Regular visitors to The Lowdown Blog know what my Power Rankings are all about. New visitors may be slightly confused. Well, it’s only going to get worse from here. Every Wednesday, I’ll post my rankings of the drivers in Formula One. The rankings will be based on their how they’re running this season (or in testing for this first race), past performance at the upcoming track, the performance of the car and other intangibles that affect their performance (see Favre, Brett). It’s more of a prospective list than a restrospective list. Anyway, here is your first round of Formula One power rankings.
#1 Sebastian Vettel
Okay, Vettel could not have turned a wheel in testing all winter and I still would have put him at the top of the Power Rankings. When you’re the defending champion, you’re afforded some credit at the start of the next season. Well, unless you’re Jacques Villeneuve who is being powered by a shit Mechachrome engine after winning the title. There shouldn’t be much in the way of engine or car worries for Vettel. The RB7 is an evolution of the RB6 and the Renault V8 is the same this year as last. I think he’s in fairly good shape out of the blocks.
#2 Fernando Alonso
Ferrari has histroically been stellar at Melbourne. Granted, the move from Adelaide (which was a fun track) to Melbourne coincided with Schumacher moving from Bennetton to the Scuderia but they’re still very good at Albert Park. Alonso isn’t too shabby a hand in Australia either so let’s slot him as the next best chance for the win behind Vettel.
#3 Mark Webber
I think the RB7 is faster than the F-Henry Ford Is A Peach but there’s a fairly standard rule of thumb when it comes to home Grands Prix. Most drivers can’t win their home race to save their life. Sure, champions like Alonso and Schumacher and many more have won their home Grand Prix. Webber, being Australian, therefore doesn’t have a hope in hell this weekend. A podium would be a spectacular result for him.
#4 Nico Rosberg
I don’t know if it was proper pace or a low-fuel fluke but the Mercedes W02 was the fastest car at the final test of the pre-season. As much as I respect Schumacher and his successes in Formula One (and at the Aussie GP), the #1 driver at Mercedes is now Nico Rosberg. That’s why he’s ranked ahead of Michael. After last season and given the car, Nico looks like a top five driver to start the season.
#5 Jenson Button
He won last year on tyre strategy and tyres will again be a deciding factor in this year’s race. The difference is that Button won’t be able to make these Pirellis last for the final 50+ laps. JB is easy on his tyres which could help him by allowing him to go farther between pit stops. The thing is that we just don’t know how big the difference will be between saving tyres and burning rubber. Button’s style could be completely wrong for the new Pirellis. We’ll just have to wait for the first GP to find out.
#6 Felipe Massa
Felipe didn’t really impress as much as one would have hoped after his injury at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix. He was the stronger of the two Ferrari drivers that season but substituting Alonso for Raikkonen looks to be the worst thing to happen to Massa in his comeback attempt. Alonso made it his team and politicked his way to being the #1 driver. He’s never going to regain that 2008 level of success with Alonso in the other car.
#7 Lewis Hamilton
The Brits are about to massacre me for rating Lewis this poorly but I have a good reason. Simon Fuller is his new manager. Simon Fuller’s television shows are a blight upon Canadian television (because our networks are too cheap to develop their own programming so they buy Fuller’s US shows to air in Canada). I shudder to think of what reality TV drivel we will face starring Lewis Hamilton. Or even worse, we could have a Lewis Hamilton album. That would be trouble.
#8 Michael Schumacher
Michael’s success this season could come down solely to whether the W02 is prone to the Jenson Button favoured understeer or the more Schumacher-esque oversteer. Even after three years of retirement, Schumi still seems to have a bit of speed left in him. The car can’t really be designed to suit each driver equally. It’s either got to have a back end that dances around or one that is firmly planted. And the attitude of the car will show who Mercedes has thrown their lot in with this season.
#9 Nick Heidfeld
Heidfeld is in a tough spot this season. He was brought in out of retirement to drive for Sauber last season and looked to be sailing into the sunset again at the end of 2010. Then Kubica got injured and Heidfeld was drafted in as his replacement. Heidfeld’s in tough not because of his age but because of the expectations that the team had of Kubica. Kubica could have gotten podiums and maybe even the odd win based on testing speeds. Heidfeld is just holding down the fort but the team will be disappointed that they won’t get the success that Kubica likely would have afforded them.
#10 Rubens Barrichello
He’s faster than The Stig which has to count for something. After all, several F1 drivers have braved the Top Gear Test Track in the Suzuki Liana only to be bested by the the tame racing driver. He just may have Stig beating car this season too. The Williams is definitely an aggressively designed car around the diffuser. I don’t think it’s as fast as the Renault but with Rubens at the wheel, regular points finishes are definitely the expectation this year.
#11 Kamui Kobayashi
I’d love to rate him higher but I don’t think he’s quite consistent enough to be a top ten driver in F1 just yet. Yes, I’m factoring out the equipment there. He’s definitely the most entertaining driver in F1 right now because he has the balls to attempt an overtaking maneuver. I can’t think of many other drivers that got a fan following from outside their home country as quickly as Kobayashi. Somebody get this guy a winning ride.
#12 Jaime Alguersuari
The Toro Rosso has looked impressively fast in testing. I’m not sure the young driver duo of Buemi and Alguersuari has the experience to carry a team for a whole season through the required development work. Mind you, that’s assuming that Toro Rosso has the money required to continue developing the car to keep pace with the front-runners. Of the two, obviously I’ve given Alguersuari the nod as the faster of the two. The Spaniard is faster than you. Where have I heard something like that before?
#13 Sebastien Buemi
Not to seem like an entitled resident of the Eastern Time Zone but Bernie is really screwing us over with the start time of this race. The 5:00 PM start time in Melbourne translates to 2:00 AM Eastern. But it’s okay (enough) for Europe as it’s an 8:00 AM start time. The only mitigating factor about the start time is that I can tell any European complaining about an 8:00 AM start to shut up because all their races start at 8:00 AM. Sleep is for the weak, I suppose.
#14 Sergio Perez
Perez finished second in the 2010 GP2 championship to Williams rookie Pastor Maldonado. But I like Perez’s chances better than Maldonado’s chances this season because of how well Sauber seems to do developing young talent. Look at how good Kobayashi can run. But remember Sauber is a team that gave us Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Nick Heidfeld, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel. That’s a pretty good track record for any team, let alone a privateer effort (for the most part) like Sauber.
#15 Adrian Sutil
How poorly do I rate this year’s Force India? Normally I think very highly of Adrian Sutil behind the wheel of an F1 racecar. The VJM04, however, is looking like the worst car to come out of Force India since it was called Spyker. And if you recall, the Spyker was so slow that I wouldn’t be surprised if their C8 road car cornered as fast as their F1 car. Anyway, even Sutil will be hard-pressed to make much of this car without some good fortune and attrition.
#16 Vitaly Petrov
For every bit of promise that Renault has shown with Robert Kubica or Nick Heidfeld at the wheel, there’s that nagging bit of reservation about the car’s true speed when we see Petrov at the wheel. There were times when Petrov did impress last season but he’s usually dreadfully off his teammate’s pace. Maybe the gap won’t be so large with Heidfeld as the lead driver instead of Kubica but there’s still a lot of room for improvement for the Russian driver.
#17 Pastor Maldonado
Just because you’re the defending GP2 champion doesn’t mean you’re going to be flying right out of the blocks. Maldonado logged a fair amount of testing time in the Williams but he never really showed much in the way of spectacular pace. Apart from d’Ambrosio, I think he’d end up being the slowest of the four rookies if you matched them up in identically prepared cars. But testing isn’t a race. He could surprise me when the lights go out on the season.
#18 Paul di Resta
Is di Resta faster than Petrov and Maldonado? Probably. The thing is that he’s a rookie. Having a DTM championship isn’t quite good enough qualifications to get ranked higher than an F1 vet (relatively speaking) and a GP2 champion. Well, that and the fact that the Renault and Williams are faster than the FI might have something to do with it.
#19 Heikki Kovalainen
It’s the best of the rest. And by rest I mean the new teams that aren’t really new any more but sort of are… Unless you’re talking about HRT who are an unmitigated disaster. Anyway, Kovalainen gets the nod ahead of Trulli because he is faster. That might not always be the case in qualifying but in the race, I’ll take Kovalainen every time.
#20 Jarno Trulli
Jarno Trulii could have raced his world beating Renault against a field of Smart cars and still manage to have a train behind him. I have that much faith in his race craft. I have never seen anyone attempt as few overtaking maneuvers in his F1 career as Jarno Trulli. And to think he gave NASCAR a look. Danica Patrick would make a better Cup driver than Jarno and that’s not because of oval experience.
#21 Timo Glock
Timo missed the last test after getting his appendix removed so I’m assuming that he’ll have recovered sufficiently to have his innards sloshed about through the high G-forces that come from driving an F1 racecar. Okay, not a pretty picture but I’m not paid to be a wordsmith. I’m not paid at all for this, actually. I almost wonder if either of Virgin’s pilots are pay drivers. I haven’t seen it reported either way which is especially surprising in the case of d’Ambrosio.
#22 Tonio Liuzzi
The poor guy goes from what was a reasonably strong mid-field car in the Force India to HRT. That about says it all, really. He could have gone from a start-and-park team in NASCAR to HRT and it still would’ve been a step down in prestige. There’s nothing at all F1-like about the effort HRT has put forth this off-season. Why couldn’t we have Stefan Grand Prix again?
#23 Jerome d’Ambrosio
Consistently among the slowest during pre-season testing, d’Ambrosio avoids picking up the bottom spot in the Power Rankings solely because he’s driving a car that actually ran during testing. Rookies to F1 usually aren’t on the pace straight away and it will be especially hard for d’Ambrosio to run higher than 22nd in qualifying in his Virgin.
#24 Narain Karthikeyan
I’ve never been a Karthikeyan fan. Sure, I enjoyed his turn in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series but he didn’t seem quite as natural as Nelson Piquet. I think he’s just naturally more off the pace in an F1 car than a NASCAR truck. Being in an untested HRT won’t help matters either. Tonio is faster so Narain gets to sit on bottom for this week.