Here are my eight favourite moments of the year – both off and on the track.
Lewis Hamilton’s starts
Or, to be more precise, Hamilton’s first corners. His starts were often nothing special – Robert Kubica beat him away from the line at Melbourne, but Hamilton simply drove around the outside of him, and Fernando Alonso, first bend.
He did the same at Monza, where Felipe Massa beat him away from the grid but Hamilton took him back at the first corner despite the pair briefly making contact.
At the circuits that afforded him the opportunity, Hamilton conjured up some phenomenal moves. He seems to have another sense that tells him exactly how late he can brake regardless of how far off-line he is or how cool his tyres are.
We saw it at Sepang, when he passed a snoozing Kimi Raikkonen and a distracted Felipe Massa. And surely the best of all was at the Nurburgring, when his tenth place grid position would have become fourth had he not been touched by a spinning BMW.
He certainly pushed the rules, though, and was perhaps lucky not to get a wrist-slapping for the kind of unseemly twitches from the racing line we saw on the run to turn one at Bahrain. And his lap one cool deserted him when he needed it at Interlagos…
Fernando Alonso vs Felipe Massa, Nurburgring
Is there any finer sight in motor racing than a proper, wheel-to-wheel duel to the flag?
Massa and Alonso did battle in the dying stages of the European Grand Prix as rain began to fall and everyone switched to wet-weather tyres.
But Massa gave his tyres too much punishment on the way out of the pit lane, causing a vibration the would badly compromise his defence of the lead.
Alonso, meanwhile, was at his brilliant best. His karter’s instincts hunted out the grippier parts of the circuit, and his unrivalled ability for heating up tyres (except, perhaps, for Lewis Hamilton) took care of the rest.
Massa’s defensive driving in extremis was questionable in its etiquette. What began as a ruthless covering of the racing line turned into wheel-banging. When Alonso finally got through the pair made contact: Massa moved across on the champion when it was far too late – as Alonso made very clear to the Ferrari driver in their post-race row.
But it was Alonso who prevailed, and his victory was one of the season’s best.
Nico Rosberg vs Jenson Button, Monza
In a horrifically uncompetitive Honda, Jenson Button was not going to let a rare chance to score some points pass him by.
And so when he qualified tenth for the Italian Grand Prix and leapt ahead of Nico Rosberg at the start, Button clung on grimly.
For lap after lap Button rebuffed Rosberg’s attacks, defending with millimetre-perfect precision and never stepping beyond the boundaries of fair play.
It was Rosberg who finally gained the upper hand, but Button’s relentlessness saw him grab a valuable point – perhaps the hardest-earned of the season.
Sebastian Vettel, Shanghai
After the nightmare of Fuji – where he’d run third only to crash into team mate Mark Webber – Sebastian Vettel needed to find redemption in the Chinese Grand Prix.
The weekend didn’t start well, however, for although his Fuji grid penalty was quashed he picked up another one for impeding someone during qualifying. He started 17th, but the lowly grid slot emboldened the team to take a strategic gamble and they called it every bit as perfectly as McLaren screwed it up.
Despite the constantly changing conditions Vettel visited the pits only once, to switch from wet weather tyre to the dry weather compounds he needed for the second part of the race.
That alone gave him an enormous time advantage over his rivals – most of which stopped at least twice – and Vettel made up the rest with some skilful driving.
His fourth place was Toro Rosso’s best ever, and equalled the best result the team had earned when it was Minardi. And it went some way towards recompensing for his Fuji gaffe.
Lewis Hamilton, Interlagos
After succumbing to a pair of deft moves from Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, Hamilton fell to eighth from second on the first lap. But straight away he began attacking the cars ahead of him, passing Jarno Trulli as they began the second lap and urging Nick Heidfeld to run wide at turn one.
But on lap eight his luck took a turn for the worse. A gearbox glitch robbed him of drive for thirty agonising seconds, dropping him from six to 18th, over half a minute behind the fifth place he needed to become champion.
Now Hamilton threw caution to the wind. Sure, some of the cars he now had to pass were much slower than those he had raced earlier, but the pressure of time meant he had to dispense with each driver on the first attempt and not get held up behind them.
The McLaren driver carved his way through the pack, diving past Rubens Barrichello’s Honda from a seemingly impossible distance, showing off the stunning race craft that gave his performance at Istanbul in GP2 last year instant legendary status.
At the end he fell short of his goal by just two places. But while some have questioned whether McLaren’s strategic switch spoiled his race, no-one has claimed he couldn’t have done any more on the track.
Anthony Davidson’s qualifying lap, Istanbul
It’s always been part of the nature of Formula 1 that the best lap of a given weekend might not be for pole position or the best lap of the race.
Sure enough Anthony Davidson’s stunning lap at Istanbul only gave the Super Aguri pilot 11th on the grid. But it was still an absolute peach.
Unfortunately on race day he was held up by a first-corner fracas and wasn’t able to translate his brilliant qualifying lap with a points finish. But it was the second best thing anyone did in a Super Aguri this year after…
Takuma Sato vs Fernando Alonso, Montreal
Yes, it was aided by an oddity of the tyre rules and Alonso’s earlier delay due to a penalty for an ill-timed pit stop.
But nevertheless this was still a Super Aguri overtaking a McLaren. Sato capitalised on his traction advantage and passed Alonso around the outside of the final chicane, no less.
Traction control banned
This year virtually everything that came from the FIA was negative – whether it was a stewards; ruling or plans for future of the sport.
But this long-awaited change has been widely welcomed by fans of motor racing. For seven years F1 the sport has been burdened with the stigma that one of the most important functions of the driver has been delegated to a machine.
The ability to time and moderate the moment of acceleration is fundamental to a drivers’ art. Too much power provokes a spin, too little and you’re just plain slow. The banning of traction control will also make it harder for drivers to manage tyre wear, which can only be good for the racing spectacle.
Good riddance to traction control and three cheers to the FIA and car manufacturers for finally banning it. I hope we never see its like again.