Drivers Rankings Part 2: The Top 10 of 2008

Alex CowleyCorrespondent INovember 3, 2008

So I continue my countdown of the top 10 drivers of the year. If you want to see my first article, click on the hyperlink below:


10. Nico Rosberg: Nico had a season that does not compare to last year. Despite taking his first two podiums of his career, Nico lost the consistency of the 2007 Williams and looked more of his fiery rookie style than his more mature performance last season.

However, he was one of the drivers who took advantage of the unpredictable nature of the 2008 season, netting a career-best second in Singapore while also scoring his first podium in Australia.

Indeed, like Nakajima he started the season well, scoring eight points in the first five races. However, as the season progressed Williams failed to improve their car and slowly Nico dropped to the back of the field.

In the last three races, he qualified no higher than 14th, which is awful for a driver considered to be one of the top qualifiers in the game.

Still, he beat his teammate comprehensively and seems settled and popular for the foreseeable future. No doubt if Williams get back to their best, Nico could become a star.

Best Moment: If anything his first podium was sweeter than Singapore as he qualified well and drove at the front for the whole race. A polished performance.

Worst Moment:  The French GP, where the Williams was nowhere. He qualified 19th and finished 16th.


9. Nick Heidfeld: Heidfeld shone in 2007, easily outstripping rated teammate Kubica; he was the only other driver(bar the top teams) to net more than one podium.

However, in 2008, he seemed less motivated. It was obvious from the start that Kubica was going to be the star, so it was a surprise that Heidfeld took second in a turbulent opening race.

Indeed, Heidfeld finished second on no less than four occasions, underlying his potential as a driver who can grind out results.

However, what put him down was his failure in qualifying. He didn’t qualify higher than fifth all season and failed to get into Q3 five times.

This was a defining problem for Heidfeld, who spent the majority of the season trying to fix this issue. This inevitably hampered his race pace. This year, he was soundly beaten by Kubica.

Best Moment: An inspired drive in Silverstone saw him take second place on the same tyres as Kovalainen and Raikkonen.

Worst Moment: Once again, failing to win despite taking those four second places.


8. Jarno Trulli:Jarno showed why he is still considered a talent this year. His drives at the beginning of the season were truly inspirational for all the midfield drivers aspiring to beat the top guns.

Jarno was able to consistently qualify in the top eight and scored points on 10 occasions. Without doubt, this was his most competitive year since 2005, and Jarno is making it difficult for Toyota to find a reason to replace him.

Best Moment: France was a sensational race; banishing the memories of 2004, Trulli put the Toyota way above its usual position and superbly took a podium. The only car that was faster was the Ferrari.

Worst Moment: There weren’t many, but not being able to capitalise on the front row slot in Brazil was a disappointment.


7. Timo Glock: Without doubt, the rookie of the year. While Glock had a poor start, he was able to improve beyond all measure.

That drive in Hungary was one of the best all-round performances of the season and helped Toyota to the front of the midfield pack.

His drive in Brazil was very reminiscent of his ability to "punch above his weight." With nurturing, this guy could be a surprise package for the future.

Best Moment: Hungary. The whole weekend was a fairy tale.

Worst Moment: Australia was a rough weekend, with Glock qualifying 18th and crashing out.


6. Kimi Raikkonen: The reigning champion started the season well, scoring two wins in the first four rounds and heading possibly for another title.

But between Hungary and Singapore, Raikkonen netted only six points and was out of the championship and playing second fiddle to Massa.

What seemed to hold him back was his inability to generate heat in the tyres, hampering his single lap performance and therefore always playing catch up.

He was indisputably the fastest man on race day, taking 10 fastest laps; however, he was often too far behind. This ruined his hopes of retaining the championship. Potentially, he is one of the great F1 drivers, but he needs a good season next year.

Best Moment: Spain was a lights-to-flag dominant win.

Worst Moment: Singapore was yet another DNF down to driver error, as Kimi showed that he was under intense pressure.


5. Robert Kubica: After a disappointing 2007 season, Kubica struck back with a stellar year. Robert was one of the most consistent drivers of 2008, so much so that he led after Canada with a single win.

However once STR and Renault began to improve, Robert became under serious pressure and later on in the season, he failed to match the incredible standard he set.

What’s more, BMW Sauber preferred to focus on the 2009 championship, meaning that in the short term, Kubica was losing development ground to the likes of Alonso and Vettel.

After Canada, he took just three podiums. Still, fourth in the championship was a decent result, and the BMW Sauber seems to only be improving year after year.

Best Moment: Canada was his first win and he took the championship lead. Hard to beat that.

Worst Moment: Losing third in the championship to Raikkonen in Brazil.


4. Sebastian Vettel: If anyone thought that Vettel in 2007 was even slightly impressive they would have been mesmerised by his performance in 2008. A first pole, first win and podium, and 10 points finishes in a car that had started as a back marker, fantastic.

Vettel outshone the competition, placing the baby Red Bull car well above its better funded brother and its rivals.

His drive in Italy was nothing short of majestic, but what was really impressive was his ability to consistently put the car at the front of the grid, unlike Bourdais who was fast only sporadically. Watch this guy; he’s going to be mega.

Best Moment: Italy, should I say more?

Worst Moment: Spain, where he was taken out of the race on the first lap for the third time in four races.


3. Fernando Alonso: I never really liked the guy until this year. He was a great driver, I was prepared to say, but I didn’t like him.

So in a way, it was with deep satisfaction when he had a tough time at McLaren in 2007. But when many might have turned their back on the sport, Alonso came back, took the struggling Renault team and turned his fortunes around.

With his obvious talent, Alonso was able to put the Renault in a position where it really shouldn’t have been, and like Vettel did his very best to upset the status quo at the front.

His win in Singapore was a tad fortunate; his win in Japan was the drive of a champion. Overall, he was best of the rest. Because of his character and speed, he helped turn Renault from a struggling midfield team to a consistent front runner.

Best Moment: His wins were great, but his best moment was when he claimed an unbelievable second on the grid in Spain. It was a sign of things to come.

Worst Moment: His second "home race" in Valencia, out after one lap.

2. Lewis Hamilton: A controversial decision, to place the world champion second? It’s mainly a testament to the close nature of this season’s championship that I place Hamilton this low, because there is no doubt that he drove brilliantly in a season of unpredictability.

Hamilton won the two races closest to his heart: Monaco and Britain, while he also won Mercedes their most important race at Hockenheim.

Hamilton, of course, had to battle not only the other drivers but also the steward’s decisions. While Malaysia and France seemed fair, Spa and Japan were obviously less clear-cut.

But he handled the pressure well and built a healthy lead with one of the drives of the season, in China. Indeed there were times when Hamilton was unstoppable like in China and Canada, but if anything, there were more times when he made mistakes.

Malaysia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Japan, and dare I say Brazil were all races that Hamilton had misfortunes inflicted partially or completely by his own driving.

He has without doubt the best race craft of any driver in this year’s lineup, but he made too many mistakes to be warranted the No. 1 spot in my list, even though he deserved the championship.

Best Moment: There were many but taking the championship in such dramatic fashion surely is the highlight.

Worst Moment: Canada was all sown up it seemed until that pit stop.


1. Felipe Massa: Felipe Massa was for me the driver of the season, and he takes it by the slenderest of margins. While many may claim foul that Hamilton is not given the No. 1 spot, Massa gets it through a number of factors.

First, he statistically outranks Hamilton. He won more races, took three fastest laps and was a more consistent qualifier than the Brit. He also beat Hamilton 10-8 in race results.

Furthermore, unlike Hamilton, he lost points not mainly from his driving or race craft but problems with reliability and mistakes made by the team. Hungary was a dead cert until three laps from the end, while pit-stops were almost a farce after the debacle in Singapore.

He did, however, have three bad races down to his own driving. In Australia, he never got to grips with the car, and he had similar problems in Silverstone. In Malaysia, he threw away 8 points with a lapse of concentration.

But what gives it to Massa is that he outperformed the expectations in a way that Hamilton could not. In the long term Hamilton is probably the better driver but this year Massa stepped up to the plate.

While almost all of us would have expected Hamilton to challenge for the championship, few would have expected Massa to be a contender. Massa showed his worth throughout this season. He had to become No.1 in the Ferrari team, for example, when Raikkonen faltered, he came from behind to challenge Hamilton in the championship and he was always there consistently battling for podiums.

Even in Germany, when Hamilton was fastest by a margin, Massa was still the only man who was anywhere near him. Massa’s performance was similar to Eddie Irvine in 1999, who also had to take the mantle as No. 1 of an expectant Ferrari team.

Even though Hakkinen won that year, Irvine surpassed expectations as he stood up to the pressure and succeeded in giving Ferrari their first constructor’s championship since 1982. Massa’s performance reflects that crazy year and surely that is enough to rank him No. 1.

Best Moment: Valencia was when he was truly considered a title contender.

Worst Moment: Realising the championship was gone in Brazil.


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