2008 F1 driver rankings part 3

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton was champion - but was he the best driver of 2008?
Lewis Hamilton was champion - but was he the best driver of 2008?

It’s time for the final four. Who was my driver of the year? Read on to find out, and share your verdict below.

4. Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa dominated in Valencia
Felipe Massa dominated in Valencia

Mid-season ranking: 4

In my mind, Massa was definitely the best driver overall in 2008.
– Jean

He was runner up in the world championship by just one point, he won more races that anyone else and he had the best average starting position. So why is Massa only fourth in this list?

Two reasons: first of all, the mistakes. No, he didn?t make as many as the world champion did, but still there were plenty. Crashes and spins marred his first two races, and wet weather still seems to vex Massa more than most: he went off at Monte-Carlo and lost control at Silverstone five times, in a performance that recalled his shocking drive at the same circuit six years earlier.

Some may feel he deserves the championship more than Lewis Hamilton because Massa won more races and suffered more breakdowns. I understand that point of view, but I don?t agree with it. Every F1 car is a compromise between performance and reliability: if Massa?s had been more reliable, perhaps it would not have been as fast?

There were a few days when Massa simply didn?t figure. One of them was Spa, where he lagged behind Kimi Raikkonen ?ǣ but was later handed the win in controversial circumstances. At Shanghai, too, he fell so far behind Raikkonen the Finn had to go to great lengths to back off and let Massa past.

Those moments aside, Massa was deeply impressive in 2008, dispelling any notion that he would have to play second fiddle to Raikkonen. The suggestion that Raikkonen ended up behind his team mate at the end of the year because he was less fortunate than Massa simply doesn?t stand up: Massa was simply too quick for him, too often.

And that?s not something many expected to be the case when they paired up two years ago.

3. Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso ended Renault\'s two-year win drought in Singapore
Fernando Alonso ended Renault's two-year win drought in Singapore

Mid-season ranking: 5

Several mistakes earlier in the season (Canada and Monaco), but at the end of the season he was brilliant again. Completely annihilated Piquet.
– Patrickl

Fernando Alonso was conclusively the best driver over the final four races, in which he scored two wins and a podium finish. Those performances weren?t just the consequence of hard work at the race track (or, in the case of Singapore, a slice of good fortune), they were forged over months of development work, an area where Alonso has always been strong.

Fuji was surely his best drive of the year. The first-corner melee shuffled some of the top drivers out of his way, but he still had to out-drive Robert Kubica to take the lead. He accomplished this brilliantly, grinding out the relentless, consistently quick laps we recognise as an Alonso trademark.

Earlier in the year, when the car was mired in the midfield and even the minor points were hard to come by, Alonso seemed to lack his usual edge. A wet Monaco seemed tailor-made for him: he’d won there twice before and is a recognised ace in the wet, but it didn’t come together. At Hockenheim his temperament got the better of him, and after gesticulating furiously at Sebastian Vettel (whom Alonso felt had blocked him in the pits), Alonso spun off.

But by the end of the season he was back at his best, and with a rejuvenated Renault underneath him 2009 could see Alonso fighting for the championship once again.

2. Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton: the bad bits were bad, but the good moments were sublime
Lewis Hamilton: the bad bits were bad, but the good moments were sublime

Mid-season ranking: 3

Less brilliant than last year and often still given signs of being to hot tempered, but when he was in one of his days no one could come even close to him.
– Filipe

Hamilton?s season had ??win or crash? written all over it. On any given lap he could usually be found in one of the top two positions or toiling round towards the back of the field having tangled with a rival or been handed a penalty.

Plenty has been written about the world champion?s error-strewn performance in 2008. He hit Alonso, he hit Raikkonen. He received more penalties than anyone else, and ruined his starts at Bahrain and Fuji.

This is not an exhaustive list. But no driver ever attained greatness by avoiding mistakes, and on the flip side of Hamilton’s woeful moments were some examples of true racing brilliance.

Shown a wet track at Monte-Caro, Silverstone and Monza he sometimes lapped it whole seconds faster than his rivals could. Not for nothing was he voted F1’s best wet weather driver on this site a few months ago.

Hamilton started from pole position more times than anyone else and won more races on the track as well – whatever the stewards had to say about it. He pulverised his team mate, too.

Towards the end of the season he seemed to have finally learned the lesson that F1 championships these days are less about the points you win and more about the points you don?t lose. He trod carefully at Singapore while shadowing David Coulthard, and erred on the side of caution all weekend at Interlagos.

Some are asking if Hamilton now has a place among the all-time greats. Such talk is grossly premature ?ǣ he may be the youngest ever champion, but that alone is not enough to make him one of the best ever. But if he can match his obvious speed and instinctive race craft to a cool head, that could set him on the path to greatness.

1. Robert Kubica

Robert Kubica showed his class with an error-free race at Monte-Carlo
Robert Kubica showed his class with an error-free race at Monte-Carlo

Mid-season ranking: 1

Even though BMW dropped off the pace, Kubica has still had a late chance for the title.
– Dan

By the end of the season everyone has formed a view on which driver was the best. But I often find opinions about this sort of thing can get distracted by the later races of the year and ignore how the season began. If you fall into that trap, it’s easy to underestimate how good Robert Kubica’s performance was over the whole of 2008.

What makes Formula 1 such a challenging sport to analyse is the fact that every competitor is in a different car to all but one of his rivals. Three drivers conclusively got much more out of their cars over most of the season than their team mates, and they are the three drivers at the top of my list.

Kubica is top because not only was he consistently fast, he was the most error-free. And that was clearest of all over the first half of the season. Some produced better performances later on in the year, but taking the season as a whole, I fully believe Kubica was the better man.

At Melbourne he was hit by a lapped car. During the first half of the season he only finished behind the faster McLarens or Ferraris, and often ahead of a few of them as well. And at Canada, everyone was behind him. Some might suggest he lost a win at Fuji to Alonso. Looking at the data, I think he did an exceptional job in keeping Raikkonen at bay for second.

The only mistake worthy of the name all year was a spin in the pouring rain at Silverstone. Other drivers lost control many times in that race, but Kubica had the misfortune to spin into a gravel trap.

BMW, for whatever reason, seemed less interested in throwing their weight into a title effort this year, and more concerned with remedying Nick Heidfeld’s qualifying problems and sorting their preparations for 2009. Making matters worse, Kubica’s race at Singapore was destroyed by the appearance of the safety car at an inopportune moment, and a slow pit stop ruined his race at Hungary.

BMW may come to regret their choice of priorities if Kubica switches to another team in the near future. With a MP4/23 or F2008 at his disposal he would surely have been champion. With a little less misfortune, he might even have done it in an F1.08. And for that reason, Kubica is my driver of the year.

Who’s your driver of the year? Share your verdict below and vote in the 2008 best F1 driver poll.

59 comments on “2008 F1 driver rankings part 3”

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3
  1. Alonso above Massa is a little unfair on the Brazilian. Alonso was best if considered the 2nd half alone; but his 1st half was shabby: Monaco, Canada, Germany (which were lottery races; and he could have done better). Massa was shabby only at 3 races: Australia; Malaysia; Silverstone.

    And I was always of the opinion that Lewis and Massa should be together in this list. Either 1-2,2-3,3-4. They were very very close all season. Putting any driver in their midst seems injustice.

  2. That’s weird. You put a consistent driver on top, yet you advocate a medal system that would work especially against consistency? On the other hand you put Massa down when the medals system actually would improve his rank.

    Personally I would put both Hamilton and Alonso ahead of Kubica. All three had a few races where they performed subpar, but Kubica never really showed any special drives (like Hamilton did at Silverstone, Germany, Monza and Monaco and Alonso did at Fuji and Interlagos)

    Kubica messed up at Silverstone and in qualifying in the last two races. Hamilton messed up in Bahrain, Canada and to a lesser extent Fuji (and was hit by unfair stewards decisions in France and Spa). Alonso messed up in Monaco and Canada (although that’s claimed to be a mechanical fault). Am I missing some mistakes there? Otherwise I’d say Alonso made the least mistakes of the three.

    Hamilton and Alonso were pushing harder too. Just driving till race end like Kubica does is less dangerous than actually overtaking cars like Hamilton and Alonso were doing. When Kubica ran into safety car trouble, he just sat there behind the car in front of him.

  3. I find it very difficult to rank Alonso, Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Kubica and Vettel.

    Massa, Hamilton and Raikkonen because they were in superior equipment but didn’t produce as much as they could have. Raikkonen fared worse then the first two, obviously, but I figure he lost about 15 points to bad luck (Hamilton crashing into him, exhaust going pop, ceding positions to Massa, pit-wall spectacles). Kubica was stable but didn’t really pull of any stellar drives, Vettel perhaps the opposite with a few exceptional perfomances late season but otherwise milquetoast performance. It’s hard to gauge just how much the shitty early season Renault held Alonso back.

    I’m pretty sure I’d end up putting Alonso on top, with Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Kubica in some kind of mid tier, with Vettel close by.

  4. Hmm I was thinking similar things to Patrickl!

    Some may feel he deserves the championship more than Lewis Hamilton because Massa won more races and suffered more breakdowns. I understand that point of view, but I don’t agree with it.

    Surely thats advocating consistancy, Keith?!!! =P

  5. I’ve never said I was “against consistency”, but I think performance is more important, and my opinion is Hamilton out-performed Massa.

    And Kubica out-performed the lot of them.

  6. If too many factors are considered , it gets confusing , and even impossible to rate drivers . In Massa’a case , he would have won with the same luck as Hamilton , so I put him above. Both made some mistakes , but then both also drove races which were even above the capabilities of their superb machinery , and that makes up for the mistakes and more. Alonso as we know was solid , particularly in the second half. Kubica , yes the least mistakes , but then I must question if he was giving his maximum and even more , like I believe Ham. and Massa did , hence I don’t believe overall he was the best.

  7. If you look back at the points standing after each race you will see that Hamilton was in the lead most of the season. He also had a few outstanding performances not matched by any of the other drivers. I would have it, Hamilton, Massa, Alonso, Kubica.

  8. Massa
    That’s how i see top4.

  9. Keith, you’ve done a comprehensive job on this driver ranking. – you’re a obviously complete ranker.

    Three drivers conclusively got much more out of their cars over most of the season than their team mates, and they are the three drivers at the top of my list.

    That’s true for Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, but Robert Kubica was only 15 points (25%) and 2 places ahead of his team mate Nick Heidfeld in the WDC. He was *consistently* ahead of ‘quick’ Nick but not hugely so. Certainly, this is a much better performance than last year, when he was 22 points behind. It shows Kubica to be improved, but the best? I think BMW made the right call in focussing on 2009. If outperforming your team mate were the key criterion, you would have to rank Seb Vettel even higher. And if we’re talking about the percentage of a team’s points one driver scores relative to his team mate, then Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and even Rubens Barrichello (!) are looking good.

    I also think both Ferrari drivers could have made more of their car. Ferrari were faster than McLaren in Q2 at 11/18 races, and set quicker fastest laps in 14/18 races. This is reflected in your rankings of both Ferrari drivers (but putting Massa fourth after his performances in Interlagos, Valencia, Bahrain, and Turkey is tough). But in my mind, this elevates both McLaren drivers. Despite Ron Dennis’s proclamations, McLaren had marginally but definitely only the second fastest car on the grid. True, there was more rain than usual this season and this played more to Mclaren than Ferrari, but I think Lewis delivered some astonishing performances and Heikki wasn’t as bad as his points tally suggests.

    I plotted your rankings against the WDC positions. As with all rankings I have seen, there’s an enormous correlation between drivers’ subjective performances and their WDC position. A best fit line to the scatterplot splits the field in two, with mainly drivers slower than their team mate above the line (ie ranked as worse by KC than their WDC position suggests) and mainly drivers faster than their team mate below the line (ranked as better by KC than their WDC position suggests). The only exceptions to this, funnily enough, are at the extreme ends of the rankings. Bourdais and Button are ranked higher by Keith than their car’s speed and team mates’ performances would suggest. Lewis and Felipe, conversely, are ranked lower by Keith than their cars’ speed and team mates’ performances suggest.

    Without anyone laughing at me, can I put in a good word for Nelson Piquet? He’s ranked plum last (not just by Keith) because his modest collection of points is considered a fluke in an otherwise dismal year. But is this pattern of results something to do with Pat Symond’s tactical genius? He deliberately sent Piquet out with weird strategies, knowing that every few races he would luck in to a few points he would otherwise never get. Conversely, when the weird strategy didn’t play out, Piquet was guaranteed zero points. I would put money on him being closer to Alonso next year. Maybe 5 places behind on the grid instead of 7.

    Lewis #1, btw. No doubt about it, in my completely unbiased mind.

  10. I think Kubica being given the number 1 slot is not a reflection on him being the out and out best driver, instead I think that this season saw an unprecedented amount of errors from the other drivers which leaves to doubts cast on the other drivers.

    Kubica demonstrated he knows how to bring the car home while being consistent – but there were very few moments in the season that I was openly impressed by his ability to take a race to anyone. If the BMW was fast – then so was he, but if it was average, then so was Kubica.

    It is the other drivers fault that they messed up more than Kubica, so hats of to him, but I am still cautious as to if Robert is the out and out fastest driver in the field – but that is another question all together!!

    If Alonso had a better 1st half of the season I would have gone for the ex champion.

  11. Oh Please

    Keith, I think you have been rattled this year by some of your posters, and have gone out of your way to “Appear” to be unbiased.

    But it shows through, and as such, though I find what you write interesting, I do not believe it is what you really feel.

    Kubica got lucky in Canada, where a year before his red mist nearly killed himself. Then he started bitching and moaning about BMW, hardly professional. You make him nmber 1? Does this have anything to do with the number of Poles who visit your site per chance?

  12. in my opinion kubica is only a solid driver who lucked into his win in canada when hamilton took raikkonen out; as consistent as he and bmw may have been, they mostly did not appear to have the raw pace to win this season! his relatively disappointing end to the season where he was outperformed by heidfeld seems to have been glossed over too.

    i would have ranked him fourth, alonso third massa second and hamilton first…

  13. I wouldn’t have even put Kubica in the top 4. One lucky win, consistent, yes, but the best? No way. Massa had some great races, especially Brazil — under pressure, and Hamilton had much “higher highs”. If you put Kubica and Hamilton in the same team, i think Lewis would destroy him on sheer pace. Alonso redeemed himself to me this year by never giving up and taking some risks. My top 4:

  14. Fair evaluation.

  15. I actually agree on this one with Keith.
    If you’d know more about how BMW operates you’d realize that development stopped almost completely after Canadian GP – which was only a 7th GP this year. With that being said Kubica was still 12 points within Lewis after Japanese GP (with two races to go!). If that’s not over achieving then I don’t know what is.

  16. Kubica #1? Come on man. The mark of any great competitor in any sport is there ability to finish when the game is on the line. Kubica just went straight into the tank at the end of the season when he was in the title hunt. This completely disqualifies him from even being considered.

  17. Keith, this post is regarding best drivers, not about the car manufacturers, is not it? So IMO ranking should be done based on the drives alone and how much can a driver get the best out of his car.
    Based on that I wud rank
    1. Lewis (Had gr8 drives in Britain and Monaco, always pressed for win)
    2. Alonso (A close behind, superb in the second half, made less mistakes than the top two)
    3. Massa (Again a close 3rd, due to unwatchable mistakes)
    4. Kubica (Always consistent but has he pressed for some position gains ever? Apart from the last lap in Interlagos?)

  18. I think it is odd how everybody still thinks that monaco was the race where Hamilton was brilliant and Massa lost the lead due to a mistake in the wet…somethings a bit wrong here.

    But in my opinion Massa and Hamilton where really even matched over the season; both had one retirement after a stupid mistake (Malaysia, Canada), one embarassingly slow race (Bahrain, Silverstone), and an equal share of dominant and average drives. At most races, Massa had a slightly faster car, but also a less reliable one.

    In my opinion they should be equal second behind Kubica. Alonso’s first half of the season was too bad to put him ahead of Massa.

  19. I agree with that ranking. Robert’s season was really impressive. BMW didn’t have the pace to fight for even one win. BMW were always slower than fastest car (depends on track – Mcl or Ferrari) 0.4s in Australia, Bahrain and Malaysia and about 1s in second part of the season. Despite that Kubica was able to outperform his car and in normal race conditions did fantastic job. Sometimes in qualyfying, sometimes at the start of the race he won with Mcl or Ferrari drivers. Kubica was always fast and only in Interlagos with “great” team strategy decision looks nowhere.
    Unfortunately BMW decided to switch resources on 2009 car, and what’s really strange Kubica got only two test days in 2nd part of the season.

    To be honest, as Kubica said after Interlagos the best driver of the season is the World Champion.

    Driver’s rankings is just amusement. For me as F1 and Kubica fan the most important thing is that Robert, Vettel and Massa showed they are able fight for championship when car is alright. They joined to Alonso, Kimi and Lewis.

  20. @Keith Collantine, I see one mistake. Kubica race was ruined in Spa cause slow pit stop, not Hungary. At Hungary BMW did amateur mistake with tyres pressure and Robert with Nick were slower than Force India :)

Jump to comment page: 1 2 3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.