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. 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?

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Kubica being number one can be argued over and over again, but I think only BMW knows if he truly deserves it. We are not 100% sure what he had at his disposal. In my opinion he always pushed his car. The last couple of qualis you could really see him trying to get everything out of it even though it didn’t amount to anything great.

    Some mentioned that there is no proof that BMW switched their efforts towards Heidfeld. Look at how much testing Kubica did in the second part of the season. Also I believe Kubica when he voiced his opinions. He is always polite and reserved. If he openly said that the tam is not focused on him then it must have been a really big issue and not just him being a primadona.

    Congratulations to Kubica and the top 4!

  6. Kubica was the best driver this year because with such a poor car, with no support and development from the team in the second part of the season, with such pathetic mistakes in tactics made by BMW, with bad team performance in the pit-lane, he could not have done better than 4 place.
    He got maximum what he could get from this team and this car.

  7. I’m pretty sure there were other drivers who did “the best” they could with their car.

  8. John – regarding your comment number nine (belatedly, as the stupid spam filter deleted it) – thanks for the graph it’s really made me think about how I go about putting these rankings together. I wonder how it would look if we plotted other people’s rankings on there?

  9. yeh thats the one, thanks keith. if there was such a thing id rate Mr Spencers post as the 2nd best id ever read on this site – after all mine naturally.

    Seriously though it does maybe put meat on the suspicion that you raised Kubica artifically high – maybe to prompt debate??

  10. It was weird how the notification for John’s post came only yesterday. It wasn’t a spam filter that messed things up.

  11. ‘Artificial’, no – Kubica was my genuine choice.

    But John’s given me some food for thought, no doubt about it. Trouble is, it’s very hard from the outside to discern whether, say, Giancarlo Fisichella’s driven a better season than Heikki Kovalainen. I may come up with new ways of approaching this in the future.

    Patrickl – what notification?

  12. His graph certainly helps at the lower end of the scale and i thought the insight into Piquet was spot on.

    The suspicion has to be that Renault used Piquet to test their contrarion theory -otherwise known as “minority games” where you adopt the least common strategy; Pat Symonds did allude to it in one interview.

  13. Patrickl – what notification?

    Well you said that your response to comment nr 9 is belated due to the spam filter. Yet I received the notfication of John’s post only yesterday evening. Six days after he posted his comment.

    It seems there was something funky going on with the e-mail notifications.

  14. yes i only got that post yesterday also

  15. I received the notfication of John’s post only yesterday evening.

    That would have been when I took it out of the spam filter, triggering the notification. You don’t get a notification when a comment identified as spam is posted (and trust me – you wouldn’t want one!)

  16. Kubica had a chances to win more than one race. Do you remember his outstanding performance at Monaco? Lewis won not because hi was better but because he crashed early and changed tactics!

    1. Kubica only got on the podium because Massa lost speed after the first few laps and because Raikkonen and Kovalainen had to stop.

      Hamilton was in a league of his own. He was lapping a second per lap faster for quite a while creating a gap of 20 or 30 seconds in no time.

      1. OK so why is that Kubica did not lose the speed as Massa did, and why is that he didn’t need to stop like Raikkonen? It was a punishment for the Finn for not having his tyres fitted on time. Kubica didn’t make such a silly mistake. In fact – he was the only driver (well, bar Sutil)in that extremely demanding conditions with no mistake on his belt at all.

        Ham was running nicely, however – if he hadn’t made that early error, he would have finished behind Bob. Why do I think so? And how the heck would he overtake Kubica on the Monte Carlo Circuit ?!

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