Now that the Formula One season has come to a close, Online Sport Editor Jamie Klein takes you through the first half of his list of the top 10 best drivers of the year.
10. Jenson Button – Down 5
With Lewis Hamilton moving on to Mercedes for the 2013 season, Button had every reason to be feeling confident back in March, but it didn’t take long to become obvious that McLaren’s design gamble was not going to pay dividends. Increasingly resigned to scrapping for the minor positions, a solid drive to fifth place in China stood as the Briton’s best result until the end of the season at Brazil, where Button stormed his way from 14th on the grid to take fourth.
Whilst Button is hardly renowned for being a one-lap specialist, he will have been disappointed at losing out to teammate Perez in the qualifying stakes 9-10, and perhaps, considering his world champion status, that there wasn’t more daylight between he and the Mexican in terms of race pace. That said, Button was the more consistent across the course of the year of the two McLaren drivers, only failing to score five times all year in a car often flirting with the fringes of the top 10.
9. Daniel Ricciardo – New Entry
The prospect of promotion to Red Bull meant that there was awful lot at stake in 2013 for Ricciardo and his Toro Rosso teammate Jean-Eric Vergne. Though there was one stage where it appeared the latter may have been starting to get the better of Ricciardo, the gregarious Aussie upped the ante at precisely the right time, booking his seat at Red Bull with a series of convincing qualifying and race performances as Vergne faded into anonymity in the latter half of the year.
Indeed, Ricciardo was out-qualified by Vergne only four times all year, and made seven appearances in the points versus just three for the Frenchman – including a pair of superb seventh places at China and Italy. However, street circuits proved something of an Achilles’ heel for Ricciardo, retiring from both Monaco (where he was thoroughly eclipsed by Vergne) and Singapore, whilst poor starts, like his fellow countryman Webber, also occasionally served to undo his hard work during qualifying.
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8. Mark Webber – Down 2
Regrettably for Webber, his final season in F1 is inevitably defined by events at Malaysia, where Vettel ignored the instruction issued by Red Bull to remain behind his teammate, instead snatching away what was Webber’s rightful victory. Even more disappointing was the fact that the Australian thereafter failed to register a win all year whilst his German teammate proceeded to sweep all before him. Two late pole positions demonstrated the one-lap pace is still there, but Webber’s apparent inability to adapt his driving style to the demands of the modern breed of Coanda effect-assisted cars proved his undoing.
Nevertheless, there were some fine drives by Webber over the course of the year, such as at Silverstone, where he lost out on what would have been a fitting retribution for “Multi 21” by the narrowest of a margins to Rosberg. The Red Bull driver was also plagued with bad luck throughout the year, most notably at India, where an alternator problem denied him what would have been a straightforward second place; without such misfortune, he would have been considerably closer to clinching the runner-up spot in the championship his machinery warranted.
7. Nico Hulkenberg – Up 1
During the first half of the season, prior to Pirelli’s decision to make its tyres more durable after the fiasco that was the British Grand Prix, it looked as if Hulkenberg had made the wrong decision to jump ship from Force India to Sauber. But, as the former suffered a competitive nosedive in the advent of the revised tyres, Sauber’s improving fortunes allowed Hulkenberg to really begin to shine and cement his reputation as a star of the future.
Monza was the start of this late season flourish, more than doubling his points tally for the year at a stroke by finishing a superb fifth. After that, the mild-mannered German was never out of the points, save for two occasions that weren’t his fault; his drive to fourth at Korea, where he held off the advances of the ostensibly quicker Hamilton for a significant chunk of the race, stood out in particular.
6. Nico Rosberg – Re-Entry
It may have been the first time that Rosberg has been out-scored by a teammate in F1 since his maiden season in 2006, but it’s also been the first time the German has been partnered with a teammate as well regarded as Hamilton. And, few would have anticipated back in March that Rosberg would end the season quite so close to the former champion in the drivers’ standings, with just 18 points separating the pair, whilst also out-qualifying Hamilton, regarded by some as the best qualifier in the business, eight times over the course of the year.
Whilst Rosberg was able to rack up two race victories at Monaco and Silverstone this year to Hamilton’s sole triumph at Hungary, it’s worth remembering that the second of those wins was somewhat fortuitous, the 28-year-old benefiting from a puncture for Hamilton and a gearbox failure for Vettel. And, whilst Rosberg’s only non-appearances in the points can be pinned on mechanical maladies of one sort or another, there were perhaps a couple too many occasions where he was simply out-raced by Hamilton.
Check back later today for the second half of the list, which will reveal the top five drivers of the year.bookmark me