drivers into the sport to see how he would fare. It was clear that driving for a team such as HRT that he'd never be in a position to fight for points, but it was more about how he copes with the pressure, the media and a Formula 1 car. He was impressive and was more than a match for his more experienced team mate Vitantonio Liuzzi. He clearly showed Red Bull enough to convince them to replace the team of Buemi and Alguersuari with himself and Jean-Eric Vergne for this season. He started the season well and finished his home Grand Prix in a respectable 9th place. Things haven't gone as well for him since however and barring a superb 5th place qualifying in Bahrain, Ricciardo hasn't really been in a position to challenge for points since Melbourne. The Toro Rosso is now the 9th quickest car on the grid and during the last few races they've found themselves falling back towards Caterham more than they've been moving forward towards Force India, Sauber and Williams.

There's a battle on between himself and Vergne to fight for the second seat at Red Bull, probably for the 2014 season given the news of Mark Webber's new contract for next season, and from what we've seen so far the two are very evenly matched when it comes to race pace. Vergne has struggled in qualifying, finishing 18th on too many occasions whereas Ricciardo has found it a little easier. His Bahrain lap was remarkable given the car he had. He'll probably get this season and next to prove his worth in not only Toro Rosso, but Red Bull as well. Along as the car improves I'm certain he'll be able to show his worth, but Vergne is also a big, big talent and will provide stern competition for him.

Nico Hulkenberg arrived in Formula 1 with a reputation for winning. He'd won the Formula BMW Germany, A1 GP, Formula 3 and GP2 titles on his way to securing a race seat with Williams for the 2010 season. Big things were expected of Hulkenberg give his record but he struggled early on for both points and race finishes. The second half of the season though Hulkenberg began to show what he was all about and why so many rated him highly. This upturn in speed and performance cumulated in a superb pole position at the Brazilian Grand Prix, and although he'd go on to finish 9th, he'd shown what talent he had. The conditions in Brazil were tricky and damp, yet he set a lap which was over a second faster than anyone else managed. He wasn't retained for the 2011 season by Williams and instead became the Force India test driver.

Promoted to a race seat for 2012, Hulkenberg has gone on to show that he is quick and consistent; much like team mate di Resta. The two are probably the most evenly matched pairing in Formula 1 but Hulkenberg will too feel that he has a chance of getting the second seat at Mercedes one day. He's finished all but one race this season and achieved a career best finish of 5th in Valencia. He has the speed, the skill and consistency to become a great in the sport. He's won in virtually everything he's driven throughout his career and will one day win a Grand Prix. It's unlikely to happen at Force India (although you never know given how 2012 has panned out), but he's certainly another strong candidate to one day race at Mercedes which would in theory present him with a chance of fighting for wins and maybe more. Watch out for the man they call "The Hulk".

And now we discuss the driver I consider to be the most interesting in Formula 1 currently, Romain Grosjean. You can only be impressed with not only his speed, but just how much he's matured and improved since his 2009 outing for Renault. He's fast, he's an awesome and clean overtaker and has shown that he can more than match the best in Formula 1, especially his team mate Kimi Raikkonen. How he's not won a race yet I don't know (the same can be applied to Raikkonen), but he's done everything he possibly could have done to do so. A stunning 2nd place at Canada, where he used his skill to maintain his tyres for more than 50 laps, saw the Frenchman take his best finish in Formula 1 to date. His performance in Valencia was arguably better though. His overtake on Lewis Hamilton was incredible and it looked like he could potentially challenge for a win. Once Vettel had dropped out of the race it looked like it'd be a straight fight between Grosjean and Alonso for the win, but mechanical gremlins forced him to also retire.

Lotus' season has been full of seemingly missed opportunities to take race wins and they really do need to take one of the chances soon rather than later. I attended the race at Silverstone, and had it not been for his first lap contact with di Resta, I truly feel that Grosjean could have challenged for the race win. He was visibly one of the quickest through Maggots and Becketts and pulled off the most overtakes of anyone throughout the race. After pitting on lap 2 or 3 and coming out in last place, he essentially was running on a 1 stop strategy yet still finished in 6th place not far behind Raikkonen. He's exciting to watch, he makes things happen and he's quick. What's not to love about that? He's supremely confident for someone who had a challenging first experience with the sport, but my how he's taken this second opportunity. Lotus knew before signing him that he was quick; and by taking the GP2 title last season he was able to regain some of the confidence that was surely smashed by his first stint with Renault. Straight from the get go he was fast and has continued that through the opening 9 races. He will win a race this season and will go on to better things. Personally, I think he'll one day be World Champion, he's that good. Grosjean and Perez are the future of the sport and I believe will be fighting for the title in a few years. He's currently my favourite driver in Formula 1 because he makes things happen. The rise of the 'Romain Empire' continues and it surely won't be too long before we hear the French national anthem with Grosjean stood on the top step of the podium.

So, that's the second part completed. If you've lasted this long then I thank you. I hope it's been interesting and informative. If you've not read the first part to this mini series then please do check it out (link at the top). Comments and feedback are welcomed and warmly received so please feel free to write on hear or contact me directly on Twitter. Cheers people, happy reading.

Top Drivers

 
Driver Points
Hamilton 252
Rosberg 211
Vettel 203
Raikkonen 107
Bottas 101
Massa 97
 

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