1. Sebastian Vettel
397 points (1st), 13 wins, 16 podiums, 9 pole positions, 7 fastest laps. 2nd in 2012 Top 10.
Put an average driver in a great car and he may win races, he may even manage to win a world championship, but put a truly incredible talent into a great car and he will put the popularity of the sport into question. The domination of a successful team in any sport is always possible but in Formula 1, where very few systems of parity are practiced, and in which many see as operating counter to the ideals of the sport, it is invariably more possible. Many saw the domination of Ferrari in the early naughties as a one-off of sorts, the perfect arrangement of talent, organisation and application ever seen in motor sport, but those that weren’t so convinced brought about changes to qualifying, the championship points system, a freeze on engine development, uniform parts, a banning of testing, all in a bid to not necessarily prevent the domination of a team in Formula 1 but to certainly make teams work a lot harder to achieve it. It is in this context that the achievements of Sebastian Vettel must be viewed because in the second half of 2013 he made it look easy. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Vettel didn’t have it all his own way in 2013, the RB9 not providing the dominance seen in the RB6 and RB7. But like any great driver Vettel amassed as many points possible on every weekend. Despite a gearbox failure with certain victory in sight in Britain and being out-qualified and outperformed around the normally custom-fit Red Bull car cover that is the Hungaroring, Vettel went into the summer break leading the championship but with everything still to play for.
Be it the genius of Adrian Newey, the driving prowess of Vettel, the return to 2012-spec tyres or all three combined, Vettel’s nine-race winning streak from the Belgian Grand Prix on 25 August to the Brazilian Grand Prix on 24 November is best understood by the manner in which Vettel won the races. This is no better emphasised than his back-to-back ‘Grand Slams’ in Singapore and Korea, both races won from pole with every lap led including the fastest race lap. While many in the press were quick to hail Vettel as joining only Fangio and Schumacher as the only drivers to have won four consecutive driver’s titles (despite the fact that his third consecutive championship the previous year did that already), few highlighted that Vettel had joined only Alberto Ascari and Jim Clark, to achieve back-to-back ‘Grand Slams’. You need only look at the immense differences in car performance during 1952 and 1953 when Ascari dominated Formula 1 with Formula 2 machinery, and the 1960s era with Clark and Lotus, to understand the significance of Vettel’s achievement. Perhaps most importantly, neither Clark or Ascari needed to concern themselves with in-race pitstops.
In a year where his opposition went missing in races, Vettel’s metronomic performances on both Saturday and Sunday left purists of the sport in awe and casual fans changing channels. Vettel’s season was not without it’s controversy and the “Multi-21” debacle at the Malaysian Grand Prix highlighted the “win at all costs” affliction that has characterised (some say “marred”), the careers of many past champions of the sport. While Vettel may have attained the plaudits of those who saw him as a true racer, others were quick to lambast the German for claiming his decision was a “mistake”, only to show total disregard for his actions at the following round in China. The ensuing heckles directed towards Vettel from crowds around the world were undoubtedly representative of many people’s view that Vettel had displayed poor sportsmanship in disobeying team orders and overtaking Webber after the Australian had reduced the revs on his engine. Some said the heckles were a reflection of Vettel’s dominance of the sport but history shows that only when his wins were achieved through questionable means, did Schumacher receive jeers from the crowd (Austria 2002 and USA 2005).
Love or loathe him, Vettel is the best seen since Schumacher. Should he be provided with a poor car, 2014 will be Vettel’s chance to prove his statistical records do justice rather than flatter the German’s legendary status.
2. Nico Hulkenberg
51 points (10th), 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 pole positions, 0 fastest laps. 9th in 2012 Top 10.
I like many of you out there was first made aware of the talents of Nico Hulkenberg during his time competing for Team Germany in the A1 World Grand Prix championship. If 2013 is any indication, as was the case in 2012 and 2010, Nico Hulkenberg may well ensure that the A1 World Grand Prix wasn’t a complete waste of time and money.
Probably the main thing that kept Hulkenberg out of contention for the top spot unfortunately was something completely out of his control, and that was the performance of his teammate Esteban Gutierrez, who only managed to score points with seventh at the Japanese Grand Prix in an unspectacular debut season. Were Hulkenberg to have been partnered with a known quantity then more praise could be given for his performances. As it is, this is not possible, nevertheless his runner-up position reflects my limited doubt of the German’s ability.
2013 was a tale of two halves for the Sauber team. After a spectacular 2012 season, largely attributable to the stellar performances of Sergio Perez, aided by the uncanny ability of the Sauber C31 to look after it’s Pirelli rubber, the Swiss team had understandably high expectations for 2013. By mid-season any optimism was fading like a cheap shirt as Hulkenberg was only able to produce three tenth-place finishes and an eighth, while Gutierrez was unable to emulate the performances of his compatriot a year earlier.
Much like Sebastian Vettel, it is hard to know what contributed most to the success of the ‘forgotten German’ in the second half of 2013. Some said it was the tyres, others saw it as a reflection of the mid-fields decision to abandon all development on their 2013 machinery in a bid to do a Red Bull on the new regulations for 2014. Be it a combination of both however, the Sauber provided Hulkenberg with nothing more than the opportunity to be competitive in 2013 and his performances were far more than that. In the first eleven races Hulkenberg’s best qualifying had been two Q3 appearances. In the final eight races of the season, Hulkenberg was absent from Q3 once, with third on the grid in Italy and a very impressive fourth on the grid in the USA as the stand-out performances. After seven points in the first eleven races Hulkenberg scored 44 points in the final eight races, finishing the season ahead of Sergio Perez at McLaren, the seat that many felt the German should have received. For me the stand-out performance for Hulkenberg in 2013 was the way he held off Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton for fourth place in the Korean Grand Prix, the quality of which was not lost on Alonso who declared the German’s drive as ‘superb’.
It remains completely baffling to both spectators and media alike that a driver who recorded pole position for Williams in the wet at the 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix in his debut season, and whose performances since have only continued to impress, has still yet to be provided with the opportunity to compete in a top-tier team. Hulkenberg is a greater talent than Perez, Maldonado and Grosjean but seemingly not great enough in the eyes of team owners to relinquish the funding that accompanies his competitors, a situation that is a disgrace to the organisation of Formula 1.
2014 will once again see Hulkenberg race for the Force India team. With the allegedly superior Mercedes power unit behind him, this may not be so bad and he is my dark horse for a win on merit in 2014. What appears certain is that Hulkenberg is one more great season away from a top-line drive in Formula 1. Should the Raikkonen-Alonso experiment be a complete disaster, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hulkenberg take up a seat at the prancing horse for 2015.
3. Fernando Alonso
242 points (2nd), 2 wins, 9 podiums, 0 pole positions, 2 fastest laps. 1st in 2012 Top 10.
He may have finished third on the top 10 this year but 2013 was one of the worst seasons for the double World Champion. Few would have expected that after having won two of the opening five races of the season, Alonso and Ferrari would only return to the podium steps on six more occasions, and none of them on top. Criticisms for such performances could be laid squarely at Maranello for failing to keep pace with development on the F138 as Red Bull were able to with the RB9. Yet this was not always the case as Alonso had some very lacklustre performances in 2013, most notably in Bahrain (8th), Monaco (7th) and Korea (6th). In addition to these uncharacteristically poor performances, speculation about Alonso’s future with Ferrari and his possible movements back to McLaren or to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull, appeared to permeate throughout the press and paddock alike. The ability for such stories to gain traction through the second half of the year displayed the first chinks in the Alonso/Ferrari armour and brought back memories of Alonso’s struggles with McLaren in 2007. Put simply, if 2007 has taught us anything about Fernando Alonso it is that he doesn’t like playing second fiddle and will do anything to rock the boat. For the stories to have gained as much traction as they did and with limited efforts by Alonso to dispel them, I was left with the belief that more time was being put into things other than driving.
2014 poses a defining moment for the driver considered by many to be the greatest of his generation, but in whom others now see him as a close second. With all new regulations promising to challenge an already under-achieving team, together with the arrival of Kimi Raikkonen as his team mate, many fear the Alonso/Ferrari partnership could implode ‘McLaren Style’. Reports throughout the year have suggested that Ferrari are behind in their engine development, not ‘Lotus in Indycar 2012’ behind, but enough for both Nico Hulkenberg and Felippe Massa to emphasise their excitement at taking on Mercedes power in 2014.
What keeps Alonso in third on the list this year is that perhaps the F138 was not the car we were originally led to believe? Let’s not forget that Alonso failed to score a single pole position all year and was still able to finish runner-up to Vettel. Equally, I am still of the belief that Felippe Massa is a good Formula 1 driver so for Alonso to outscore him by 242 to 112 points is impossible to ignore. Had Alonso not had the issues above he would’ve been second on my list.
It’s hard to imagine that after two world championships, 217 races, 32 wins, 22 pole positions and 21 fastest laps, 2014 could well be the Spaniards career-defining year.
4. Lewis Hamilton
189 points (4th), 1 win, 5 podiums, 5 pole positions, 1 fastest lap. 3rd in 2012 Top 10.
It was the decision that shocked many in the paddock, including myself, who believed he should’ve opted for a one year deal with Mercedes in order to be available for future openings that could emerge for 2014. As it turns out that’s exactly what happened as Lewis Hamilton could well have played McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull and Lotus off one another to get a highly competitive car with an equally competitive salary. As it was he got a car as about as good as the 2013 McLaren should have been, but with the prospect of two more years ahead. You would have to say in hindsight that the decision was right to jump ship to Mercedes, but for three years? No. Big mistake.
But where the outcome of his 2012 contract negotiations were largely out of his control, his performances on track were certainly not. It is here where perhaps the driver that Hamilton replaced got more out of Hamilton’s move than Hamilton himself because as with Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg proved to be more than a match for the much-faniced Hamilton.
Like Alonso above, Hamilton went missing at times in 2013, most notably at Spain (12th), Italy (9th), India (6th), Abu Dhabi (7th) and Brazil (9th), performances that were in part attributable to an allegedly damaged chassis but could also be explained by Hamilton’s evolving understanding of an F1 car that wasn’t a McLaren. But with so many lack-lustre performances why does Hamilton still come fourth?
The simple answer is that Hamilton and Rosberg were virtually even throughout 2013 however, be it his superior qualifying record which included 5 pole positions, superior points haul, or highly impressive victory in Hungary, in Hamilton’s hands, the investment and ambition of Mercedes appeared more possible than ever before. However, there is definite room for improvement for 2014 which is expected to arrive in the new Mercedes engine, but Rosberg will be no easy beat.
5. Nico Rosberg
171 points (6th), 2 wins, 4 podiums, 3 pole positions, 0 fastest laps. Did not make 2012 Top 10.
For any driver competing in Formula 1 there will always a remain a need to prove themselves, after all, the next big talent or well-funded junior is never too far away. For 28 year-old Nico Rosberg, his place on the Formula 1 grid has been well-earned through his apprenticeship with Williams and superior performance in three years at Mercedes against Michael Schumacher, however his place amongst the best on the grid was not, the German still trying to prove his championship-winning ability. For me, Rosberg is the Ralf Schumacher of the current grid, a race winner in a top team whose presence in the sport is inextricably linked to a famous motor racing relative. Once again Rosberg’s performances continue to move him from the shadow of his famous father.
At the beginning of the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship, most experts believed Michael Schumacher would be too good for his younger compatriot at Mercedes. However, when Rosberg began to continually out-perform the seven-time World Champion not many saw it as a reflection of Rosberg’s burgeoning talent, but as a sign that Schumacher had lost his edge. For Rosberg, who had no doubt been told by a number of journalists that his years against Schumacher would be career-defining, it must have been somewhat disheartening that so superior was his performance, reasons other than Rosberg’s talent were seen as the cause. Up against Lewis Hamilton however, Rosberg would be presented with a team mate with few excuses, a world champion of his generation at the peak of his powers and in whom once again the media declared would be superior to Rosberg.
By seasons end, and with victories in Monaco and Britain together with a qualifying record only marginally behind Hamilton, it is not only Rosberg’s reputation that has finally moved into the realm of genuine title contender, but has also ensured that in retirement, Michael Schumacher’s reputation has been restored. Rosberg is the real deal and while he finishes fifth and below Hamilton on the top ten list, their are many that would put the German ahead.
If early reports are to believed about the new Mercedes power plant, 2014 may see Rosberg provided with a title winning car. If his form in 2013 continues he has every chance of beating Hamilton. Definitely my dark horse for the 2014 title. Keke who?
6. Kimi Raikkonen
183 points (5th), 1 win, 8 podiums, 0 pole positions, 1 fastest lap. 4th in 2012 Top 10.
Following a successful return both on and off the track in 2012, Kimi Raikkonen came into the 2013 Formula 1 season as a serious threat to Sebastian Vettel’s crown. Raikkonen brought a refreshing personality for both spectators and the media with his natural derision towards the politics and promotion of Formula 1. Put simply, Raikkonen is a racer’s racer, not interested in the media spotlight or the requirement to spruik the wares of a multi-national, old-school to the core, race hard and party harder. Aware of this, Lotus had signed the 2007 World Champion on the understanding of his distaste for media commitments, which were scaled back massively to ensure their signing would be at his best behind the wheel. With success on the circuit in 2012 and an almost cult following from supporters around the world, when Raikkonen won the opening round of the championship in Australia, avoiding the need for an additional pit stop, all appeared perfect for the Iceman and the fastest flower in Formula 1. That all was until the powers that be decided to make Raikkonen’s salary their final commitment.
For Raikkonen, the capitulation of his 2013 season easily overshadows what he was able to achieve for the team in the first half of the season. Raikkonen out-qualified Grosjean 7-3 in the opening ten rounds of the season and was second in the title race as the teams headed for the summer break. But as issues began to emerge surrounding Lotus’ future financial arrangements, rumours began to emerge that employees of the team were not being paid on time and that Raikkonen was one of them. With the rumours becoming reality Raikkonen’s performances began to wane towards the end of the season. It wasn’t long before a back injury, believed to have been sustained while driving for Sauber some twelve years previous, yet unbeknown to many in the paddock, threatened to end Raikkonen’s season early with the team. Following a very public argument over the radio at the Indian Grand Prix where Alan Permane was heard yelling at Raikkonen to “get out of the fucking way!!” so that his team mate could get past, Raikkonen arrived in Abu Dhabi just in time to take to the track for the opening practice session. With a Ferrari contract in his pocket for 2014 Raikkonen revealed that Lotus had not paid him a cent all year, not only revealing the poor management at Lotus under the helm of Gerard Lopez but also displaying the disarray that Formula 1 now finds itself in, where rights holders are making a fortune off the very participants that the sport needs in order to survive.
With an early retirement from the back of the grid in Abu Dhabi, Raikkonen made a hasty exit away from the circuit and away from Lotus. In the coming days it was revealed that Raikkonen would be absent from the final two rounds of the season in order to have surgery on his ailing back. While the relationship appeared the perfect fit at first, Lotus lost sight of one key thing, Raikkonen races with no fanfare and no bullshit. Raikkonen’s appeal has only heightened in the minds of spectators, a driver true to his word with a passion for racing such that he would do it for free. 2013 has left me with little sympathy for Genii whose existence in the sport was never intended to be long-term but who are quickly beginning to realise the difficulty of making a quick buck in Formula 1. Use the iconic Lotus brand and JPS livery to disguise the mis-management of a teams finances and you will get very few sympathies from the purists of the sport. It is a sad reality that the Genii-backed Lotus operation is increasingly resembling what Arrows did under the helm of Tom Walkinshaw.
For 2014 Raikkonen returns to Ferrari alongside Fernando Alonso in one of the most formidable driver pairings ever seen in Formula 1. Whether the pairing is successful will depend on the extent to which the drivers need to develop the car and just how much time Raikkonen is willing to give to this pursuit. While I don’t think Raikkonen will outperform Alonso it will be one of the stories of the season.
7. Romain Grosjean
132 points (7th), 0 wins, 6 podiums, 0 pole positions, 0 fastest laps. Did not make 2012 Top 10.
Probably the most improved driver of 2013, Romain Grosjean is a driver that may well be backed by Total, but whose place on the grid has never been in any doubt. With the start line accidents removed from his game Grosjean had a solid start to the season although unable to match the form of Lotus team leader Kimi Raikkonen.
In qualifying, Grosjean lost out to his teammate in the first seven races, but after Canada the Frenchman made a resurgence so that by the time Raikkonen got sick of damaging his spine for the benefit of a team unwilling to provide him with a salary, the qualifying battle between the two was 16 – 6.
Grosjean’s stand out performance of 2013 was undoubtedly his third place at the Indian Grand Prix from 17th on the grid, a performance made all the more important for the fall out between the Lotus team and Raikkonen. With the prospect of number 1 role at the team for 2014, Grosjean responded brilliantly taking the lead off the line in Japan and leading for 25 laps before being overhauled by the mechanically superior Red Bulls. Inspite of his slow start to the year, Grosjean showed he has the same speed in an F1 car that he showed in GP2.
In 2014 Grosjean faces the complete emotional opposite of Kimi Raikkonen as a team mate. The unpredictable prospect of Pastor “The Barron” Maldonado will be an interesting one, the Venezuelan’s willingness to burn bridges with anyone he deals with, be it on track or off it is astounding, after he accused Williams of tampering with his car in a bid to favour Valterri Bottas. As was the case with Raikkonen, Grosjean would be well advised to keep to his side of the garage next year. One gets the feeling they’ll be more than enough attention on Lotus off the track to satisfy the media.
8. Mark Webber
199 points (3rd), 0 wins, 8 podiums, 2 pole positions, 5 fastest laps. 5th in 2012 Top 10.
While many may say that Mark Webber retired from Formula 1 still on top of his game, finishing second at the Brazilian Grand Prix behind Sebastian Vettel and ahead of Fernando Alonso, the stark reality from my perspective is that 2013 was an awful year for the Australian. Following the Malaysian Grand Prix and Vettel’s decision to ignore team orders and overtake Webber for the victory, Webber’s season could have gone one of two ways: Use the decision taken by the German as means to launch a campaign directly against his team mate, or arrive at the decision to retire from the sport, and see out the rest of the season. Unfortunately for us, and despite Webber’s best efforts, he never recovered from the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend, losing all faith in his team and progressively all faith in the sport itself as Vettel continued to excel on the Pirelli rubber.
I must say that I found it quite sad to see a driver with Webber’s enthusiasm for the sport effectively retire on the grounds that he had lost the passion for it. In one quite candid interview Webber revealed that he had simply lost the passion for the sport while still appreciating his role and responsibility within the car. Put simply the sport had simply become a job to Webber. This was further emphasised by an interview he gave to Johnny Herbert during the Brazilian Grand Prix weekend in which he told Herbert that if they said there was no race that weekend he wouldn’t have been bothered at all. While some might say that Webber’s disdain for the sport came at the hands of Sebatian Vettel’s mental dismantling of the Australian, it would be dangerous for those involved in Formula 1 not to look critically on the regulation decisions taken since 2006 as being the cause for a driver of Webber’s standing to have lost his passion for the sport. In particular, Webber has never shied away from his fondness of the V10 era cars, a fear that is ever-present in the mind of Sebastian Vettel on the eve of the V6 era.
I certainly don’t want to be misunderstood on Webber’s performance in 2013 because even as a spectator, the extent and nature of the demands placed on a Formula 1 driver are increasingly ridiculous. I can’t blame him for losing faith with the sport. More drivers should increasingly look to the attitude taken by Kimi Raikkonen, and scale back their PR commitments. For me, Webber’s departure from the sport is a strong reminder of the balance that drivers require to maintain their commitment amidst the competitive environment of Formula 1.
Bottom line, after twelve seasons, spectators around the world crave more drivers like Mark Webber on the grid, he will be greatly missed.
9. Daniel Ricciardo
20 points (14th), 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 pole positions, 0 fastest laps. Did not make 2012 Top 10.
Ricciardo sneaks into my top 10 largely on the strength of his qualifying performances which have been extremely impressive while at Toro Rosso. While Valterri Bottas’ front row qualifying performance in Canada was the greatest qualifying performance by any driver in the mid-field, Bottas’ consistency in the Saturday sessions pails into comparison to that of Ricciardo, who from mid-season onwards had the carrot of a Red Bull Racing seat dangling right in front of him. Where lesser drivers have failed to continue to live up to expectation Ricciardo put Jean-eric Vergne in the shade, finishing 15-4 ahead in their qualifying head-to-head.
Nevertheless despite the praise that comes with a top 10 spot, Ricciardo will arrive at Red Bull for 2014 with questions still surrounding his ability to compete against the greatest driver of his generation in equal machinery. Principally these concerns surround his race consistency, which saw the Aussie qualify well ahead of his team mate, only for him to finish either just ahead or behind him by race end. Ricciardo’s performances are somewhat reminiscent of Jarno Trulli’s two years at Jordan in 2000 and 2001 in which the Italian revelled in qualifying to the effect that in the opening laps of the race, spectator’s and commentator’s alike became accustomed to what was affectionately dubbed the “Trulli Train” where a bunch of cars that deserved to be ahead, being driven by a bunch of driver’s that didn’t, tried to get past a car that had used all its tyres off the start line. Once given a quality car at Renault, Trulli received an equally quality team mate in the form of Fernando Alonso, whom he outperformed in the first half of 2004. Where Trulli came unstuck, and where Ricciardo needs to remain strong is his relationship within the team. He has to come into 2014 with the expectation that Vettel is near-to-unbeatable, and must never suggest or believe that the German is given preferential treatment. If that creeps into his game then 2014 will be his last. Saying that however, there is no doubt that Ricciardo has shown more raw pace than any of the apprentices that have come before him since Toro Rosso were forced to build their own chassis and deserves his drive at Red Bull Racing.
At the commencement of the 2007 world championship I predicted that Lewis Hamilton would fail to win a race. Not because he wasn’t good enough but simply because Alonso would be far better, how wrong I was. Flash forward 6 years and time has not deterred me. He may get pole positions in 2014 but I don’t think Ricciardo will win a race in his own right next year. For the sake of Dan, Aussie fans, and Formula 1 in general, I hope I’m wrong… again.
10. Jules Bianchi
0 points (19th), 0 wins, 0 podiums, 0 pole positions, 0 fastest laps. Did not compete in 2012.
It is easy to overlook the performance of the drivers competing in both Caterham and Marussia. This is largely because after four years, neither team has yet to attain the dizzying heights of Formula 1 points scorer and this is hardly attributable to the calibre of driver that has been behind the wheel. While both teams are increasingly dependant on heavily funded drivers, Jules Bianchi showed just how valuable an experienced driver can be to the success of a fledgling team.
It’s by no means the strangest entrance into Formula 1, after all Michael Schumacher got his chance for Jordan at Belgium in 1991 following the arrest of regular pilot Betrand Gachot, but a last minute signing, only weeks after Louis Razia had joined the payroll, and only days after Razia’s cash failed to come with him, it was by no means orthodox. Marussia, faced with the embarrassment of having decided to relinquish a performing driver they could not afford with a rookie that could not afford them, could have been forgiven for thinking their season would not be promising. Enter Jules Bianchi, an experienced Formula 1 test driver with Ferrari and Force India and a regular in the GP2 series. In the opening tests the Marussia MR02 quickly displayed three things; that former Renault designer Patt Symonds had lost none of his talent while serving a ban for his utterly disgraceful involvement in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix; that Max Chilton would be in for a long season ahead, and that talented personnel are the keys to a successful Formula 1 team. In fairness, the paddock had probably learnt the latter lesson from Red Bull already.
Pitted against a rookie team mate, Bianchi set about dismantling Max Chilton, eventually finishing 17-2 ahead in qualifying results. By season’s end Bianchi’s 13th place finish at the Malaysian Grand Prix would be the difference between the lower ranked teams and the vital cash injection that comes from being tenth in the constructor’s world championship. While Bianchi could celebrate ensuring the financial survival of the team, Chilton was left to celebrate becoming the first Formula 1 rookie to complete every race of the season, a fairly hollow award considering Chilton was the last runner in eleven of the nineteen races thereby limiting the possibility for collision while also enabling him to be gentle on the Cosworth power train.
For 2014 Bianchi will once again be at Marussia, who’s ability to produce a Formula 1 car will be given it’s greatest test yet. With the raft of new changes for next year both Marussia and Caterham finally have the opportunity to draw level with the established teams in Formula 1. If they can produce a decent car, Bianchi will score their first points and ensure a lengthy career that may well lead to a Ferrari seat.