Working out who was the best F1 driver is never easy – a driver typically only has one rival who has the same equipment, and even within teams two cars are not necessarily always the same.
So thanks to everyone who offered their suggestions for how to rank the best drivers of 2009. I’ve looked at your lists, weighed up the stats and re-watched the races to produce my verdict on the top races of the year. Starting in reverse order here are the bottom ten drivers of 2009 with my thoughts on their performances and a selection of your comments.
No rank: Nelson Piquet Jnr
It would be wrong to rate Nelson Piquet Jnr as if he were just another driver.
He has damaged Formula 1 with calculated cynicism, agreeing to crash a car on purpose and then confessing to it a year later in an attempt to damage his former team.
Regardless of the self-serving nature of his actions, the FIA granted him immunity. He escaped the ban faced by co-conspirators Flavio Braitore and Pat Symonds – but any team manager would be mad to hire him after this.
Spin in Melbourne (blaming the brakes), three spins in China (destroying multiple nose cones), calling Buemi inexperienced after their crash in Monaco, crying to the press before being fired, crying some more after being fired, then almost causing an entire team to drop out of Formula 1 (maybe still time for that to happen) in one of the biggest scandals in a scandal-ridden sport, while pretending to be a victim in a crash he caused, in a situation he should’ve been man enough to just say no.
Four words: Reject of the Year.
24. Luca Badoer
He was rushed in at Ferrari after it became clear Michael Schumacher would not be able to race.
At first Badoer’s struggles at Valencia were explained away by him being unfamiliar with the track. But at Spa it became clear the problem was driver-related.
Giancarlo Fisichella’s subsequent struggles with the F60 gave some insight into the difficulty Badoer faced. But not enough to excuse him being whole seconds off the pace of the next-slowest car.
Yes Luca, it was the media’s fault you were dropped. Specifically the medium of television, through which we could all see how bad you were.
23. Sebastien Bourdais
No noticeable improvement over last year, he usually failed to beat his rookie team mate. It’s fair to ask why Toro Rosso get through so many drivers but even so it wasn’t a surprise to see Bourdais get dropped.
His second year could have gone either way, sadly it went bad.
22. Kazuki Nakajima
The only driver to start every race and not score a point. Given that his team mate racked up 34.5 and finished seventh in the championship, Nakajima’s dismal performance is hard to excuse.
Very close qualifying was Nakajima’s downfall. Rosberg got into Q3 14 times. Nakajima managed it four times. That margin left him with zero points.
21. Romain Grosjean
Grosjean got a laot of criticism for his lacklustre showings for Renault, especially at Brazil where he seemed to go backwards.
A realistic appraisal has to take into account he was driving a dog of a car for a team that was reeling from the Singapore revelations, and up against one of the very best in the business.
In that context, lapping within a third of a second of Alonso at Yas Island is not something we should criticise him too harshly for, especially when he had little opportunity to test the car before his debut.
After some decent performances in GP2 I did expect a bit from Grosjean, but he was thrown into the deep end against Alonso no less. He properly deserves another decent shot at least, like Alguersuari.
20. Jaime Alguersuari
Became the youngest driver to start a Grand Prix despite lurid predictions he would crash into rivals, run over his mechanics and usher in the apocalypse.
In fact he beat Sebastien Buemi home in their first race together as team mates. It didn’t happen again, largely because of Alguerusari’s poor finishing rate (five retirements from eight starts) though that was largely down to the car.
Alguersuari qualified at the back and stayed there. I wish that Bourdais had been kept on.
19. Kamui Kobayashi
A difficult driver to place: Kobayashi only raced twice and gave two very different performances. In Brazil he qualified well behind Jarno Trulli and was criticised for some questionable defensive driving.
But his Abu Dhabi drive was a revelation. He kept Kimi Raikkonen at bay at the start to become the best of the ‘one stop’ runners, put a vital pass on Jenson Button after the new world champion had pitted, and jumped up to sixth ahead of team mate Jarno Trulli by the chequered flag.
Some may feel 19th is too low but given he only started twice putting him any higher would be a bit presumptuous. As many of you mentioned, hopefully the loss of backers Toyota from the grid next year won’t keep him from finding a drive for 2010.
Little time but already a solid performance from him.
Pedal to the Vettel
18. Adrian Sutil
Sutil should have been the driver to score Force India’s first points. But a crash in the rain Shanghai and an utterly unnecessary run-in with Kimi Raikkonen at the Nurburgring put paid to that.
Even after becoming de facto team leader following Fisichella’s Ferrari move, Sutil continued to squander good qualifying performances with avoidable clashes – with Nick Heidfeld at Singapore, and at Brazil where he paid the price of giving a rival no ‘racing room’.
Showed plenty of promise but still several mistakes and crashes.
17. Vitantonio Liuzzi
Parachuted in at Force India for the last few rounds, he ran well at Monza before his car failed. He finished more times than Sutil in their five races together, was right behind his team mate at Suzuka and beat him at Yas Island.
There are many people who think Toro Rosso gave up on Liuzzi too soon, and his brief appearance in F1 this year suggests he deserves a spot on the grid in 2010.
Liuzzi gets my understated performance of the year award. His first race at Monza back in an F1 car was fantastic, he definitely would have picked up points and possibly a podium if his engine hadn’t blown up.
16. Sebastien Buemi
All told, a decent maiden season for the young Swiss driver. Especially given how the STR4 struggled to emulate the success of its predecessor, and was noted for its unreliability.
He got off to a strong start by scoring on his debut and adding an eighth in the rain at China. A long point-less spell followed but towards the end of the year the car came good and suddenly Buemi’s name was getting noticed in practice sessions.
At Suzuka he impressed by reaching the top ten – despite several very wayward moments and a crash late in the session. But he was back in the points in the final two races and qualified a fine sixth at Interlagos.
Good first season in F1.
Join us for part two covering positions 15 to six tomorrow. The top five will be published on Friday – along with your chance to vote for the driver of the year.