Continuing on from yesterday’s chart of the top drivers in 2006, we pick the top ten of the season. Read on to find out who we thought was the best driver of the season.
10 Juan Pablo Montoya (#4 halfway through the season)
Montoya’s early season performance really wasn’t as bad as it has been written off as. He was second in Monaco, and it’s not as if Kimi Raikkonen managed to finish any higher during the season.
But the manner in which he flounced off – to NASCAR of all places – left a very bitter taste.
9 David Coulthard (13)
Coulthard did everything that could be expected of him but grew increaisngly frustrated with the lack of progress at Red Bull. Mark Webber will join him and put him under far greater pressure than Christian Klien (whom Coulthard comprehensively saw off).
8 Giancarlo Fisichella (10)
Fisichella’s standout moments were on Fernando Alonso’s off days – at Indianapolis and the Hockenheimring. He battled courageously to third in Suzuka following the death of a close friend. And he did, of course, win in Sepang, but that was courtesy of Alonso’s difficulties in qualifying.
Now he is expected to lead Renault’s defence of their double constructors’ championship, and there’s not many people who think he’s up to the job.
7 Nico Rosberg (11)
After a stunning start to the season with a fastest lap in his first race, Rosberg seemed to go off the rails a bit. The unreliability of the Williams-Cosworth didn’t help, but nor did stunts like his first-lap crash at the Hockenheimring.
But there was plenty of evidence of his speed on occasions when the car was up to it – at the Nurburgring, for example. But his performance next year up against ALex Wurz could make or break him.
6 Mark Webber (6)
For me, Mark Webber was the qualifier of the year (second in Monaco, fifth in Hungary) and also the most heartbreakingly unlucky driver of the year.
His Williams gave up on him at Monaco, while second, and at home in Australia, while he was leading. And four other times – more than any other driver. But his speed and commitment were unquestioned.
5 Felipe Massa (8)
I did not expect him to rally so magnificently, win two races including his home event and qualify so well that it even hindered Schumacher’s championship effort. Almost certainly the most improved driver of the year.
4 Jenson Button (5)
That elusive first win finally arrived for Jenson Button, and what a cracker it was, too. Once Honda’s early season troubles were behind them he outscored everyone in the final six races bar Schumacher. With a decent car underneath him he can challenge for he title next year – but many have being saying that for years already.
3 Kimi Raikkonen (2)
If he was guilty on occasions of carelessness (Hungary, Turkey) it was probably because of just how hard he pushed the unco-operative 2006 McLaren. In Monaco he was hugely impressive, and thwarted by car failure. He drove the wheels off the car at the Nurburgring, to little reward.
Clearly overdue a championship, he will be desperate for Ferrari to provide the goods in 2007.
2 Michael Schumacher (3)
The record books show that Schumacher finished his career a beaten man. He and Alonso had a similar share of car problems and similarly competitive cars, but Schumacher’s occasional mistakes in Australia (crashing), Monaco (parking stunt), Hungaroring (over-defending) and Istanbul (qualifying) were what cost him the title.
Bt rather than dwell on that, celebrate instead the great performances we saw from him in 2006: duping Renault in Imola, pressing his car advanatge in the middle of the season, and lastly, that mesmerising drive in Interlagos. His swan song was utterly sensational.
1 Fernando Alonso (1)
As deserved as Alonso’s 2005 title was he knows, and acknowledges, that there is much greater value in beating a fully competitive Michael Schumacher to the title than an occasionally handicapped Kimi Raikkonen.
Alonso won the title because he kept his cool on the track, even when under the most fearsome pressure and suffering the most painful injustices.
His attacking technique was a joy to watch. He bludgeoned the field in Melbourne and clung on grimly in Istanbul. But best of all was that phenomenal first lap in Hungary – one of the greatest the sport has ever seen.