With the final round of the season over it’s time to vote in the annual F1 Racing Man of the Year Awards. We take a look at this year’s and tip which drivers, teams and personalities deserve the gongs in 2006. Don’t forget to cast your vote! (See below for link.)
Pit crew of the year Ferrari
After the shambolic performances of at least one Renault mechanic in Hungary and China that potentially cost Alonso fifteen championship points, there is no question that the prize this year belongs to Ferrari.
Most improved team of the year BMW
The way the uncompromising Mario Theissen edged Jacques Villeneuve out may have lacked class, but when you put a driver like Robert Kubica in the car who really cares?
It’s a tribute to the quality of the team Peter Sauber was running that BMW have seen instant results from their cash injection. With Kubica and Nick Heidfeld in the seats for next year, and the promising Sebastian Vettel in the wings, their driver line-up has strength and depth.
I suspect Ferrari will pip them to this award though. That would be a shame, because the Scuderia never really lost form in 2005 – they just had bad tyres.
Team principal of the year Christian Horner (Red Bull-Ferrari)
Flavio Briatore inexplicably re-signed Giancarlo Fisichella when he had the option of Mark Webber. Ron Dennis squandered Juan Pablo Montoya, lost Kimi Raikkonen, and his cars have been (by his lofty standards) hopeless.
Jean Todt handled the Schumacher Monaco affair with aloof gracelessness, Nick Fry possibly only got luckyâ€¦ it goes on.
Christian Horner may have the advantage of a near-bottomless pit of Red Bull cash, but he has spent it well. An Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull-Renault driven by Mark Webber could well win races next year.
Drive of the year Jenson Button, P14 to P1, Hungary
Even acknowledging that it’s hard to imagine why Alonso’s performance at the Hungaroring is not an option. His opening laps were a hypnotic blend of intuitive skill and immense aggression, judiciously threading the Renault past his rivals.
Michael Schumacher’s breathtaking final performance in Interlagos would win the category easily if it was an option.
This is to take nothing away from Jenson Button’s magnificent first F1 win. Put in the context of how his team mate fared in the same race, starting from the sharp end of the grid and falling back, it’s easy to see how special this drive was.
Start of the year Fernando Alonso, P7 to P3, Malaysia
If the category took entire first laps into account then Alonso’s start in that same race, rising from fifteenth to sixth, is a clear winner.
But in the absence of those options Alonso’s gutsy start at Malaysia impressed me the most. In fact, Renault’s superb starts impressed everywhere, but the way Alonso wielded it to sweep around both Williams at the first corner in Sepang was a highlight and set him up to score a solid second place after a problematic qualifying session.
Overtaking manoeuvre of the year Michael Schumacher on Jenson Button for P15, lap 20, Monaco
Another poll that needs some more recent options. Either of Fernando Alonso’s passes on Robert Kubica or Felipe Massa on the first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix were better than the options available. Particularly the Massa pass, considering how easily the Brazilian could have had Alonso off.
Failing that Schumacher’s pass on Jenson Button in Monaco was excellent – as is any pass in Monte-Carlo, which is why you see so few of them.
Car of the year Ferrari 248
On balance, a Ferrari 248 was the thing to have this year. Prodigiously quick in a straight line and devastatingly effective in the second half of the year.
Driver of the year Fernando Alonso
There are only two contenders in this category – Alonso and Schumacher. Both put in consistently excellent performances but for a single off day each (Schumacher in Melbourne, Alonso in Indianapolis). Both produced at least one immense performance that will be remembered for years to come.
But it was Alonso who made fewer mistakes and, arguably, under much greater pressure than Schumacher. When Schumacher faltered, as he did in Turkey, it was Alonso who capitalised.
Qualifier of the year Mark Webber
I had a couple of drivers in mind for this. Alonso’s lap for fifth on the grid in Italy with a damaged car having driven a full-speed out lap was magnificent (ignoring what happened next). Button qualified very well early in the season before Honda lost the plot.
But Webber is the man who really stands out in the mind. At Monaco and Hungary, where the drag penalty is low and the downforce requirement high, he qualified second and fifth with decent fuel levels on board in a Williams that was hopeless most of the time.
With a hideously unreliable car the only chance Webber got to excel was in qualifying – which is what he did.
Rookie of the year Robert Kubica
For me, Kubica edges Nico Rosberg as the outstanding rookie of 2006. Rosberg was blistering on his debut but squandered opportunities elsewhere – notably Canada, when he basically chose to end his race by banging wheels with Montoya.
Kubica’s podium at Monza was the just reward for an impeccable drive. Heidfeld is right to be worried.
Friday driver of the year Robert Kubica
Kubica may have benefited from a few low-fuel glory runs but he also impressed with his technical feedback and all-round skills. This proved enough of a reason for Theissen to use him to prise Villeneuve out of the cockpit.
Personality of the year Jacques Villeneuve
The loss of Villeneuve and Montoya for 2006 robs F1 of its two most interesting drivers. Montoya may have sulked his way back to America after a dismal year, but Villeneuve went out all guns blazing, just like you knew he always would.
â€œMichael isn’t a great champion because he’s played too many dirty tricks and he isn’t a great human being,â€ was his parting shot to F1 Racing magazine in August. His forthrightness will be much missed.
Technical director of the year Bob Bell
Poor Bob Bell. In the Renault R26 he had assembled a fine car – a balance of conservatism and innovation, evolving the delicate contours of its championship-winning predecessor, mated with a reliable and strong new Renault V8 engine.
What a pity that it was all unscrewed by a controversial change in the rule interpretation by the FIA, declaring that the cars’ mass dampers, at the very heart of their intricate suspension configuration, were no longer legal. The sudden switch massively compromised the Renault’s performance and with it their championship defence.
Man of the year Fernando Alonso
I can’t bring myself to vote for him. Not after Monaco. Not after announcing his retirement, which looks all too much like he’s ducking away from the challenge of taking on Raikkonen in the team he built.
For me Alonso has been the greater of the two this year. He has mounted a championship challenge with a team he knew he would leave at the end of the year. He has made fewer mistakes than Schumacher, scored points at a higher rate and kept his head in the face of mounting pressure.
At Monza when his tyre shredded in qualifying he went back out and set a stunning time with a wounded car. When that was taken away from his in deeply dubious circumstances he lashed out at the sport but remained calm on the track, racing up to third place until his car let him down.
Yes, he has been critical of the sport and for that some ignorant parties have labelled him a ‘whinger’. But for all the pressure, suspicion and conniving it never seems to have impaired his performance on the track.
There is the mark of a racing man.