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”

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  1. Kubica is very good, but I just can’t rate him quite that high. For me Massa takes the cake this year, he truly displayed dominance, next I have Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel and Kubica tie and then Raikonnen.

  2. Personal I think you have the top 5 wrong. I agreed with the rest of the positions but Massa developed more than any other driver this year.

    To put Alonso, who had a shocking first half of the season, and Hamilton who made some of the worst unforced errors, above of Massa seems incredible harsh. Especially considering that you give Massa so much grief for his performance in the wet, when it’s well known that the Ferrari was a handful in anything but perfect conditions this year. Yet Hamilton’s kind of unforced errors of driving into the back of another driver in the pit lane, or completely out braking himself on more than one occasion seems not to go against him in the slightest.

    I agree to decide on the top 5 is incredibly difficult considering we saw one of the worst driven (yet most exciting) seasons in a while. It just seems a little biased against Massa, who as I already said, developed the most, and actually won the most races the season.

  3. I think there is much rationalisation of choice here with Kubica. Its based on non-falsifiable presumptions as much as what we saw on the track. The development question is not whether they stopped but about about the BMW’s actual design potential: if they did stop, then presumably insufficient. That the team sacrificed his speed to help Heidfeld is without facts in evidence.

    His late season viability was due to the HAM & MAS late-season comedy extravaganza and weather disasters as much as his “consistency.” And he won his only race after spectacular hijinks I needn’t repeat.

    Further, to assume he wins the crown in a top-two car is hard to accept given that 2x WDC Alsono does not top HAM in the same car on speed. And both Hamilton and Alonso destroy their respective teammates this year, with ALO winning two races with a car that was much weaker for most of the year.

    Does he beat all of MAS, RAI and HAM in a top-two car this year? Its not an insane proposition from what little basis we have for direct comparison. But his #1 ranking on this basis is tantamount putting him above the winners of the last 4 WDC winners. And this is without any evidence of a truly stunning performance, but instead, “consistency,” and rumours of effective sabotage, that’s just over-the-top. And it is not consistent with the qualified speculative nature of his hagiography here.

    For the record, I put this season’s ranking as ALO, HAM, MAS, VET

  4. I’m with Keith.
    Use your imagination guys! Lets put Robert in one of the best car this year, where both drivers got full team support (Ferrari) and probably at the end of this season he’ll be a champion with arround 150 points.

  5. @Richard – instead of using imagination, I’ll use history. Back in 2001, Nick Heidfeld and Kimi Raikkonen were team mates at Sauber. Over 17 races, Heidfeld actually qualified on average 0.7 places ahead of Kimi. If you look at the first 17 races Heidfeld and Kubica drove together as teammates, Heidfeld qualified on average 1.0 places ahead of Kubica. They have now been together 40 races and Kubica has improved somewhat, but I don’t think it’s possible to be confident that if Raikkonen and Kubica were team mates, the Pole would wipe the floor with the Finn. The same pretty much applies if Kubica was partnering Massa (whom Heidfeld out-qualified when they were team mates at Sauber in 2002).

    You and Keith might be absolutely right that Kubica is the bee’s knees, but I’ll reserve judgement until he’s in a race winning car.

  6. Anonymouse – I don’t know where you get the idea that I claim to be unbiaised. I’ve never said anything of the sort. Bias is inevitable – everyone is biaised and if anyone tells you they’re not they’re either ignorant of the subject, lying or stupid. You can try to be impartial – and I do – but you never achieve it 100% of the time.

    I can’t understand why you think my choice of Kubica as driver of the year is anything but sincere. I’ve told you why I thought he was the best and I don’t think it’s a minority view. I just opened Autosport and their number one driver this year is Kubica is well – in fact they’ve picked the top five the same as I did. Are they pandering to a populist view as well?

    I take the suggestion that I picked Kubica to encourage Polish visitors to the site almost as an insult. Surely you do not seriously think I just put up views I think people will agree with? You should see how many people disagree with me about Ecclestone’s ‘Gold Medals’ idea. I do not put up ‘popular’ ideas to pander; I do not put up ‘unpopular’ ideas to provoke. I write what I think, and my opinions are sincerely held.

    Nirupam – Yes this is about the drivers but I think you have to take the quality of car they had to drive into consideration to understand how well a driver has done. The difficulty is in how far you take it, and I think in order to get the complete picture you have to be at the side of the track which, unfortunately, I can’t do right now. To take the Autosport example again, they have Rubens Barrichello in ninth…

    Kester – I agree Massa improved enormously this year, but there’s more to a driver’s performance than how much he has ‘improved’ over previous seasons.

  7. Massa was also a bit off colour at Shanghai and Spa.

  8. 1. Kubica – fast and didn’t make mistakes (more or less.)
    2. Alonso – again, quick and consistent.
    3. Hamilton – very fast on some circuits, rookie mistakes on others.
    =4. Massa – Fast, so long as he was near the front of the field.
    =4. Vettel – Fairly quick and reliable.

    I’ve only been watching this season since Hungary, though, so I’ve ranked them according to what I’ve seen.

  9. 1. Kubica
    2. Alonso
    3. Hamilton
    =4. Massa
    =4. Vettel

    Only been watching this season since Hungary, though, so that’s what I’m basing this on.

  10. Kubica was not the best driver, how totally ridiculous. He had a great season but he was under no pressure at all as he was never expected to win. At times he was near the top at times he was nowhere. Lewis was world champion and although he made some mistakes also produced some truly great drives – to give it to Kubica purely on consistency and a lack of mistakes is a joke.

  11. Hamilton. We’re not yet discussing whether Kubica is a potential great or a new Senna etc. The fact that this is a question (and I agree, as yet very much unanswered) with Hamilton means his driving must be fairly exceptional. And if that’s the case, why rank him less than first in a year where he won the championship? In his second year in F1?

    Of course, there are other rationale for ‘best driver’ rankings: best consistency (Kubica), best real endeavour and driving improvement (Massa), best car improvement (Alonso), best hint at greatness (Vettel), etc… But best driver? Hamilton.

  12. Keith, I agree with your ranking with the exception of putting Alonso ahead of Massa which is too generous for Fernando.
    As far as Kubica, he got the most out of his hardware – something one can’t say about the other guys. That alone makes him the best driver. Now, the final position in the race is the result of man and machine performance combined. Given that he had inferior equipment, and that the BMW team didn’t help later in the season as they were caught off-guard with is performance and unprepared to change plans, KUB’s ending the season in the top three/four is a huge accomplishment. Obviously the ‘man’ component far outperformed the ‘machine’ or he wouldn’t be in the title fight for so long. Surprisingly some continue to use the argument that KUB capitalized on others’ mistakes and that diminishes his result. What a piece of nonsense! Like he was sitting around and waiting for a handout. Then what about the other 16 or 17 guys? were they all sleeping?

  13. 1 – Massa
    2 – Hamilton
    3 – Alonso
    4 – Kubica

    For me, Massa was the most improved driver this year, he was untouchable in several races, scored more wins than anyone else, made far fewer mistakes and lost the championship through poor team work and poor luck. He might not be world champion, but all of this and his reaction to losing proved that he is world class. Whilst I would understand 2nd place, especially here, I don’t see any rationale for having him 4th.

  14. Massa bad performance in Monaco??? Are you serious??? He was fastest in the wet and made a tiny error… which only cost him 5-6 seconds.. compared to everyone else. Only reason why Hamilton won was because he made a massive error and crashed into a wall!!!

    Get you stuff right before you post them.

  15. Keith – interesting final four. Identical to Autosport’s final four actually!!

    I agree with you that BMW is culpable for possibly throwing away a championship. Focusing on Kubica (not Heidfeld) and 2008 (not 2009) could have seen us with more Pole on pole

  16. Hamilton above Massa is fair. Kubika above all is fair.

    But Alonso above Massa isn’t. His 1st half was not at all good. Consider this; Trulli, Nico, Glock, David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello; his team-mate Nelson Piquet, Vettel; all made it to the podium before him. And this season was strewn with lottery races.

    Alonso’s performance took an upswing only in the last 4 races; that was only after Renault had improved their R28. Mind you; the R28 improved only because; everyone had shifted their attention to 2009 by then.

    In my book.
    1. Kubika

  17. aahhh consistency, the hobgoblin of the narrow minded. Give me death or glory drivers every day of the week. Im sure you could write a computer program that would prove that Kubica is the best driver as well but thankfully human instinct still counts for something.

    A little shine just came off this site

  18. Why do people keep saying that Massa improved so much this year? Improved compared to what?

    Compare his results from the last two seasons and you’ll see they are almost identical. Same number of podiums, same number of poles and just about the same number of points (with one race more though). He was fast on the same circuits in both years. Both season’s showed bad luck and driver errors here and there. Seriously, it’s almost a carbon copy of last years results.

    The difference is that McLaren was slower this year (and they lost Alonso and Alonso lost McLaren) and Raikkonen made a huge number of mistakes. Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen scored less points etc. So his competitors were indeed a lot “worse” than previous season, but that doesn’t make Massa “better”.

    I’d say Massa actually performed worse than previous season (seeing how he had the same result with less competition and a race more), but obviously a lot “less worse” than his competitors. Indeed this made Massa look relatively better, but the reality is that he performed just about the same as the year before.

  19. patrick. i think you could call it that way but equally you could say that it was a more competitive environment therefore drivers were bound to be put under more pressure and therefore make more mistakes. More drivers won races than i can ever remember and it is to Lewis and Massa’s credit that faced with Kimi, Heikki, Alonso, Vettel and Kubica they managed to come out on top. I think Massa has improved enormously since he joined F1, but i agreeless than comment consent over the last 2 seasons.

    On another point; You can make any subjective opinion you want on who was better but at the end of the day the points gained tell the story. If your telling me driving a Ferrari or a Mclaren doesnt have its own very individual demands compared to driving a Torro Rosso then your kidding yourself. Kubica i still think is iver rated – hes basically the dark horse that the media ignore that afficionado’s like to say “ahh yes, hes actually the best” implying some sort of knowledge no one else is party to. Fact is hes steady, his racecraft is offensively still to be proven though defensively he looks excellent. He may well win championships but in cricket would you rather watch Pieterson bat or Boycott?

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