Preseason driver expectations

1. Sebastian Vettel has everything at his disposal to become the youngest ever double world champion. While last season the Red Bull was considerably faster than the Ferrari for much of the season it is likely that this season parity will exist at the front of the field, at least in races. As a result it is crucial for Vettel to iron out the mistakes that he made in 2010 and find the consistency that will be needed to hold off Alonso.

2. Mark Webber will have spent the winter trying to undertand how he lost the title last year. The Australian drove superbly for much of the year but struggled to beat his teammate in qualifying. His race craft though let him outrace Vettel in numerous races but when the season drew to a close his inability to out qualify Vettel in Japan and Brazil proved very costly to his title charge. The increased minimum weight limit could make all the difference for Webber in the coming season.

3. Lewis Hamilton was superb for much of 2010 but the former champion needs to stop putting himself in positions, such as at Monza last year, that leaves him at the mercy of other racers. Hamilton is the most spectacular driver in Formula 1 but if he is to add to his title haul in 2011 he will need a slice of luck because the McLaren is not yet fast enough to battle with Red Bull and Ferrari.

4. Jenson Button raced superbly in 2010 and took two well deserved victories in the opening four races. When he has the car setup exactly as he wants it he is as fast as anyone in Formula 1 but he is still prone to huge inconsistencies when the car is not to his liking. The new tyres could play to Button’s strengths with his economical style set to play firmly into his hands over the course of the year.

5. Fernando Alonso will start the year with Ferrari eager to make amends for their failure to win the title last year. The Spaniard struggled at the start of the year and made a host of uncharacteristic mistakes. In the coming season he will know that the team will be a firm title contender so it would be hugely surprising to see Alonso making such elementary mistakes again. With both Red Bull drivers fighting for the title Alonso will, once again, have the sole support of Ferrari and should take his third title.

6. Felipe Massa struggled in 2010 but has looked much more competitive in testing. Despite his protestations of equality at Ferrari there is little chance of this actually occurring and Massa will be asked to play the role of rear gunner for Alonso.

7.Michael Schumacher fell well short of expectations in his comeback season but he has looked more competitive in testing this year. The testing restrictions hampered Schumacher’s progress heavily last year but by the end of the season he showed signs of progress and he should have a much stronger year in 2011. It is crucial that he starts the season competitively against Rosberg though otherwise this could be the last we see of one of the greatest drivers of all time.

8. Nico Rosberg impressed many last season with his domination of Michael Schumacher but now he needs to continue moving forward and challenge for wins. That will obviously be dependent on the performance of the Mercedes but Rosberg has always raced well and been one of the best overtakers in Formula 1. As a result he looks primed and ready to take a maiden victory in the near future.

9. Nick Heidfeld replaces Robert Kubica at Renault and the German is the perfect driver to try and lead the team in the coming season. He is a renowned development driver and should be a consistent points scorer.


10. Vitaly Petrov showed signs of progress last year, and raced very well in Abu Dhabi, but the Russian is still clearly not quite good enough to warrant a drive with Renault at this time. The car will be quick but it is unlikely that Petrov will be quick enough.

11. Rubens Barrichello has shown in the last two years that he is far from ready to step away from Formula 1. His performances with Brawn in ’09 showed that he could still win races and last year with Williams he showed that he can still lead the development of a car. The coming season should be very strong for Rubens and his experience could play a crucial role in determining the best times to change tyres during races.

12. Pastor Maldonado is the reigning GP2 champion will face a challenging season as he tries to prove that he is more than just a driver with a budget. The Venezuelan is fast but he is also erratic and he will have some crashes in 2011. If he can learn from Barrichello he could spring a few surprises in the coming year but it would be foolish to expect too much from Maldonado in his rookie year.

14.Adrian Sutil showed signs of turning the corner and eradicating the mistakes that he had a tendency of making and was a solid performer for most of the season but the German has still to show on a consistent basis that he deserves to race stay with Force India.

15. Paul di Resta will make his Grand Prix debut in Melbourne. The Scotsman is hugely talented and is ready to grasp his opportunity with both hands. As Friday tester for Force India last year he has knowledge of most of the tracks on the calendar and will ease his transition to race driver. He should score points on a consistent basis and if he can outperform Sutil over the course of the year it will do a lot to cement his reputation.

16. Kamui Kobayashi was hugely impressive last year and gained a legion of fans with his forceful racing and overtaking ability. If the Sauber is competitive Kobayashi looks primed for another strong year.

17. Sergio Perez is another rookie and the Mexican has impressed in testing. The comparison to teammate Kobayashi will make it easy to evaluate the performance of Perez. He has talent and should be an exciting driver to watch during the races in 2011.

18. Sebastian Buemi remains with Toro Rosso for the start of the season but for how much longer can the Swiss driver stay with the team? He will need to perform well in the opening races if he is not to be replaced by Daniel Ricciardo.

19. Jamie Alguersuari had a strong year in 2010 and by the end of the season had gained an advantage over teammate Buemi. The new Toro Rosso looks strong and Alguersuari now has enough experience to get the most out of it. With Ricciardo lurking in the Toro Rosso garage this is a pivotal year for the Spaniard.

20. Jarno Trulli will look to fight for midfield respectability in the coming season but it is crucial for him to outperform Kovalainen if this is not to be his last season in Formula 1.

21. Heikki Kovalainen did a lot to rebuild his reputation in 2010 following his inability to compete with Hamilton while the Finn raced for McLaren. Last year he impressed, particularly in qualifying, and was the most impressive driver of the new teams. More of the same in 2011 is to be expected as he continues to show that he has the talent to race for teams further up the field.

22. Narain Karthikeyan will return to Formula 1 in 2011 but the former Jordan driver has little chance of performing well. The Hispania will be slow and Karthikeyan will be comprehensibly outperformed by his teammate.

23. Tonio Liuzzi was left high and dry by Force India and his only opportunity to race in 2011 was with Hispania. Liuzzi performed well in 2010 and should be faster than his teammate throughout the year.

24. Timo Glock was the one bright spark for Virgin in 2010 and the German should have another strong season this year. His qualifying performances were superb last year and with the Virgin much improved he could spring a few surprises in the coming season.

25. Jerome D’Ambrosio will make his Grand Prix debut in Melbourne but there is little reason to expect him to challenge Glock throughout the season. D’Ambrosio drove for the squad during Friday practice at numerous races in 2010 and impressed the team with his feedback and speed. He should be closer to Glock than his predecessor at Virgin, Lucas di Grassi.

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