Ranking Eight F1 Drivers Having a Worse 2014 Season Than Last Year
What a difference a year makes.
The beginning of a Formula One season always represents a fresh start, but following the significant regulation changes over the winter, that effect has been heightened in 2014.
Teams such as Mercedes have used that to good effect, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton winning every race so far between them.
Others, though, have it plain wrong, with the hopes and dreams of the offseason almost immediately evaporating.
And here, from the least affected to the most, we count down the drivers whose 2014 has so far been worse than their previous campaign.
In terms of criteria, we focus particularly on the drivers’ performances and results in the opening three races of 2014, contrasting them with the first three grands prix of 2013 and noting how substantial the drop has been. We then consider how likely the drivers are to recover and salvage anything notable from this season as the year progresses.
8. Esteban Gutierrez
Like Sauber teammate Adrian Sutil, Esteban Gutierrez’s season so far has been a tale of one anonymous race and two retirements.
The Mexican showed steady improvement over the course of the 2013 season and was expected to continue that into this year’s campaign, but a mixture of poor reliability and misfortune has prevented Gutierrez from showing his true form.
His recovery from qualifying 20th to finishing 12th in Melbourne was more a reflection of the unreliability of other cars rather than his pace, while a gearbox problem ended his race in Malaysia before he was assaulted by Pastor Maldonado at Turn 1 in Bahrain, rolling the Mexican’s Sauber out of the race.
7. Jules Bianchi
After three races in 2013, Jules Bianchi had already secured the 13th place that would seal Marussia’s 10th place in the Constructors’ Championship for the first time since the team joined the grid as Virgin Racing in 2010.
The style in which he appeared to thrash teammate Max Chilton led to some thinking that Bianchi was a future world champion, but those predictions have been slightly revised in the early stages of 2014.
Despite out-qualifying Chilton in two of the opening three races, it has been the Briton who has had the upper hand on race day so far. Bianchi was not classified in Australia before a race-ending collision with Pastor Maldonado in Malaysia resulted in the Frenchman receiving two penalty points on his Super License.
A 16th-place finish in Bahrain after a couple of clumsy clashes with Adrian Sutil—on a day when Chilton was classified in 13th—compounded Bianchi’s misery at the beginning of a season in which he was expecting to reach the next level.
6. Adrian Sutil
Adrian Sutil enjoyed a strong return to Formula One at the beginning of 2013, leading the Australian Grand Prix in a Force India for a period before being swarmed by faster cars on his final stint.
A respectable seventh-place finish represented a good reward for his return to the sport before two retirements in the following two races.
It’s been a similar story at the beginning of 2014—just without the respectable performance or points.
An anonymous drive to 11th in Melbourne was followed up with his Sauber grinding to a halt at the beginning of the pit straight in Sepang. His season slumped further in Bahrain, where he was handed a five-place grid penalty for forcing Romain Grosjean off the track in qualifying before two clashes in quick succession with Jules Bianchi ruined his race.
5. Pastor Maldonado
Pastor Maldonado’s opening three results of 2014 are identical to those he achieved after the same period last year, but the Venezuelan is undoubtedly in a worse state than he was a year ago.
Although Lotus’ lack of running and subsequent reliability problems have played a major part in Maldonado’s poor start to the season, he has not helped his cause by allowing himself to get involved with the type of incidents that have defined his four-year F1 career.
Jules Bianchi was right to consider himself harshly treated after he was penalised for colliding with Maldonado on the first lap in Malaysia, while Maldonado should have been embarrassed to carry on—and finish his first race of the season in 14th—after causing Esteban Gutierrez to roll over in Bahrain.
That 2012 Spanish Grand Prix win is a distant memory.
4. Romain Grosjean
A year ago, Romain Grosjean was putting the finishing touches to his new outlook. Three low-scoring finishes in the opening three races of 2013 suggested that in restraining his flamboyant style, he had lost the racing prowess that made him so spectacular to watch.
As it turned out, that was merely the prelude to a run of four podium finishes in the final six races of last season, when he emerged as the only real threat to the dominance of Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel.
Lotus’ significant drop in form in 2014 has cruelly robbed Grosjean of a chance to replicate that form but has also brought unique challenges.
For the first time since becoming a full-time F1 driver at the beginning of 2012, Grosjean has had to drive his way around a bad car, and he has performed admirably in that respect. His completion of 43 laps in Melbourne after a terrible pre-season was nothing short of miraculous, while his resisting of Kimi Raikkonen for 11th place in Malaysia and 12th position in Bahrain were gritty and within touching distance of points.
Grosjean is making the best of a bad job in 2014.
3. Sebastian Vettel
The anguish heard in Sebastian Vettel’s voice over team radio broadcasts demonstrates just how far the reigning champion has fallen over the last few months.
His record of a retirement, third place and sixth place in the opening three races is nowhere near disastrous, but clearly not of the standard of someone who has dominated the sport for the last four years and ended last year with a nine-race winning streak.
That is especially true when you consider that the baseline of his 2013 title success was created after he finished third, first and fourth in the opening three races of last season.
The only factor denying Vettel top spot here is that despite the difficulties endured by Red Bull and Renault, he’s still the only one who could stop Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg taking the 2014 titles.
2. Kimi Raikkonen
Two podium finishes in the opening three races, including a win in Australia, was how Kimi Raikkonen began 2013. His start to the 2014 season, however, was decidedly different.
The 2007 world champion was made to look like an amateur as he stumbled across multiple run-off areas in Melbourne almost a year to the day since his assured win at Albert Park, struggling to brake with the new Ferrari.
An early collision with Kevin Magnussen in Malaysia forced him into recovery-drive mode, but his 12th-place finish was pitiful to say the least.
Raikkonen out-qualified teammate Fernando Alonso for the first time this season in Bahrain, but his slump to 10th in the race suggests that contrary to popular belief ahead of the season, he will remain in Alonso’s shadow for now.
1. Fernando Alonso
The rot that set in between Fernando Alonso and Ferrari in the summer of 2013 has only grown, despite the regulation changes which were thought to have provided a fresh start this year.
Despite retiring from the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, the Spaniard was actually closer to the top of the drivers’ standings after three races last year than he is in 2014, with Alonso currently trailing Nico Rosberg by 35 points.
Still without a podium in 2014 after claiming two already by this time last season, Alonso’s title aspirations may as well be considered over already.
And although he has the measure of teammate Kimi Raikkonen and can still be relied upon to transcend the level of his car, what joy can there be taken when the Mercedes cars are so far in front?