19. Pedro de la Rosa
Super sub or what? De la Rosa was in Canada as an employee of McLaren, and found himself being bundled into a Sauber for Practice 2 at the last minute after Sergio Pérez felt unexpected after-effects from his Monaco qualifying crash. De la Rosa acquitted himself excellently, finishing 12th in a car he had never driven before.
18. Bruno Senna
Senna has shown flashes of promise in the Renault GP car. It was not an easy situation. The car having tumbled down the order as the season progressed, and the team was seemingly in a state of disarray (as evidenced by the presence of Dave Ryan as a consultant at the end of the season). The manner of Senna’s entrance was controversial too.
But Senna put all that behind him, and put in some solid performances. He also had some worryingly poor performances. But I think he has done enough to prove that he is not in F1 merely because he is a Senna. Whether it was enough to earn a seat in 2012 is another matter.
17. Vitaly Petrov
Petrov had a more solid 2011 than 2010, but you would expect this. He can really pull a great performance out of the bag sometimes. His 3rd place finish in Australia was a clear stand-out result, but this may have been largely as a result of how well the car was performing at the time. Petrov is still too mistake-prone, and I am not sure I would place him in a car for 2012.
16. Sébastien Buemi
I find it difficult to tell which of the two Toro Rosso drivers is better. Buemi has a better qualifying record and has overtaken more cars than Jaime Alguersuari. On the flipside, Buemi has scored fewer points, although he has suffered from more technical problems.
My feeling is that Buemi should be achieving more after two full seasons in F1. Although he has put in some seriously impressive performances from time to time, I wouldn’t blame Red Bull for choosing to dispense with Buemi, particularly with two super-talented individuals (Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Éric Vergne) waiting for a decent race drive.
15. Jaime Alguersuari
Similar to Sébastien Buemi, Jaime Alguersuari should be achieving a bit more by this stage of his career. He is capable of putting in some brilliant performances, but not consistently so. On the plus side, he has generally better race results than Sébastien Buemi, and has proved that he can make a difficult strategy work on the odd occasion.
14. Kamui Kobayashi
A quiet season for the person Speed TV calls ‘Mr Excitement’. Kobayashi has generally performed well, as his solid results indicate. But it’s difficult to escape the notion that he has gone off the boil. Where were all the overtaking moves that made him such a popular figure in previous seasons? Nowhere to be seen.
13. Heikki Kovalainen
I am having to seriously reconsider my opinion on Heikki Kovalainen. I used to think he was next to hopeless, who lacked the motivation to really win (his one race victory was inherited by accident after Felipe Massa’s engine expired).
But at Lotus, he has seemed like a totally new driver. His pecker is up, and he seems genuinely enthralled at the challenge driving for Lotus presents. He has a better qualifying record against his team mate than anyone else in the grid (16–3 against two different team mates). And whenever you see a Lotus beating an ‘established’ team during the race, it is almost always Kovalainen.
12. Paul di Resta
Paul di Resta started the season exceptionally strongly, with an impressively consistent run of results right from the word go. But worryingly, as the season progressed his performances became less consistent and he began making clumsy, avoidable errors. In the end, it has been a learning year for Paul di Resta, and he shows every sign of learning from these mistakes.
11. Felipe Massa
I’m afraid to say that I think Massa has had quite enough time at Ferrari and he is now taking up a seat for someone that could deserve it more. Massa has had a handful of impressive qualifying performances, but beyond that his season has been defined by clumsy errors and a generally below par performance. Alonso has scored more than double Massa’s points — an almost unacceptable difference. 2012 will be his last chance to prove himself to Ferrari.