2008 F1 driver rankings part 3

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.

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59 comments on 2008 F1 driver rankings part 3

  1. David said on 22nd November 2008, 0:09

    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.

  2. charlie said on 22nd November 2008, 0:44

    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?

  3. ceedas said on 22nd November 2008, 1:16

    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.

  4. 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.

  5. John Beamer said on 22nd November 2008, 6:32

    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

  6. 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
    2.Hamilton
    3.Massa
    4.Alonso

  7. antonyob said on 22nd November 2008, 20:57

    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

  8. Patrickl said on 24th November 2008, 9:00

    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.

  9. 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?

  10. well that was a surprising choice from you keith. You ranked Kubica as number 1……. wouldnt of been my choice but were all entitled to our opinions.
    who was your previous year number 1 ranked driver?

  11. Keith, I just can’t agree with Kubica. Yes, he was robotically consistent for most of the season, but surely not the best in class?

    My top four:

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

  12. I’m sure that should Kubica had started his season like he finished and finished like he started most of you wouldn’t have argued him being the driver of 2008. Unfortunatelly the old quote which goes more or less like: “you always mean as much as your last performance” can be recognized in some of your way of thinking.
    And that’s disappointing.

  13. Patrickl said on 25th November 2008, 0:26

    I’m sure that should Kubica had started his season like he finished and finished like he started most of you wouldn’t have argued him being the driver of 2008.

    Kubica seems like a good qualifier and he’s decent in the race, but he doesn’t show anything extra. No exceptional drives, no overtaking. He just runs his laps and finishes in the position that the car allows him.

    On the other hand, indeed I don’t see why people should ignore that Heidfeld and Kubica scored just about the same number of points in the last 12 races.

    They are really matched much more closely than people give Heidfeld credit for. Sure Heidfeld had some trouble with qualifying and sadly for him that was in the part of the season where the BMW was able to really compete with the top teams. Though he really gave Kubica a run for his money in the majority of the season.

    To be honest I wonder if the roles in the team won’t reverse again. The cars will handle differently and it might suit Heidfeld better again. So who knows, next year Heidfeld might be on top of Kubica as he was in 2007.

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