Top 10 Drivers - 2008
10. Rubens Barrichello – You’re in your sixteenth season of Formula 1. You’ve spent six years in a championship winning team, playing second-fiddle to the greatest driver of his generation. Now you find yourself in your third year with Honda, a team which, over the last couple of years, seems to determined to take great leaps backwards. It would be easy for you to become entirely demoralised, to cruise-and-collect on your way to retirement. That, though, is not what Barrichello did.
After two years of being comprehensively outpaced by Jenson Button, Barrichello fought back this year with the outclassed Honda RA108, scoring the lion’s share of the team’s points and more often than not outqualifying the younger Brit. His drive in the wet at
9. Jarno Trulli – After 3 years driving alongside an increasingly bored looking Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli could easily have been caught on the hop when he found himself placed alongside a promising young newcomer, GP2 champion Timo Glock. Glock’s performances in the
He may continue to have a reputation as a one-lap specialist, but to my mind, that still reflects his phenomenal qualifying abilities, rather than any lack of race pace. If you’re really quick over a single lap, you will find yourself having to keep quicker machinery behind you on race day. So it proved again this year. Only towards the end of the season was the Toyota anything like a front-running car really, yet he more often than not made it through into the top-10 shoot out in qualifying, and outqualified team mate Glock 13-4. He racked up a good number of points too – all important when a team’s FOM money is dependent on its constructors’ championship position. Unless Toyota make a quantum leap forward under the new regulations next year, he’ll probably never be world champion, but there were more than a few flashes of the pace Trulli showed back in 2004 when he gave Alonso an awful lot to think about at Renault before he fell out with the team and his confidence went to pieces.
8. Nick Heidfeld -
-Ok, so in comparison with his team mate, ‘Quick Nick’ didn’t really live up to his epithet this year, he could be seen as a bit of a disappointment. After all, this was a man who had been de facto team leader last year, but just as Robert Kubica struggled with last year’s oversteery F1.07, so Heidfeld couldn’t extract the most from this year’s car. Only at Spa and
In light of the press coverage, it would be easy to forget that Heidfeld actually finished the championship with a very impressive haul of 60 points, not many fewer than Kubica and more than Kovalainen was able to score with the more competitive Mclaren. He was on the podium four times (again, more than Kovalainen could manage in the Mclaren) and impressed in the wet at Silverstone on a day when his team mate flew off the road. In Spa he called it absolutely right in coming in for wet tyres 2 laps from the end, against the advice of his team, and while he may not have future world champion written all over him the way his young team mate does, he proved to be a very capable number 2. Last year, I suggested he might make an excellent partner to
7. Kimi Raikkonen - It was a disappointing year for the reigning world champion. There can be little doubting that the Ferrari was a potentially title winning car, but for whatever reason, the Finn never really seemed to get on with it. For much of the middle of the season, especially at
Raikkonen, though was the victim of more than his fair share of bad fortune this year, not to mention having to contend with a team mate who is almost certainly far better than most of the paddock is willing to give him credit for. He may have struggled to get the best out of the Ferrari over a single lap, but his race pace was, when he was in clear air and got the chance to demonstrate it, frequently very impressive. Hence all those fastest laps. In Sepang, he was outqualified by
6. Mark Webber – Another year in which the Aussie’s undoubted talents were wasted in a sub-standard Red Bull. It must be to his immense frustration that Renault fell so far behind in the horsepower war (you know, the one that is supposedly not being fought) that the works team were more often than not outpaced by the old Minardi guys running their car with a Ferrari engine. Webber made the most of what he had, and picked up an awful lot of 6th, 7th and 8th place finishes. David Coulthard, in the other Red Bull, rarely managed to get the car anywhere near the points. Another man with an unfair reputation as a qualifying specialist, it’s simply easier to transcend the limitations of your machinery over a single lap than over a whole race. All the same, how on earth did he get the RB4 on the front row at Silverstone? He’s doubtless still kicking himself for throwing it off the road on the first lap.
It was one of very few mistakes that Webber made all year. His finest drive? His pace in
5. Sebastian Vettel – The cheerful German youth became the youngest man ever to win a Grand Prix at
He began the season impressively, breaking through unexpectedly into the top 10 run-off in
4. Fernando Alonso – It may have been an on/off year for the Spanish double world champion, but if I were a team boss, I’d still have him at the top of my shopping list, no matter how difficult he might be. He was always quick, the only driver to outqualify his team mate at every race, but at times, especially in the first part of the year, he was rather erratic, losing good points with silly errors in Monaco, Canada and Germany. There were times when he looked like a quick, but overenthusiastic youngster unable to rein in his urge to push a car that wasn’t truly on the pace. Outside the car, in the first part of the season, overenthusiasm was not a problem Renault were faced with. Rumour has it, he skipped team debriefs, unable to summon up the commitment to deal with a car which was far from competitive.
Then Renault turned a corner and the old Fernando Alonso was back. In the last third of the year, Alonso racked up more points than either of the two title challengers, in a car which was far from the fastest in the field. The
3. Felipe Massa - Despite my long-held scepticism about the little Brazilian, I think I might finally have to concede that Felipe Massa really is the real deal. He clearly established himself as Ferrari’s main title contender, ahead of his World Champion team mate Kimi Raikkonen. There were times when he was absolutely inspired – at
Had his Ferrari been more reliable (there were engine failures in
positively amateurish in the wet at Silverstone, finishing 13th and last and there were other races where he just looked lacklustre. He had no answer for Raikkonen’s pace at Spa, Magny Cours or at the vital race in
2. Lewis Hamilton – A controversial thought, but was Lewis Hamilton a slightly less complete driver this year than he was last season? Had he actually taken a bit of a step backward, under the increased pressure of being seen as a title contender from the start. He got things off to a great start at
It wasn’t the only time he would throw away points with silly, basic errors. There was his infamous moment of brain fade when he ran into the back of Kimi Raikkonen in the pitlane in
In short, because when he was good, he was truly astounding. His comprehensive domination of the British Grand Prix, winning by over a minute in atrocious conditions that would leave many floundering, was to my mind one of the all time great race drives. Two weeks later, he was again in dominant form in
1. Robert Kubica If one thing is clear, it is that nobody was perfect this year. All the leading drivers made mistakes and had off-days over the course of the season. To my mind, though
He frequently transcended the limits of his car, pitching it onto pole at Bahrain and keeping Kimi Raikkonen honest on the way to a podium finish, and again staying right on the pace of the Ferraris and Mclarens in Spain. The win in Canada might have owed much to luck, but on the other hand, had Lewis Hamilton not been very lucky with his enforced pit-stop early on at Monaco, which just happened to land him on exactly the right strategy for the conditions, Kubica would probably have won round the streets of the Principality. Less noticed, but equally impressive were the occasions on which Kubica dragged a car which was far from truly competitive much further up the order. The Hungarian Grand Prix, where the BMW proved so slow that Nick Heidfeld couldn’t drag it out of Q1, for example. Or Valencia, where again the car looked miles from the pace in the hands of his team mate, but where Kubica got himself amongst the Mclarens and Ferraris while Heidfeld struggled to hold off the Toro Rossos and Renaults.
Kubica’s season wasn’t perfect. He threw away the lead of the World Championship with an (admittedly understandable) mistake in the rain at Silverstone, and he was curiously lacklustre at Spa and at
Of all those who haven’t made the top 10, the most glaring omission, I think is
Heikki Kovalainen is the only race winner not in my top 10 this year. Again, I think a case can be made for his being in the lower reaches of the top 10, and he certainly had more than his share of bad luck over the course of the year, but the blunt truth is that he finished only seventh in the title race with a car which his team mate was able to take to the title. To be fair, while his Hungarian GP win relied on luck, but for misfortune, he might have won in
This year’s Williams was a major disappointment. Nico Rosberg picked up a couple of podiums with it at street circuits, to which it seemed more suited but made too many mistakes this year – notably at Monaco and Canada where he might otherwise have picked up points, and generally failed to transcend the limitations of his car. Sometimes, he struggled even to out-pace rookie team mate Kazuki Nakajima (though to be fair, it is worth pointing to Autosport’s analysis of the difference in outright pace between drivers as measured by fastest lap of the weekend – which put Rosberg further ahead of his team mate than any other driver. Nonetheless, I found him slightly underwhelming this year. Nakajima was not as much of a disappointment as I feared he might have been, and seems to have more pace than his Dad, but did nothing to suggest he will break the mould and become
What of the other men in their first Grand Prix season? Sebastien Bourdais came into F1 with 4 Champ Car titles, and seemed to pick up the lion’s share of Toro Rosso’s bad luck – failing, for instance, to get off the line from the second row in Italy, inexplicably being stripped of his seventh place in Fuji for being run off the road by Felipe Massa and getting losing what would have been a fine fourth place in Spa on the final lap. Contrary to what some have said, he looks to me like he belongs in F1 and deserves another year, though, on the other hand, he doesn’t really look like a future champion.
Nelson Piquet Jr, on the other hand, was a crashing disappointment. In the early part of the season, he was miles from the pace of his team mate, which is perhaps understandable given his team mate was Fernando Alonso. More worryingly for him, though, he made the Renault look like a tail-end car. There were occasional flashes of the kind of talent that enabled him to win the British F3 championship and fight Lewis Hamilton all the way for the GP2 title in 2006, but more often than not he seemed to collapse under the pressure, especially in qualifying, where he seemed unable to access the kind of pace he could sometimes show in free practice. He also went off the road a lot. To be fair though, he kept everything together to pick up a solid second place in
Jenson Button must have been frustrated to find himself stuck in a hopelessly uncompetitive Honda for the second year in a row. Perhaps the sheer disappointment goes some way to explaining why, unlike last year, he never seemed able to rise above this, and was generally out-paced by his veteran team mate Barrichello. Honda, for all that they made a complete mess of 2008, might be wondering why they were paying quite so much for their lead driver. His performances were at least generally more impressive than those of David Coulthard whom, I think, stayed around in the sport for a year too long. He never looked like getting on terms with the pace of team mate Mark Webber, and seemed to spend much of the year getting caught up in collisions. By staying out of trouble in
Last, and, to be honest, least, Force