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Ranking the 2014 Formula 1 Grid by Most Exciting Drivers

Oliver HardenFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2014

Ranking the 2014 Formula 1 Grid by Most Exciting Drivers

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Is the purpose of sport to entertain? Or is entertainment just a byproduct of sport?

    The answer to that is perhaps defined by the nature of the sport itself, but you get the feeling it is the former as far as Formula One is concerned.

    F1 is constantly looking for ways to "enhance the show" and "provide a spectacle." It is, after all, part of the entertainment business.

    That paranoia, that desperation to show off, has seen the suits resort to drastic measures in recent years, with the introduction of flappy rear wings and tyres that fall apart really quickly.

    Despite the best efforts of the authorities, however, it always has been and will continue to be the drivers, the heroes and the personalities who create the real excitement. 

    And at a time when "the show" is again up for discussion, with AUTOSPORT's Jonathan Noble revealing last month that sparks, vapour trails and glowing brakes are set to return, we have ranked each of the 22 drivers on the 2014 grid by their ability to create excitement.

    In terms of methodology, we have assessed their aggression behind the wheel, their attacking instincts and their likelihood of doing something jaw-droppingly brilliant or ridiculously foolish over the course of their F1 career as well as in 2014.

    Who gets us on the edge of our seat? Who makes the act of driving a Formula One car seem like a truly impossible act? Who, when we hand over our money for a grand prix ticket, are we most eager to see?

    You'll find that F1 is blessed in that department.

     

     

     

22. Max Chilton

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Since he made his Formula One debut for Marussia at the beginning of 2013, Max Chilton has competed in 23 races and finished every single one.

    The 23-year-old, despite failing to score a point in any of those grands prix, is F1's "Steady Eddie" and can be relied upon to do the basics right and bring the car home—the main target for a driver with a team as uncompetitive as Marussia.

    Although he has twice claimed a career-best finish of 13th in the first four races of 2014, these were achieved in the Australian and Bahrain grands prix, which both featured several retirements and therefore elevated the British driver to an unnatural position.

    Chilton's driving may be clean and tidy, but it is unlikely to get you on the edge of your seat.  

     

21. Marcus Ericsson

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Serious question: Have you noticed Marcus Ericsson yet this season?

    But for a half-spectacular shunt during qualifying for the Malaysian Grand Prix, the Swede's first (and probably last) season in F1 has been as underwhelming as his appointment by Caterham in January.

    Granted, his position at the most uncompetitive team on the grid has perhaps prevented him from displaying his true talent.

    But judging by his bland record in GP2, there isn't much left in the tank. 

20. Jean-Eric Vergne

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    Peter Fox/Getty Images

    Despite his aggressive style and exemplary levels of car control, Jean-Eric Vergne has never produced much in the way of excitement since entering Formula One in 2012.

    But for a decent qualifying performance here and the odd spectacular slide and save there, Vergne, like his Toro Rosso team, has become the definition of F1's midfield.

    His failure to secure the second Red Bull seat for 2014 ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, as well as the immediate shift in interest towards new teammate Daniil Kvyat this season, means whatever Vergne does from now on is irrelevant.

    And it's hard to get excited about something that doesn't mean much to anyone.

     

     

19. Jenson Button

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Jenson Button's famously smooth driving style comes close to defying logic. After all, how can something that looks so slow be so fast?

    Only football's Andrea Pirlo, the Juventus and Italy playmaker, can come close to Button in terms of making sport seem like a piece of art.

    The 2009 world champion's graceful steering manipulation and gentle application of the throttle pedal occasionally makes a grand prix seem like an exhibition.

    But fans don't want their F1 drivers to be graceful and gentle, nor do they want their races to look like demos—they want action and aggression to produce memorable spectacles.

    And although Button is a tremendous ambassador for F1, although his effortless driving style is beyond belief, his strategic approach and hypersensitivity to the balance of his car ranks him among the most boring drivers on the current grid.

18. Daniel Ricciardo

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Part of the reason why Daniel Ricciardo has had the upper hand over Sebastian Vettel so far in 2014 is boredom.

    Whilst Mark Webber, his compatriot and predecessor, could often be guilty of trying too hard to beat the four-time world champion by fighting fire with fire, Ricciardo's comfort in the No. 2 role at Red Bull is reflected in his persona and driving.

    Few thrills, no spills—just a driver calmly getting on with the job, extracting the most from an opportunity and reaping the rewards.

17. Valtteri Bottas

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Valtteri Bottas is unfortunate in the sense that since he made his debut at the beginning of last season, his Williams team have constantly underachieved.

    And that has prevented the highly rated Finn from showcasing his true talent.

    Indeed, his performances at Montreal and Austin in 2013 made people sit up and take notice—but sitting up and taking notice is all they did.

    His recovery drive in Australia this year to finish fifth after dropping to the rear of the field due to a self-inflicted puncture was stunning, but Williams' pace advantage over the majority of their rivals made it unclear just how much credit Bottas deserved.

    There is no doubt that Bottas has stacks of potential—a "Mini Kimi", if you will—but we need to see more of it to class him as truly exciting.

     

16. Nico Rosberg

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    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    Like Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg is the typical thinking driver.

    Indeed, he was part of the most exciting wheel-to-wheel battle in recent memory with Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain last month, but that fight was so exciting partly because it lasted so long.

    As the faster driver on the day, Rosberg should have made easier work of an overtaking manoeuvre, but in typical thinking driver's style he overcomplicated matters and ultimately lost out.

    His lack of passing prowess is emphasised by the fact that two of his four race victories have come after starting from pole, while he won the 2013 British Grand Prix and 2014 Australian Grand Prix after his closest rivals encountered problems. 

    Nevertheless, Rosberg is a remarkably clean driver and would make a fine world champion if he does go on to succeed in 2014—but look elsewhere if you want genuine excitement.

     

15. Jules Bianchi

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    Although his position as a Marussia driver means we don't see him in action very often, Jules Bianchi is spectacular to watch when behind the wheel of an F1 car.

    A late braker, his ability to bring aggression and flair to the unfashionable end of the grid has seen him gain plenty of admirers since making his debut in 2013.

    Bianchi's flair in the cockpit has been counterproductive this year, however, having clashed with Pastor Maldonado and Adrian Sutil, with whom the Frenchman had a bizarre on-track scuffle in Bahrain (see video above). 

14. Daniil Kvyat

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    As you would expect from the youngest driver on the grid, Daniil Kvyat has already made a couple of mistakes in his debut season.

    Crashes in qualifying in Australia and Malaysia, though, have not taken the gloss off what has been a promising rookie campaign thus far.

    The boldness he displayed in hunting down Kimi Raikkonen in the latter stages of the race in Melbourne, then making contact with the sister Ferrari of Fernando Alonso in Sepang, proved that Kvyat—unlike other young drivers—will not be overwhelmed by his new surroundings.

    His impressive car control, too—as shown in the above video at Albert Park—will ensure that the sense of intrigue around Kvyat will continue to grow.

13. Esteban Gutierrez

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    For a driver with only one full season of Formula One under his belt, Esteban Gutierrez has had his fair share of incidents stretching back to his first qualifying session in Australia.

    Gutierrez has been prone to the occasional bout of brain fade since his career in the junior formulae, with a shunt into the wall on the exit of Monaco's Nouvelle Chicane in GP2 in 2012—despite opting to cut the corner—being the most worrying example. 

    When he isn't having those incidents, however, the Mexican tends to be relatively anonymous.

    He was regularly the fall guy in the first part of qualifying during his rookie year and has rarely displayed promising pace or emerged as a serious attacking threat.

     

     

     

12. Nico Hulkenberg

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Nico Hulkenberg has spent so long dragging half-decent cars to the front of the grid that we are no longer surprised or excited when he does so.

    It has become the norm, and the German is now perfectly executing the challenge of creating excitement by stopping it dead in its tracks.

    Take his performance in Korea in 2013 as an example: Hulkenberg held back world champions Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso for a number of laps, with two seconds separating all three drivers at the finish.

    As onlookers, we were led to believe that Hulkenberg was putting in a great display of gritty, defensive driving—but he was hardly flustered, using the rear of his Sauber as a carrot to his significantly more successful peers.

    True excitement is found when a driver is on the edge of control, but Hulkenberg, despite his aggressive nature, balances speed with total control. 

     

     

11. Kevin Magnussen

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    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    Some drivers announce their arrival on the big stage with an out-of-the-blue qualifying lap. Others hit us with the element of surprise by turning in a stunning race performance. And some catch our attention by crashing.

    Kevin Magnussen came very close to completing the hat-trick over the weekend of his Formula One debut in the Australian Grand Prix, almost spinning off the line in between qualifying fourth and finishing third, which later became second after a certain post-race disqualification.

    McLaren's slow development since then, though, has prevented us from witnessing the Dane's own development, with Magnussen slipping under the radar in the following four races.

    An exciting talent? Most definitely. But the jury is still out as to whether Magnussen will be an exciting driver.

     

     

10. Felipe Massa

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    When Felipe Massa arrived in Formula One, he had a reputation for being fast and feisty but fundamentally flawed.

    Since then, however, the Brazilian's style has been refined beyond recognition.

    Of the 11 grand prix victories Massa took for Ferrari between 2006 and 2008, only three were not achieved from pole position, and all apart from the Belgian Grand Prix of 2008 were as routine and calm as a driver could ask for.

    The passing of time and a lack of confidence has blunted Massa's pace and overtaking threat, although as he demonstrated at the start of last month's Chinese Grand Prix in making contact with former teammate Fernando Alonso, the Brazilian still packs a punch.

     

     

9. Adrian Sutil

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    Adrian Sutil is among those drivers whom you can only watch with your hands shielding your eyes.

    Despite the German's opportunistic overtaking style, displayed in the above video of his pass on Fernando Alonso at the 2013 Monaco Grand Prix, you suspect even Sutil himself never has total belief that his car will make it through unscathed.

    That lack of conviction makes watching Sutil a nerve-shattering rather than an exciting affair. 

    His reputation as a clumsy, error-prone driver—thanks in no small part to his silly accident with Nick Heidfeld in Singapore in 2009—only adds to that feeling, disguising the fact that Sutil can be an assured, consistent driver on his day.

8. Sergio Perez

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    Look no further than last year's Monaco Grand Prix to see how exciting a driver Sergio Perez can be.

    The tight streets of Monte Carlo makes overtaking virtually impossible—but the Mexican had a go at it anyway, trying to pass world champions Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen at the Nouvelle Chicane.

    Perez's misjudged move on Raikkonen led to the Finn telling his team via team radio "That f-----g idiot—I want to hit him when I see him."

    Checo's upsetting of Raikkonen came little more than a month after his similarly feisty display in Bahrain led to Button criticising Perez's driving over team radio as the Mexican made contact on two occasions with his then-McLaren teammate.

    Although both incidents put Perez in hot water with his more established peers, we all love him for trying.

     

7. Kimi Raikkonen

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    The excitement levels that Kimi Raikkonen produces tends to be dictated by his employers.

    If this list was compiled at the height of his McLaren or Lotus days, for example, he would have been ranked in or around the top three. But his position of seventh here is a reflection of his two tenures with Ferrari—it could have been so much better.

    Raikkonen has played an instrumental role in some of the most memorable grands prix over the last decade, such as the Japanese and European grands prix of 2005 (above) and the 2008 Belgian Grand Prix.

    He remains perhaps the finest driver in wheel-to-wheel combat, an intelligent reader of the behaviour of his peers' cars.

    But due to Ferrari's lack of competitiveness and the Finn's personal difficulties with their 2014 car, Raikkonen has gone stale, and we are being robbed of excitement as a direct consequence.

6. Romain Grosjean

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    Despite significantly cleaning up his act since his first full season, Romain Grosjean's Formula One career is still defined by his numerous first-lap incidents in 2012.

    The one that sticks in the mind, of course, is the massive shunt the Frenchman caused at the start of that season's Belgian Grand Prix, seen above from the view of Lewis Hamilton.

    Grosjean's habitual implosions at the beginning of races meant he became a cult hero among those casual viewers who just tune in for the start for a period, with the 28-year-old crashing four times in three days in Monaco last year.

    The Lotus driver has, however, also created excitement in success as well as failure—emerging as the only threat to the dominance of Red Bull in the second half of last season.

    But his relentlessly aggressive style behind the wheel makes you think a return to his old ways are never too far away. 

     

     

     

5. Sebastian Vettel

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    Sebastian Vettel is not exciting in the traditional sense.

    After all, he rarely has to overtake anyone because he always starts from pole position (something which his detractors bizarrely use as a criticism), while he has not had a race-ending accident since securing his first world title in 2010. 

    Instead, the German is exciting in his ability to always seem menacingly fast.

    Maybe it's because he has more world championships than anyone else on the grid or simply because he leaves nothing in hand (pause the above video at the 1:25 mark to see what we mean), but Vettel just looks formidably quicker than any other driver.

    And who needs to overtake or crash to be exciting when you have as much natural pace as that?

4. Pastor Maldonado

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    That Pastor Maldonado's nickname is "Crashtor" tells you all you need to know.

    The Venezuelan almost seems to carry a magnetic attraction to other cars, getting in on the act of his competitors' accidents on the occasions when he isn't having his own offs.

    When he isn't crashing into everything in sight, however, Maldonado is among the most thrilling drivers to watch.

    His highly committed, ultra-aggressive style allows him to rag his cars through corners and makes him a strong overtaker—but the knowledge that all could go wrong at any moment means Maldonado is not the only one on edge.

3. Kamui Kobayashi

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    Ross Land/Associated Press

    Arguably the finest Formula One driver to hail from Japan, Kamui Kobayashi has provided excitement ever since he made his grand prix debut in the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix.

    On that afternoon, his robust defensive driving provoked the wrath of newly crowned world champion Jenson Button and compatriot Kazuki Nakajima, whom he muscled into retirement at Interlagos—but it is his attacking instincts that make Kobayashi so thrilling.

    His willingness to risk making contact with other cars by hanging his front wing on the inside of corners is rare in modern-day F1, while he almost permanently appears to be on the edge of losing control.

    His crowd-pleasing qualities are not confined to the circuit either, having crashed a Ferrari during a demo run in Moscow last year and cemented his legendary status by mowing down half his pit crew while driving for Sauber at Silverstone in 2012.

     

     

2. Lewis Hamilton

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    Despite Lewis Hamilton's out-of-character performances in three of the opening four races of the season, which he dominated from lights to flag, the 2008 World Champion remains one of the most exciting drivers on the grid.

    His flamboyant style has undoubtedly been reined in since the 2011 season, in which Hamilton fluctuated between the brilliant and the barmy, crashing into everything within a 50-yard radius at one stage.

    The British driver's overtaking prowess is, of course, his defining quality, but its effect had been lowered in recent years due to the introduction of DRS and delicate Pirelli tyres and has not been required in 2014 thus far.

    Nevertheless, Hamilton is arguably the fastest driver in F1, with his last-of-the-late-brakers, highly aggressive approach resonating with fans. 

1. Fernando Alonso

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    Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

    Still considered the most complete driver on the grid despite failing to win the world championship since 2006, Fernando Alonso claims his first victory of the 2014 season here.

    His unrivalled ability to burst off the line makes Alonso the one to watch when the five red lights disappear at the start of a grand prix.

    And the Spaniard rarely disappoints, completing a series of overtaking moves on the very first lap—usually compensating for an average qualifying performance the previous day—to set up the remainder of his race.

    Alonso's ability to read a grand prix, knowing exactly what he needs to do and when he needs to do it, has been the base of some of the most heroic performances in recent memory.

    His passing of Romain Grosjean for second place immediately following a safety-car period at the 2012 European Grand Prix, for example, was a case study in opportunism and relentlessness. 

    Alonso's cleanliness in close proximity with other cars allows a number of enjoyable battles to take place, while the fact that he comes into close contact with his rivals at the same time as wrestling a less-than-compliant Ferrari makes his feats all the more impressive and spectacular.

     

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