Preview: We rate Formula 1’s top eight

The top eight ready for battle starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix

Mar.10 (Daniel Chalmers) You don’t have to be a descendant of Nostradamus to predict that one of the eight drivers depicted in the photo montage above will be the 2010 Formula 1 World Champion. Which one? This is the billion dollar question. Daniel Chalmers investigates and rates F1’s top eight candidates for the world title.

Ferrari – Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa's last win was the 2008 Brazilian GP

It’s great to see Felipe Massa back on the grid after his horrendous accident last year. Whilst he was racing in 2009 he stepped up his game even further, and fought extremely hard with a car not worthy of his talent, and got some strong results.

The big question is will he be as good as he was before the accident. Mika Hakkinen had a serious accident in Adelaide in 1995, but came back and enjoyed the most successful spell of his career winning back to back championships in 1998 and 1999. The same could apply to Massa.

His biggest rival will be at the other side of the garage. Beating Alonso will be an extremely difficult task but he will cause Fernando some big headaches.

As we have seen in the past Alonso doesn’t like being beaten by his team mate. You can be sure Massa knows this and will try to make the most of it.

Verdict: He will stand on the top step of the podium this year, but the championship will be too tall an order.
Driver Rating: 9/10

Ferrari – Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso's last win was the 2008 Japanese GP

At the moment Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari F10 looks to be the best all round package in F1. His biggest asset is his level of consistency over a long run. He can go for 20 or 30 laps with very little spread in his lap times, and that’s the sign of a great driver.

He is one of F1’s great leaders which will be a huge bonus for Ferrari who have lacked a real leader since Michael Schumacher left. He has great work ethic and is notorious for his car development skills.

Furthermore Alonso seems extremely happy with his new team, and rejuvenated after a couple of uncompetitive seasons at Renault. As Jenson Button recently pointed out, a happy Alonso isn’t a positive thing for all his rivals.

The interesting aspect of Alonso’s season is how he reacts when things don’t go so well. How will he react when Massa beats him? How much will he have learnt from the problems he had at Mclaren in 2007?

Verdict: A return to glory for Alonso in 2010
Driver rating: 10/10

Red Bull – Mark Webber

Mark Webber's last win was the 2009 Brazilian GP

Last season Mark Webber finally got the monkey off his back when he won at the Nurburgring. During the middle part of the season he was F1’s most consistent driver. Overall it was a good season, and this was despite still recovering from a broken leg. You wonder how much better his season might have been had he not had that accident.

This year Webber has had the luxury of a full winter of preparation, and will be starting the season fully fit so he will be quick right from the start. He now knows how to win a race, and now he has had a taste of victory he will want even more.

His experience could also prove useful when it comes to looking after the tyres, and dealing with the characteristic changes of the car as the fuel load comes down.

Webber is also one of F1’s one lap specialists, and starting at the front this year will be a big advantage. Vettel may have beaten him in qualifying last year but if you take into account the fuel loads it was closer than it looked. In low fuel qualifying this year Webber will be able to take Vettel on a level playing field.

Let’s just hope Webber finally gets rid of his tendency to strike misfortune.
Verdict: Is the dark horse for the championship Driver Rating: 8/10

Red Bull – Sebastien Vettel

Sebastian Vettel's last win was 2009 Abu Dhabi GP

In 2009 Sebastian Vettel cemented his place amongst F1’s elite. His drives in China and Japan were exceptional. If he wants to win the title in 2010 though he is going to have to remove all the chinks in his armour.  Amongst Vettel’s moments of brilliance he has made silly errors and buckled under the pressure at times.

An area of concern could be tyre management. We saw a couple of times last season Vettel completely trashing the super-soft tyre. As the new non-refuelling era places more importance on tyre management Vettel could struggle.

With no fuel strategy in 2010 drivers may have to do more of their overtaking on the track. Vettel has at times been a bit tentative when trying to overtake.

Verdict: Will have some stunning moments again in 2010, but regulation changes may expose his weaknesses.
Driver Rating: 9/10

Mercedes – Nico Rosberg

Nico Rosberg has never won in F1, his last single seater win was the 2005 GP2 race in Bahrain

Nico Rosberg has a critical year of his career ahead of him. It’s hard to know what to make of Rosberg. We have seen a mixture of promise and races where he has seriously under-performed. However putting him in a top car alongside one of the all time greats tell what level he is at.

If he could beat Schumacher his credit rating would go through the roof. On the other hand if Michael thrashes him and Rosberg struggles to get strong results then his career will go backwards.

The main thing for Rosberg now he is in a top team is he has to win a couple of races, and when Schumacher has a bad race Nico must make sure he is there to take advantage.

Perhaps the most telling thing about Rosberg’s perceived ability is the fact that Ross Brawn felt the need to pursue Schumacher. If Ross thought that Rosberg was good enough to lead Mercedes to the title then he wouldn’t have felt the urge to sign Schumacher.

Verdict: Rosberg will fare better than people expect but it’s hard to see him being anything more than the supporting act
Driver rating: 7/10

Mercedes – Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher's last win was the 2006 Chinese GP

One thing that can be certain is that Michael Schumacher isn’t just back for the thrill. He wants to add to his seven world championships and countless other amazing stats.

Schumacher may be 41 but age is only a number. Many drivers still in their 20s can only dream to be as fit as Schumacher currently is. It’s only three years ago since Schumacher retired from racing. At the end of 2006 his pace was as strong as it ever was. That’s not going to change after just three years out.

Along with Rubens Barrichello he is the only other 2010 driver to have experience of F1 with no re-fuelling, which could be a big advantage.

Another factor potentially playing in his favour is that Mercedes is likely to be the one only of the top four teams to have a clear number 1. Whilst the other pairings are taking points off each Schumacher could sneak up from behind and nick the title.

A few of Schumacher’s titles were won in dominant fashion, and all the others against one main rival (Hakkinen, Alonso, Hill etc). If he wants to win the title this year he is going to have to beat five or six very strong opponents.

Verdict: Schumacher will carry on from where he left off three years ago
Driver Rating: 10/10

McLaren – Jenson Button

Jenson Button's last win was the 2009 Turkish GP

World Champion Jenson Button could have played it safe and stayed where he knows the team, and they know him. Instead he has gone to Mclaren alongside Lewis Hamilton seeking a new challenge. Button should be given praise for this move rather than criticism. Previous world champions wouldn’t have dared make such a move.

Everyone will make Hamilton the favourite but Button will have a big say this year. Whenever Button gets given a perfect car he is as fast as any driver in the sport. When the Brawn was at its best at the start of 2009 Button was absolutely unstoppable. The suggestion so far is that this year’s Mclaren is a very strong car so we could see the best of Button again.

His naturally smooth style will suit the re-fuelling ban, and he will be very easy on his tyres, which will be a great asset to have this season.

His main area of concern is that although his smooth style is useful in the race, it’s not as effective for warming up the tyres for a qualifying lap. That’s something Button has to sort out this year if he wants to defend his title.

Verdict: Probably won’t win the championship but he will perform well enough to enhance his reputation amongst his doubters.
Driver Rating: 8.5/10

Mclaren – Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton's last win was the 2009 Singapore GP

Lewis Hamilton has to be made favourite going into this year’s championship starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix. Special drivers always managed to drag great results out of a bad car. In 2009 Hamilton did exactly that. In the second half of the season he got more points than anybody else.

If he can do that and win races with a bad car then what is he going to be able to achieve with a Mclaren that is looking very competitive? He will go into 2010 feeling very confident

Over the last year Lewis has matured considerably and cut out the errors from his game. He is now the new pacesetter in F1.

His main weakness in the past has been not knowing when to go for the win, or when to just settle for good points. It will be key that he can get that balance right in 2010. Also he must tone down his aggressive driving style in races otherwise he will trash his tyres.

Verdict: The favourite to win the 2010 championship
Driver rating: 10/10