Grading Every Driver in the 1st Half of the 2014 Formula 1 Season
There is little doubt that the first half of the 2014 Formula One season has been exciting—but not in the conventional sense.
The early stages of this year have not been a repeat of the free-for-all we saw at the beginning of 2012, for instance, when any number of drivers arrived at the circuit targeting the race victory.
Instead, the real thrill of 2014 has been found in the assumption that every single grand prix, every single mistake and every single overtake could prove crucial when the chequered flag waves at the end of the season finale, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, in November.
This has created a unique tension and an urgency in racing, which has been fronted by Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, the Mercedes drivers who have recorded nine victories between them in the opening 11 races.
But the battle behind the title protagonists has been just as, if not more, compelling.
We have seen the emergence of future stars such as Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Jules Bianchi coincide with the fall of fading stars including the likes of Kimi Raikkonen.
We have seen world champions Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso come to terms with the demands of making up the numbers rather than being in the thick of the fight for the crown.
And we have seen how this season's rookies, Kevin Magnussen, Daniil Kvyat and Marcus Ericsson, have adjusted to life in motorsport's premier category.
Here, we grade each and every driver who has played a part in making the first half of the 2014 F1 campaign so memorable.
Kamui Kobayashi: D
Funds provided by Kamui Kobayashi's army of fans allowed the popular Japanese driver to return to Formula One this season.
But given the way his 2014 campaign has gone so far, they might as well have kept their money.
Kobayashi has had the edge over Caterham teammate Marcus Ericsson, but considering the former Sauber driver's level of experience in contrast to that of the Swedish rookie, it is a minimal achievement.
Kobayashi was unlucky not to be closer to the points in Monaco, having been barged out of the way by Jules Bianchi while running in 12th at the halfway stage.
The vices of the Caterham car have shrouded Kobayashi's true abilities behind the wheel, although a year out of the sport seems to have had a mellowing effect on his lairy driving style.
Max Chilton: E+
Max Chilton, believe it or not, was the superior Marussia driver at the start of the season, giving his team the advantage over Caterham in the constructors' standings on two occasions with 13th-place finishes in Australia and Bahrain.
Since then, however—and particularly since Jules Bianchi got his act together—the British driver has lived firmly in the shadow of his teammate, failing to get the better of the Frenchman in any grand prix.
The 23-year-old was denied the opportunity to score points of his own in Monaco after clumsily hitting Kimi Raikkonen behind the safety car.
And he committed the worst possible inter-team sin in Canada by crashing into Bianchi on the opening lap, costing the team a chance to make the most of their post-Monaco momentum and ending his record-breaking reliability record.
Esteban Gutierrez: F
After showing gradual improvement as the 2013 season developed, Esteban Gutierrez was expected to rise to the next level of both performance and confidence this season.
But if anything, he's gone backwards.
Half-decent qualifying performances in Malaysia and Bahrain (considering the circumstances) have been overshadowed by much more noticeable blunders.
The most alarming one occurred in Monaco, with the Sauber driver tapping the inside barrier of the Rascasse corner and spinning out of the race while on course for only his second points finish.
Gutierrez didn't participate in qualifying in Canada after a crash in the third practice session left his car with heavy damage. The Mexican also hit the wall in wet conditions in qualifying at Silverstone before giving Pastor Maldonado a taste of his own medicine the following day.
Pastor Maldonado: E
He's had a change of scenery for 2014, but some things never change as far as Pastor Maldonado is concerned.
The former Williams driver has had a subdued start to his Lotus career, suffering plenty of reliability problems—one of which denied him from starting the Monaco Grand Prix—with the Venezuelan showing no signs of losing his habit of crashing.
Maldonado punted Esteban Gutierrez into the night sky in Bahrain, before spinning while making a steering wheel adjustment. It wasn't a much happier time in the following round in China, as he crashed into the pit lane entrance during a rather eventful day.
A crash early in qualifying in Spain followed, with Gutierrez returning the favour at Silverstone by lifting the Lotus into the air.
On the few occasions when he doesn't find himself hitting barriers and other cars, Maldonado has not hinted at recapturing the form which saw him win the Spanish Grand Prix in 2012.
Marcus Ericsson: F
Arguably the slowest driver in what is the slowest car of 2014, Marcus Ericsson would have made more headway if he'd participated on foot this season.
The Swede has done little to prove why he is deserving of a place on the grid, with his season-best finish of 11th in Monaco less impressive than first meets the eye due to the high attrition rate in that grand prix.
The Monaco weekend saw Ericsson involved in the most calamitous incident of the season, as the Caterham driver forced Felipe Massa into the wall and out of qualifying despite the Williams leaving room for Ericsson to pass by.
The very definition of "out of his depth."
Adrian Sutil: E
As a tall driver in a heavy car with an under-powered engine, 2014 was always set to be a struggle for Adrian Sutil.
And so it has proved, with the German failing to record a single point at the season's halfway point.
Sauber's poor reliability record has not helped matters, as power-unit problems ended his races early in Malaysia and China—but the driver has also been at fault.
Sutil dropped it on the exit of the tunnel at Monaco, making a mistake that so many before him have made, with a race-ending spin at his home race an elementary error.
Jules Bianchi: B
Ninth place in Monaco, and Marussia's first Formula One points, is unlikely to be the highlight of Jules Bianchi's 2014 season; it was probably the highlight of his career to date.
The Frenchman's run from 21st on the grid to eighth at the chequered flag (which became ninth after mid-race penalties were applied) remains one of the feel-good stories of the season, with Bianchi then going on to record Marussia's best-ever starting spot with 12th at Silverstone.
A strong return of his 2013 form was just what was required after a patchy start to 2014 which saw him make some uncharacteristic errors, retiring early on in the Malaysian Grand Prix after contact with Pastor Maldonado before colliding with Adrian Sutil on two separate occasions in Bahrain.
Daniil Kvyat: B-
Daniil Kvyat is well on his way to scooping the 2014 Rookie of the Year title.
The Russian has made a strong transition from GP3 to Formula One, becoming the sport's youngest-ever points scorer in just his first race.
Kvyat has generally maintained his Australian Grand Prix form, adding to his points tally in Malaysia, China and Britain with six top-10 starts.
As you would expect, there have been a handful of rookie mistakes, with Kvyat spinning in damp conditions in qualifying at Albert Park before colliding with Fernando Alonso in the wet in Malaysia.
An avoidable tangle with Sergio Perez at Hockenheim, too, has only slightly taken the gloss off what has been a promising campaign to date.
Romain Grosjean: D+
After ending 2013 as the best of the rest behind Sebastian Vettel, Romain Grosjean's 2014 season must be considered a major disappointment.
Lotus' temperamental car, complete with a Renault power unit, has been at the root of the Frenchman's problems, with Grosjean finishing in the points on only two occasions and retiring from four races with mechanical issues.
And Grosjean hasn't handled the fall from grace too well, with the driver often heard whining over team radio, suggesting that he lacks the personality to step into the team-leader role which was vacated by Kimi Raikkonen at the end of last season.
Lotus' lack of progress over the first half of the year implies that Grosjean also lacks the technical know-how required to direct a team, although his performance in Spain, where he finished eighth after somehow qualifying a season-best fifth, provided a brief reminder of his qualities.
Jean-Eric Vergne: C
Despite being regarded as a dead man walking at the Toro Rosso team, Jean-Eric Vergne has enjoyed his best start to a season in 2014.
The Frenchman has scored points on four occasions, with 11 points to his name after the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Vergne is unlucky not to have more points, having retired from four races with mechanical problems.
Qualifying has been Vergne's biggest strength, as the 24-year-old reached the top 10 in the five wet Saturday sessions, where his car control came into its own, with further top-10 starts in Monaco and Canada.
Kimi Raikkonen: D-
Kimi Raikkonen's grand return to Ferrari has been anything but so far in 2014.
The Finnish driver's failure to get on top of the F14 T car meant that what should have been one of the tensest inter-team battles in recent memory has developed into a one-sided affair, with Fernando Alonso finishing ahead of Raikkonen in every race.
Raikkonen has at times been his own worst enemy; his terrifying first-lap crash at Silverstone was a case study in negligence.
But the 2007 world champion has also suffered from appalling luck, as reliability problems in several practice sessions prevented Raikkonen from enjoying a clean weekend.
He was denied a potential podium finish in Monaco after Max Chilton tripped over the Ferrari under safety-car conditions, with unfortunate contact with other cars preventing stronger results in Malaysia and Germany.
Sergio Perez: C
Having been dumped by McLaren at the end of last season, Sergio Perez has done a decent job of rebuilding his reputation so far in 2014, providing teammate Nico Hulkenberg with food for thought.
Trailing his Force India partner by 40 points in the drivers' standings at the halfway point, there is no question that Hulkenberg is the more consistent of the two—but Perez achieves the eye-catching results.
The Mexican's third place in the Bahrain Grand Prix was the team's first podium finish since 2009, while Perez should arguably have capitalised on the opportunity to win the Canadian Grand Prix, having ran a close second to the handicapped Nico Rosberg until the last five laps.
When he is not mixing in at the front, however, Perez tends to be anonymous, with sixth in Austria his second-best finish of the year.
The 24-year-old, despite competing in his fourth full season, remains painfully raw, causing avoidable, race-ending collisions in Monaco and Canada, while an unforced error ended his Hungarian Grand Prix prematurely.
Kevin Magnussen: C+
Whatever he goes on to achieve in the second half of 2014, Kevin Magnussen's rookie campaign will be defined by recording his maiden podium finish in his very first race.
The skill he displayed to qualify fourth on a wet track before producing an unfazed drive to third (which became second after Daniel Ricciardo's disqualification) made comparisons between the Dane and Lewis Hamilton inevitable.
Unlike Hamilton in 2007, however, it hasn't exactly been plain sailing since.
Like teammate Jenson Button, Magnussen found his progress dictated by McLaren's own frailties, although a couple of collisions with Kimi Raikkonen didn't help the 21-year-old's cause either.
Magnussen, though, has shown signs of settling down as the season has progressed, scoring minor points in five consecutive races between Monaco and Germany with three top-six starts in that period.
Felipe Massa: C-
It's been a topsy-turvy season so far for Felipe Massa, who has occasionally shown flashes of form without translating it into anything meaningful.
His pole position in Austria, where he became the first and only non-Mercedes driver to qualify at the front of the grid this season, was followed by a surrender on race day.
It was a similar story in Canada, where Massa had a glaring opportunity to win the race but dithered around in traffic and ended the race in the wall after tangling with Sergio Perez.
Collisions, in fact, have marred the Brazilian's campaign. Massa retired on the first lap in Australia, Britain and Germany, and the Williams driver was lucky to get away with banging wheels with Fernando Alonso at the start in China.
Jenson Button: C
With McLaren yet again producing a substandard car for 2014, Jenson Button has done what he could and no more.
His third-place in Australia, on a weekend when McLaren arguably had the second fastest car, was only achieved after the post-race disqualification of Daniel Ricciardo.
A clean drive to sixth in Malaysia, however, was followed by three consecutive races without a point as the team's form slipped and reliability problems set in.
Since McLaren regained some direction, however, the results have improved slightly, with Button staying out of trouble to finish fourth in Canada before hounding Ricciardo to the finish at Silverstone, where he qualified a season-best third having displayed his trademark finesse in changeable conditions.
Nico Hulkenberg: B
Nico Hulkenberg is doing what Nico Hulkenberg has always done: driving, driving and driving some more.
The German is remarkably consistent, and until the Hungarian Grand Prix had scored points in every single race, although we have yet to see the truly outstanding qualifying performance which we know he is capable of producing.
Despite his knack for regularly fighting with the big boys, that maiden podium—so near yet so far in Bahrain—continues to elude him, which prevents Hulkenberg from scoring a higher grade here.
And with Force India's strong early season form showing signs of disappearing lately, you must wonder whether his chances of spraying champagne have gone for another year.
Sebastian Vettel: C
In isolation, and considering Red Bull's woeful pre-season form, Sebastian Vettel's results in 2014 are not that bad.
He has scored points in every race he has finished, he has two podium finishes to his name and has started from a top-three grid position on five occasions.
But when you consider that Vettel has won the world title in each of the last four years but sits 114 points behind the current championship leader and has been outperformed by new teammate Daniel Ricciardo in almost every grand prix, this campaign has been nothing short of atrocious.
Vettel has struggled more than most to adapt to the demands of the 2014-spec machines, handing further inspiration to those who claim he was little more than a passenger in a series of supreme cars between 2010 and 2013.
Valtteri Bottas: B+
A run of three podium finishes in three races between the Austrian and German grands prix has cast the first half of Valtteri Bottas' season in a much more favourable light than it might otherwise have been.
The Finnish driver's consistency has defined his campaign thus far, with only a power-unit failure in the latter stages of the Monaco Grand Prix preventing Bottas from scoring in every race.
The 24-year-old has established himself as Williams' team leader in only his second campaign, scoring 91 points more in just 11 races than he did over the whole of 2013, although Felipe Massa's inconsistency has made it difficult to judge just how superior Bottas is.
Despite his rise to prominence, foolish mistakes in Australia, which cost him his maiden podium finish arriving sooner, and Austria, which prevented him from claiming his first pole position, means the first half of Bottas' campaign should not be considered a complete success.
Fernando Alonso: B+
Something is missing for Fernando Alonso.
The ever-reliable Spaniard is once again taking his car to positions it has no right to find itself in, but now at 33 years old and without a title since 2006, it is no longer satisfactory.
Alonso clearly gives his all in every race, yet it is still not enough to win in a floundering Ferrari.
Despite failing to record a victory since May 2013, a number of the double world champion's performances this season have caught the eye, with his third-place finish in the Chinese Grand Prix a force of nature.
His recovery from 16th to sixth at Silverstone, meanwhile, which included a tremendous scrap with Sebastian Vettel, acted as a reminder of his class, while his second-place in Hungary showed that he remains wily enough to capitalise on the slightest of opportunities.
But the sight of the blue-helmeted Ferrari is no longer as thrilling nor daunting as it once was.
Daniel Ricciardo: A+
Daniel Ricciardo, the only non-Mercedes driver to win a race in 2014, is arguably the star of the season thus far.
The Australian has made a seamless transition from the obscurity of the Toro Rosso team to the world championship-winning environment of Red Bull, beating four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in all but one of the seven races that both drivers have finished.
The 25-year-old has shown continuous improvement with each race weekend, complementing his solid one-lap pace with a steeliness in racing conditions and being rewarded with the first grand prix victories of his career in Canada and Hungary, with three further podium finishes.
He is only 11 races into his first season at the sharp end of the grid, but Ricciardo has already joined the elite group of drivers.
Lewis Hamilton: A-
The first half of Lewis Hamilton 2014 season could almost be split into two halves itself.
With four pole positions and four wins to his name in the opening five events, Hamilton was driving better than he ever had, displaying his trademark aggression but with added maturity and intelligence.
It all seemed so natural and so easy—until it got emotional.
His qualifying performances since teammate Nico Rosberg's infamous off in Q3 at Monaco have been erratic, with reliability problems also preventing Hamilton from having a tighter grip on the world championship.
A convincing win at Silverstone provided brief respite, with recovery drives in Germany and Hungary reminders of just how formidable the 2008 world champion can be.
But he needs to be more consistent if he is to claim his long-awaited second world title.
Nico Rosberg: A
If at the start of the season you had offered Nico Rosberg an 11-point lead at the top of the drivers' standings at the halfway point, he would have snapped your hand off.
The German has grown in stature with each of his four victories this season, with assured pole-to-flag wins in Australia, Monaco and Germany and a calm recovery to win from third on the grid in Austria.
Rosberg displayed great strength to recover from teammate Lewis Hamilton's winning streak of four races, regaining the initiative with a series of unflustered performances.
The 29-year-old's infamous track excursion at Mirabeau, of course, played a role in sparking that resurgence, with that mistake—if we are to call it that—a rare error in a season which has seen Rosberg emerge as a force to be reckoned with.