By Stephen Williams
Written in association with Missed Apex Podcast. Listen in the player below the article.
The penultimate part of this series ranks the drivers from 8th - 4th. Do you agree with the results?
8. Sebastian Vettel
Qualifying head to head - 8-4
Best result - 2nd (China, Canada, Europe)
Points - 120
Ferrari came into the 2016 season with the belief that they had given Sebastian Vettel a car capable of winning the championship. When Vettel took the lead in Melbourne, it looked as though Ferrari were right to be optimistic about their chances this year. However, a catastrophic strategic error gifted Mercedes a one-two, and Vettel settled for third.
Ferrari's errors this year cost Vettel the win, not just in Australia, but in Canada too, changing to a two stop strategy while leading the race, which in hindsight was the wrong move. In China, Vettel was critical of Daniil Kvyat's move which caused him to make contact with teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Vettel's disappointment turned to fury at the next race in Russia, when further contact with Kvyat forced the German into an early retirement. The footage of Vettel in the barrier, while he fumed over team radio, summarized how his season has gone.
Vettel has suffered misfortune frequently in 2016, and this has allowed teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, to outscore him so far this season. An engine failure in Bahrain before the start of the race, and a tyre failure in Austria has lead to another two retirements. Vettel has begun to question his team's decisions as the season progresses. In Germany, the team asked Vettel to pit in an attempt to undercut Verstappen ahead. Vettel believed it was pointless to pit so early, and the team eventually came around to Sebastian's way of thinking. Despite questioning the team's decisions, Sebastian does not openly criticise the team, and he still believes that he can follow in the footsteps of his racing idol, Michael Schumacher.
7. Kimi Raikkonen
Qualifying head to head - 4-8
Best result - 2nd (Bahrain and Spain)
Points - 122
There has been a considerable improvement from Kimi Raikkonen in 2016 compared to last year. He has already scored more podiums than he achieved last year and remarkably sits ahead of his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, in the championship. Perhaps that is the reason the team kept him on for 2017, even though Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz were heavily tipped with a move to Ferrari.
Kimi is still off the pace in qualifying, only outqualifying Vettel four times this season. Like Vettel, Kimi has also suffered his fair share of misfortune. Retiring from the opening round of the season, and an engine issue in Baku robbed him of a podium late on.
If Kimi can keep up his impressive form, showing the same fight that he had in Hungary when clawing his way from fourteenth on the grid to sixth, he could unsettle Vettel enough to dominate a teammate, something he has not done in the hybrid so far.
6. Sergio Perez
Qualifying head to head - 5-7
Best result - 3rd (Monaco and Europe)
Points - 48
Sergio Perez was widely tipped to replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari for 2017, but the veteran Iceman impressed enough to warrant a contract extension. Perez has scored two cracking podiums this season, and sits comfortably ahead of his teammate in the championship. Hulkenberg is a very good driver, so the only negative in Perez's season is that he is behind in the qualifying head to head.
Perez's first podium this year was in Monaco, switching onto intermediate tyres and then slick tyres at the perfect time. It gave him track position over Vettel, and despite being on soft tyres, compared to the leaders on ultra and super soft tyres, at times Perez was the fastest man on the track. The second podium came in Baku, when he pounced on Kimi Raikkonen in the dying stages of the race, despite knowing the Finn had a time penalty, Perez took the risk to overtake into turn one.
Perez has a contract for 2017 with his current team, Force India, but there is speculation that Renault and Williams are also looking to sign the Mexican.
5. Nico Rosberg
Qualifying head to head - 6-6
Best result - 1st (Australia, Bahrain, China, Russia, Europe)
Points - 198
We may be at the half way stage of the season, but for Nico Rosberg it has already been a season of two halves. Rosberg added to the three consecutive victories he scored at the end of 2015, by flawlessly winning the first four races of the season, as his teammate, Lewis Hamilton suffered a luckless start to the season.
Then came Spain when the two Mercedes drivers took each other out of the race on the opening lap. Since Spain, Rosberg has only won one Grand Prix, whereas Hamilton has won six of the last seven races. As such, Rosberg's lead in the championship, which was as high as forty three points, has been demolished, and he now trails Hamilton by nineteen points.
After the Russian Grand Prix, and following more reliability issues in Baku, even Lewis Hamilton was beginning to believe this year's title could be heading to the German. Sky Sports believed that the pressure of the title fight, and losing the championship lead is the cause for the number of errors Rosberg has made this year. In Austria, he was blamed for colliding with Hamilton on the last lap by running him wide, and again in Germany when he pushed Max Verstappen off the track.
4. Carlos Sainz
Qualifying head to head - 7-5
Best result - 6th (Spain)
Points - 30
The performances of Carlos Sainz have always been overshadowed by Max Verstappen, until now. In 2015, Max took all the headlines, becoming the youngest points scorer, and also his superb race craft was remarkable for someone who started his debut season as a seventeen year old. But, Carlos was never far behind, often experiencing the worst of the team's reliability issues, but still managed to outqualify his teammate.
There is no doubt that Carlos can feel harshly treated by Red Bull, when the team promoted Max instead of him. The future is still bright for the Spaniard, who is one of the sport's young stars, and has already been linked with a move to Ferrari. Sainz has dominated his new teammate at Toro Rosso, especially in the races. However, it is difficult to compare how well Sainz is driving, now that his only direct comparison is a troubled Kvyat.
Since the departure of Verstappen from the team, Sainz looks to be driving with more freedom. In the first four races, he only scored points in two of them, but after Verstappen moved to Red Bull, Sainz has scored six points scoring finishes in eight races. What makes this even more impressive, is that the Toro Rosso is quickly losing pace to other cars, as the team run Ferrari's 2015 power unit which is not receiving any upgrades.
Return on Wednesday as we reveal the top 3 drivers of 2016 so far.