I look over the entire grid and analyse the performances of the drivers. Neither of the leading Mercedes pair of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton are on first spot.
The Mercs have done phenomenally well and Hamilton is a massive 60 points ahead of third-placed Ricciardo.
It must be remembered, though, that both drivers have the best racing package on the grid and the slow starts endured by many as they adapted to the new V6 era has allowed them to race ahead.
Therefore, it is important to be objective when analyzing the 22 drivers that have thrilled us with their driving performances over the course of the season.
Ahead of the return of Formula One with Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix, the best driver of the season is:
1. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
It was hard to choose between Nico Rosberg and Riccardo. Especially as Rosberg has been so consistent this year – he hasn’t qualified outside the top four and has finished inside the top two for every race except for the British and the Hungarian Grand Prix.
But I had to give the top driver spot so far to Ricciardo because of the inferiority of his machinery, and his consistent ability to always seem to drag the Renault-powered Red Bull to heights it shouldn’t have been able to. His wins in Canada and Hungary were so skillfully done that it belayed his tender years.
Also, to out-qualify Sebastian Vettel, the best qualifier of the past few season (he leads 7–4) is amazing. A the start of the season, I would never have thought Ricciardo could have outshone the reigning four-time world champion so comprehensively.
2. Nico Rosberg ( Mercedes)
It’s been impressive to watch just how Rosberg has raised his game so much this year. He has always been quick but now you can add steel and better consistency to his driving that shows me that he has the tools to win this world championship.
His drive to second in Canada despite ERS and rear brake problems was a highlight. He seems unflappable and if he can keep this form up, he will be the slight favourite for the title.
Alonso never gives up. He is always pushing from the first lap on Friday to the last lap on Sunday. His F14 T is just not on the pace but Fernando somehow is always able to maximise a result – his two podiums at China and Hungary being the perfect examples.
His average qualifying position is 7.1 but his average race finishing position is 4.9, which puts him fourth in the championship battle. To put his performances in perspective, you just need to see how poor his team-mate, former world Champion Kimi Raikkonen (10.4 for qualifying and 10.2 for race) has fared.
Alonso is also the only driver to have scored points in every race this year.
4. Valtteri Bottas (Williams)
We saw enough from Bottas’s rookie season that we knew he would be good. I have been pleasantly surprised how well he has come on. Since his small brush with the wall in Australia, Bottas has just been getting more and more confident, which has shown in better controlled pace.
His two podiums at Britain and Germany have seen justice well served after his promising results earlier in the year were ruined by tyre wear or strategy issues within the team.
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
I know I’m going to get a lot of stick for putting Hamilton so far down. He has had some outstanding performances. He has won five times this year and his wins in Malaysia, Bahrain and Britain were especially outstanding. But we have also seen an unprecedented amount of mistakes by him too.
He made mistakes in qualifying in Canada, Britain and Austria which probably cost him pole. For me, Hamilton is second only to Vettel when it comes to qualifying and to see that many mistakes from him is unusual. I think he has heaped a lot of unnecessary pressure on himself with some ill-timed comments to the press, which have not helped.
Hamilton is currently still second in the championship, only 11 points behind his team-mate. Hopefully, the break will have done him some good and he will come back relaxed. If he does, I’m sure the qualifying performances will be back to his usual high standard and if that happens, Rosberg better watch out.
6. Nico Hulkenburg (Force India)
The Hulk has been his usual impressive self and has scored points in every race except the last one in Hungary. While Force India is in better shape than last year, thanks to their Mercedes engines, Hulkenburg is seventh in the title race mostly due to his ability to extract the most of his machinery on a consistent basis.
7. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
Who would have thought the reigning World Champion would be so far down.
He simply has not adjusted to the new regulations as well as some of the other drivers. There have been a couple of bright spots, though, such as third place finishes in Malaysia and Canada.
But his usually solid qualifying form has deserted him this year which has surprised everyone. He also could have won in Hungary but a spin at the last corner ruined that particular race for him.
Let us not forget, though, that he is a four time world champion. This may be his most trying year since he joined Formula One but only a fool would bet against him turning his form around.
8. Danii Kvyat (Toro Rosso)
I’m sure I’ll also get some stick for having Kvyat so high up but he has been a bit of a revelation this year. The rookie has finished in the points four times this year and it would have been more if the Torro Rosso had not got such poor reliability.
His qualifying has also been very impressive, almost as good as Jean-Eric Vergne, his solid team-mate, who is having a good year as well. Kvyat’s highlight of the season was when he qualified seventh in Austria.
While he may sit 15th in the championship, I rate him this highly because it will have been so easy to mess up more in what is his first year in F1. Don’t forget that the Torro Rosso hardly ran in pre-season testing due to power unit gremlins so when Kvyat qualified eighth and finished ninth at the opening race, it made me sit up and take notice.
More importantly, he did not plateau has and continued to improve as the year went on.
9. Felipe Massa (Williams)
Massa has actually shown some of his old form back and it’s been so nice to see him get some resules. Williams have definitely rejuvenated him and his lap to secure pole position in Austria was an excellent one.
While Massa started the year evenly-matched with teammate Bottas, he has lost his way a bit over the last couple of races and will need to be a bit more focused to halt that trend.
10. Jenson Button (McLaren)
The Mclaren car has been a handful for both drivers this year. Consistency has been hard to find as well as pace. Button has been unspectacularly solid but he still seems to struggle more than expected when the car drifts a little outside of its neutral zone.
He currently sits eighth in the championship but I don’t actually think that matters too much. He needs to achieve a spectacular result or two to secure his seat for next year and I think he knows that. He has tried some risky tyre strategies in wet/dry conditions to try and pull a result off, as he did in Hungary, but it has not quite worked out.
11. Kevin Magnussen (McLaren)
The Dane started so well with an excellent second-placed finish in Australia but then the usual plateau that seems to affect most rookies in F1 seemed to set in. There have been some signs that he is turning that around over the last four races so if he can continue that trend, his rookie year may actually go from satisfactory to good.
12. Sergio Perez (Force India)
Sergio has been out qualified by his teammate quite significantly this year. But his race pace has more often than not been a match or quicker than Hulkenburg. He had a well-taken podium in Bahrain and he almost raced superbly to another third in Canada before crashing with Massa on the last lap.
If his qualifying performances had been better, he would be several postitions further up this list.
13. Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso)
Vergne has actually had a very strong driving year and doesn’t really deserve to be this far back. He has actually qualified in the top 10 seven times this year, a great result when you think about how poor the Renault in the back of the Torro Rosso is.
He has been dogged by poor reliability in the Torro Rosso which has resulted in five non-finishes. The other reason he isn’t further up is because of inconsistency in his race pace.
14. Jules Bianchi (Marussia)
Bianchi has had an excellent season; he has consistently out qualified his team-mate and both Caterhams. Also, his drive to Marrusia’s first ever points in Monaco was one of the drives of the year.
An exciting talent, I hope we will see him in a quicker car next year.
15. Romain Grosjean (Lotus)
Its been hard to rate Grosjean’s driving, simply because the Lotus have been so bad this year. He is another driver to not have finished five races and when he is running, the car does not look good to drive at all.
The reason I have him above Ferrari’s Raikkonen is because he has been significantly better than his teammate and also due to that excellent fifth place in qualifying for the Spanish GP.
16. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
Raikkonen just has not shown the form that he had in the Lotus over the last two years. He has been blown away by Alonso and sits 12th in the championship.
As an ex-world champion, he needs to, and should, do better.
17. Adrian Sutil (Sauber)
Its been a bit tough for Sutil as the his heavy frame combined with an overweight chassis means he is giving lap time away for free.
Esteban Gutierrez has been doing well lately and, unfortunately for Sutil, I feel he will struggle to get much from the remainder of the season. He must be praying that the updates Sauber have promised work well for him.
18. Kamui Kobayashi (Caterham)
Again it’s a bit hard to gauge how well the popular Japanese has gone this year. He has out qualified team-mate Marcus Ericsson nine out of eleven times, so from that point of view his form this year has been good. But the Caterham has been the worst car on the grid this year and we just don’t know quite how much that has contributed to Kobayashi’s performances.
From his consistent performances in the past and the fact that we know he was good with both Toyota and Sauber before, I can’t quite put him in the bottom places.
19. Max Chilton (Marussia)
The young Englishman has out-qualified Bianchi three times this year, which is not great, but let’s not forget how strong his team-mate has been this year. Also, Max has an incredible run of just a single non-finish throughout his F1 career.
20. Esteban Gutierrez (Sauber)
Gutierrez, at times, has been very average but he has out-qualified his heavier teammate Sutil 6–4. He was also in a position to score the team’s only points in Monaco before he put the car in the barrier.
He has the chance to change things around this year but must seize any more chances that come his way.
21. Pastor Maldonado (Lotus)
The Venezuelan has always been an inconsistent driver – from the highs of winning in Barcelona in 2012, he has made some pretty bad mistakes this year such as flipping Gutierrez in Bahrain this year. He has also been out-qualified by his team-mate in every race this year bar one.
His Lotus is not helping him either but Maldonado is not inexperienced anymore and I expect more from him.
22. Marcus Ericsson (Caterham)
I know it’s Ericsson’s first year and that he is effectively inside the slowest car on the grid. Also, I’m aware that it’s not really fair to look too much at the fact that he has been out-qualified in almost every race this year.
I still have him here at the bottom of the list because of the large gaps between him and the next driver. His laptimes have been too far from his team-mate most of the time in both qualifying and races. We know he has got talent from what he achieved in the junior racing categories and it is not easy at Caterham right now but there is still time to turn it round and I hope he does something for his sake.