Racefans Top 10 Formula 1 Drivers of 2012
1. Fernando Alonso
278 points (2nd), 3 wins, 10 podiums, 2 pole positions, and 0 fastest laps. 2nd in 2011 Top 10.
Even before the epic conclusion to the 2012 Formula 1 season, Fernando Alonso had proven to the doubters that even a car, 2 seconds off the pace in qualifying for the opening race of the season, could still have a chance at the title. What makes Alonso’s 2012 championship season so remarkable was that while most experts relied on the experience and massive resources of Ferrari to improve the F2012, at no stage throughout the season did the Ferrari look like the dominant machine and yet Alonso still led the championship by 40 points after 11 rounds. Ferrari’s continued inability to get the F2012 up to speed was supplemented by the inane grand-standing from Ferrari President Luca Di Montezemolo, who’s public pepp-talks to the factory must have been drowned out by coffee machines and pasta makers, because by seasons end the Ferrari’s qualifying pace was atrocious. It comes as no surprise that Alonso finished the season without a single fastest lap.
In qualifying Alonso was almost unstoppable against his teammate Felippe Massa who was only able to out-qualify the Spaniard on three occasions throughout the entire season. Added to this the distance between the two Ferrari drivers at times (Alonso was close to a second faster than Massa in Q1 and Q2 in Australia) and once again Alonso made Massa look second rate. Time and again, from seemingly hopeless qualifying positions, Alonso was metronomic in bringing the number 5 Ferrari into a podium position, for example, between rounds 17 to 20 Alonso qualified 5th, 7th, 9th and 8th but still finished 2nd, 2nd, 3rd and 2nd. These sorts of performances are best typified by the Spaniards victory in the European Grand Prix in Valencia from a scarcely believable 11th on the grid!!
Despite having arguably the best driver of his generation at the wheel, and with its endless resources, Ferrari seem only capable in recent years of producing a respectable car. Following Ferrari’s response to the outcome of the championship in Brazil it is increasingly apparent that after a period of great dominance, Ferrari is struggling to cope with a lack of competitiveness, a condition known within the team as ‘the 80s’. Things will need to change rather than improve if Ferrari and Alonso are to claim the crown in 2013.
2. Sebastian Vettel
281 points (1st), 5 wins, 10 podiums, 5 pole positions, and 6 fastest laps. 1st in 2011 Top 10.
While his stats may not be as dominant as in 2011, it was clear from early season testing that Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull RB8 was not going to dominate the field as the RB7 had done the year before. With the exhaust-blown diffuser concept heavily restricted, it was clear that Red Bull would have to find further developments or rely heavily on the talent of its drivers to make the difference over their more storied opponents. What Vettel did display however in 2012 was that he has lost none of his speed and can still dominate races despite being in a car that is by no means the obvious class of the field.
In highlighting Vettel’s season it is hard not to go past his four consecutive victories in Singapore, Japan, Korea and India which formed the strong platform for his assault on the title. While it’s these wins, bearing in mind that Webber never really challenged him, that highlight Vettel’s qualities as a driver, there were certainly other performances worthy of a three-time world champion. His performances in Abu Dhabi and Brazil, both admittedly arising out of mistakes from Red Bull and Vettel himself, were remarkable nevertheless. To watch Vettel fight through to third after starting from the pit lane in Abu Dhabi and from dead last at a wet Brazil following a first corner collision, highlight his worthiness for the Crown. For a driver that spent the majority of 2011 passing under blue flags, 2012 highlighted Vettel’s supreme race craft in the face of extreme pressure.
Despite Vettel’s brilliant performances in 2012, it fell on Ferrari to diminish the German’s achievements in what can almost only be described as one of the more un-sportsmanlike series of comments put to a world champion. In a statement following the final round, Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali stated that “the one that deserved the championship was really him [Alonso]” because “we raced in 18 races not 20.” Despite Vettel having no involvement in the accidents that marred Alonso’s races in Spa and Japan, Domenicali, who’s position appears increasingly insecure, opted away from the obvious failings of the Ferrari team to provide their number one driver with a car capable of qualifying at the front of the field instead of being left susceptible to the early-race, mid-pack carnage. While Domencali was quick to emphasise their respect to Vettel’s achievements, it is hard not to notice that the very team currently reliant upon the services of the greatest driver in the world to achieve respectable results, deem it appropriate to besmirch the very driver Ferrari needs to take over from Alonso.
With a third World Championship secured at the age of only 25 it is a fair question to ask why Vettel hasn’t retained his top spot in the top 10 list. Put simply, in the early part of 2012 Webber was the better qualifier. Add to this the near-faultless season from Alonso and despite achieving further career milestones including seventh on the all-time winners list and third on the all-time pole position winners list and it is clear that even without the services of Adrian Newey, Vettel is the real deal. Were Alonso and Vettel ever to be teammates in the future, the outcome of such a battle would be anything but a foregone conclusion.
3. Lewis Hamilton
190 points (4th), 4 wins, 3 podiums, 4 pole positions, and 1 fastest lap. 3rd in 2011 Top 10.
Lewis Hamilton maintains his third position on the Racefans top 10 with a year that should have seen him claim his second drivers title. However, like Raikkonen in 2003 and Raikkonen in 2005, McLaren once again managed to lose the title despite appearing to have the fastest car on the grid. As it was, 2012 saw Hamilton out qualify his teammate Jenson Button almost as many times as Alonso did to Massa. Crucially though, where Alonso was able to finish on the podium 13 rimes, Hamilton could only achieve 7.
Even though Hamilton’s charge faulted badly in the later part of the season with certain victories in Singapore and Abu Dhabi surrendered due to mechanical failure, it was the 2008 World Champions inability to capitalise on the cars early season dominance that was always going to prove critical. In the opening races Hamilton qualified 1st, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 1st (DSQ) and 4th (started 3rd) and was only able to finish 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 8th, 8th and 5th. Despite amazing pace in qualifying, Hamilton was the seventh driver to win his first race of the 2012 season.
While Hamilton had every reason to depart the McLaren team in frustration, his decision to sign with the Mercedes team for 2013 was a massive surprise. I personally believe that Hamilton’s decision to leave McLaren for Mercedes is an enormous error in judgment and I fear it was one that has been forced upon him by his new management team. It is perhaps of no surprise that even before officially leaving, Hamilton is still rumouring of a return to the chrome kiwi later on. If the Mercedes does not perform at the commencement of the new engine regulations in 2014 then Hamilton will be back at McLaren quicker than it takes to no longer follow him on twitter.
4. Kimi Raikkonen
207 points (3rd), 1 win, 7 podiums, pole positions, and 2 fastest laps. Did not compete in 2011.
While he may be considerably younger, and spent his time away in very competitive forms of motor sport, Kimi Raikkonen has shown just how to make a successful return to Formula 1. Media savvy Formula 1 drivers are no stranger to Formula 1 and it is perhaps telling that the mysterious recluse of the field is almost unarguably the most popular amongst the fans. Raikkonen’s presence in the top 10 is assured on the ground that he was able to finish ahead of a Red Bull and both McLaren drivers in a twenty-round championship season, driving a car that showed glimpses of its impressive potential but was really never a match for the McLaren and Red Bull.
The highlight for Raikkonen in 2012 was his victory in Abu Dhabi, a race that while some would say was given to him as a result of Hamilton’s retirement, was nevertheless well earned in light of the late race safety car and pressure from Fernando Alonso. What was clear in 2012 was that the Lotus-sponsored Renault was quick out of the box and that it had the potential to be dominant if the team could just work out the equations. A win undoubtedly went begging at round 4 in Bahrain where Raikkonen, still honing his race craft, was unable to out-break Vettel into the first turn, mistakenly thinking he would get another opportunity later in the race.
Raikkonen’s position in the top 10 is not higher as a result of an inability to out-qualify his much less experienced teammate Romain Grosjean, who, were it not for an inability to get beyond the first corner, may well have achieved results that would’ve see him in this top 10. By seasons end Grosjean had out-qualified Raikkonen 9 to 10, showing that while the ‘Iceman’ is back, there are still a few things to improve on. In the man’s own words, leave him alone he knows what he is doing!!
5. Mark Webber
179 points (6th), 2 wins, 4 podiums, 1 pole positions, and 1 fastest lap. 6th in 2011 Top 10.
After nine rounds of the 2012 season and with a second win in the first two classics of the year at Monaco and Silverstone, Mark Webber was second in the championship and showing every bit the chance of winning the title he had been so close to claiming in 2010. In addition, the problems suffered by Webber in 2011, appeared to have gone with the off-throttle blown diffuser, as Webber re-gained his qualifying dominance over his double world champion teammate. All looked good… then came Germany.
After the first 9 rounds Webber had scored 116 points. After Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Singapore and Japan Webber was on 134 points. Where Webber had scored 18 points, his teammate scored 90 and the wait for that first title, the first for Australia since 1980, would have to wait another year. For a season that has looked so much more promising than last, Webber failed to finish the season in the top 3 for the first time since 2009.
Ominously for Webber, it wasn’t the first time he has experienced a mid-season slump. In 2009 after similarly being second in the championship behind Jenson Button following the Hungarian Grand Prix, Webber failed to score a single point in the next five rounds in Valencia, Belgium, Italy, Singapore and Japan. While his results in 2009 could be attributed to the poor performance of the Red Bull in a straight line, in 2012 Webber was on a lot of occasions simply unable to overtake the opposition. This was most graphically displayed in Belgium where Webber remained stuck behind Senna’s Williams for lap after lap only for Vettel, who pitted early in the race, to come back through the field past Webber and almost immediately past Senna on his way to second. Conversely, Webber could only manage sixth after being passed by Massa on the final lap.
Despite interest from Ferrari, Webber’s mid-year decision to sign on for a seventh consecutive year at Red Bull, affirms that the Aussie’s self-belief remains strong. The lure of being part of the history and tradition of Ferrari appears not enough to outweigh equal status and an Adrian Newey car, in the bid to make history of his own.
6. Pastor Maldonado
45 points (15th), 1 win, 1 podium, 0 pole positions, and 0 fastest laps. Did not make 2011 Top 10.
When Pastor Maldonado lined up on pole for the Spanish Grand Prix, following the disqualification of Lewis Hamilton from pole position, very few doubted that the Venezuelan would still be there at the end of the race. However, not only did Maldonado win the race he did so despite the race-long pressure from Fernando Alonso who at times looked set for victory. Where people expected Maldonado to drive raggedly, this never happened and with efficient pit stops the first victory for Williams since Montoya in Brazil in 2004 was one of the most welcomed all season.
At present, Pastor Maldonado’s career resembles the likes of John Daly, who would take so few shots to clear 18 holes you would question his presence at a pub the night before but certainly not the night after. While for Daly it was the booze, Maldonado’s vice is yet to be uncovered, only that on occasion it manifests itself into some of the most dangerous acts of revenge seen on a race track since Days of Thunder. This came to a head when Maldonado appeared to deliberately side-swipe the Sauber of Sergio Perez on the approach to Portier in FP3 after the Mexican appeared to hold Maldonado up. Unbeknown to he and his team, the damage sustained to the Sauber went beyond superficial as the cars front suspension failed on his first flying lap in Q1 at the flat-out chicane around the swimming pool complex. It doesn’t take much creativity to realise that had Perez been seriously injured, Maldonado may well have been answering questions to those capable of issuing him with more than just a 10-place grid penalty.
Putting aside the ugliness of Maldonado’s erratic temperament, 2012 has shown that Maldonado is blindingly fast. His stunning qualifying lap in Spain was bettered by arguably the greatest qualifying performance of 2012, putting the Williams second at Singapore and leaving Martin Brundle ‘properly’ impressed. However, despite his heroics Maldonado still had races where he would go missing toward the rear of the field. This is best typified by the fact that up until Abu Dhabi, he was the only Formula 1 winner to have a second best finish outside the top 5.
For 2013 Maldonado will have to provide more consistent results if he is to get the better of the 2012 Williams Friday driver Valtteri Bottas.
7. Sergio Perez
66 points (10th), 0 wins, 3 podiums, 0 pole positions, and 1 fastest lap. 10th in 2011 Top 10
It’s one thing to have an exciting debut in Formula 1, it’s another thing to back it up in the second year. For Sergio Perez, 2012 was another step up for the Mexican whose stellar year culminated in the much-coveted seat at McLaren for 2012. While the combination of Tequila and telephones, has ended many a relationship, for the Swiss based Sauber team it has been a saving grace. Devoid of advertising in 2010, Sauber has re-established itself under the brand of Mexico following the brief collaboration with BMW. Much like Williams it was not hard to tell where the appeal for hiring Perez had come from, however like Maldonado, Perez represents a market largely untouched by other teams on the Formula 1 grid, a market that can be unlocked provided you build a car that can compete and have a driver that can steer.
For Perez the highlights of the year were his three podium finishes in Malaysia, Canada and Monza, three vastly different circuit configurations which in turn highlight the quality of the 2012 Sauber C31. Perez’s negative for the season was his failure to win in Malaysia where a late race mistake cost him dearly. Had Perez won a race in 2012 in the manner that Maldonado did in Spain, he would’ve been higher on the top 10 list. Equally in qualifying there was nothing separating him from his teammate, only narrowly defeating Kamui Kobayashi 11 to 9.
While Perez may lay claim to having been the best of the mid-pack runners in 2012, the back half of his 2012 season highlights the risk that McLaren have taken in opting to hire the young Mexican. Since being named as the second driver at McLaren prior to the Japanese Grand Prix, Perez failed to score points in the last six races of the season, three of which were as a result of clumsy accidents.
Perez will face the greatest amount of scrutiny of any driver in 2013, provided Romain Grosjean survives the opening lap. I do find it increasingly hard not to draw a historical comparison between the hiring of Perez and other latin americans by the ‘chrome hospital’. History shows that the management at McLaren continually struggles to be applied to a personality that enjoys a bit of… what’s the word… fun!! Senna, Montoya and Alonso may well have achieved success with McLaren however on all occasions, the relationship between team and driver was never short of tension and had an air of toxicity by its conclusion.
2013 will be an important season for Perez alongside a world champion in Jenson Button. While I think success will come for the likeable Mexican, this will come with hefty repairs and garage curfew penalties, much like Raikkonen’s first season with McLaren in 2002. What will be the most telling factor for the McLaren season in 2013 however is whether Martin Whitmarsh can keep Perez on-side within the team and provide further circumstantial evidence to support the belief that drivers don’t hate McLaren, they just hate Ron Dennis.
8. Jenson Button
188 points (5th), 2 wins, 3 podiums, 1 pole positions, and 2 fastest laps. 4th in 2011 Top 10.
In the history of the Formula 1 World Championship it is very rare to see a driver dominate the opening round of the championship only to be all but out of the race for the title with five rounds remaining. This is however the case for Jenson Button whose apparent change in direction with his car’s set up saw him finishing outside the top 10 in four of the opening seven races. Put simply, while Button showed he could be unbeatable in Belgium, where he scored his first pole position for McLaren, on many more occasions he was left in the motor racing equivalent of a Woody Allen movie, rarely noticed, hardly watched and leaving many asking why the hype?
As was the case in 2011, Button simply had no answers to the qualifying pace of Lewis Hamilton. Staggeringly, the 2009 world champion only managed to start ahead of his teammate on three occasions. While Button was able to score more points than Hamilton in the three years that the two drivers were teammates, the telling statistic that has come from their partnership is that while Button claimed 8 wins, Hamilton finished ahead of Button in 65% of the races where both cars finished.
There appears little doubt that despite a very impressive performance, Hamilton out-performed Button in almost every aspect, but don’ tell Hamilton this or he may become a little too confident. Bottom line is that Button must improve his qualifying in 2013 not only if he wants to win races but if he wants to get the better of his new teammate Sergio Perez.
9. Nico Hulkenberg
63 points (11th), 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 pole positions, and 1 fastest lap. Did not compete in 2011.
Nico Hulkenberg has emerged from a year’s absence in 2011 to finally reap the benefits of qualifying on pole position in Brazil for Williams in 2010. Once again it was the Brazilian Grand Prix that proved to be his greatest highlight of the year where an almost certain podium went begging with his collision with Hamilton while trying to re-take the lead in slippery conditions.
Hulkenberg is certainly not higher up the top 10 list for the simple reason that he was only just able to get the better of his teammate Paul di Resta, whom he out-qualified 12 to 8. Hulkenberg also failed to reach the podium unlike both Maldonado and Perez. Notable performances were a brilliant fourth place in Belgium and the fastest lap in Singapore. Hulkenberg is an interesting driver in that while he certainly has the speed to be in Formula 1, he still hasn’t shown the ability to be a future champion. Formula 1 is littered with these drivers such as Coulthard and Montoya in the 00s, Berger and Boutsen in the 90s and Alboreto and Patrese in the 80s, all of whom except Boutsen, drove cars capable of winning the world championship. It appears almost certain that Hulkenberg will get his opportunity in a top line car before the end of his career but the jury is out on how he will respond.
Hulkenberg has announced a move to the Sauber team for 2013, an interesting decision that may draw him closer to the number 2 seat at Ferrari but not that much further up the grid.
10. Charles Pic
0 points (21st), 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 pole positions, and 0 fastest laps. Did not compete in 2011.
While Charles Pic may not have been responsible for enabling the Marussia team to get ahead of Caterham in the championship standings, he certainly played a part in ensuring they weren’t there for long,. While his performances in 2012 were worthy of significant praise and justify a second season in Formula 1, his inability to keep Vitaly Petrov behind in Brazil may well have earned Caterham, his team for next year, some ten million pounds in revenue to which the team may reward him with Heikki Kovaleinen as a teammate. The seemingly shy and often softly spoken Frenchman was able to qualify ahead of his vastly more experienced teammate Timo Glock on 7 occasions. With HRT unable to show any real pace throughout the season and a disappointing year for Heikki Kovaleinen at Caterham, Pic’s inclusion at number 10 is well deserved amongst those teams where rewards are few and far between.
What do you think of the 2012 top 10 list? Do you agree? Feel free to let me know what you think.