After the fear, doom of gloom of pre-season (which I myself was part of), this season of Formula One has turned out to be quite entertaining. Through the dramatic last lap of Austria, the barnstorming Spanish Grand Prix and the ferocious battle of Monaco, this season has produced a far more engaging season than last years, even if Mercedes still win every race. As we have now arrived to the part of the season where teams like Renault and Williams are trying to sign up their drivers market, it seems a good time to evaluate who are the dead-weights who shouldn’t be in the sport, who are the best of the lot, and who are simply just solid.
To start with some housekeeping, Esteban Ocon will not be in this list as after just one race, it is far too early to judge his position in the pecking order. Similarly, Stoffel Vandoorne may have had one impressive drive at Bahrain, but one impressive performance is not enough to judge a drivers potential. So let’s start the list with a man already out of the sport…
22 Rio Haryanto
A pay driver for Manor before the Belgium Grand Prix, the Indonesian driver was never quite cut out for the sport. Dominated by his teammate Pascal Wehrlein, Rio ultimately left the sport when his sponsorship dried up, although he is better than a Narain Karthikeyan, Haryanto was nonetheless not particularly impressive.
21 Marcus Ericsson
Another pay driver, Ericsson’s position is more safe now that Sauber are now owned by a Swedish Group linked to his sponsors. However if his seat was on merit on its own, there is no way Ericsson would be in Formula One. He firstly never does anything to be noticeably doing a good job, he also is often beaten by his not exactly prestigious teammate. Summing up why Ericsson’s lack of ability of this level was the stupidity behind crashing into Nasr in Monaco (more on that later).
20 Joylon Palmer
The new British driver and 2014 GP2 Champion was most impressive in his first race in Australia, by getting through to Q2 and just losing out to the Toro Rosso’s over the final point, but since then it has been disappointing. Constantly out qualified by his teammate, Palmer simply has not proven himself, and it would be no surprise if at least he is made as the sacrificial lamb for Renault to bring in a strong lead driver going into next season. And he supports Ipswich so, that relegates him an extra place automatically.
19 Esteban Gutierrez
In a time where Mercedes have given Manor Wehrlein, Red Bull have Carlos Sainz in their junior team, and Mclaren has Stoffel Vandoorme on their books, it is surprising that the best young driver Ferrari could give Haas was Esteban Gutierrez, a man who wasn’t good enough when he was in Sauber for 2013-2014 and still isn’t good enough. A man who has spent the first half of season being battered by his teammate until Grosjean lost interest around the time that Ferrari announced they were retaining Raikkonen, and spending the second half of the season ignoring blue flags, Gutierrez has scored none of Haas 28 points, and it would not be surprising if he fails to for the rest of the season. Hopefully Haas will find a better second driver next season.
18 Felipe Nasr
Yes Nasr has beaten and been more impressive than his Swedish teammate, but that is hardly impressive. One impressive moment from Nasr this season has been his performance in Austria, where he ran in the points for a long time. But to that impressive moment can be an equally unimpressive moment at Monaco when he utterly ignored his team orders, in an Grand Prix where both Sauber drivers committed sackable offenses. Despite recent interest from Williams, I simply don’t believe that Nasr is cut out to be anything more than a backmarker.
17 Daniil Kvyat
Since 2015 and 2016 it seems that in FIFA terms, Daniil got cocky and decided he was better than Professional and tried to do a season on World Class and then lost every game. I feel that the big time came too early for this Russian who let’s not forget is only 22 years old. Daniil could become a very capable driver, but unfortunately for now he is struggling to prove his worth and at least is the weakest package in the Red Bull teams.
16 Kevin Magnussen
K-Mag has the talent to be in Formula One, he proved that in his first race for Mclaren where he out qualified Button and finished 2nd in the race, he also, by dominating Joylon Palmer this season has proven that. However, he seems to still make too many mistakes and has for both McLaren and Renault, produced performances which feel underwhelming. The Russian Grand Prix reminded me of his talent, but Austria and Spa for example reminded me of the fact Magnussen isn’t anywhere near the complete package yet
15 Felipe Massa
Yes he used to be world-class before his accident in 2009 and yes Alonso did make him look a lot worse than he actually is but if this season is anything to go by Felipe Massa is past it. His reactions look slower, his skill in the heat of battle is down and the popular Brazilian has taken the right decision to retire at the end of the season.
14 Pascal Wehrlein
The 2015 DTM champion is primarily so low on this list because dominating a pay driver in a Manor doesn’t really tell us much about how talented this driver actually is. It is true that his qualifying performances in Bahrain, Austria and Belgium respectively show there is certainly some talent there, but at the same time the amount of rookie errors he has made in races, including running stupidly into the back of Button in Belgium, and spinning out in Britain, and in numerous times using up his tyres far too quickly. Overall it is impossible to tell if Wehrlein is top draw, not yet anyway.
13 Valtteri Bottas
Valtteri Bottas, the most overrated driver in Formula One. I used to overrate him, as Maldonaldo made him look better than he actually is. I think it’s clear the reason Ferrari stuck with Raikkonen this year was because they realise Bottas wasn’t all that he is hyped up to be. The fact is if you’re not convincingly beating a past it Felipe Massa you may not be a future championship contender.
12 Kimi Raikkonen
This year he has been arguably better than Vettel, but that is more about how much of a mess of a season Vettel is having rather than the resurgence of Raikkonen. If this was Kimi of a decade ago he would be top five right now. But this is the Kimi who seemingly doesn’t care anymore, the Kimi who was being consistently beaten by Romain Grosjean at the end of 2013 and then by Alonso and Vettel in both 2014 and 2015. This is the Kimi who would not have the instinct to pull off a move as sensational as his move round the outside of Fisichella in the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix. His pace in qualifying and lack of instinct, like with Massa, show a driver in decline. Having said that, a past-it Kimi Raikkonen is still better than half the drivers on the grid.
11 Nico Hulkenberg
Nico Hulkenburg must be in disbelief that he hasn’t made it to a top team in his career. In plenty of races this season he has underlined what we knew from the moment he qualified on pole in the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix, that on his day Hulkenburg is a top driver and in the right car could win many of Grand Prix. But with the best driver not in a top team as his teammate and with age no longer on his side (he is now 29), you have to ask if Hulkenburg’s big chance to hit the big time has already been missed when Alonso blocked his entry into Ferrari in 2014.
10 Carlos Sainz
Sainz strikes me as the new Rosberg. Hold your own against ultra talented teammate. Check. The potential to drive for a top team. Check. The potential to win races. Check The potential to challenge or titles. Check. the potential to win world championships? may be a bit too much of an ask.
9 Romain Grosjean
Before he seemingly gave up trying as soon as Ferrari announced Raikkonen was staying on, Grosjean had been the perfect lead driver for Haas, likewise for Lotus last season. However as good as he has been in drives such as Belgium last year and Australia, Bahrain and Russia this year, Grosjean will need to re-find his early season form to try and beat his rivals to his desired drive at Ferrari in 2018.
8 Jenson Button
Button is only so low on this list now because he is slightly past his best, but give the man a damp track he will still be the fastest out there. A man who has won the championship and held his own as teammate to both Hamilton and Alonso in his career is still an asset to any team, and would be a perfect lead driver for Williams rather than Bottas or Nasr. Only question mark is his one lap pace, as well as the fact that many a time against Hamilton he was made to look quite ordinary. Nonetheless, a man who won the race of the decade (Canada 2011) still has life in him yet if he does indeed return in 2018.
7 Sergio Perez
Pablo Escobar lookalike and the best driver outside the four financial powerhouses of Formula One, Sergio Perez has proved in his time at Force India that his year at McLaren was just a blip, and that he is a top top quality driver. It takes a lot to make Nico Hulkenburg look ordinary but that’s what Perez has done as he rebuilt his reputation. His shock results have also earned me a fair few pennies in betting as well. Surely with his relative easiness of availability and talent, Perez will be the perfect candidate to lead the Renault team over the next few seasons.
6 Max Verstappen
Some may be surprised that Verstappen is so low. But it must stress that this is a list of how good the drivers are now, not how good they’ll be in a couple of years time. I do have a current problem with Max, and that is his racecraft. Some argue that his aggression is the same as Hamilton or Senna, but I disagree, simply by the fact the attitude within the car of Hamilton and Senna suggests they at least respected the other drivers. With Max I have the same problems than what I had of a pre-world championship Sebastian Vettel, and that is in the attitude of the car it simply suggests a shire lack of respect and with it, the suggestion that he is always on the brink of a massive accident. He will be a world champion by 2020, he will be in the top 2 in the world by 2019, but for now, Max’s naivety means he isn’t quite the best out there yet.
5 Nico Rosberg
Rosberg has just about been the 5th best driver in the sport for the last 6 or 7 years now, and his three years being Hamilton’s bridesmade simply suggests that Rosberg is a brilliant driver, but he just lacks the extra killer instinct or last tenth of a second to be a world champion.
4 Sebastian Vettel
The last three years of not winning the championship have proven what his detractors in the glory years (I myself included) always suspected, that Vettel isn’t quite as good to be on the level of his rivals Hamilton and Alonso. More worryingly, in 2014 and 2016 Vettel has seemed to cracked under pressure when things have not gone his way, and his championships in 2010 and 2012 seem to be only in name only, as Hamilton and Alonso both drove better than him throughout both seasons respectively and only failed to beat him those years from cases of bad luck, reliability and not having a car as good as the all dominating Red Bulls of the 2010-2013 season. Having said that, I take nothing away from Vettel’s other two championship winning years, where he was the class of the field. It’s just his performances while not having the best car have not convinced me that he is on Hamilton/Alonso level.
3 Daniel Ricciardo
As well as being the coolest man in the sport, Ricciardo has taken Hamilton’s title away of being the most exciting driver in Formula One. The man who undid Vettel’s unbeatable reputation in the matter of one season has to be the most likeable and exciting driver on the grid. The difference at the minute between him and his younger teammate is that Ricciardo’s overtaking is aggressive, but it’s also clean and respectful. And with him beating the youngster, Daniel has proved himself to be ranked within one of the best three drivers in F1, not bad for a driver who Red Bull took a lot of flak for promoting in the first place. A championship battle between him and Verstappen will be unbelievable as unlike Hamilton-Rosberg or before that Vettel-Webber, nobody is confident enough to claim who would come out on top.
2 Fernando Alonso
He may be old, he may have been driving the cars of fallen giants for the last 8 years, but Fernando Alonso is still on a level that only about half a dozen or so drivers have ever reached in their career. It must be noted that Alonso only had the best car in his career once, that was in the fractious 2007 campaign for McLaren. His performance in the 2nd half the 2006 season was unbelievable with what was really only the 3rd best car, and his championship challenge in 2012 in what was a piss poor Ferrari was the best single driven season I have seen since I started religiously following the sport in 2000. If Mclaren deliver the car next year, Alonso will be world champion again, and arguably should already have two more than he actually has already. It is telling that out of his teammates, he has crushed all of them other than the man who is number one on this list, and arguably Button.
1 Lewis Hamilton
The soon to be four time world champion has given me my personal favourite sporting moment ever, when he won his 1st championship at the final corner in a car which was certainly second best to Ferrari that season, went through growing pains from 2009-2011, got painfully unlucky through reliability in 2012, and has got his just rewards from his inspired decision to join Mercedes in 2013. Like Alonso, Hamilton, through drives such as Britain 2008, Bahrain 2014, China 2011, Monaco 2011 and then Monaco and Austria again this year, has proven that he is on a level only a very few have ever been in the history of the sport. The reason Hamilton has piped Alonso to the number one sport is his one lap pace, something which Hamilton is arguably only second to his childhood hero in the all-time ranks – Senna.