In this feature, we analyse the ten best performers of the first half of 2013 – and their prospects for the second.
1. Sebastian Vettel
Wins: 4 (Malaysia, Bahrain, Canada, Germany)
Sebastian Vettel has confounded the critics time and time again in those few short years since his 2010 title triumph – unstoppable in 2011, measured in 2012 and now seemingly on his way to a 4th straight World Championship triumph. How has he done it? Not once outside the top 4 finishing positions (Silverstone’s mechanically-induced retirement not-withstanding), Vettel has done exactly what he needed to as his rivals clamour to challenge him. Points mean prizes, and if the 26-year old keeps this up, Fernando Alonso may well find his unofficial mantle as F1’s greatest under threat…
2. Fernando Alonso
Wins: 2 (China, Spain)
Half-way through his 4th season at Ferrari, Fernando Alonso again finds himself trailing arch-rival Sebastian Vettel in the points. When you’re as revered and persistent as the Spaniard, nothing short of the title will do, but it looks as though another season is slipping the veteran by as his Red Bull opponent cruises to the hard results. Malaysia was the undoubted low point of 2013 thus far, and more points went begging in Monaco when he uncharacteristically languished in the mid-points positions. That said there have been performances worthy of his genius – not least of which in Spain when he added to his 2006 triumph on home turf with another one for the record books. He must hope Ferrari finds some serious pace over the summer break, or his chances look bleak.
3. Nico Rosberg
Wins: 2 (Monaco, Britain)
2013 has been a watershed in the career of Germany’s 2nd fastest driver – 8 years into his F1 career, the son of former World Champion Keke finds himself behind the wheel of the sport’s fastest car for the first time ever. He hasn’t squandered the opportunity, relishing the combat with old karting rival Lewis Hamilton and generally acquitting himself better than his illustrious team mate. Rosberg refused to be broken by the Malaysian team orders furore and has delivered 2 of the Silver Arrows victories in the first half of the season – but three mechanical failures to Hamilton’s unblemished record is a slice of bad luck that he must hope does not cost him dear at season’s end.
4. Kimi Raikkonen
Wins: 1 (Australia)
There’s a sense of serenity about Kimi that has always persisted, but seems even greater in 2013. Coming off the back of that unpressured run to 3rd in the 2012 championship has done nothing to harm the unruffled composure of ‘The Iceman’, who duly won in impressive style in Melbourne. His lead in the points hasn’t persisted, but he remains as consistent and as competitive as ever, and you can bet the talk of a potential Red Bull seat in 2014 has in no way diminished his desire to achieve success for current employers Lotus. 2nd in the title chase going into the summer break is testament to his undiminished commitment and talent.
5. Lewis Hamilton
Wins: 1 (Hungary)
2013 was about a fresh start for Lewis – a new team, new machinery and a chance to bury some of the frustrations that haunted his final years at McLaren. However, watch the Briton closely and you will see worrying shades of that erratic 2011 season that fermented the split with his former long-term home. His high-profile relationship and consequent break up with former Pussycat Doll and X-factor judge Nicole Scherzinger has done little to keep him focused on his sport and his racing has suffered, winning in Hungary aside. Hamilton was once branded the greatest of his generation, a title long since lost to Sebastian Vettel – to regain any of that lost glory he must get his racing head firmly back in control.
6. Jules Bianchi
Best Result: 13th (Malaysia)
Just as Charles Pic featured in last year’s Top Ten at the halfway stage, so his successor Jules Bianchi also finds his way into our rankings courtesy of a sensational start to his freshman year in the sport. Being a protégé of Ferrari’s development program proves he was already no slouch when he missed out on the second Force India seat pre-season, seemingly relegating one of the brightest young talents to another season on the sidelines. Step forward Luiz Razia, whose financial demise after a single outing at the wheel of the MR02 allowed a last-minute deal to let the Frenchman make his competitive debut. Instantly quicker than Max Chilton, who had had one test more than Bianchi to prepare, the hotshot duly finished his maiden race only a single lap down on winner Raikkonen. Other than a frightening engine explosion in Germany, the results have kept coming and you wouldn’t put it past Jules to somehow grab that elusive first point for Marussia before the end of the year. Could this finally be a French driver worthy of succeeding the great Alain Prost?
7. Jenson Button
Best Result: 5th (China)
Life has never been easy for Button. In the true manner of British sportsmen in every discipline, he does things the hardest way possible and yet still retains that ever-smiling face to the media. What goes on behind closed doors this season however is probably not so hard to imagine. Faced with leading McLaren through its worst season since 1980, the Briton has remained solidly behind his team despite a stern challenge to his superiority early season from new kid on the block Sergio Perez. A slight wobble between Bahrain and Monaco was forgotten as Button re-established his advantage in Germany and Hungary, and he now boasts more than double the points of his younger team mate. Scant consolation for a man desperate to add to his title as his F1 twilight approaches.
8. Nico Hulkenberg
Best Result: 8th (Malaysia)
If you were to base this ranking on wise decision-making, Hulkenberg would be very near the bottom. His move from Force India may have looked good on paper but Sauber’s distinct lack of financial clout should have set alarm bells ringing in the German’s head much sooner than when he failed to even make the grid in Melbourne. Contract wrangling aside, Hulkenberg deserves enormous credit for his tireless devotion to improving the ungainly C32 and scoring an unlikely tally of 7 points at the halfway mark of the season. His talent is not in doubt, but his apparent lack of loyalty might work against him when bigger and better teams come knocking for new drivers…
9. Sergio Perez
Best Result: 6th (Bahrain)
What a difference a year makes! ‘Checo’, as he is known to his fans, was no doubt hoping he would have added to that trio of podium finishes from 2012 when he moved to McLaren for this season, maybe even securing that first win. As things stand, 18 points is a poor return for breaking into what is one of Formula One’s greatest teams. Criticised for lacklustre showings in the opening fly-away races, he responded with gusto and battled hard for that 6th place in Bahrain with team mate Button, but things rapidly unravelled in Monaco and have never quite looked so good since. Raikkonen said Perez ‘should be punched in the face’ after their fracas in the principality; not quite how the Mexican would have seen 2013 unfolding.
10. Mark Webber
Best Result: 2nd (Malaysia, Britain)
2013 has been a defining year so far for the Australian, and painful with it. 2012 seemed to show he had gone some way to recovering the form he should have carried forward from 2010, but the second half of the season was barren in terms of results. 2013 has been little better, with the one redeeming event actually being something Mark will probably want to forget. Malaysia seemed to sum up the Vettel – Webber relationship perfectly; an early advantage for the Australian voided to nothing by a moment of madness from his bitter rival – the tempestuous podium ceremony and fallout doing nothing to convince Webber once and for all the team really valued him as an equal. Mark makes it into our top ten by virtue of his tireless perseverance, team ethic and podium results at the classic Silverstone and Monaco races proving he has lost none of his flair. In the final analysis, he will only have gained more fans for his brave decision in admitting his time in Formula One is up.