After unveiling the bottom half of his top 10 list, Online Sport Editor Jamie Klein takes you through his top five Formula One drivers this season.
5. Kimi Raikkonen – Down 1
It’s fair to say that Raikkonen’s second season of his comeback for Lotus peaked rather too soon – at the very first race, where he took a convincing victory in Melbourne, in fact. The car was undoubtedly capable of more, remaining competitive even after the mid-season revision of the Pirelli tyres, and there were quite a few subsequent near misses for “The Iceman” in his quest to add to his Australian win. Indeed, Raikkonen featured on the second step of the podium more often than anyone else all year.
As the second half of the year progressed, and the severity of Lotus’s financial woes became clear, Raikkonen’s performances appeared to decline accordingly as teammate Grosjean increasingly took over from Kimi as the team’s “go-to guy”. From Spa onwards, he was out-done by the Franco-Swiss at every race, but perhaps his motivation to perform was flagging, particularly once his move to Ferrari for next season was sealed.
4. Lewis Hamilton – Down 2
Considering McLaren’s woes this season, it didn’t take long for Hamilton to convince the doubters that his move to Mercedes was the right one. After some strong early performances, the Brit was unfortunate to lose a potential victory at Silverstone to tyre failure before a first win with his new employers finally came with an imperious drive in the sweltering heat of Hungary – after which many observers believed Hamilton may have been on the cusp of launching some kind of title challenge.
This was not to be however, and Hamilton losing out to Vettel along the Kemmel Straight at Spa on the first lap perfectly symbolised the point at which the hopes of the rest of the field were dashed. Hamilton was not quite as convincing from the next race at Monza onwards – though how much of this was down to cracks in the former champion’s chassis, which weren’t spotted until after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, isn’t clear. But, five pole positions and as many trips to the podium certainly constitutes a record Hamilton can look back upon with satisfaction.
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3. Romain Grosjean – New Entry
From “first-lap nutcase” to one of the undoubted class acts of the season, the last 12 months have seen quite a turnaround for Grosjean. Warned that his drive may be at risk following a dismal weekend at Monaco, where he briefly reverted to type after taking out Ricciardo mid-race, you can’t give the Frenchman enough credit for the way he knuckled down and found a way to cut out the errors that had so far held back his career.
Germany, where a Safety Car cost him a very realistic shot at a maiden victory, proved the springboard to a phenomenal second half of the year during which Grosjean was often Vettel’s strongest adversary, and as Raikkonen progressively went off the boil as speculation over his future intensified, the man from Geneva was always in the podium mix once the second flyaway leg of the calendar got underway. Leading the first stint at Suzuka and his defence of second from a hard-charging Webber at Austin were both feats worthy of the champion-in-waiting status that some pundits have now begun to attribute to Grosjean.
2. Fernando Alonso – Down 1
If there was a nagging feeling that, perhaps, the wrong person came out on top of last year’s championship, Alonso’s heroics behind the wheel of a largely recalcitrant Ferrari have done nothing to alter a perception which exists among many F1 fans that the two-time champion remains the cream of the crop. Five podiums, including two convincing victories in the first eight races, before Pirelli revamped their tyres, laid what appeared to be a solid foundation for another title tilt, even if numerous points went begging for reasons both within and outside of Alonso’s control.
In the second half of the year however, with Ferrari one of the worst affected teams by the tyre changes, Alonso’s performances became all the more impressive. In particular, three successive second place finishes at Spa, Monza and Singapore kept the title fight alive longer than otherwise would have been the case, and, though the Spaniard was out-qualified by Massa eight times, the Brazilian ended up the only driver outside of the top five teams to score less than half of the points of his teammate.
1. Sebastian Vettel – Up 2
Even if Vettel’s record-matching achievements this year have failed to convince you that he is the best driver in the field, this year proved beyond doubt that he is head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to getting the most out of the modern breed of Formula One car. Save for when he didn’t run in Q3 at China, the German was never out of the top three in qualifying, and was rarely off the podium in races – only missing out after a gearbox failure robbed him of victory at Silverstone and during two of the early season tyre wear bonanzas at China and Spain.
His actions at Malaysia, whilst perhaps questionable from a standpoint of sporting ethics, unveiled the same ruthless streak and sheer determination to win that have elevated Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher to such legendary status, and now that Vettel has sealed a fourth title on the trot, it seems hard to believe that he won’t be held in similar esteem by the time he decides to hang up his helmet in eight or 10 years’ time.