Much has been made of there being 6 current or former World Champions on this year’s F1 grid – or 6.00001 if you count Felipe Massa’s 30 seconds as Champion at Brazil 2008. However, who amongst the current F1 runners and riders has the potential to step up to the plate and be the next big banana, if not in 2012, in some future year.
The various drivers fall into a number of categories. There are the resounding “no’s”. Sadly, although he came close in 2010, Mark Webber probably falls into this group. Even if the RB8, or rather its tyres, are more to his tastes, the Red Bull ‘mo’ is now irresistibly with Vettel. The ship has also sailed beyond the horizon for both Massa and, again sadly, Kovalainen. Nothing that Kobayashi, Petrov, Maldonado and Karthikeyan have contributed so far in their F1 careers suggests that they are on the right side of the Championship talent curve and Marussia’s Timo Glock will only be World Champion if the Russian People’s Party are in charge of counting the Championship points.
There are then those drivers who haven’t fully had the opportunity to prove themselves, but are definitely teetering on the brink of the ‘no’ skip. Perez, Senna and, possibly, Grosjean are in this category, although it really would be something special if Senna could perform a resurrection spell on Williams and drag them back into the winners circle.
The rookies – Verge and Pic have to get a “we simply don’t know” marking. Experience suggests that performance in lower formulae is no indicator of F1 potential. Given that he was driving an HRT last year, I’d say that we also haven’t yet seen Daniel Ricciardo have the chance to perform in a Grand Prix car.
Who does that leave as possible future Champions? Despite six years and no wins, I’m willing to keep the faith with ‘Britney’ Rosberg. It would be cruel to do otherwise. His performances for Mercedes suggest that he’s at least as good as Michael Schumacher operating at 85% of his previous talent. Paul Di Resta is entering the “tricky second year”, which often defines a driver’s career and potential. If he keeps developing and doesn’t drop the ball when in good positions, he might get a move to a leading team. Nico Hulkenberg sensibly spent his “tricky second year” sitting in the Force India garage. The only things that any of us remember about his first year in F1 was him securing pole position for Williams in Brazil and being dumped for money-bags Maldonado, neither of which harmed his reputation. The Force India rivalry looks like one of the more fascinating prospects for 2012.
Last but not least of the potential recipients of the Champion’s laurels is Spain’s sparkling septuagenarian Pedro de la Rosa. Assuming he carries on racing until he is 100, he will surely get an opportunity to seize the ultimate prize.
FORMULA ONE MUM
p.s. To be honest, back in his Honda days, I’d have put Button in the past-it ‘no’ category, so what do I know?