Ranking 6 Formula 1 Drivers Having a Better 2014 Season Than Last Year

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2014

Ranking 6 Formula 1 Drivers Having a Better 2014 Season Than Last Year

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    It's rare for a Formula One driver to go from one season to the next with no change in apparent performance.

    His car is invariably different, his mental state may have changed and his rivals, whose displays he will be judged against, will have moved forwards or backwards.

    Luck usually plays a part as well.

    Last week, Oliver Harden ranked the drivers who have struggled to replicate their form from last year.

    Looking at how each driver has performed so far against his performances in 2013, here's the oppositethe six drivers who stand out as having had a happier time so far in 2014.

Nico Hulkenberg

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    Nico Hulkenberg had a somewhat painful start to 2013. Having left Force India in search of a better car, he found himself in an even slower Sauber.

    It was especially disappointing because he moved there because they'd been quite competitive in 2012.

    Things improved towards the end of the year and, after missing out on the Ferrari seat to Kimi Raikkonen, Hulkenberg ended up back at Force India.

    He's made a promising start; but then, everyone knew he would.

    Sixth in Australia was followed by a fine fifth in Malaysia.

    Bahrain was always going to be tough starting from 12th, but the German still fought for a podium, eventually coming home in fifth.

    With a better car, Hulkenberg would already be a race winner. If Force India can keep up in the development race, he'll at least add a few podiums to his tally before the year is out.

Felipe Massa

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    Felipe Massa probably holds a world record for the highest number of times a career has been under threat.

    The Brazilian underperformed badly alongside Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, and every summer the discussions started over who would replace him at the Italian squad.

    In 2013, his time finally ran out. His seat went to Kimi Raikkonen, and Massa was somewhat fortunate to get a drive with Williams. He hadn't performed well for years.

    But freed of the pressure of being Alonso's No. 2, Massa has flourished. In all three race weekends so far, he has matched or bettered his highly regarded team-mate, Valtteri Bottas.

    Massa's refusal to bow to team orders in Malaysia showed he has his confidence back, and he even has more points than the man who replaced him at Ferrari.

    If he can keep it up, he should be retained for 2015.

Max Chilton

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    To finish first, first you have to finish.

    Or in Max Chilton's case, to finish first, first you have to hope a rogue meteorite took out the other 21 cars. Then you have to finish.

    Chilton finished every race in 2013, but he covered himself in little glory doing so because he was usually dead last. Comprehensively out-driven in every area by team-mate Jules Bianchi, there was little to suggest he deserved a second season.

    But he's actually done a decent job so far in 2014.

    While Bianchi has struggled with all manner of issues in the races, Chilton has twice finished in 13th place his best F1 results so far.

    He even outqualified Bianchi in Australia, something he managed only twice from 19 attempts in 2013.

    Chilton hasn't suddenly become Ayrton Senna in a blond wig, but he's certainly looked a better driver.

Nico Rosberg

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    Nico Rosberg didn't have a bad year in 2013. Armed with a car which was quick over a single lap but very difficult over a race distance, he scored three pole positions and won two races.

    He was fifth in the championship, 18 points behind his new team-mate Lewis Hamilton. By all accounts it was a good season, in which he usually showed better race-management skills than Hamilton and tended to be kinder to his tyres.

    This year, he's got even better. With his Mercedes team substantially ahead of anyone else, Rosberg won the opening race of the year in Australia.

    In Malaysia he was second, the position he also occupied at the Bahrain Grand Prix after a titanic scrap with Hamilton for the lead.

    Hamilton is the title favourite, but Rosberg is one of the most underrated drivers on the grid. After a great start, expect him to at the very least take the title fight down to the wire.

Daniel Ricciardo

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    Red Bull could have chosen any number of drivers to replace the departing Mark Webber. Kimi Raikkonen was the early favourite, but in the end they went for a graduate of their Junior Team, Daniel Ricciardo.

    He was considered a good qualifier, but he often faded in the races, and no one had ever mentioned him when discussing future world champions.

    The prevailing view was that he'd be a nice pliable patsy for Sebastian Vettel. A bit like Felipe Massa was to Fernando Alonso.

    But it hasn't really turned out that way.

    Ricciardo qualified on the front row in Australia and drove a mature, controlled race to finish second. He was later disqualified for matters outside his control.

    In Malaysia, he ran close behind Vettel for most of the race before being forced to retire.

    In Bahrain, we saw proof that Ricciardo isn't at Red Bull to be pushed around. Early on, the team asked Vettel to move over to allow his then-quicker team-mate by, and towards the end he forced his way back past with a genuine overtake.

    A very good start to his Red Bull career.

Lewis Hamilton

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    Lewis Hamilton's 2013 season wasn't that bad, given what he had to drive. His Mercedes was quick over a single lap but excessive tyre wear often left the car uncompetitive on race day.

    He qualified on pole five times, but only once could he convert it to a win. Usually, he scrapped for minor podium spots.

    It was partly the tyre wear issue and partly the car itself, which Hamilton didn't like. He told French newspaper L'Equipe (translation h/t grandprix247.com):

    At McLaren, I had 100 per cent confidence in the car, and I’m working to regain that confidence.

    The setup and the brakes are very different to what I was used to. It’s an overall feeling that’s hard to explain. It’s not a problem of concentration; it’s just confidence in the car.

    Now he has a car designed around his style, and he seems more like his old self. The car failure in Australia didn't dampen his oft-erratic spirit, and in Malaysia he was totally dominant.

    Hamilton didn't quite hook it up in Bahrain, but a brilliant display of defensive driving saw him take the chequered flag.

    No one is mentioning his private life, dogs or showbiz buddies anymore. That probably says more than anything about the improvement he's made.