Mark Webber is one of the more direct and honest drivers in the Formula One paddock. In many media appearances he has shown no aversion in expressing how difficult his relationship is with his team-mate and his deep dislike of the current style of Formula One racing. Hence, when he speaks people tend to listen.
His latest quotes that the Formula One grid is lacking in quality when compared with the year he debuted in the sport – 2001 – are easy to disagree with. While it’s easy to understand why he holds such a view, having been held up by many unyielding Caterhams and Marussias in the past few years including the scary incident which left him hurtling up in to the air at Valencia 2010, it’s most definitely a rose-tinted viewpoint.
Most of the 2013 grid have proved perfectly adept, even highly talented. The five world champions at the front of the grid are some of the sport’s finest ever competitors and the midfield contains some very fine talent.
One thing that is clear though, is that there are fewer journeymen racers now than there were in 2001. Competition for seats is much tougher and any mediocre talent is quickly disposed of in favour of a highly promising rookie or unfortunately, a money-backed youngster.
Yet the number of such drivers who are only present for their accompanying sponsors is much lower than many commentators have led you to believe. Max Chilton, Giedo van der Garde and Esteban Gutierrez are the only three who have been fast tracked for the cash. Other well-backed drivers, such as Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado have proved to be up to the standard needed and just happen to have bounds of talent alongside the money.
Whether the 22 of 2013 would beat the 22 of 2001 is forever to remain unclear but what can be known is who, from the current crop, has been outstanding and who looks like being remembered as just another footnote in F1’s history.
Nico Hulkenberg’s decision to move to Sauber has certainly been proved to be an error. From leading last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, the hugely respected young German is now scrapping for points, only seven of which are now his. In the longer term, Sauber, together with their newly acquired Russian backers do have the potential to improve on this year’s poor performance, but if
Hulkenberg gets lucky he won’t be around to see such improvements.He is on the short list for promotion to one of the top teams. The confirmed exit of Mark Webber and the likely sacking of Felipe Massa if he doesn’t raise his game leaves room for two more additions to the championship teams. The only major obstacles standing in his way are Paul di Resta and Jules Bianchi, the other two youngsters who look more eligible for a top class seat.
Hulkenberg appears to be the favourite for the possible vacant Ferrari seat, having trumped di Resta in their year as team mates at Force India; and being more experienced than the very raw Bianchi.
This is all conjecture, however and the truth will reveal itself as the second half of the season goes along. What is fact though is who has been disappointing this season.
Esteban Gutierrez stands out the most. Before the season even began many claimed that he looked unready for the step up, including his own team. He still stands pointless ten races in and needs to make a big leap if he is not to be unceremoniously booted out at the end of the season.
Formula One has never been more ruthless and in this age of minimal testing, youngsters have never had less time or more pressure to adapt to the class. The cream nearly always ends up rising to the top though.