Now that the 2013 Formula One season has been finished for a month, with Sebastian Vettel comfortably ensconced as a four-time champion, we can look back with a bit of perspective. This ranking is designed to evaluate the drivers aside from their point totals (although not completely, as wins and points are the ultimate barometer of success in F1).
Vettel won the championship in the least-dramatic way possible—a nine-race winning streak to end the season—but who else stood out? Fernando Alonso finished second in the Drivers' Championship (again), Nico Rosberg won twice for Mercedes, and Kimi Raikkonen continued the successful second act of his career.
Or maybe someone from one of the mid-field or back-marking teams did enough to get noticed.
This ranking is inherently subjective, but it is not without defined criteria:
- A big gap between teammates is a sign that one performed extraordinarily well or poorly. Since only teammates race in identical cars, this is one of the best measures for whether a driver has over- or underachieved.
- A premium is placed on victories, especially when differentiating between closely placed teammates.
- One or more particularly noteworthy performances can vault a driver up the list.
- The season as a whole is being evaluated, not just the last five races (i.e., the "Romain Grosjean effect"). A win in the first race is worth the same as one in the last. (Note: This is no longer true next season.)
One other note: Heikki Kovalainen, who filled in for Raikkonen at the final two races, is not included in these rankings. If he was, he would be ranked last—in the official standings, he finished behind a Marussia and a Caterham (and two Williams!).
Pastor Maldonado won the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix and finished in the points five times that season.
In 2013, he managed one 10-place finish. Not only that, despite being in his third year in F1, Maldonado was beaten by his rookie teammate Valtteri Bottas five times and finished behind the Finn in the final standings.
He compounded his on-track problems by publicly accusing Williams of sabotaging his car at the United States Grand Prix (where Bottas finished eighth). Despite that outburst, Maldonado's Venezuelan oil money secured him a promotion to Lotus for 2014.
It is difficult to think of many drivers who deserved it less.
Yes, Max Chilton finished every race, but he was also dead last in 12 of them. Obviously, a lot of that is down to the car, but he only beat his teammate Jules Bianchi twice all season.
He did improve as the season went on, so it will be interesting to see whether he can continue that trend in 2014. Sky Sports is reporting that he will likely get that opportunity.
Giedo van der Garde is another rookie who noticeably improved as the season went on. In the last six races that both he and his teammate Charles Pic finished, van der Garde was ahead in four of them.
Van der Garde also produced a memorable qualifying performance in Monaco, where he sneaked into Q2.
According to GPUpdate.net, he is still in the running for a race seat in 2014, though his options are dwindling.
It would be a shame if he is not on the grid next season, as we would be deprived of entertaining interviews like this one, with ESPN F1's Kate Walker.
Pic edges his teammate on the basis of his performance over the entire season. Although van der Garde was quicker by the end of the year, it is not enough to overshadow the first half of the season, when Pic consistently finished ahead.
Another positive for Pic is that he did not give away Caterham's 10th-place in the Constructors' Championship at the final race, as he did for Marussia in 2012.
Jean-Eric Vergne got off to a good start in 2013, scoring points in three of the first seven races. That included a career-high sixth-place finish in Montreal.
From there, his season went downhill, and he never finished higher than 12th again. His point total dropped from 16 in 2012 to 13 in 2013. Meanwhile, his teammate Daniel Ricciardo finished in the points five times after the Canadian Grand Prix and scored 20 points overall.
Despite being overlooked by Red Bull to replace Mark Webber, Vergne was retained by Toro Rosso for 2014.
Sauber's 2013 car was clearly a step down from the one that challenged for race wins in 2012. Esteban Gutierrez, in his rookie season, slowly developed along with the car.
He nearly scored in Spain, closing quickly in the final laps before finishing 11th. The Mexican was close again in Singapore and Korea, before finally breaking through with a seventh-place finish in Japan.
This improvement, along with some help from Carlos Slim and Telmex, secured a second season at Sauber for Gutierrez.
It was an up-and-down year for Adrian Sutil.
On the plus side, for the first time since 2010 he spent an entire season in F1 without stabbing someone in the neck with a broken champagne flute. On the other hand, he was thoroughly beaten by his teammate Paul di Resta.
Sutil scored points in Australia in his first race since 2011. After a fifth-place finish in Monaco and a seventh at Silverstone, he scored only six more points for the rest of the season.
Despite having nearly the same average qualifying position as di Resta over the season, according to F1 Fanatic, Sutil finished 21 points adrift of the Scot in the standings.
Still, while it looks like di Resta will be without an F1 drive next season, Sutil made a soft landing at Sauber when Force India opted to replace him with Nico Hulkenberg (who is a better driver) and Sergio Perez (who presumably has more money—and may be a better driver).
Few drivers did less with more in 2013. While Fernando Alonso took two victories and nine podiums for Ferrari, Felipe Massa managed one third-place in Spain (where Alonso won).
It is no surprise that Ferrari finally decided to end its relationship with the Brazilian. It is slightly more surprising that Williams signed him for 2014, although his experience will be helpful in developing the team's new car.
Massa has never been the same since his nearly fatal accident in qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix. In the three seasons before the accident, he won 11 grands prix. In the four seasons since, he has zero wins and only three second-place finishes. His points totals have trended downward, from 144 in 2010 to 112 in 2013.
Jules Bianchi was the star of the back-markers in 2013. His 13th place in Malaysia was enough to secure a lucrative 10th-place finish in the Constructors' Championship for Marussia.
Although the Caterhams were regularly faster than the Marussias by the end of the season, Bianchi was still finishing well clear of his teammate Max Chilton at almost every race. Bianchi also outqualified Chilton at 17 races, and the average gap between them was more than half-a-second, according to F1 Fanatic.
Part of the Ferrari Driver Academy, Bianchi was selected by the Italian team to share its car with Pedro de la Rosa at the Bahrain tyre test in mid-December. That confidence bodes well for the young French driver.
Although he was passed over in favour of Kimi Raikkonen for the vacant 2014 Ferrari race seat, there could be another opening next year, should the Raikkonen–Fernando Alonso pairing not work out.
Not only did Daniel Ricciardo convincingly beat his teammate, but he impressed Red Bull enough that he was promoted to drive alongside Sebastian Vettel in 2014.
Ricciardo had a particularly good season in qualifying. His average qualifying position in 2013, according to F1 Fanatic, was 10.68, almost three places higher than Vergne.
Also, unlike Vergne, Ricciardo improved his point total from 2012 to 2013. His 20 points in 2013 were twice as many as he scored the year before.
Valtteri Bottas was the most impressive driver of the 2013 rookie class. He was the only rookie to beat a veteran teammate in the Drivers' Championship, and he also outqualified Maldonado at 12 races.
At the Canadian Grand Prix, in a wet session, Bottas took a stunning third place in qualifying. Although he eventually finished 14th in the race, the Finn gave a statement performance.
Like Maldonado, Bottas struggled to get his uncompetitive Williams into the points throughout the season. He finally broke through at the U.S. Grand Prix with an eighth-place finish.
Williams retained the Finnish driver for 2014, when he will partner with the veteran, Felipe Massa.
In 2012, Sergio Perez had two second-place finishes and one third with Sauber. When he signed with McLaren, the Mexican must have been expecting to challenge for race wins on a regular basis.
Instead, McLaren suffered through one of the worst seasons in its history, with not a single podium between Perez and Jenson Button.
Perez finished 24 points behind Button but scored in six of the last seven races of the season. He fought hard throughout the season and was particularly entertaining at the Monaco Grand Prix, where he managed to get under the skin of three former world champions: Button, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.
Shockingly, just before the U.S. Grand Prix, McLaren announced that Perez would not be retained for 2014. After team principal Martin Whitmarsh failed to find a race seat at another team for Kevin Magnussen, he opted to give Perez's seat to the Dane. With his funding, though, the Mexican was able to find a 2014 drive with Force India.
In a bubble, Mark Webber did not have a bad season. Eight podium finishes, including five second places, are a respectable haul for any driver.
When compared with his teammate, though, Webber's season looks a whole lot worse. Not only did the Australian fail to win a race in his final season in F1, but Sebastian Vettel scored almost twice as many points as Webber in the same car: 397 to 199. Vettel was on the podium in 16 races, winning 13 of them.
According to F1 Fanatic's statistics, Webber had an average qualifying position of 3.89, third best amongst all drivers on the season. However, by the end of the first lap, he had lost an average of 1.21 places.
If Massa did the least with the most in 2013, Webber must be a close second.
(We will, though, give him an asterisk for the Malaysian Grand Prix, which he should have won, were it not for Vettel's ruthlessness.)
Paul di Resta had an odd season. He finished in the top 10 at seven of the first eight races and then failed to score in seven straight races.
Still, one should not overlook his impressive start in the 2013 season (and the fact that he beat his teammate by 19 points). Indeed, on the back of di Resta's finishes, Force India was ahead of McLaren until the Belgian Grand Prix. The mid-season tyre compound change by Pirelli set Force India back considerably, and the team never recovered.
So, despite di Resta's talent, he may have raced his last F1 grand prix.
In a dog of a car, Jenson Button clawed his way to 15 points-paying finishes.
When it became obvious that the MP4-28 was not competitive, Button, the 2009 world champion, could have given up and focused on next year or even looked for another drive for 2014. Instead, he continued pushing, right to the final race, where he scored a fantastic fourth-place finish.
Although much has been made of McLaren's failure to score a podium finish in 2013, Button came close at the second race of the season in Malaysia. A botched pit-stop while he was leading ended those hopes, though.
In 2014, Button will be paired with his third different teammate in three years. The stability he provides to the team from Woking will be key as McLaren seeks to return to the podium.
What a difference a year makes! By the end of the 2012 season, Romain Grosjean was on a crash course straight out of F1. Now, at the end of 2013, he is being named driver of the year in some quarters.
And Grosjean is buying into the hype. According to ESPN F1, he recently said, "I think I have proven that I am part of the best drivers and that's how I consider myself."
Those are strong words for someone who has never won a grand prix. (The 2014 grid will feature at least eight race winners and five world champions.)
There is no doubt that he has improved significantly since 2012, where it seemed he was involved in an accident every other race. And he finished 2013 strongly, with four podiums in the final six races.
Looking back at the entire season, though, Grosjean cannot be the driver of the year; he was not even the best driver on his own team. Kimi Raikkonen, despite missing two races for back surgery, finished 51 points clear of Grosjean in the Drivers' Championship.
Raikkonen won the Australian Grand Prix and had six second-place finishes and one third. Grosjean had six total podiums (one second, five thirds). Coincidentally (or not), Grosjean's best finish of the season came at the U.S. Grand Prix, which was the first race that Raikkonen missed.
Most improved driver? Grosjean can have that. But he is not close to the driver of the year.
Lewis Hamilton had a quiet year, especially by his standards. His move from McLaren to Mercedes was validated early in the season, when it became clear that McLaren was struggling and Mercedes had a race-winning car.
Hamilton did win in Hungary, after his teammate Nico Rosberg had taken two of the previous four races. However, aside from that win, Hamilton only stepped onto the podium four times in 2013, all of them for third place.
That seems like a gross underachievement in a car that won three races, which were more than any other team, except Red Bull.
Hamilton remains ahead of Grosjean and Webber in these rankings because of his victory. Without that performance in Hungary, though, his entire season would look quite a bit worse.
You just read why Raikkonen deserves to be ranked ahead of Grosjean. Had he not missed the final two races of the season, the "Iceman" might have finished as high as third in the drivers' standings.
Like Force India, Lotus suffered a significant drop in performance following Pirelli's midseason introduction of new tyres. Five of Raikkonen's eight podiums came before the change. It is futile to speculate on what might have happened had the change never occurred, but it is realistic to think that another victory or two might have come the Finn's way.
And we should not forget that Raikkonen did all of this while not being paid. For 2014, he is on his way back to Maranello to rejoin Ferrari, with whom he won the 2007 World Championship.
Another second-place finish for the Spaniard [insert sigh here]. For the third time in four years, Fernando Alonso finished second to Sebastian Vettel in the Drivers' Championship.
Unlike 2012, though, when Alonso overcame an inferior car to take the championship down to the wire, in 2013, he seemed off his game. In the F1 season review, Bernie Ecclestone even wrote, per Yahoo, that Alonso, "gave up a little bit."
I do not agree with that, but Alonso was frustrated with his team for once again not providing him with a car capable of challenging the Bull's. Alonso's criticism of the team led to a dressing-down from Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo.
Despite the drama, Alonso won in China and at home in Spain. He also had five second- and two third-place finishes. As noted above, there was a significant gap between Alonso and his teammate Massa, who only finished on the podium once all season.
And hey, even if things did not go as planned on the track, Alonso is still dating a Russian supermodel, so life can't be that bad.
Why is Nico Rosberg ranked so highly? While it was (reasonably) expected that former world champ Hamilton would overshadow Rosberg when he arrived in Brackley, Rosberg refused to back down. In fact, he thrived, scoring his best-ever finish in the Drivers' Championships.
Despite being asked to stand down in favour of Hamilton at the Malaysian Grand Prix, Rosberg kept pushing. He was rewarded with victories in Monaco and Great Britain. As mentioned in the criteria, victories are highly valued in this ranking.
Later in the season, with Mercedes struggling compared to the team's early-season form—once again, due to the Pirelli tyre change—Rosberg posted back-to-back podiums in India and Abu Dhabi, while Hamilton did not finish in the top three after Belgium. Those results boosted Mercedes into second place in the Constructors' Championship, ahead of Ferrari.
If anyone is going to unseat Red Bull in 2014, Mercedes has to be considered one of the favourites. That is due, in no small part, to Rosberg's tenacity.
In 2013, no one outperformed the limits of his car more than Nico Hulkenberg. The German came to Sauber from Force India, thinking it would be a step up following the Swiss team's four podiums in 2012 (compared to none for Force India).
Instead, Sauber took a step (or two) backward.
Hulkenberg dragged the C32 into the points 10 times, including brilliant fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the Korean and Italian Grands Prix, respectively. In Korea, the German held off former world champions Hamilton, Alonso and Button—all in faster cars.
In the final standings, Hulkenberg beat both Force India drivers, as well as his 2014 teammate Perez. "Beat" is not a strong enough word for what he did to his rookie teammate Gutierrez, though. F1 Fanatic provides a detailed breakdown, and it is not pretty for the Mexican, who would have spent the whole season staring at Hulkenberg's rear wing, if he had been close enough to see it.
In a fair world, Hulkenberg's teammate next year would not be Perez (back at Force India), but Alonso at Ferrari, or Grosjean at Lotus. The Italian team is interested in the German, but when Raikkonen became available, the team could not pass him up. Hulkenberg was then tabbed for the "Iceman's" seat at Lotus, but the team needed money, and Hulkenberg did not offer a sponsorship. Maldonado did.
Once again, Hulkenberg will be stuck in the mid-field in 2014. With a capable car, he would no doubt be a grand prix winner already. Instead, he is still chasing his first podium.
Sorry. I did not want to rank Vettel first. It's too anticlimactic.
No one else makes sense, though.
Vettel just completed one of the most dominant seasons in F1 history, winning 13 of 19 races and locking up the Drivers' Championship with three races to go. As noted, he almost doubled the point total of his teammate and was more than 150 points (six race victories!) clear of Alonso, his closest challenger.
True, Vettel had the best car on the grid, but he also did not make mistakes. He only missed the podium three times all year, twice finishing fourth. The other time, he suffered a mechanical failure while leading the British Grand Prix. Dominant.
In fact, just about the only mistake he made was ignoring team orders and passing Webber in Malaysia. All that did was give him an extra win.
And not only that, Vettel is about to become a dad!
It does not get much better than that.
Follow Matthew Walthert on Twitter @MatthewWalthert