Although it’s in the February issue of the magazine, we’ve decided to post in on the website so you can join in. Do you agree with Nigel? Let us know who makes it into your top 10 F1 drivers 0f 2012.
1. Fernando Alonso
In terms of what he did with what he had, Alonso’s campaign will stand among the very greatest, by any driver, ever. One thing to be constantly on it in an ultra-competitive car, quite another to be that way in a middling one. His Ferrari’s average qualifying position was seventh, but when it rained Fernando was both times on pole. In 20 races there were 13 podiums and – while necessarily on the edge – very few mistakes. He is simply the best driver in the world right now, end of story.
2. Lewis Hamilton
While not the most complete driver in F1, Hamilton is out-and-out fastest. After a tumultuous season in 2011 he was this year back to his best. There remained lapses of judgment – it was foolish to scrap with Maldonado in the late laps at Valencia, and antagonising his team on Twitter was a reminder that maturity still awaits – but the sight of Lewis driving with joyful abandon is hard to beat. Only poor reliability kept him out of the title race – but now, out of the McLaren nest, what comes next?
3. Sebastian Vettel
World Champion yet again, and almost unbeatable in the fastest car. Vettel was often brilliant, but early in the season Red Bull was not the dominant force of 2011 and his head seemed to go down a little. Always an ebullient winner, if rather less gracious in difficult circumstances, he laid to rest suggestions that he can’t race – the drive from 10th to second at Spa was exceptional. Crucially, as we saw in Abu Dhabi and Brazil, his luck is almost a match for his consummate natural ability.
4. Kimi Räikkönen
After two disappointing years in the forests, Räikkönen was back, quirky as ever, in F1, an environment in which he relishes nothing bar driving. It was anyone’s guess how the comeback would turn out, but in the event Kimi – unlike Schumacher – was competitive from the outset. That last edge was perhaps not quite there, but he was consistently strong in the races. At Lotus they reasoned that a relatively laid-back ambience would bring out his best. They read him well.
5. Jenson Button
In Melbourne, the opening race, Hamilton took pole, but Button snatched the lead at the start and had the rest of the afternoon to himself. At Spa, five months on, Button was similarly unapproachable, leading all the way at the ultimate circuit. In between times, though, he was often curiously off the boil. At times he seemed bewildered, but by Hockenheim again had the set-up to his taste – always crucial with Jenson – and in the second half of the season played a much stronger hand.
6. Nico Hülkenberg
Sergio Pérez had some fine results, but wasn’t terribly consistent. Many were surprised – given Hülkenberg’s availability – when McLaren signed the Mexican to replace Hamilton. In the long term Nico appears set for Ferrari, after a season of remarkably high quality that yielded fewer results than he merited. At Force India they liked his sunny disposition, pace and flair, as demonstrated at Interlagos. Signing for Sauber might seem like a sideways move, but it might be for one season only.
7. Mark Webber
If it seems odd to place only seventh a man who won superbly at Monaco and Silverstone, Webber made the podium on only two other occasions. There is no doubt about his pace or commitment – when the cars were less than fully competitive he sometimes outshone Vettel – but often he finished lower than expected. It says everything about Adrian Newey’s genius that, despite being accustomed to being considered ‘the other driver’, Webber rejected Ferrari to remain with Red Bull.
8. Nico Rosberg
In China he was on pole by half a second, made a bullet start and won conclusively. The breakthrough had been made and it looked as though Nico and Mercedes were finally due the season so long anticipated. Not so: there was a close second at Monaco, but no podiums thereafter. The team often flattered in qualifying, only to deceive in the race, thanks not least to its cars’ appetite for tyres. Rosberg remains a talent, however, and might show better against Hamilton than many anticipate.
9. Paul di Resta
Even after a great result, like sixth place in Bahrain or that fine fourth in Singapore, di Resta invariably comes across like the recent recipient of bad news, such as not being snapped up by a top team. This is unfortunate, for Paul is talented and sooner or later bound to drive for one of them. For much of the season he was on par with his Force India team-mate, before being shaded in the late races. He drives with innate class and his day will surely come – acknowledged, one hopes, with a smile.
10. Felipe Massa
For all his mistakes, Massa scrapes into the top 10 by virtue of his late transformation, which put this loyal and decent man up to seventh in the standings and allowed him to contribute significantly to Ferrari’s season. Frankly lost in the first half of the year, his confidence in pieces, Felipe finally got a handle on the lacklustre F2012, whose later updates suited him perhaps better than Alonso and offered a glimpse of the man who almost beat Hamilton to the title four years ago.