Feature: Which F1 drivers need a big race?

Feature: Which F1 drivers need a big race?

16 June 2017 – We're over a third of the way into the new Formula 1 campaign and a handful of drivers are struggling to make their mark on the championship. GPUpdate.net looks at those who need a couple of strong drives.

As ever in sport, the talent level is so high that those towards the back can be regarded as 'no hopers' even when they are among an elite group. The situation is the same in Formula 1, with only 20 drivers on the grid at any one time. Here are a quartet who, across the next few races, require a step up in performance on a sustained basis.

Jolyon Palmer
Qualifying gap to team-mate: +1.198s
Percentage of team points scored: 0%

Palmer's reputation within Renault was demonstrated by the number of drivers it sounded out for 2017 before eventually retaining the Briton, who had steadily grown in confidence over the course of an initially rocky rookie campaign. A return of one point was lacklustre, but Palmer was driving an evil-handling machine with a sub-par power unit, stemming from Renault's short pre-2016 preparations. He was granted a second season to prove himself but matters have stalled, and he has no points – to Hülkenberg's 18 – and five Q1 eliminations, while Hülkenberg has made Q3 on four occasions. This, understandably, has made a huge difference; in starting an average of six places behind his team-mate, Palmer enters races already playing catch-up. Weekend-scuppering crashes in Australia and Russia also did little to assist his cause. He has conceded that it is up to him to deliver points for the team, while team chief Cyril Abiteboul has challenged him to improve his one-lap pace. The hype surrounding Robert Kubica, and the presence of tester Sergey Sirotkin, only adds to the pressure. If Palmer is to prove his worth in race-trim, he needs to stop putting himself at a disadvantage – but it may be too late already.

Lance Stroll
Qualifying gap to team-mate: +0.901s
Percentage of team points scored: 9%

Stroll claimed his maiden Formula 1 points through a measured drive in Canada, with Williams hopeful that it will boost his confidence. However, compliments have so far been slightly excessive for a driver who, in pure stone-cold facts, finished ninth with the fourth- or fifth-fastest car in Montréal, after a string of retirements. Previously, Stroll had a chastening start to his Formula 1 career, raising suggestions that he had been promoted too soon, despite his extensive private testing in 2016. Making Q3 in China was a positive, but his qualifying pace since has been underwhelming, falling at the first hurdle across the past three races, albeit his Canada exit partly down to Williams' perplexing strategy, keeping him out on Ultra Softs. Stroll's points followed a run of six races outside of the top 10, some not of his doing (collisions in China and Bahrain), while he squandered points with an amateurish first-lap spin in Russia. Elsewhere, understanding the tyres has been a big challenge – normal for a rookie – while his Monaco showing was typical for a newcomer to the Principality. Stroll's task now is to build on his maiden points, close the gap to Felipe Massa in qualifying, and continue adding to Williams' tally. Helpfully, post-Baku, Stroll will enter a run of circuits at which he has previous experience, either in F3 or private testing.

Stoffel Vandoorne
Qualifying gap to team-mate: +0.473s
Percentage of team points scored: N/A

Vandoorne's success in junior categories was outstanding but his transition to Formula 1 has proved troublesome; he has escaped Q1 only once and his performances in races have been disappointing. In Spain he clumsily collided with Felipe Massa, while in Monaco he nerfed the wall at the restart, having crashed in qualifying 24 hours earlier. Canada, though, starkly exposed Vandoorne's deficiencies. In Monaco, there was a more confident aura, after some thorough investigations, but in Montréal a comparison with Fernando Alonso, previously tricky amid McLaren-Honda's troubles, was not good reading for Vandoorne. The pair ran similar strategies, with Vandoorne ahead of Alonso early on, but the 25-year-old sunk down the order. The gap grew steadily across the opening stint, and sat at 20-seconds at the pit-stops. It had grown to 36 seconds by the time that Alonso retired. After their respective stops, Alonso was faster on each of the following 18 laps, aside from the tour on which he was lapped. It is stark stuff. Nevertheless, there are caveats. Vandoorne is still inexperience in F1 terms, grappling with an inconsistent and unreliable power unit, and he also has to adapt to ever-changing machinery after years in single-make, standard part cars. Vandoorne is also up against a two-time World Champion who has made mincemeat of most of his past team-mates. McLaren retains faith in a youngster it has nurtured, believing Vandoorne to be champion material, but an upturn in form is required.

Daniil Kvyat
Qualifying gap to team-mate: +0.029s
Percentage of team points scored: 14%

Kvyat's retention for 2017 was met with surprise from some quarters but the Toro Rosso driver was given another chance to prove his worth. In qualifying, he and Carlos Sainz Jr. have been relatively matched in terms of pace – it's 4-3 in the Spaniard's favour – and only in Spain – where Kvyat went horribly wrong with the set-up of a very sensitive car – has the gap between the pair ballooned. However, whereas Sainz Jr. has scored 25 points via five top-10 finishes, Kvyat has collected four, with two ninth-place results. There have, however, been mitigating circumstances. A hydraulics failure stranded Kvyat in China, he was hit by Sergio Pérez while on course for points in Monaco, an engine stall skewered his race in Canada, while his points in Spain were achieved from last on the grid – an impressive charge through the field. But Kvyat could do with a truly standout drive to remind the world of his talent, for he remains fourth priority within Red Bull's quartet. On his side is Toro Rosso's open attitude to more experienced drivers, and the lack of alternatives elsewhere, with only GP2 champion Pierre Gasly – plying his trade in Super Formula – a realistic 2018 candidate.

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