Ranking the Top 10 F1 Drivers of the 2000s
Should Sebastian Vettel decide to stay at Red Bull beyond the end of his current contract and if Adrian Newey continues to turn out world beating machines, the German ace is set to dominate Formula 1 for the next decade.
Much of the groundwork for Vettel’s current success was laid in the decade we know as the "noughties" when another German hero of his was smashing records left, right and centre.
But Michael Schumacher and Vettel after him were not the only drivers to play a significant part in our most recent completed decade of the greatest sport.
Here are ten of the very best from the new millennium of F1 racing.
Jacques Villeneuve won his only world title in 1997 but continued to race on in F1 until 2006. Sadly he was never supplied with a car to match his talent after he left Williams. Two podiums and two seventh place finishes in the drivers’ standings for BAR Honda in 2000 and 2001 were the best he could manage.
Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya also just miss out although the Williams teammates bravely took the fight to Michael Schumacher from 2001-2004, winning ten races between them.
10. David Coulthard
David Coulthard can count himself unfortunate to be racing in the era of Michael Schumacher and teammate Mika Häkkinen and despite enjoying the quickest car in the field in both 1998 and 1999, he couldn't quite put himself in a position to contend for the title.
Coulthard finished on the podium no less than 11 times in 2000 and was briefly in title contention before fading to third in the title. He was second to Schumacher in 2001 albeit a massive 58 points adrift.
He would win twice more for McLaren at Monaco in 2002 and Australia in 2003 before moving to Red Bull for four seasons from 2005-2008.
Although he only managed two podiums, his experience in setting up a car and giving precise feedback can be seen as a big factor in helping to propel the team to where they are today.
9. Felipe Massa
Having come within touching distance to the world title in 2008 after that most dramatic of finishes at Interlagos, Felipe Massa’s current decline can perhaps be traced back to that game-changing accident at Hungary in 2009.
Massa made his full F1 debut for Sauber for the 2002 season and scored consistent points. Despite being replaced by Heinz-Harald Frentzen for 2003 he returned to the team for the following two seasons and twice finished just outside the podium.
His big break came in 2006 when he joined Ferrari as a first team driver and he won twice en route to third in the championship. Three more victories followed in 2007 before he looked set to become the first Brazilian world champion since Ayrton Senna the following season.
But tears of celebration soon turned to tears of despair as Lewis Hamilton overtook the ailing Timo Glock on the penultimate corner at Interlagos to shatter his dreams. He has not won a race since.
8. Rubens Barrichello
Rubens Barrichello competed in Formula One from 1993-2011 and is the most experienced driver in F1 history having made 322 starts.
Despite enjoying the luxury of driving the most dominant car in the field for the early years of the 2000s, Barrichello had the unenviable task of being in a team dedicated to the cause of Michael Schumacher.
Even so, Barrichello climbed the top step of the podium on 9 occasions and was runner up to his great teammate in 2002 and 2004.
The popular Brazilian left Ferrari at the end of 2005 to join Honda for three seasons before partnering Jenson Button during his title-winning season at Brawn in 2009, winning twice himself.
After two seasons with Williams and nowhere else to go, Barrichello left to compete in IndyCar and he currently races in the Brazilian Stock Car V8 Series.
7. Mark Webber
Currently competing in his last season in Formula One, the likeable mark Webber has been a mainstay of the F1 paddock since he burst onto the F1 scene in 2002.
Driving for countryman Paul Stoddart’s Minardi outfit, Webber managed an incredible fifth place finish on his grand prix debut at his home GP and his impressive showings in uncompetitive machinery led Jaguar Racing to pick him up for the following two seasons before Ford pulled the plug.
Two seasons for Williams followed but it was not until Webber joined Red Bull Racing in 2005 that his talent was rewarded with a car capable of challenging for wins.
Nine victories and a near miss in the 2010 championship followed but Webber will be remembered for his honesty, integrity and lively interviews concerning a certain Sebastian Vettel.
6. Lewis Hamilton
Nobody has come as close to winning the drivers' title in their opening season as Lewis Hamilton.
A part of Ron Dennis' McLaren family from childhood, Hamilton took the title fight to teammate Fernando Alonso and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen from the outset and looked on course to achieve his goal until retirement in China and seventh in Brazil allowed Raikkonen to snatch the title by a single point.
However, despair turned to joy a year later when Hamilton sealed the title in the most dramatic of title finishes ever.
Passing Timo Glock's ailing Toyota on the final corner meant that Hamilton took fifth place and the title by just a single point from under the nose of the already celebrating Felipe Massa.
Hamilton would go on to secure 11 more wins for McLaren before leaving the team for Mercedes in 2013 where he has already made a big impact.
5. Jenson Button
Nicknamed the “Frome Flyer” from his Somerset birthplace, Jenson Button made his F1 debut for Williams at the 2000 Australian Grand Prix and was in the points until his engine failed 11 laps from the finish.
A string of points finishes followed and Button was picked up by Renault where he gained perhaps an unwarranted reputation for enjoying too much of a "Playboy" lifestyle.
Button buckled down and his talent began to bear fruit following a move to BAR and after a dozen podium finishes he finally nailed his first victory for Honda at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix.
Honda fell off the pace dramatically in 2007 before the Japanese company pulled the plug at the end of the following season. It looked as if there was nowhere left for Button to go until Ross Brawn came to the rescue and transformed the team into world beaters.
Button won six of the first seven races en route to the title in the team's one and only season before moving to McLaren where he has won seven races and finished runner-up to Sebastian Vettel in 2011.
4. Kimi Raikkonen
Ever colourful and always controversial, Kimi Raikkonen breaks into the top four by virtue of having competed at the sharp end of the grid in almost every season of the "noughties."
Raikkonen competed in his first season for Sauber in 2001 and his impressive points-scoring finishes led to a drive with McLaren. He scored his first victory in the 2003 Malaysian grand Prix and would go on to finish second in the championship with seven further second place finishes behind the dominant Michael Schumacher.
Raikkonen came mighty close to taking out the world title in 2005 but was edged out by the consistency of Fernando Alonso despite taking seven wins in the season.
A disappointing 2006 followed but a move to Ferrari in 2007 turned his fortunes around and despite being 18 points adrift of Lewis Hamilton with four rounds remaining, Raikkonen won three of the last four races to steal the title by a single point.
Having spent two seasons with Lotus, Raikkonen rejoins Ferrari for another stab at title glory in 2014.
3. Sebastian Vettel
The man currently making all the headlines in Formula 1 pops in at number three.
Vettel made his full F1 debut in the 2007 U.S. Grand Prix as a stand-in for regular driver Robert Kubica following the Pole’s massive crash in Canada.
And Vettel did not disappoint, finishing eighth to become the youngest ever driver to score a world championship point at the age of 19.
Having driven for Toro Rosso for the last seven races of the season, Vettel completed his first full season for the same team in 2008, the highlight being a quite brilliant drive to victory in wet conditions at the Italian Grand Prix.
It propelled Vettel into the limelight as a star of the future and Red Bull could wait no longer, signing him for the 2009 season. A late charge saw him close on rival Jenson Button but he had to settle for second after Brawn dominated the early rounds with its controversial double diffuser system.
Since then, Vettel has not looked back. Barring a minor miracle, he will have won four world titles on the bounce.
Can anyone stop him?
2. Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso edges out Sebastian Vettel for the number two slot purely because of the quality of the field and the cars he was up against during the mid 2000s.
Whilst Vettel has clearly enjoyed the superior machinery during his recent dominant streak, Alonso had to compete against the likes of Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen during his title winning seasons when it was not apparent that his Renault was superior to either the McLaren or Ferrari.
Another product of the Minardi training school of excellence, Alonso made his F1 debut for Paul Stoddart’s minnows in 2001.
A season as Renault’s test driver followed before he graduated to the race seat full time, taking his first win at that season’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
Alonso would not win again until 2005 but seven wins and more consistent finishes than rival Kimi Raikkonen saw him net his first drivers’ title before he repeated the feat in 2006.
A move to McLaren almost netted the Spaniard a hat-trick of titles the following year but Raikkonen gained his revenge to ambush both Alonso and his teammate Lewis Hamilton in the final race of the season.
An acrimonious split from McLaren led to two difficult seasons with former team Renault before a move to Ferrari promised a return to title-winning ways.
Alonso has arguably outperformed the machinery at his disposal but has had to watch Sebastian Vettel sweep all before him in the dominant Red Bull. Still, many see Alonso as the real number one on the grid due to his tactical nous and adaptable driving style.
1. Michael Schumacher
Of course, there can be only one No. 1 and it’s no surprise that the great Michael Schumacher tops this list.
Schumacher was already a two-time world champion heading into the 2000 season and may well have won the title in 1999 had a broken leg at Silverstone not scuppered his chances.
But for the next five years, Schumacher was in a class of his own, romping to five successive world titles and breaking record after record in the process.
In 2002 Schumacher became the only driver in Formula One history to finish in the top three in every race of a season and then also broke the record for most consecutive podium finishes.
And in 2004 he won an incredible 12 of the first 13 races of the season and it would have been 13 out of 13 had he not crashed out whilst leading the Monaco Grand Prix.
Having retired from the sport for a second time in 2012 after an unsuccessful three-year comeback with Mercedes, Schumacher says he would be not be unhappy if Sebastian Vettel breaks some or all of his many records although it’s doubtful if this will ever happen.