Continuing out ranking of the drivers of 2005, this week we present the definitive top ten.
10 (-1 on half-term ranking) Jenson Button, BAR-Honda, 37 points
With zero points at the halfway point in the season, you’d have been forgiven for assuming that Button would be happy with his move to Williams for 2006. But no, he famously changed his mind once again, and all the headlines about Button for the rest of the year was how much he was going to have to pay Frank Williams to stay at BAR. He put in some excellent drives in the meantime – especially in Turkey – but still no win.
9 (-5) Jarno Trulli, Toyota, 43 pts
Without doubt the best qualifier in Formula One at the moment – with an MP4-20 at his disposal, he would surely have had 19 poles to his name this year. Generally quicker than Ralf Schumacher in the races too, but does not seem to carry the same status within the team. In Belgium he was forced onto wet tyres aainst his wishes, and his race was ruined. The TF105b introuced in the late races was more to Ralf’s liking than his, but Trulli retained the upper hand over the season on balance.
8 (+3) Mark Webber, Williams-BMW, 36 pts
Webber’s erratic early-season displays (Sepang, Nurburgring) put him increasingly in Nick Heidfeld’s shadow – a situation highlighted in Monaco where Heidfeld got ahead during the race and took an excellent second. But Webber rallied later in the season (after Heidfeld had left, unfortunately), and drove immaculately in Suzuka where he would have claimed a podium but for BMW’s conservatism with the engine.
7 (=) Nick Heidfeld, Williams-BMW, 28 pts
Why on earth was Heidfeld being tried alongside Antonio Pizzonia for the Williams-seat pre-2005? He was always going to be the better driver, and the results confirm it. He took Williams’ only pole position, and their best race finish, and could well have beaten Webber over the whole season had he been able to complete it. Is in a powerful position as BMW’s golden boy.
6 (+6) Christian Klien, Red Bull-Cosworth, 9 pts
One of the most pleasant surprises of the season. Klien was indifferent in ’04, and a part-time seat in ’05 seemed generous. But, under pressure, he was close enough to ultra-experienced David Coulthard week-in, week-out to limit seat-share partner Vitantonio Liuzzi to just four races. Will get a full drive again next year – and definitely deserves it!
5 (=) David Coulthard, Red Bull-Cosworth, 24 pts
Coulthard, too, was given new wings at Red Bull. His vast expertise was invaluable to the team and their two younger drivers. He threatened the podium positions at the Nurburgring until he fumbled a pit stop which, cruelly, was perhaps his only mistake of the year. He even found new answers to his problems with one-lap qualifying. He isurging the team to be radical in 2006 and if they provide him the machinery he can certaily deliver.
4 (+2) Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren-Mercedes, 60 pts
Called such unflattering things as ‘idiotic’ and ‘rock-ape’ by the press and endlessly hounded about the ‘tennis accident’ that ruined his start to the season. Montoya nonetheless delivered three wins and, but for his enforced servitude to Raikkonen late in the year, could have had more. The state of affairs with Raikkonen unboutedly contributed to some unfortunate run-ins with backmarkers (Monteiro, Pizzonia) where both parties should have known better. If he can bring the extremes of his wild side under control – the incident at Monaco, the qualifying spin in Germany – he has the pace to beat Kimi.
3 (=) Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, 62 pts
Rumours of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, his sole win came in the unedifying orgy of self-destruction at Indianapolis, but Schumacher showed all of his characteristic verve whenever the opportunity presented itself – Imola, Interlagos, Hungary qualifying. But he also let his frustration boil over on the track – hitting both the Williams drivers (Melbourne, Istanbul) and suffering an absolute shocker in Shanghai. His vainglory has installed Felipe Massa alongisde him for 2006, so he will once again have no worthy adversay at the Scuderia. And if the tyre rules that have hampered Bridgestone this year are indeed reversed for next, an eighth title beckons.
2 (-1) Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren-Mercedes, 112 pts
The great debate of 2005 – ‘fast’ Kimi or ‘reliable’ Alonso? In fairness, neither of them were much quicker or more dependable than the other – these labels are better applied to the cars they drove. Raikkonen’s season was dogged by niggling problems on his McLaren (Malaysia, Magny-Cours, Silverstone, Hockenheimring, Monza, Suzuka) but, sometimes these were at least part self-inflicted (clouting the Imola kerbs, locking up at the Nurburgring). Suzuka was his zenith, of course, and it was cruel that the championship battle couldn’t have been closer than it was. But, really, the best man won.
1 (+1) Fernando Alonso, Renault, 135 pts
In the end, Fernando Alonse became the youngest ever Formula One World Champion in a car that, on balance, was not the fastest of 2006. The R25 was as reliable for Alonso as Alonso was for it – except in Canada, of course. He flirted briefly with driving defensively and when that failed – in Hungary – he switched back to full-attack. This was how he scored those vital points in Istanbul, Spa and, finally, Interlagos. Well and truly off the leash in Suzuka he produced a drive every bit as good as Raikkonen’s, spoiled only by the ham-fisted intervention of the stewards. A thoroughly worthy champion.