During commentary for the opening round of the 2016 FF1M Season, I made reference to the Class of 2010, a term that consists of three FF1M drivers that made their race debuts in the 2010 Australian Grand Prix; Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg, and Sergio Perez. The term is essentially taken from the Class of ’92, which refers to three legendary Snooker players that turned professional in 1992 (Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, and Mark Williams).
Before diving into the respective careers of the three drivers and the 107 races that they have competed in so far, there is an asterisk above Grosjean in that he was signed to race for GRM in the 2008 season, but never actually started a race due to the pre-qualifying system. After finishing runner-up to Vitaly Petrov in the 2009 FF2M Season despite being level on points with the Russian, Grosjean made his race debut with FJR in 2010 with 2008 champion Jenson Button as his teammate and finished a highly creditable 4th after performing an audacious double overtake on Sebastian Vettel and Adrian Sutil going into turn 3 on the second lap. Hulkenberg’s debut with Mitchell almost resulted in a brilliant 2nd place before his engine died on the final lap, dropping him to 5th, while Perez’s debut with Shannon ended early due to a loose wheel.
Despite not finishing on the podium all season, Grosjean performed well against Button and outscored him by six points, finishing 9th in the championship. The FJR wasn’t as good a car as the Mitchell however, particularly in qualifying as Hulkenberg took seven pole positions, the most of any driver throughout 2010, and at the German Grand Prix, he converted his third pole position into his first FF1M win. Meanwhile, Perez just couldn’t get to grips with his Shannon, and it was more than likely that he needed more time in the support series. He managed a single point at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a race that was won by Vettel, his teammate.
Nico Hulkenberg – 6th, 1 win, 7 poles, 4 podiums, 41 points
Romain Grosjean – 9th, 0 wins, 0 poles, 0 podiums, 33 points
Sergio Perez – 23rd, 0 wins, 0 poles, 0 podiums, 1 point
All three drivers stayed with their teams going into 2011, and all three would have very different seasons from one another. New engine rules meant a reshuffling of suppliers and curiously, all three drivers had Renault power at their disposal. In the previous season, Hulkenberg was outscored by teammate Sebastien Buemi, but this time around, he would have the measure over the Swiss driver. Although he wouldn’t start a race from pole position, Hulkenberg was the most consistent driver with points in all but four races, two of which he failed to finish. His dependability eventually culminated in two wins including a second consecutive Hockenheim triumph, and Hulkenberg even became a championship contender. In part thanks to a devastating run of form from Lewis Hamilton, he just lost out on championship glory by seven points to Fernando Alonso.
Grosjean’s season on the other hand struggled to get going. FJR had switched from their own turbo engines to the works Renault engine. Although the engine proved reliable, the car wasn’t particularly competitive, and Grosjean could only manage three finishes in the points and was generally outpaced by his new teammate, Kimi Raikkonen. As for Perez, his season was a struggle for a more tragic reason as the team boss for Shannon sadly passed away, and his only point of the season came at Austria in what was a race of high attrition.
Nico Hulkenberg – 2nd, 2 wins, 0 poles, 5 podiums, 80 points
Romain Grosjean – 18th, 0 wins, 0 poles, 0 podiums, 7 points
Sergio Perez – 21st, 0 wins, 0 poles, 0 podiums, 1 point
A new era of FF1M rolled around, but both Hulkenberg and Grosjean remained with their teams, while Perez moved to Shake ‘n’ Bake where he was reunited with Vettel. None had good starts to the season at a wet Australian Grand Prix as all three retired, but Grosjean was the one who quickly found his feet as he took a series of points finishes including his first ever podium finish at a chaotic Monaco Grand Prix. He also had a sniff of victory at a changeable Long Beach but had to settle for 4th after an extra tyre stop and a significant collision with a lapped Pastor Maldonado near the end, but he did set the fastest lap.
Hulkenberg’s 3rd season with Mitchell was crippled by an underpowered Toyota engine, and team boss Joe Mitchell made no bones about it, leading to a public war of words between team and engine supplier. A 4th place at a sodden Barcelona was his best result, while Perez was no match for Vettel and didn’t endear himself too well with Shake ‘n’ Bake’s team boss, Courtney Cass, after he crashed out on the final lap of the British Grand Prix, which resulted in a temporary reduction of his salary.
Romain Grosjean – 5th, 0 wins, 0 poles, 3 podiums, 54 points
Nico Hulkenberg – 14th, 0 win, 0 poles, 0 podiums, 9 points
Sergio Perez – 17th, 0 wins, 0 poles, 0 podiums, 8 points
Both Grosjean and Perez were on the move for 2013 as the two teams that had battled with each other for the 2012 championship had signed both drivers. Grosjean had joined Tornado alongside Jean-Eric Vergne to form an all-French line-up, while Perez had joined Gui Cramer’s team, which had been renamed from Sean Connery Motorschhh to Gojira AutoSport. Both drivers became embroiled in championship battles, with Grosjean a strong contender for the drivers championship, and Perez playing a supporting role for Raikkonen. Grosjean’s first win came at Sepang after a strong drive in wet conditions, while Perez took advantage of his Ferrari engine’s power and Montreal’s circuit characteristics to hold off the field for his debut win. Despite five wins, Grosjean had to settle for runner-up in the drivers championship, 12 points behind Raikkonen, while Perez’s contributions helped Gojira beat Tornado by just a single point.
As for Hulkenberg, he had a season of two halves. It started off well with a 2nd place at Melbourne followed by seven more points finishes in the following eight races, which left him 7th in the championship at the halfway stage, only 22 points behind championship leader Raikkonen. However, efforts to improve the power of his Renault engine had a massive impact on reliability as he failed to finish six of the following seven races, and just one more 5th place at Austin was all he could add to his points tally. He did manage to join his fellow classmates in the top 10 of the drivers championship.
Romain Grosjean – 2nd, 5 wins, 2 poles, 10 podiums, 99 points
Sergio Perez – 6th, 1 win, 4 poles, 5 podiums, 72 points
Nico Hulkenberg – 9th, 0 win, 0 poles, 1 podium, 35 points
Once again, Grosjean and Perez moved to different teams for 2014 while Hulkenberg stayed loyal with Mitchell. The big change in the regulations was a new engine formula with five manufacturers and six customers. All three drivers ran customer engines with Grosjean and Hulkenberg racing with Mugen engines and Perez with Ilmor. Unlike the opening race of 2012, all three drivers finished, and in the points as well with Hulkenberg the best in 4th, but the first to take a podium finish was Perez after a gutsy drive at the Nurburgring. That would prove to be his only podium finish of the season as Exolite faded as the season went on. Hulkenberg’s season was just as inconsistent with infrequent points finishes, but his highlight came at Spa where he took an unlikely win from 15th on the grid, which included a rocket start where he caught half the field napping at La Source.
Grosjean had a much more successful season with Pedersen, but it wasn’t until Silverstone when his season really took off with a dominant lights to flag win. Two more wins came at the Red Bull Ring and the Hungaroring, and Grosjean became an outside shot for the drivers championship, but unreliability at crucial parts of the season prevented a serious enough challenge. 3rd in the championship was still a highly respectable result considering Pedersen were absolutely nowhere in 2013.
Romain Grosjean – 3rd, 3 wins, 3 poles, 5 podiums, 74 points
Nico Hulkenberg – 9th, 1 win, 0 poles, 1 podium, 26 points
Sergio Perez – 13th, 0 win, 0 poles, 1 podium, 15 points
For the first time, two of the Class of 2010 drivers would become teammates as Perez joined Grosjean at Pedersen, while Hulkenberg remained with Mitchell for the 6th consecutive season. Only Perez had the same engine as the previous season as Pedersen inadvertently switched to Ilmor engines, but his prior experience proved vital in the opening race at Melbourne as he took a creditable 2nd. That was as good as his season got as Pedersen’s season was plagued by unreliability. Grosjean’s season was just as affected, but he took a podium finish at Estoril and also a surprise pole position at Shanghai.
Hulkenberg’s season was difficult for different reasons. The Mitchell-Climax combination proved to be a good qualifying car as Climax possessed one of the better ERS systems in the field, but the car tended to fade in the races, plus some mistakes started to creep in. Hulkenberg’s relationship with Mitchell had begun to sour and there was even talk of him being dropped before the end of the season. Hulkenberg’s only podium finish also came at Estoril, and a few 5th place finishes helped him to beat his classmates, but all three were out of the top ten come the end of the season.
Nico Hulkenberg – 12th, 0 win, 0 poles, 1 podium, 21 points
Sergio Perez – 16th, 0 win, 0 poles, 1 podium, 15 points
Romain Grosjean – 17th, 0 wins, 1 pole, 1 podium, 14 points
All three drivers were on the move for 2016, including Hulkenberg, who had been signed by FJR to partner Kevin Magnussen. Perez moved to Tornado, while Grosjean went to Exolite. All three didn’t have particularly sparkling results at Melbourne. In Hulkenberg’s case, this was down to a very uncompetitive car, but the two former teammates clumsily collided with each other going into turn 3 whilst disputing a net 6th place.
Statistically, Grosjean is the most successful driver with eight wins compared to Hulkenberg’s four and Perez’s one. He also leads the way on most podium finishes and points scored. However, Hulkenberg has the most pole positions with seven, just one more than Grosjean, plus the German has come closest to winning a drivers championship. By comparison, Perez’s record appears more modest, but he has the distinction of contributing towards a constructors championship. Heading into their 109th races at Nurburgring, all three drivers will be undoubtedly keen to build on their records.