The 2001 Mid-Term Report

By Mark Glendenning, Australia
Atlas F1 Columnist

It seems no more than a couple of weeks ago that I walked through the gates of Albert Park for the first Grand Prix of the year, and yet here I am already writing about the performance of the drivers as the first half of the season comes to a close. This time last year, the championship still seemed to be very much up in the air; this year it feels as if the title is all but decided. From here on, the real interest in 2001 may well be found a couple of spots further along the pitlane...

This is the third Mid-term report, so regular readers should know the drill by now. For the benefit of the newcomers, the report basically evaluates each driver based on their results between the Australian and Canadian Grands Prix. After each race, I made a note of each competitor's progress, and also assigned them a grade based upon their performance in that round. The grades, which ranged from A+ (for a performance that far surpassed expectations) to F (for a weekend where the driver would have done well to stay home) were than averaged out to produce an overall score for the eight races. The drivers were not penalized for problems that were obviously beyond their control, and both qualifying and race performances were recognised.

Just before we start, it's worth making a couple of things clear. First, the report is designed to offer some illustration of how well each driver has utilised the resources (including machinery and talent) at their disposal. It is not intended to act as a measurement of one driver against another (though such comparisons are probably inevitable where teammates are concerned). In other words, a B+ a Ferrari driver could mean something different to a B+ for, say, a Prost rookie.

Also, the problems inherent in such an evaluation method should be obvious. Firstly, it is impossible to accurately quantify such a quality as ‘talent', so it's inevitable that the whole thing is going to be coloured with subjectivity.

Plus, the fact that the final scores are the product of a calculated average means that they may have been skewed by an exceptionally good or bad performance. To be honest, many of the scores seem a little low to me. But to change them to a different score that 'looks right' would compromise the integrity of the whole article. If nothing else, then at least this illustrates some of the problems you get when you are working with statistics!

I should also note that I excluded retirements when I was calculating average finishing positions, so the figures are based upon the number of races the driver actually finished.


Michael Schumacher      Grade: B+

Highest: A (Australia, Malaysia)
Lowest: B- (San Marino)
Av Qual: 1.5
Av Finish: 1.42

There's not much left to be said about Schumacher Snr. A look at his results for the year to date show that in every race he has finished, he has been either in first or second place – the type of consistency that championships are made of. At the same time though, he can't go beating people to the championship if there is nobody for him to beat, and we have already seen a few races in 2001 where Michael simply had no opposition.

Rubens Barrichello      Grade: B-

Highest: B (San Marino, Spain, Austria)
Lowest: C (Brazil)
Av Qual: 4.125
Av Finish: 2.6

Barrichello got the year off to a rather ragged start when he seemingly spent much of the first two or three races punting others off the track. He settled down though, and has put in some solid performances that have given him plenty of time on the podium. He drove exceptionally well in Austria before sacrificing his race in the interest of his teammate's championship hopes. His qualifying efforts, however, have been a little haphazard, and he rarely seems to exploit the full potential of the machinery that he's strapped to when in race trim.


Mika Hakkinen      Grade B

Highest: A (Spain)
Lowest: C+ (Malaysia, Austria)
Av Qual: 4.125
Av Finish: 5.5

For years, Mika had the reputation of being the unluckiest driver on the grid. In 1997 particularly, fans would sit glued to their screens as the Finn streaked away to a seemingly certain first win, only for the engine to blast itself to pieces – usually with only a couple of laps to go. The last TV viewers would see of Mika, he would be on the back of a marshal's scooter, heading for the pits, waving to the fans, and smiling wryly.

In 2001, the wry grin is back. Mika has had an appalling run of reliability problems that mean that, from a championship perspective, 2001 was a write-off about 4 races ago. That said, it is not long ago that after each qualifying session we would just assume that Mika was on pole, and proceed to check where everybody else was. He has only made the front row twice this year to date though, and he is yet to take the top spot. His race speed is also a bit wayward on occasion, though some good runs when in clear air at races such a Canada, coupled with the brilliant effort in Barcelona (cut short, characteristically, by a last-moment engine failure) suggest that the Hakkinen of old is still in there somewhere.

David Coulthard      Grade B

Highest: A (Brazil, Austria)
Lowest: B- (Canada)
Av Qual: 4.25
Av Finish: 2.71

Like Hakkinen, DC's qualifying has been a bit up and down, although he has taken pole twice. When he is on song, he is the class of the field – he was particularly good in Brazil and Austria, for example. But the Scot has always struggled with consistency, and that again seems to be the story this year. The inability to produce results on a regular basis make it hard to take Coulthard seriously as a title contender, and episodes like Monaco, where he spent a good deal of the race bogged down behind the much-slower Arrows of Enrique Bernoldi, only adds to the doubt. Sure, it's hard to pass at Monaco, but at the same time, there are a few drivers out there that you just feel would somehow have found a way past.


Ralf Schumacher      Grade B+

Highest: A (San Marino, Canada)
Lowest: B (Australia, Malaysia, Spain, Monaco)
Av Qual: 3.5
Av Finish: 2.3

The BMW.Williams has been one of the revelations of 2001, and Ralf is making the most of it. He has not qualified outside the top 5 so far this year, and with two wins already under his belt, it's probably fair to say that he is the most accurate barometer of how well Michelin are getting up to speed. He set an almost supernatural pace in Canada once he got free of his brother, and while there will undoubtedly be tracks that don't suit the car or the tyres, the prospect of more similar performances from Schuey junior make the coming races seem all the more tantalising.

Juan Pablo Montoya      Grade B

Highest: A (Brazil, Austria)
Lowest: C+ (Canada)
Av Qual: 7.375
Av Finish: 2

Well, he has certainly made an impression. In many respects, JPM is the classic Williams-style racer – fast, fearless, impossible to intimidate, and absolutely determined. He drove fantastically well in Brazil only to be cleaned up by Verstappen while leading, and also did well to come home 2nd in Spain. That second place, though, marks the only race that he has actually finished. Pace is not the problem – Montoya has pure, balls-out speed to spare. But modern F1 cars require finesse, which is probably not a word that features heavily in Juan's vocabulary. It can be learnt though – for proof, one need look no further than his teammate.


Giancarlo Fisichella      Grade C+

Highest: B (San Marino, Monaco)
Lowest: C- (Malaysia)
Av Qual: 17
Av Finish: 11

2001 is Benetton's last year in Formula One, and the double-championship winning team seems destined to go out with a whimper. This year's car is, in simple terms, a brick. The engine is not right, sure, but it is difficult to believe that the problems begin and end with the revolutionary Renault powerplant. Fisi has, for the most part, done a reasonable job of trying to struggle along, and he has frequently managed to make decent race starts only to be thwarted by a mechanical problem. The occasional brain-fade does still crop up from time to time though – it takes a special effort to miss your grid slot at the race start.

Jenson Button      Grade C

Highest: B (Monaco)
Lowest: C- (Canada)
Av Qual: 19.125
Av Finish: 11.5

Last year, Button was a Williams driver. This year, he is at the back of the grid fighting Minardis for a glorious 18th place. As is the case with Fisichella, the staggering shortcomings of the Benetton don't help him much, but even so, he is not exactly making the best of is situation. He has only outqualified his teammate once this year – Australia – and has started on the back row in three consecutive races. It could be character-building, it could be career-damaging...time will tell.


Heinz-Harald Frentzen      Grade C+

Highest: B+ (Malaysia)
Lowest: C- (Spain)
Av Qual: 8.65
Av Finish: 6.325

Frentzen got the year off to a reasonable start, with a 5th in Australia and 4th in Malaysia, but it has all gone a bit flat since then. He has, on balance, been slower than Trulli in qualifying, and still tends to make more mistakes than one would expect from a driver of his experience. There are occasions during some races where it seems that a little switch goes off in his head, and he suddenly starts lapping at a pace matching that of the race leaders after tooling around in the midfield for 40 laps (this used to drive Patrick Head crazy when Frentzen was at Williams), and his storming finish to the 1999 season suggests that somewhere in there is a really quick driver trying to get out.

Jarno Trulli      Grade B+

Highest: B (Australia, Canada)
Lowest: C+ (Austria)
Av Qual: 5.875
Av Finish: 6.6

Trulli seems to have the measure of Frentzen this year, and has rewarded his team with a workmanlike if not exactly spectacular performance. The Jordan is not the car that many thought it would be, which hasn't helped, but Jarno has also had his moments – I'd have liked to have seen Eddie Jordan's face when Trulli was black-flagged in Austria for ignoring the red light at the end of the pitlane!


Olivier Panis      Grade B

Highest: B+ (Australia, Brazil)
Lowest: C (Malaysia)
Av Qual: 9.675
Av Finish: 6.2

You frequently hear it said of midfield drivers that 'if only they had some real machinery, they could beat anybody.' Usually they never get the chance, but Panis was an exception. The Frenchman always had a reputation for being fast, but, aside from a lucky win at Monaco a few years ago, he never had a chance to glow. Fresh from a year away from racing, he has been given an opportunity that is, if not golden, then at least very shiny. And he is making the most of it. Panis has matched Villeneuve for most of the season so far, and tends to bring the car home in the points if it makes it to the finish line.

Jacques Villeneuve      Grade B-

Highest: B+ (Spain, Monaco)
Lowest: C (Austria, Canada)
Av Qual: 9.375
Av Finish: 5.5

It has been an up-and-down year for the French-Canadian. On the downside, he has only finished four races, but two of those have scored points, including a podium appearance in Spain. For the time being, the breathtaking displays that characterised his first couple of years with Williams seem to have been replaced by a grim slog that brings mixed results, but perhaps if BAR can get the car sorted once and for all, we might see a return to form – if he can deal with the increasing pressure from his teammate.


Jos Verstappen      Grade B-

Highest: A- (Malaysia)
Lowest: C- (Brazil)
Av Qual: 16.5
Av Finish: 8.83

Verstappen has done his best with what he has got. The Arrows has a small fuel tank, so the car runs lighter than most of its competitors in the early stages of the race. When there is some kind of speed advantage, Jos tries to make the most of it, and has managed to haul the car quite high up in the field before having to make the inevitable fuel stop about 10 laps before everybody else. He still has his odd moments – few fans, irrespective of their allegiances, will ever forgive him for taking Montoya out in Brazil – but otherwise he tends to slog it out in the midfield hoping that enough cars retire to promote him into the points.

Enrique Bernoldi      Grade C

Highest: B (Austria, Monaco)
Lowest: D (Australia)
Av Qual: 17.125
Av Finish: 9.5

Bernoldi's F1 career did not get off to a great start, when he qualified poorly in Australia and then belted the wall early in the race, but he has since settled into a solid if unspectacular midfield runner. He withstood the pressure from Coulthard well in Monaco – for an inexperienced driver being hassled by a McLaren driven by a guy thinking about his championship hopes, it would have been all too easy to clout a barrier somewhere around the principality (that's what DC was probably hoping, anyway).


Nick Heidfeld      Grade B-

Highest: A- (Australia)
Lowest: C (Monaco)
Av Qual: 10.625
Av Finish: 5.8

Think back twelve months. Heidfeld, then a rookie, was having a torrid year with the extraordinarily woeful Prost, while his counterpart Button was living the good life with the boys from Williams. Fast forward to now, and the phrase ‘reversal of fortune' springs to mind immediately. It's hard to guess which is more of a surprise – that Jenson would slip so far back in a Benetton, or that Heidfeld would take such great leaps forward with Sauber. Nevertheless, it has happened, and so far the young German seems to be trying to make the most of it. A level-headed drive earned him a podium appearance in Brazil, and he also picked up a good fourth place in Australia. He still makes mistakes from time to time, but on the whole he should be fairly happy with the year to date.

Kimi Raikkonen      Grade B

Highest: A (Australia)
Lowest: C+ (Malaysia)
Av Qual: 10.875
Av Finish: 6.4

Where do I start? A few months ago, the Atlas F1 forum was full of debates about whether or not Kimi would make the grade in F1. The answer? A points-scoring finish on debut in Melbourne, and two fourth places in Austria and Canada. The young Finn has adapted beautifully to Formula One, and can only get better. He also makes surprisingly few mistakes – from eight races, he has only spun into retirement once, and registered one other DNF when he failed to get away from the line in Malaysia. It makes for interesting reading when you compare it with, say, Montoya.


Eddie Irvine      Grade C+

Highest: A (Monaco)
Lowest: C- (Canada)
Av Qual: 12.125
Av Finish: 7

Irvine was superb all weekend in Monaco, and thoroughly deserved his podium finish. Elsewhere, he has not been spectacular, although in fairness he has not been working with particularly co-operative machinery. He still makes more mistakes than he really should though, and in the long-term it's hard to imagine Eddie being the sort of driver to carry Jaguar forward.

Pedro de la Rosa      Grade C

Highest: B (Canada)
Lowest: C- (Spain, Monaco)
Av Qual: 15.5
Av Finish: 6

Pedro's efforts in the Arrows were amongst the highlights of last year, and his untimely dumping from the team during the off-season attracted the condemnation of fans right across the board. He is taking a while to get up to speed in his belated return to racing, although managing to grab a point in Canada will hopefully be the start of a change in fortune.


Fernando Alonso      Grade B-

Highest: B (Australia, Austria, Monaco)
Lowest: C+ (Brazil, San Marino, Canada)
Av Qual: 19.25
Av Finish: 12.66

One of the year's pleasant surprises was that, despite all of the off-season turmoil, Minardi actually made it to Australia for the first race. Another highlight has been the performance of Fernando Alonso. The car rarely lasts long enough to see him to the finish, but he still manages to regularly beat – and beat convincingly – his more experienced teammate in qualifying, and he also sees off the Benettons more often than the boys in blue would like. All signs point to a bright future, though unfortunately for Minardi, it will probably be somewhere a little further up the grid.

Tarso Marques      Grade C-

Highest: C+ (Brazil)
Lowest: D (San Marino, Spain, Monaco)
Av Qual: 21.75
Av Finish: 12

Marques hasn't exactly set the world on fire, even in Minardi terms. He has started every single race from the back row, although he has managed to hold it together to bring the car home in the top ten twice in high-attrition races. Ultimately, Tarso is just making up the numbers.


Jean Alesi      Grade C+

Highest: B (Brazil, Monaco)
Lowest: D (Austria)
Av Qual: 14.75
Av Finish: 8.25

The veteran French-Sicilian managed to somehow score points on his last two outings, but his year has otherwise been a bit of a rollercoaster. (Then again, with Jean it's rarely anything else). Solid drives where he has got on with the job and done the best he could with a difficult car have been punctuated with uninspired performances such as that in Austria, where he simply seemed to have no interest in the race.

Luciano Burti      Grade C

Highest: B- (Australia, Malaysia, Canada)
Lowest: C (Just about everywhere else)
Av Qual: 17
Av Finish: 9.83

Burti began his season with Jaguar, and made the switch to the French team after four races when de la Rosa received a phone all from the big cat. Interestingly, a study of his results reveals no discernable difference in his performance with one team or the other. He seems to be able to keep the car more or less out of the gravel and away from the walls– indeed, both of his retirements have been due to mechanical failures – but his racing seems to be less about making a charge and more about just putting his head down and soldiering on.

Gaston Mazzacane      Grade C-

Highest: C+ (Malaysia)
Lowest: C- (Australia, San Marino)
Av Qual: 20.25
Av Finish: 12

Mazzacane spent the first four races keeping Marques company at the back of the grid before being let go by Prost in favour of the newly-available Burti. He was thoroughly whipped by Alesi in qualifying, and never made much of an impression on any of the rounds that he participated in.

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Print Version

Volume 7, Issue 25
June 20th 2001

Atlas F1 Special

Montoya's Pendulum: from Hero to Zero
by Roger Horton

The 2001 Mid-Term Report
by Mark Glendenning

Unrealistic Expectations
by Karl Ludvigsen

Team Connaught Part II: Remembrance of Things Fast
by Thomas O'Keefe

European GP Preview

The European GP Preview
by Ewan Tytler

Technical Preview: Nurburgring
by Will Gray

Focus: Fangio at the Nurburgring
by Marcel Schot


Elsewhere in Racing
by Mark Alan Jones

The European GP Trivia Quiz
by Marcel Borsboom

F1 DVD Review
by Paul Ryder

Bookworm Critique
by Mark Glendenning

Rear View Mirror
by Don Capps

The Weekly Grapevine
by the F1 Rumors Team

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