The second part of RaceFans’ mid-season driver rankings covers the drivers in the lower middle end of the table.
15 – Zhou Guanyu – Alfa Romeo
|Beat team mate in qualifying||3/13|
|Beat team mate in race||1/8|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||71/585|
As the only rookie on the Formula 1 grid for 2022 and having been awarded a race seat over the driver who beat him for last year’s Formula 2 title – Oscar Piastri – there was always going to be an extra level of scrutiny over Zhou Guanyu this season.
However, while the rookie class of 2021 all had major struggles at various stages in their first campaigns in Formula 1, Zhou has acquitted himself fairly admirably by comparison. It’s hard to think of any major mistakes or embarrassing blunders made by China’s first ever Formula 1 race driver over his first 13 races so far. Even his lowlight of the season, a horrific accident at the start of the British Grand Prix, was entirely out of his control.
Zhou benefited from his Alfa Romeo being quick from the start of the season, taking a point on his grand prix debut in Bahrain. He was not the best qualifier at the start of the year, often lining up multiple rows behind team mate Valtteri Bottas, but his talent for scything his way up the field quickly earned him praise from his Alfa Romeo team for his racecraft.
Bottas collected decent points over the first part of the season and Zhou struggled to back up his team mate’s haul. But he was not helped by multiple technical failures that took him out of races in Miami, Barcelona, Baku and Paul Ricard, where he was technically classified. Zhou has suffered more mechanical retirements than any of his peers so far this season.
When Alfa Romeo began to lose ground in the pecking order, Zhou’s form seemed to pick up. He reached Q3 for the first time in a wet Montreal while Bottas was eliminated, before taking his second points finish the day after. He took ninth on the grid in Silverstone before his retirement, but Paul Ricard was perhaps his sloppiest weekend, missing the Q1 cut with a mistake, losing four places at the start and earning a penalty for spinning Mick Schumacher.
His critics might have grounds to point to the points deficit between Zhou and Bottas, but that alone does not tell the whole story of a driver who has shown he is more than competent in a Formula 1 car. If Schumacher and Yuki Tsunoda deserved second seasons after their rookie campaigns – and they did – then Zhou is on a path to doing the same.
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14 – Sebastian Vettel – Aston Martin
|Beat team mate in qualifying||7/10|
|Beat team mate in race||6/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||323/627|
Although it was not known at the time that it would be Sebastian Vettel’s final season in Formula 1, looking back it’s hard to think of how his last year in F1 could have started any worse than it did.
Missing the first two races of the season due to a positive covid test, Vettel was already on the back foot when he returned to the cockpit in Melbourne compared to his fellow drivers who had two rounds’ worth of experience in Formula 1’s new ground effect era underneath them. His opening race weekend could hardly have gone worse. A mechanical failure cost him most of Friday running, he crashed in final practice and was lucky to get out at all in qualifying, then went off track on lap ten falling to the back before crashing out on lap 23.
But after such a nightmare weekend, he followed it up brilliantly in Imola to take seventh place and Aston Martin’s first points of the season. Miami was another frustrating Sunday where a late clash with protege Mick Schumacher cost another points finish, but he continued to knock of the door of points finished after Aston Martin introduced their big upgrade package in Barcelona.
Baku was the best result of the season, securing sixth place after Yuki Tsunoda was forced to pit despite having a brief trip down an escape road along the way. Poor qualifying performances hampered Aston Martin over the run prior to the summer break, but Vettel managed to keep gaining positions in races. Multiple racing incidents at the Red Bull Ring left him frustrated, before he was denied a point in Paul Ricard after a last lap battle with team mate Stroll. Hungary provided his fifth points finish of the season, but largely due to Stroll being made to move over to allow him to attack Esteban Ocon with superior tyres in the closing laps, with Stroll having had the measure of him in the race up to that point.
Vettel will not be adding to his tally of four world championships before he hangs up his helmet, but it seems he is on track to soundly beating his far younger team mate in the championship standings by season’s end.
13 – Alexander Albon – Williams
|Beat team mate in qualifying||11/12|
|Beat team mate in race||7/8|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||491/145|
After being unceremoniously dropped by Red Bull at the end of the 2020 season and spending a year pulling late nights in the simulator, Alexander Albon returned to the Formula 1 grid to fill the Williams seat vacated by George Russell for 2022.
Still in the midst of transition and looking ahead to the future, Williams did not just need a driver, but a leader. Given that Williams announced they had signed Albon to a multi-year contract extension at the start of the summer break, it appears they are satisfied they have found what they are looking for in Albon.
The Williams FW44 is likely the slowest car in the field, yet that did not stop him from progressing to Q2 at his first attempt in Bahrain and taking a respectable 13th place finish on his F1 return. Jeddah was less successful, earning a penalty for a misjudged move on Lance Stroll late in the race, but he produced one of the drivers of the season so far in Melbourne. Starting from the very back of the field after a penalty, Albon ran 57 of the 58 lap race on hard tyres to put himself in a position to emerge ahead of Zhou Guanyu in tenth after a slow pit stop and claim the team’s first point in tenth.
Two more strong weekends in Miami and Imola only further added to his status as one of the best performing drivers of the season up to that point, but then the next two rounds would serve to tank his average rating. A messy race in Monaco saw him earn a penalty for missing the chicane, appear to hold up Charles Leclerc under blue flags, run off at Sainte Devote twice and clip the Rascasse barrier trying to pass Zhou Guanyu, eventually leading to his retirement. Floor damage gained over the kerbs early in Barcelona left him off the pace and he earned a five second penalty for exceeding track limits multiple times.
When Williams gave him the updated car, he was unable to make the most of it in Silverstone when he was eliminated in Q1 and then hit in the melee at the start. At the Red Bull Ring, he qualified strongly but dropped to 15th in the sprint race with a penalty for pushing Lando Norris off track then clashed with Sebastian Vettel. Breaking his front wing on the opening lap in Hungary by hitting Stroll effectively ended any chances of a decent run before the summer break began.
Even if it is near the back of the grid, Alexander Albon has proven he is deserving of being back on the grid with some strong performances so far in 2022. Now Williams need him to give them more as they fight to avoid finishing bottom in the constructors’ championship.
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12 – Esteban Ocon – Alpine
|Beat team mate in qualifying||4/12|
|Beat team mate in race||6/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||315/691|
Esteban Ocon has enjoyed a solid season so far in 2022. He may not have quite the standout results and performances as many of his rivals, but he his quietly amassed 58 points over the first 13 races of the season so far, leaving in eighth place in the constructors’ championship.
It would be easy to look at the stats and compare him to team mate Fernando Alonso and assume that he is showing his far older team mate how to do it in 2022, but that’s not the case. Although Ocon has been a regular points earner for Alpine and has played his role in helping them earn fourth in the constructors’ championship at this stage of the season.
Ocon’s best performances came at Barcelona, moving from 12th on the grid to finish a comfortable seventh, and at the Red Bull Ring where he qualified fifth and finished the grand prix in fifth after losing fourth to George Russell’s recovering Mercedes in the closing laps. Only a fuel pump failure at Silverstone denied him what could have been a six race scoring streak leading into the summer break.
But despite his solid finishes, he has courted controversy a concerning number of times. In Monaco, Ocon was lucky not to receive two penalties for defending from Lewis Hamilton in a very aggressive manner, eventually dropping out of the points due to a five second penalty. Later in the year, he was handed another penalty in Paul Ricard when he pitched Yuki Tsunoda into a spin on the opening lap.
Even his own team mate had reason to complain about his actions. In both Jeddah and at the Hungaroring, Alonso was less than impressed with how hard his team mate defended from him while they battled on track. Whether or not that may have contributed to Alonso’s decision to switch to Aston Martin for next season is unsure, but probably unlikely.
Given the performance gap between the front teams and the midfield, there is little opportunity for Ocon to challenge for podiums at present. But while Alpine will be more than happy for him to keep collecting points in their battle with McLaren, a few fewer incidents through the second phase of the year will not be unwelcome.
11 – Pierre Gasly – AlphaTauri
|Beat team mate in qualifying||7/12|
|Beat team mate in race||5/7|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||393/614|
After impressing so frequently in 2021 by putting his AlphaTauri into the top six grid positions more times than many would have ever expected, the 2022 season has seen Gasly and his team brought back down to earth with far fewer points than they had amassed at this stage last year.
With a less capable car comes fewer opportunities to score strong results, yet Gasly has generally taken advantage of the times when he has been within reach of a decent finish. He suffered bad luck in Jeddah by pitting just before the early Safety Car but managed to claw his way back to finish eighth despite severe abdominal pain in the final laps. In Monaco, he was knocked out in Q1 thanks to a red flag caused by his team mate, but only just missed out on a point when he was promoted to 11th at the chequered flag.
By far his strongest weekend came in Baku, where the AlphaTauri was especially strong. Taking sixth on the grid to split the two Mercedes, he ran in fourth into the final third of the race before being passed by Lewis Hamilton, eventually finishing fifth. However, while being his best result of the season, Baku was also the last time he or team mate Yuki Tsunoda scored any points before the summer break.
His best chance of scoring again came at Silverstone, but being hit by his team mate resulted in his later retirement. Multiple penalties in Austria for track limits and hitting Sebastian Vettel ruined his race, while he struggled for pace at Paul Ricard and finished well outside the points.
In the final race before the break at the Hungaroring, Gasly was left with a mountain to climb after he was eliminated in Q1 when his best time was deleted for a contentious track limits call. Taking a new power unit forced him to the pit lane and he showed better pace than his team mate, leading to his team telling Tsunoda to allow him by. He finished out of the points in 12th, but still did well to do so after starting from the pit lane in a race where only one car did not take the chequered flag.
With Gasly apparently set for another season with AlphaTauri for next year, there’s no pressure on him for the rest of 2022. But Gasly will be hoping for more opportunities to take points once racing begins again.
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2022 F1 season
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- Why F1 drivers’ roles aren’t always as simple as ‘number one’ and ‘number two’
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