This next installment of my season review focuses on the five rookie drivers that took part this year: Paul di Resta, Sergio Perez, Pastor Maldonado, Daniel Ricciardo and Jerome D'Ambrosio.
It must be hard for rookies coming into Formula One, particularly with Lewis Hamilton's incredible 2007 rookie season setting the standard so high. I thought all five of our rookies in 2011 did well, and here's the assessment of them.
PAUL DI RESTA
After performing strongly in numerous Friday practice sessions for Force India in 2010, the team finally confirmed he would be racing with them in 2011. And this season, he really impressed me, and many regarded him as the best rookie of the year. Whether this is the case or not, it cannot be denied that he had a great season. Di Resta's qualifying speed was tremendous, out-qualifying team mate Sutil in his first three races, before a wonderful sixth place on the grid at his some Grand Prix, Silverstone. However, Di Resta's best drive has to be Singapore. The young Scot ran fifth at one point, with an excellent drive, before finishing sixth, with easily his best drive of the season. At such a difficult track to master, it was really impressive Di Resta finished so high on his debut. Hungary was also a great drive, with a sixth place finish in difficult conditions. Di Resta won the Autosport rookie of the year award, and you can see why, he had a really good season.
Sergio Perez had an absolutely brilliant season, and only just missed out on a place in my top ten drivers of the season award. Throughout the season, Perez's tyre management was exceptional, adapting to the Pirellis brilliantly, gaining him places in the race. His Australian drive, on his debut, was phenomenal. He adopted a one-stop strategy, while the best drivers had to make four stops. This wasn't the only time he managed his tyres brilliantly in 2011: He nearly made an ingenius one stop strategy work in Valencia, while he worked his way up in Japan. Its a real shame what happened in Monaco qualifying, when Perez suffered a very heavy crash. This meant he didn't participate in either the Monaco or the Canadian Grand Prix. Despite this, a very very impressive season for Perez.
Pretty much everyone accepts that Jerome D'Ambrosio did a better job than his predecessor, Lucas di Grassi. Yet still he is being replaced by Charles Pic in 2012. D'Ambrosio did a very respectable job for Virgin, taking a fourteenth place on his debut. Furthermore, he did very well in qualifying, often out-qualifying his very highly rated team mate Timo Glock. Brazil was a good weekend for D'Ambrosio as well, with the Belgian out-qualifying his team mate, and beating both HRTs. It looks very unlikely that we will see D'Ambrosio next season, but I wish him well, he had a strong debut season and deserves another shot in Formula One.
There was so much hype surrounding Daniel Ricciardo when he signed for HRT half way through the year, you wouldn't have known he had never driven in a Formula One race before. His first race was at Silverstone, and you could see a gradual improvement throughout 2011, Ricciardo sometimes beating Liuzzi in both the qualifying and race sessions, and not really making any errors. The Australian did everything he could, and under the circumstances, its hard to see how he could have done better. Thrown into the worst team half way through the season, not the best way to make your F1 debut. It is no surprise that he is driving with Toro Rosso next season, after being their test driver for a while.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Sergio Perez
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