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Who were the top 10 drivers of 2012?
Saturday 08th December 2012, 22:13 by Daniel Chalmers
2012 has been one of the most unpredictable and memorable seasons in Formula 1 history.
We have had eight race winners and 13 different drivers have had appearances on the podium. In fact, nearly all the drivers on the grid have had some great moments this year.
In truth there were 16 or 17 drivers who had good reason to be in the top 10 drivers of the season list. However as only 10 could make the cut some very difficult decisions had to be made. That’s even before the decision of what order they should be put in.
As usual this analysis takes into account a number of factors including: peak performances, consistency, comparison to team mates, the performance of the car and mistakes etc.
It’s likely that everyone’s top ten is going to look slightly different this year but here is mine.
10. Michael Schumacher
Some may find this a surprise inclusion, but Schumacher delivered some great performances in the final year of his comeback.
If it wasn’t for a number of problems he could have ended the year with a very respectable points tally. In qualifying he did really well. He qualified fourth in the season opener in Melbourne. He put together a great lap in Sepang to qualify third only 0.172 seconds off pole, and then was third on the grid in China too.
He was the fastest man around Monte Carlo. Unfortunately a five place grid drop due to an incident with Bruno Senna in Spain meant he couldn’t take his pole. From then on Mercedes went seriously downhill.
Michael Schumacher (© Octane Photographic).
However when rain levelled the playing field, in qualifying at Silverstone and Hockenheim, Michael popped up in third. In the difficult track conditions at Austin he produced a stunning lap to take fifth on the grid.
He had a few great race results including his podium in Valencia and a very strong sixth in Monza. His final F1 race in Brazil was also very impressive. A first lap puncture put him down to the back of the field but he fought back to finish seventh, making the right calls on the tyres.
Reliability issues prevented him from picking up very big points in Melbourne and China. Contact from Grosjean meant he couldn’t make use of his front row start in Sepang.
DRS failure in qualifying in Bahrain put him out in Q1 on a day where he could have qualified high up the grid. Schumacher was running in seventh when more gremlins struck in Monaco.
The big negatives of the season were silly collisions with Senna in Spain, and Jean-Eric Vergne in Singapore.
However without all the bad luck Schumacher would certainly have finished in the top ten of the championship, and at the very least matched Rosberg’s final points total.
9. Sergio Perez
Perez has shown some star potential this year but he has shown some very rough edges too.
His drive in Monza was one of the drives of the season. He started 12th and drove all the way to second on the podium, which included great overtaking moves on world champions. He has demonstrated that he isn’t fazed by running at the front of the field, and going wheel to wheel with the best drivers in the sport.
He drove brilliantly in the wet in Malaysia to finish second, and ran a great race in Montreal conserving the tyres brilliantly to finish third. You have to be very talented to get giant killing results like these. It’s been a while since we have seen a midfield driver get those sorts of results.
Sergio Perez (© Sauber Motorsport AG).
However, if you look beyond those three stunning podiums Sergio’s season begins to look less impressive. Apart from those three podiums, Perez only finished in the points on four further occasions (making it seven in total).
That is a little bit underwhelming considering how good a car Sauber managed to produce this year, probably their best ever (excluding the days BMW owned the team).
Since it was announced that Perez was moving to McLaren his form became especially poor. He only scored one more point after his second place in Monza.
The Japanese GP for example (where he slid off trying to overtake Lewis Hamilton) was perhaps a case of trying too hard to impress his new employers.
He only scored six more points than his team mate Kobayashi, who now has to fight to keep his place in the sport. Plus on the days where Sauber were quick over a single lap, it was his team mate who got the car furthest up the grid. This was certainly the case in Japan where he qualified fourth (which became third) and Spa where he qualified on the front row of the grid.
Perez’s peak performances put him on this list, but he will have to seriously improve his consistency and one lap pace, to have any hope of a successful career at Woking.
The potential is definitely there though.
8. Paul Di Resta
Paul didn’t have a great end to the year but generally it should be regarded as a positive season for the young Scot.
Force India were struggling a bit in the first half of the season. Pace wise Williams and Sauber were stronger. However this didn’t stop Di Resta from finishing a stunning sixth in Bahrain on a two stop strategy, when three stops was the more sensible option. Let’s not forget that the team skipped second practice that weekend.
He did very well to finish seventh in the wet at Sepang, and he also drove brilliantly in Monaco to finish seventh after starting down in 14th.
Paul di Resta (© Sahara Force India).
His best moments of the season came in Italy and Singapore. In Monza he qualified a stunning fourth. Such a pity that a gearbox penalty meant that he had to start down in ninth, as he could have had an outstanding result there.
In Singapore he qualified well again in sixth place and managed to convert that to a career best finish of fourth. He even gave Fernando Alonso a run for his money for the last place on the podium. A KERs failure prevented him from getting a huge points haul in Spa too.
Di Resta's last six races of the season were very disappointing, considering that the car was quite competitive in that part of the year. Up until that poor run started he had been leading Nico Hulkenberg in the championship.
However look beyond that spell and he still had a decent season. His two or three strongest races of the season were right up there, with the best performances of 2012.
For a midfield driver nine points finishes is a very respectable return. If he had done better in those final six races he could have been in the top five on this list.
He needs to make sure he hits the ground running in 2013, and get over the disappointment of not landing a seat in a top team.
7. Jenson Button
It’s been a mixed year for Jenson but he has still had some very strong highlights. Spa was his strongest weekend. He was in a league of his own for the whole event. He completely dominated qualifying and then dominated the race effortlessly.
He took a very strong victory in the season opener in Melbourne. Then as you’d expect he excelled in the mixed conditions in Brazil, to take another victory there.
If it wasn’t for a botched pit stop in China another win was a genuine possibility there. He came close to another victory in Hockenheim as he chased down Alonso, but couldn’t quite get the job done.
Austin was another really strong drive. He started 12th and dropped further back at the start. However he fought his way through the field with a series of great clean overtaking moves. He did phenomenally well to finish fifth in the end.
Jenson Button (© McLaren).
Mixed with the highlights were huge struggles with the tyres. With a narrow operating window Button was one of those drivers who really had difficulty with them. He had a very lean spell between the Chinese and German GPs where he only scored seven points. In that same period Hamilton scored 47 points.
He also got comprehensively thrashed 17-3 by Lewis in qualifying this year. The final points tally might not reflect it, but Lewis was the star in the McLaren garage in 2012.
Overall this was probably Jenson’s worse year with McLaren so far, in what was arguably the quickest car overall this year, taking into account the whole season.
At his best Button showed once again, that he is as good as anyone out there. When he isn't though his dips in results are far too big.
He needs to perform at his peak at every race next year, if McLaren are going to have a shot at either title.
6. Mark Webber
Being team mate to the world championship winning driver must be very painful once again. However all in all Mark didn’t have a bad season at all.
He won brilliantly at Monaco which was a harder race to win than it looked. As rain fell late on in the race he was the first man to greet the conditions. It would have been very easy to push too much and hit the wall but he held it together. He then won a race long battle with Alonso at Silverstone overtaking him in the latter stages.
He also out-qualified Vettel nine times which is pretty good going. In the first half of the season it he was in contention for the title. After the British GP he was running second only 13 points behind leader Alonso. He was more consistent than ever and looking like a match for his team mate, particularly when the RB8 wasn’t at its best.
Mark Webber (© Red Bull, Getty).
Sadly once he renewed his contract his season started to drop off. He suffered some bad luck such as being hit by Grosjean in Japan, alternator failure in Austin and a gearbox penalty in Spa to name a few examples. His pace became more erratic and the new developments appeared lean more towards Vettel.
However he didn’t suffer complete domination from his team mate like he did in 2011. He had some really great moments this year, and was at times genuinely on terms with Vettel. He has made a significant contribution to Red Bull’s championship victory.
Unfortunately Mark doesn’t seem to be able to maintain the same high level for a full season. Furthermore it seems that when he really needs to deliver a good performance it doesn’t quite happen. That’s where Seb has the advantage over him.
5. Kimi Raikkonen
Kimi had a very solid comeback year. Right from the start his pace was strong. He didn’t take long to re-adapt to F1 after two years of rallying.
He has been very consistent. He has scored points in every race this year apart from the Chinese GP, standing on the podium seven times (including his victory).
It’s his race pace in particular that has shined. In Bahrain he gave Vettel a very hard fight for the win despite starting 11th. From fifth on the grid in Hungary he pushed race winner Hamilton extremely hard. On a track where overtaking is possible that would have been a win for Kimi.
He also came pretty close to victory in Valencia, again from starting fifth on the grid. He finally got the victory he deserved in Abu Dhabi after a great grid getaway and a problem for Hamilton.
Kimi Raikkonen (© Lotus, LAT).
His season hasn’t been perfect though. Raikkonen’s main issue has been qualifying. He didn't qualify in the the top three once (unlike his team mate who managed it twice). This meant he gave himself far too much work to do in races. If his qualifying had been better he may have won two or three more races this year.
Another issue in the early part of the year was that his race craft was a bit rusty. That rustiness potentially cost him the win in Bahrain. However he got better as the year went on. He did a great move on Schumacher into Eau Rouge, and then a breathtaking move around the outside of Hulkenberg in the fast section at Austin.
As good as his season has been, the E20 is a car that should have won more than just one race. There were a few events this year where Lotus had the best car, on Sunday at least. That is the main reason Kimi just misses out on a slot in my top four.
4. Nico Hulkenberg
Hulkenberg struggled initially in the first part of the season. Having a year with no racing clearly held him back slightly. However as the season progressed he got better and better, and started delivering on the potential shown as he was moving up the motorsport ladder.
Out of all the drivers outside the top four teams he is the man who ended up with the most points finishes (11). Considering Force India’s competition in F1’s midfield was much stiffer this year this was a very admirable feat. He also did extremely well to beat his very talented team mate Paul Di Resta by 17 points in the end, after an average start to the year.
Nico Hulkenberg (© Sahara Force India).
He did brilliantly well to qualify fourth in the rain at Hockenheim. He finished a remarkable fourth in Spa. Yes, this was helped by the first turn collision but he beat drivers who had quicker cars on the day including Mark Webber, Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher. Plus he only finished 2.5 seconds behind Raikkonen.
He was performing sensationally well in Brazil leading in the mixed conditions. Just a shame he made contact with Hamilton. Finishing fifth was still a great result though.
Another great performance was Korea where he finished sixth. This race included a majestic double overtake on Grosjean and Hamilton.
You begin to wonder whether Hulkenberg was the driver that McLaren should have signed. Sauber have pulled off quite a coup by signing him.
3. Sebastian Vettel
Vettel has taken plenty of flack since winning his third title. Many have said that the car is the only reason he won the title. When you analyse his season in greater detail, you realise it’s a very unfair assumption.
In the final third of the season Sebastian definitely had the best car. However when fans and media alike look back over a driver’s season, very often opinion is too focussed on what happened in the latter stages. This is known as recency bias.
The young German didn’t just win the title in the last part of the season. He won it over the course of the whole 20 race season.
It should be remembered that at the beginning of the season Red Bull weren’t quite on it. In Melbourne the car wasn’t glued to the track at all and looked difficult to drive (this was most likely the result of the blown diffuser ban). In that race Seb did very well to split the McLarens and take second place.
Sebastian Vettel (© Red Bull, Getty).
Holding off Kimi for victory in Bahrain was also another impressive performance, especially as Lotus was quicker that day.
Sebastian’s drive from tenth to fourth in Monaco was also noteworthy. He did an amazing opening stint on the harder tyre to jump so many cars.
He has also driven well in wheel to wheel situations. He was 12th at the end of the first lap in Spa but overtook a number of cars including his team mate to take second. This was on a weekend where Red Bull weren’t that competitive too.
When Red Bull weren’t quite at their best Vettel was consistently racking up big points, including weekends when he didn’t qualify well. These points were just as important in his triumph as that run of four straight wins. He had the fastest car for those races, but he made the most of it and didn’t put a foot wrong.
His comeback drives in Abu Dhabi and the season finale in Brazil under immense pressure were also very special.
A couple of mistakes aside, most notably making contact with Narain Karthikeyan in Sepang, Vettel drove very well this year.
There should be no doubt that Vettel is a very worthy champion. It has to rank as the best of his three titles.
2. Lewis Hamilton
The championship standings may not show it but Lewis had his best season in F1 to date. This actually should have been his second F1 title. Unfortunately McLaren really let him down, plus luck wasn’t on his side either.
Hamilton was very quick all year long and hardly put a foot wrong. He was the star of qualifying with seven pole positions, which is better than even Vettel managed. Not only that but before taking penalties into account (like the one in Spain); he qualified in the top three 16 times out of 20 which is incredible consistency.
He took four race victories but he should have had more (possibly eight). He was pacing himself in the lead of the Singapore GP, but a gearbox failure ended his race. He was leading comfortably in Abu Dhabi but retired with a fuel pressure issue.
Lewis Hamilton (© McLaren).
He was also leading the race in Brazil until Hulkenberg collided with him. Back at the Spanish GP Hamilton was on a planet of his own in qualifying. However McLaren’s mistake with the fuel meant he had to start last due to no fault of his own. On his form that weekend he surely would have utterly dominated the race.
Lewis also ran over debris in Germany which proved costly. Maldonado hit him whilst battling for second in Valencia. You could say defending hard against Pastor was Hamilton’s only little error this season. That is being very picky though because in all honesty Maldonado was more to blame.
Hamilton was also wiped out by Grosjean at the start in Spa. This list of his misfortunes is endless quite frankly. He easily lost over 100 points due to no fault of his own over the course of the year (he finished 91 points behind Vettel in the championship).
It was hard to decide between Vettel and Hamilton for second on this list. However Austin sealed the deal in favour of Lewis. Red Bull was mighty quick that weekend but Hamilton split them on the grid. He was even quicker in the race and overtook Seb to win.
That’s the sort of performance McLaren will be badly missing next year.
1. Fernando Alonso
Alonso has simply driven one of the best seasons of any driver, in the entire history of the F1 world championship.
He missed out on the championship by a whisker in a car, which had absolutely no right in being a championship winning car. It’s extremely rare to see a driver compete for the championship in a car as far off the pace, as Alonso’s was at times.
The fact that he has won over so many detractors this season just shows how well he has performed.
He has spent the entire season performing miracles. In Australia, Ferrari was around 1.5 seconds off the pace. Looking at the onboard footage the car looked an absolute pig to drive. Yet somehow Fernando managed to finish fifth with it.
In Malaysia he took the opportunity of the wet conditions to win the race from eighth on the grid. In those first four races of the season, when the car was atrocious, he scored more points than anyone could have expected.
Fernando Alonso (© Octane Photographic).
In truth during the middle part of the season the car wasn’t too bad, plus it had the bonus of a wide operating window with the tyres. Having said that Monza was the only circuit all year, where you could have argued Ferrari had the quickest car.
Valencia was another incredible performance where despite starting 11th he went on to win the race. He made a few bold overtakes in the process; including the pass around the outside of Grosjean going into turn one. He kept the faster Button and Vettel at bay to win against the odds again in Germany.
From Singapore onwards Ferrari was really on the back foot again, as Red Bull took a giant leap forward, and development on the F2012 was slow. Once Sebastian Vettel closed the gap down to four points in Japan the championship looked like a formality, but Alonso hung on in there.
His drives to the podium in Korea, India, Abu Dhabi and Austin were particularly impressive considering the car was poor in qualifying, and the pressure he was under to keep the title alive. After his pole in Germany he never started a race higher than fourth on the grid. However in those ten races he managed to get seven podiums, which just shows how good his race pace was.
What’s perhaps most impressive about Fernando’s season is his lack of errors. To be in contention, Alonso had to drive right on the edge to transcend the abilities of his car. When you drive right on the edge like that mistakes are always more likely. The only error of note was at the start in Japan where he arguably put a little bit too much trust in Kimi Raikkonen.
If Fernando can just miss out on the championship in an average car, just what could he do with a quick car?
Let us know your rankings in the comments box below.