Just who were the ten best drivers of the 2012 season?
After nine months of globe-trotting, the dust is settling on the racetracks of the world and the sun has set on the 2012 Formula One World Championship. Now we know the identity of the victor, it’s time to assess how the class of 2012 stacked up…
1. Fernando Alonso
Before you exclaim ‘Hang on, he’s not the Champion!’ consider this; At no point during the 2012 season was the Ferrari F2012 the fastest car on the grid. Indeed, it started the season one and a half seconds off the pace of the Red Bull car, failed to qualify on the front row in dry conditions and didn’t set a single fastest lap during any race this year. At first, Alonso did his usual solid job it seemed and mirrored his stealthy 2011 campaign. An opportune win in Malaysia was followed by a succession of mid points finishes, and it appeared Ferrari were destined to once again be ‘also-rans’. Yet as the summer wore on, and Alonso took and maintained the lead of the points table, it seemed almost Senna-esque the way the Spanish double World Champion would appear among the front-runners regardless of circumstances. An incredible victory in Valencia was backed up two races later with another win at Hockenheim, holding off the attentions of Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel, but no further glory came the Scuderia’s way – podiums were achievable but the wins remained out of reach. Nevertheless, Fernando took the fight to the very last race and came within a few laps of snatching the championship away from Vettel. His expression in the immediate aftermath of that defeat, helmet on and staring into the distance, was caught on camera and will be the defining shot of the 2012 season. It was not to be, but there is no doubt that this man is the greatest driver in F1 today and certainly one of the all-time ‘greats’.
2. Sebastian Vettel
And he does it again! Just when it seemed Vettel and Red Bull had finally cracked they bounced back with a series of dominant victories in the Asian ‘flyaway’ races to carry the German to a record third World Championship. The early season was slow but steady, podiums and points carefully amassed along with a solitary win in Bahrain. A mature drive to 3rd at Silverstone was undone by a rash moment of youthful silliness in front of his home crowd at Hockenheim when he overtook Jenson Button off the circuit and incurred a time penalty which dropped him from 2nd to 5th, otherwise the title could have been decided before Brazil. In fact, it should have been decided several races sooner but Vettel didn’t really outreach his machinery in the manner of Alonso. Nevertheless, he had the car and he got the job done, but he will face a much sterner challenge in 2013 if he is to take an incredible fourth title in a row.
3. Lewis Hamilton
Lewis decided, rather suddenly it seemed, to call time on his association with Mclaren amid a whirl of confusion and speculation around the direction of his career; that he did so in the wake of retiring from the lead of the Singapore Grand Prix tells you all you need to know about the 2008 World Champion’s season. All too often since claiming that maiden title, Lewis has found himself battling the often-superior Red Bull cars in machinery inferior to the task demanded of it. Hamilton missed out yet again in 2012, with shoddy pitstops undermining efforts in the first half of the year only to be replaced by appaling reliability standards in the second stretch. An all but certain victory in Abu Dhabi was lost, plus a potential win in Singapore, although his wins elsewhere were finely-judged and showed his class. Canada was the standout performance as he and his team out-thought and out-drove both Red Bull and Ferrari for a fine win. On the other hand, his form dipped at Silverstone and Hockenheim, and again in Korea and Japan later in the year. All in all, Lewis is driving better than ever after the disaster of 2011. Pastures new at Mercedes will show if he really is the complete package.
4. Kimi Raikkonen
He’s not the World Champion, and yes, it took him until November to win a race. Yet Kimi achieved some notable records this year, completing more laps than any other driver and scoring points on all but one outing. It’s a far cry from the last World Champion to make a comeback, and I imagine a certain Michael Schumacher will have been watching the ubiquitous Finn with more than a pang of envy. 2012 has been a solid year for Kimi as he settled in at Lotus, topped off with that finely-judged win in Abu Dhabi, and he seems happier there than he ever did at either Mclaren or Ferrari. He harks back to the days when drivers had no press obligations and behaved as they pleased, and Lotus seem content to allow the 2007 World Champion to just turn up and race. There are those that question his commitment amongst the hyper-competitive modern nature of the sport, with his contemporaries well-versed in media obligations in addition to their driving prowess (His Abu Dhabi radio messages will live long in the memory). Kimi is like Marmite; you either love him or you hate him. One thing is for sure – the grid would be a poorer place without him.
5. Jenson Button
Mystifying, confusing and downright odd. Such can Jenson Button’s 2012 campaign be summed up. A mighty win in Australia seemed to indicate he was picking up where he left off in 2011, but things went dramatically wrong in the wake of the raft of updates introduced by Mclaren after the Bahrain Grand Prix. Languishing in the lower ranks in Canada was followed by an embarrassing shunt at Monaco and a string of underwhelming performances. He bounced back for 2nd in Germany at a race he so nearly won, before strategical shortcomings denied him the opportunity of racing teammate Hamilton in Budapest. He came back on song for the Belgian Grand Prix in September with a win just as dominant as any Alonso or Vettel performance, but a mechanical failure in Monza lost him yet another fine result and things tailed off toward the end of the year with his car even failing to make the distance in qualifying for the US Grand Prix. However, he bounced back with an excellent Brazilian Grand Prix victory which bodes well for the future. All things considered, Jenson will be hoping 2013 is considerably more successful.
6. Felipe Massa
Given the woeful inadequacy of Felipe’s 2011 campaign, you could be forgiven for thinking this to be the likeable Brazilian’s final season behind the wheel of a prancing horse. Massa’s time did not come though, and he has earned a welcome reprieve for the 2013 season, thanks largely in part to his pleasing return to form in the latter half of the year. Felipe must rue his 2009 Hungarian GP qualifying accident that nearly cost him his life, for it has cast him in the shadow of Fernando Alonso since his return in 2010. Near shambolic in the first half of 2012, Massa turned it around and his emotional drive to 2nd place at Suzuka may well have been the key that saved his ailing career. He should have made the Korean podium at Yeongam but for team-orders, and a succession of healthy points finishes meant he ran Alonso much closer from Japan onwards. The 3rd place finish in Brazil in front of his devoted home fans was an emotionally-charged affair that showed the 2008-spec Felipe really is back. He will never be allowed to beat Alonso in a straight fight, but it would be a heartless observer who doesn’t admit part of them wants the little Brazilian from the slums of Sau Paulo to stand on the top step of the podium once again.
7. Mark Webber
Strewth mate, that’s another year gone! Mark had another bitter-sweet year and will be disappointed that he didn’t come any closer to the title. After coming so near in 2010 and having to write off 2011 in the face of the Vettel onslaught, Webber seemed to be back to his best in the first half of the year with remarkable wins at Monaco and Silverstone. Yet the form ebbed away as Vettel gained momentum, and the final nail in the coffin was his ultimate defeat after starting from pole in Korea. Time is running out for the well-liked Australian, and he must hope that his 2010 luck returns soon.
8. Nico Hulkenberg
After a false start in 2010, Nico was back on the F1 roller-coaster with Force India this time round. In 2012, he was on impressive form and often qualified inside the top ten. A mature qualifying effort at Hockenheim earned him 4th on the mixed-up grid and the Force India was good enough to carry him to a 4th place finish at the Belgian Grand Prix. From then on he was the definite pace-setter in the team line-up, out-qualifying and out-racing Paul Di Resta. His near-dominance of the wet conditions that saw him lead the Brazilian Grand Prix until an unfortunate lapse cost him a potential victory but showed he has a mastery of tricky conditions unlike many others. ‘The Hulk’ is quickly developing into the next Schumacher or Vettel.
9. Pastor Maldonado
Wild, erratic and blindingly fast. Pastor Maldonado is the most exciting talent to emerge from South America since Felipe Massa entered the sport in 2002. Okay, he only had a smattering of points finishes all season but one of them was that superb victory in Spain. It may have been a flash-in-the-pan but it was emotional for all concerned to see Williams on top of the rostrum once again, and Maldonado certainly has the raw speed to make it happen again in the right circumstances. Some exceptional qualifying performances elsewhere, notably in Singapore, often saw him amongst the established front-runners and championship contenders. Perhaps one day soon the first ever Venezuelan race winner may be the first of his countrymen
to be World Champion as well…
10. Bruno Senna
Bruno has never had it easy. Yes, he walked into motorsport thanks to a significant wad of cash and companies clamouring to be associated with the Senna name, but with that came a whole heap of expectation. As the nephew of the late great Ayrton it was always going to be an uphill struggle, but were it not for his name, Senna would be considered an excellent prospect for any midfield team. Overshadowed by Pastor Maldonado in the wake of the Venezuelan’s flamboyant and often frightening driving style that took the win in Spain, the relaxed Bruno rebuilt his reputation that has taken a significant battering during the past couple of seasons. A number of minor points-scoring positions earned after often disappointing qualifying session showed he can mix it, and placed him among his peers such as Di Resta, Hulkenberg and Kobayashi. It would be a great shame if he is not on the grid come the 2013 season. He’s not his illustrious uncle, and he shouldn’t be judged as such.
Nico Rosberg is the only race winner not to appear in the top ten, and this is largely down to his failure to score a single point in the final six races. Although impressive both in China and Monaco, he otherwise failed to shine and will need to up his game to beat Hamilton when the Brit arrives at the Mercedes team.
Charles Pic made it into our summer mid-season top ten, and only misses out again thanks to the improvements of other drivers. The young Frenchman made an excellent impression in his freshman year and did enough to earn a Caterham drive for 2013, the first Marussia second driver to survive more than one season in the world’s toughest sport.
Kamui Kobayashi took a brilliant 3rd place in front of his home crowd at Suzuka and drove maturely for most of the season but blotted his copybook by crashing into Jenson Button in Korea and acting somewhat wildly on occasion. It’s a great shame this likeable Japanese has no place in Formula One in the foreseeable future. His team-mate Sergio Perez was also impressive, but only in the first half of the year – once his contract with Mclaren for 2013 was signed he proved reckless and accident-prone which probably set more than a few alarm bells ringing at Woking. He must prove he can progress in 2013.
Paul Di Resta, ‘the third Brit’ had a solid year and took a career-best finish of 4th in Singapore after coming very close to the podium but was largely outperformed by Hulkenberg from Belgium onwards. It seems he has a drive with Force India for next season but he must show something extra-special if he is to prove the heir to Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.