The likes of Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton are always going to command the most attention in F1.
But we shouldn’t overlook the rookie field of 2010, which is one of the most promising we’ve seen in years.
And it includes the return of a name which is even more famous than those three.
2009 form: GP2 champion, 100 points, five wins
If there is such a thing as a textbook route into F1, Nico Hulkenberg demonstrated it.
His 2006-07 A1 Grand Prix campaign for Team Germany was a tour de force – he was never seriously rivalled on his way to the championship. He went on to mimic Lewis Hamilton’s feat of winning the F3 Euroseries and GP2 championships in successive seasons with the crack ART squad.
Williams have had him under their wing for some time. He shook down the FW31 last year and got some extra running at the end of the season in the young drivers’ training days.
He’s got the most experienced F1 driver ever alongside him to learn from and perhaps, eventually, beat. Speaking to him during F1 testing he felt Rubens Barrichello’s F1 experience would come into play for him once the season get started and the pair are out on-track together.
There’s not much more you could ask from his preparation for F1. The question now is whether Hulkenberg can translate his obvious potential into F1 results.
2009 form: second in GP2, 75 points, two wins
The deal which brought Vitaly Petrov to Renault was something of a surprise in spite of a solid 2009 campaign which saw Petrov finish runner-up to Hulkenberg in GP2.
Being the first driver from a country which has never had an F1 driver before his CV is rather different from the usual karts/F3/GP2 fare – few if any other F1 drivers have raced in championships for Ladas.
Petrov has been steady if unspectacular and he’s up against a very highly-rated team mate in Robert Kubica in a team that’s been through some turbulent times. It could be a tricky debut season for the first Russian in F1.
Lucas di Grassi
2009 form: third in GP2, 63 points, one win
Arguably the GP2 title should have gone to Lucas di Grassi in 2007. He inherited the ART car which Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had won the title with in the previous two seasons, yet fell short.
He was beaten to the crown by Timo Glock, his team mate at Virgin this year, despite the German driver suffering reliability problems.
Di Grassi rescued his reputation in 2008 when he managed to finish third in the championship despite not contesting the first six races. But in 2009 he once again had the previous champions’ car and, once again, no title.
I spoke to him at Jerez a couple of times last month and his excitement at getting his F1 break was clearly tempered by concern over how little running the team were able to get done in between car problems and the rain.
2009 form: 16th in Le Mans Series, 12 points
If Hulkenberg got his F1 graduation spot-on, Bruno Senna has been dogged by problems and false starts.
His family halted his first attempt at a motor racing career after the death of his uncle Ayrton. He eventually persuaded them to let him back on the track and quickly caught up to his rivals. His last British F3 season in 2006 saw him place third overall, his season disrupted by an enormous crash at Snetteron where he came frighteningly close to hitting the bridge on the Revett straight.
He moved up to GP2 but lost out to Giorgio Pantano in the 2008 title battle. Honda sized him up for a 2009 drive alongside Jenson Button before they pulled out, leaving him in limbo last year.
Senna appeared in four sports car races, including the Le Mans 24 Hours, but other than those appearances, and with no testing in the HRT, he’s not been in the cockpit much over the last 12 months. For the time being, living up to his uncle’s reputation is out of the question.
2009 form: 18th in GP2, ten points
Karun Chandhok had good results in Asian national championships against weaker opposition but has only won a few races since moving into higher racing formulae.
The popular Indian driver, only the second native of his country to get into F1, drove alongside Senna at iSport in 2008 and was out-scored by his team mate. That may well be the case at HRT this year but the performance of the untried car is a greater concern in the immediate future.
Two drivers who were drafted in to F1 teams last year will start their first full seasons in 2010.
When Jaime Alguersuari became the youngest ever F1 driver at last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix there were complaints from some quarters that his inexperience would make him a danger on the track. That never proved to be the case, although he did suffer a large crash at Suzuka.
With more experience and more time in the car we should get a better impression of what he can do this year.
The two starts Kamui Kobayashi made for Toyota last year propelled him into the headlines as he duelled with Button and gave no quarter. At times he looked a bit too uncomprising and there were complaints from his rivals.
But a mature drive at Yas Island including a careful defence from Kimi Raikkonen on the opening lap brought him an excellent sixth place. His pass on Button in that race was voted overtaking move of the year on this site.
He impressed Peter Sauber enough to get a drive at his team in 2010. Though we had grown used to seeing Japanese F1 drivers always with Japanese-engined teams, that is not the case with Kobayashi this year, which is a significant indicator of his talent.
Over to you
Who do you expect to be top rookie in 2010? Have your say in the comments.
See all the articles in the F1 Fanatic 2010 Season Preview
2010 F1 season