Yesterday covered the first 16, here are a further seven and tomorrow there’ll be the final three.
For now, check out the first part of the top ten and argue your case for any driver you think is rated too high or too low…
10. Jenson Button
Poor though the Honda RA107 was, Jenson Button managed to overcome its shortcomings in a way Rubens Barrichello seldom looked capable of.
Although Button was rightly lauded for his measured drive to fifth in the wet at Shanghai, I thought the Italian Grand Prix was his most impressive showing. He dragged the car into the final phase of qualifying and scored a point on a day when there weren’t many retirements. His tooth and nail scrap with Nico Rosberg in the opening stint was as ruthless as it was fair.
He shined in the wet as well, and would surely have scored more points at the Nurburgring if he hadn’t been among the drivers who hit the lake at turn one when it was at its deepest. In the wet qualifying at Japan he was an excellent sixth. Next year he’ll be hungrier than ever.
9. Mark Webber
Adding to his poor luck he was shunted out of second in the Japanese Grand Prix – a race he might have won – by another of the Red Bull drivers.
On the occasions that fortune allowed him to finish he raced well, getting on the podium at the Nürburging, something few people who weren’t in a McLaren or Ferrari managed all year long.
And he remained one of the best (perhaps the very best) drivers in qualifying, racking up 12 top ten starts to Coulthard’s four.
8. Robert Kubica
His shocking accident in the Canadian Grand Prix can’t have helped, but to his credit the Pole showed no ill effects on his return at Magny-Cours, where he achieved his best qualifying position and joint best finish of the year (fourth in both cases).
Kubica seemed to belong in the Fernando Alonso / Kimi Raikkonen camp of ex-Michelin drivers who were flummoxed by the Bridgestone tyres, at least in the early part of the season.
But even by the end of the year he was not quite on Heidfeld’s pace. That said, he came much closer to winning a race than his team mate did, being cruelly robbed when his car failed shortly after he took the lead in Shanghai.
7. Heikki Kovalainen
After a very shaky start to the year Kovalainen got down to the task of shrugging off the rookie mistakes admirably well. The R27 was an ungainly car much of the time, and while Fisichella could apparently cope with it (having driven a fair few trucks in his time) Kovalainen took a few races longer to get to grips with its lack of aerodynamic stability.
The Canadian Grand Prix was unquestionably the turning point. Starting last on the grid after car trouble, with rumours gathering that he was about to be booted out of the team to make way for Nelson Piquet, he drove a perfect race on Sunday. Dodging the pitfalls that claimed countless others, he snatched a magnificent fourth.
From that point on he never looked back. He out-qualified Fisichella 8-3 over the remaining races and caught and passed the Italian in the points standings. But for a crash (caused by car damage) in the final race he would have finished every round.
6. Felipe Massa
OK, that’s a little harsh. After all Massa gave away what would have been one of his wins so that Raikkonen could win the championship. And he suffered slightly more from Ferrari’s reliability and operational problems: the retirement in Monza, the failure to get away from the grid at Silverstone and the problems in qualifying in Melbourne and Hungary.
But of the four drivers in the best cars this year it was Massa who most looked as though he didn’t belong. At Sepang Lewis Hamilton passed Massa at a place where it should have been impossible, then duped him onto out-braking himself off the road.
Having started 14th at the Hungaroring he advanced only one place over the course of the race to finish a poor 13th. Worst of all was his attempt to keep Fernando Alonso from passing him at the Nurburgring by causing contact with the Alonso’s McLaren.
He did take a trio of deserved victories, the latter of which at Turkey was definitely the best as he out-drove Kimi Raikkonen at a point in the season when the Finn was totally tuned in to the Ferrari’s handling.
Halfway through the year I wrote that I’d revised my original opinion of Massa as being crash-prone and unworthy of a top-line seat. But I still think he is a notch of performance behind the very best in the sport, and it showed on several occasions this year.
5. Nico Rosberg
Over the course of the season he became a regular visitor to the top ten in qualifying. He backed this up with consistent points finishes, aided by some badly needed improvements in reliability from Williams. His four consecutive points finishes late in the season helped lift the team past engine suppliers Toyota in the constructors’ standings.
His race craft was excellent, which it had to be as Williams team strategy let him down on occasions. This was particularly so at the Hungaroring and at Monte-Carlo, the latter seeing him slip down the field as he got stuck behind Nick Heidfeld at the start. At Interlagos he saw off both the BMWs.
There is a suggestion that he was flattered by the performances of Alex Wurz, whose heart plainly wasn’t in it. But judged on his own merits, Nico Rosberg had a very impressive season.
4. Nick Heidfeld
While last year he’d visibly had to work harder once Kubica had joined the outfit, this year he hit the ground running. In fact holding a grip on second place for much of the Australian Grand Prix was about as good as it got all season for Heidfeld. He got on the podium at Canada and Hungary, two of his 14 points finishes from 17 starts.
Given how secure his and BMW’s positions as ‘best of the rest’ were towards the end of the year it was a shame not see them adopt a more radical approach in pursuit of race wins in the late wet rounds.
But his only major blunder all year was the impetuous moved that punted both BMWs off at the start of the European Grand Prix. If BMW produced the goods next year, don’t bet against him scoring his first ever win soon.
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Photos: Ferrari Media | GEPA Pictures | BMW Media | Andrew Ferraro / LAT Photographic | Ferrari Media | Charles Coates / LAT Photographic | BMW Media
Previous driver rankings
- 2005 drivers half-term report (1/2)
- 2005 drivers half-term report (2/2)
- 2005 driver rankings (1/2)
- 2005 driver rankings (2/2)
- 2006 drivers half-term report (1/2)
- 2006 drivers half-term report (2/2)
- F1 2006 review: Drivers end-of-season rankings (1/2)
- F1 2006 review: Drivers end-of-season rankings (2/2)
- 2007 drivers half-term report (1/2)
- 2007 drivers half-term report (2/2)