2009 F1 driver rankings part 3: 5-1

Was the world champion the best driver of the year?

Was the world champion the best driver of the year?

Over the last two days the 25 drivers who competed in F1 this year have been whittled down to a top five.

But who was the very best of the best? Read on for my verdict – and vote for who you think was the top driver in 2009.

5. Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso rose above the media furore at Singapore and finished third

Fernando Alonso rose above the media furore at Singapore and finished third

After all the speculation, Ferrari chose to end Raikkonen’s contract one year early and bring Alonso in for 2010, at a cost of several million Euros. All season long Alonso showed great persistence at the wheel of the uncompetitive R29, regularly dragging it into the top ten in qualifying and often into the points on race day. That his motivation seldom failed him even when driving a car not worthy of his talents was surely part of the attraction for Ferrari.

But, like another driver who conjured impressive results out of a troublesome car – Lewis Hamilton – Alonso’s reputation took a knock in 2009. After his victory in last year’s Singapore Grand prix was exposed as being a result of Nelson Piquet Jnr’s crash, he showed a disappoting lack of integrity by continuing to insist he deserved the win.

Alonso has often given his best performances on the track at the times of greatest stress off the track. Like at Monza two years ago while McLaren was imploding around him. It was the same at Singapore this year, where he silenced the criticism with a cool drive to a third place the team badly needed.

The R29 afforded few chances for Alonso to demonstrate his abilities. Front-row qualifying positions at Shanghai and the Hungaroring were largely thanks to race strategies that were on the desperate side of optimistic. At Hungary a fuel pump problem and a botched pit stop destroyed his hopes of translating pole position into a podium finish.

But he hung in doggedly, bringing the car home in the points eight times, which was far more than it deserved.

Great in a car that was average at best. He kept his head down, stayed out of trouble and grabbed points that he and the team needed. Unspectacular but his achievements were remarkable. Every point must have felt like a podium.
sw6569

4. Mark Webber

Mark Webber scored a richly-deserved first Grand Prix win

Mark Webber scored a richly-deserved first Grand Prix win

It was heartbreaking to see Webber’s gutsy return from injury in the first race of the season ruined so quickly, bundled out at the first corner by Rubens Barrichello.

Eight races later it looked like another dose of bad luck – again involving Barrichello – would rob him of a maiden race win. Not a bit of it: this was finally Webber’s day and not even a (undeserved) drive-through penalty could keep him from the top step.

He followed that up with third place at the Hungaroring and at this point he was Jenson Button’s closest championship rival, the pair separated by 18.5 points at the time.

A five-race run without a point put paid to Webber’s title hopes. There were some car problems (his brake failure in Singapore, for example) and the occasional Red Bull pit blunder.

But part of the explanation is also how Webber didn’t always get the car set up as well as Sebastian Vettel. At Suzuka he ruined his race before it had started by damaging his car during practice.

However he ended the season brightly with a second win at Brazil, though it was somewhat overlooked as all eyes were on the championship battle. In the final race at Abu Dhabi he battled hard but fair to keep Jenson Button behind for second in the final laps

Out-performed by his team-mate, but had his best season in F1 to date and his drives were even more impressive when you consider his fitness before the season began.
Vettelfan

3. Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton's two wins looked highly unlikely early in the season

Lewis Hamilton's two wins looked highly unlikely early in the season

The 2008 world champion began the season looking like he was heading for an annus horribilis. Despite being saddled with the wayward MP4-24 he dragged the car to third at Melbourne – which he then lost after colluding with the team to lie about how Jarno Trulli got in front of him in the closing stages.

As with Alonso this kind of thing detracts more from his character than from his driving. Like last year, Hamilton was sometimes inspiring and sometimes a little desperate but rarely dull.

He took consummate wins in Hungary and Singapore. Without misfortune there might have been two more at the Nurburgring and Yas Island. But mistakes cost him a podium at Monza and ruined his qualifying at Monte-Carlo.

Even at races where he had the same specification equipment as Heikki Kovalainen Hamilton’s margin of superiority was usually emphatic.

It’s hard to argue he doesn’t deserve his place as the best non-Brawn or Red Bull driver in the final championship standings, and his rivals know if he has a better car next year to expect a Hamilton who’s as quick as ever and a little bit wiser to boot. His huge advantage in qualifying at Abu Dhabi will certainly have given them something to think about.

Forgetting all the controversy of the Australian Grand Prix, it was actually one of Hamilton’s best races of the year for me. The McLaren was amazingly slow at that time and the fact that Hamilton almost made it to the podium was quite remarkable. Some of his other best races was properly at Hungary and Brazil, but there are quite few that can be named.
Zenobia

People keep saying that the McLaren was transformed into a winner – but for the car’s true pace look at Kovalainen post-Hungary. Sometimes the only advantage McLaren had was Hamilton. He pulled that car up by the bootstraps and took it places it wasn’t supposed to go.
Scribe

2. Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel's wet weather win at Shanghai was masterful

Sebastian Vettel's wet weather win at Shanghai was masterful

Interestingly, Vettel was voted the best driver in a poll of team principals. But you have to suspect he had both Red Bull and Toro Rosso voting for him.

When the RB5 was properly hooked up, Vettel was tough to beat. He romped home at Shanghai (another reminder of his wet weather prowess), Silverstone and Suzuka. And even when the car wasn’t quite on the pace he could usually be relied on to bring home points.

Although it’s true he suffered some engine reliability problems, they only kept him from finishing one race, the European Grand Prix. His Hungarian Grand Prix suspension failure had its roots in contact with Kimi Raikkonen.

What really hurt Vettel’s title-winning hopes were the kind of unforced errors the likes of Jenson Button didn’t make – the collision with Kubica at Melbourne (and subsequent penalty), the crash at Monaco and going off the track at Istanbul.

Those incidents aside, Vettel was deeply impressive this season.

When somebody outqualifies Mark Webber 15- 2 in his second full season, you know he’s fast.
New Flanders

Still has to learn some racecraft, and still makes the odd mistake. But considering he’s just starting his F1 career he’s a candidate, alongside Button, for driver of the year.
Pedro Andrade

1. Jenson Button

Jenson Button was unstoppable in the first half of the year

Jenson Button was unstoppable in the first half of the year

Before the season began we spent a lot of time discussing Bernie Ecclestone’s now infamous “gold medals” championship proposal. The consensus was that it was a bad idea – the F1 championship should not just go to the driver who wins the most races, but the one who is the most consistent.

By that measure, we can’t fault Jenson Button as world champion.

He blitzed the first seven races of the championship, winning all bar one. Some have put forward a simplistic explanation that this was all because of the speed of the Brawn in the opening races, but that’s not entirely true: Vettel in particular missed out on opportunities to win or score better in these opening races by making mistakes or failing to capitaise on this performance of his car.

From the halfway point of the season Button began to struggle in qualifying. But his consistency in the races brought home the points that made him world champion.

There were two crucial components to Button’s superiority. Even when he was stuck in the midfield he largely avoided making costly mistakes during the races (which is not something you can say about last year’s world champion). His only DNF came when he was taken out by Romain Grosjean at Spa.

Added to that was his skill in making the crucial pass when it mattered, pulling off essential overtaking moves which kept him from being stuck behind slower cars which would have scuppered his strategy.

His pass on Hamilton at Bahrain was a great example of this – the McLaren driver had drained his KERS early in the first lap, and Button’s pass at the start of the second tour was his last realistic chance to get the job done. Vettel, meanwhile, remained boxed in behind Hamilton despite having the pace to win.

Button did it to Alonso at Malaysia and Kubica at Suzuka. Together these are three drivers not exactly well-known for pulling over and letting their rivals past.

These vital passes built Button’s points advantage. A winning margin which might well have been greater had the Malaysian race gone the distance, as he was leading and Vettel was in a gravel trap when the red flags came out.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. This year Jenson Button was the man.

Did the business both from the front and in the pack. Several killer passes, kept his nose clean, kept the points coming and completed a hell of a feel-good story.
Bullfrog

Outstanding. The Monaco and Brazilian Grands Prix were amazing to watch. Just kept grabbing the points when the car was down. One DNF when another driver took him out. Passing to win was Button’s forte.
Chalky

Superb racing and precise overtaking (even against KERS cars) all season and continued to harvest points despite poor qualifying in the season’s latter half.
RandomChimp

Complete 2009 F1 driver rankings

No rank: Nelson Piquet Jnr
24: Luca Badoer
23: Sebastien Bourdais
22: Kazuki Nakajima
21: Romain Grosjean
20: Jaime Alguersuari
19: Kamui Kobayashi
18: Adrian Sutil
17: Vitantonio Liuzzi
16: Sebastien Buemi
15: Giancarlo Fisichella
14: Timo Glock
13: Heikki Kovalainen
12: Jarno Trulli
11: Nick Heidfeld
10: Robert Kubica
9: Kimi Raikkonen
8: Felipe Massa
7: Nico Rosberg
6: Rubens Barrichello
5: Fernando Alonso
4: Mark Webber
3: Lewis Hamilton
2: Sebastian Vettel
1: Jenson Button

2009 F1 driver rankings part 1: 25-16
2009 F1 driver rankings part 2: 15-6

F1 driver of the year 2009 vote

Who do you think was the best F1 driver of 2009? Cast your vote for this year’s best driver.

Advert | Go Ad-free

122 comments on 2009 F1 driver rankings part 3: 5-1

1 2 3 4
  1. Ganesan G said on 27th November 2009, 7:18

    May be we can put Rubens Barrichello ahead of Alonso. In the second part of the season he challenged the championship leader very well. Its not easy to be competitive the age of 37…

    • Its not easy to be competitive the age of 37…

      Well, I’m 47 and I’m still being competitive in front of young guys, even in some activities in which experience is not the main driver… :-) :-) :-)

    • Its not easy to be competitive the age of 37…

      Tell that to Nigel Mansell, who was 39 at the end of his ’92 title winning year and 40 when he wrapped up the following year’s CART crown…

      Or Michael Schumacher, who took the 2006 title chase to the wire aged 37.

      • Ganesan G said on 30th November 2009, 6:20

        When we won world championship like Schumi.. we didn’t need any motivation.. the entire team/media will be behind you… Age doesn’t matter.. That’s is not the case with Barrichello.. he didn’t win a race in the last few years…he came from no where… we have to appreciate that..

    • Keith, can you take your British hat off for one moment please. There is no way Webber deserves to be behind Hamilton in the rankings. Throughtout the year Hamilton made countless silly mistakes costing him and his team vital points. In contrast, Webber started the season with a serious injury to his leg and still managed to triple his carrier points tally, all the while notching up his first two wins. Webber should be number 3 in the rankings no questions asked.

      • sato113 said on 27th November 2009, 14:39

        yet he had a 5 race point-less streak in a competitive car…

      • Webber won 2 races in a Red Bull. Hamilton won 2 races in a McLaren, was denied a third at Abu Dhabi. Webber was fantastic, especially given the injury, but Hamilton wrung the neck out of a car that wasn’t quite up to it. Webber was driving, by the end of the season, probably the best car out there. I think that justifies Hamilton going above Webber. Close call though.

      • Agree Macca, but after all this is a UK site so its fair enough its a little biased to UK drivers. Same as an Italian site would be toward italian drivers.
        I think the argument around Vettel out-qualifying webber 15 to 2, missed the fact that Webber was heavier then vettel in almost all those instances on qualifying. I know that may not have always worked out for him but it means it’s not really a solid argument to suggest Vettel was that much better at driving then Webber. Better at strategy, maybe.

  2. Journeyer said on 27th November 2009, 7:29

    The Top 5 as I and a few others predicted! And I completely agree with #1-#4.

  3. wasiF1 said on 27th November 2009, 7:31

    Me too would have put Barrichello in front of Alonso,if he didn’t had those trouble at the start line in some races he would have finished in second overall.He made Button sweat in the second half of the season.

  4. I wouldn’t put Button close to #1, even Raikkonen came close to outscoring him in the second half of the season. He benefited from massive amounts of luck and 7 races of good form when he happened to have the best car.

    • No he performed well and was CONSISTENT. And as Keith said he didnt make and silly driver errors when it mattered. When is everyone going to realise that he is worthy and that others made mistakes.
      great article though Keith and the perfect outcome

    • Xanathos said on 27th November 2009, 9:33

      It doesn’t matter who outscored him in the second half. The World Championship is about a full season, not two half-seasons. And during the second half he did everything he had to do. And unlike the other three world champions on the grid, he had a competitive team mate.

      • Adrian said on 27th November 2009, 10:09

        Well said. In fact if the championship was won in only the 2nd half of the season, then Jenson Button would have been WDC in 2006..!!

        Also as many have pointed out, the Red Bull was actually as fast and sometimes faster than the Brawn in those first 7 races.

  5. I think Lewis anctuallly performed well
    it’s fabulous to win two grand prix champions when the conditions of the car always sucked
    He will take back his world champion!

  6. yeah, Hamilton did almost the same this year as Alonso did last year. sub-optimal car at the start of the season, struggling in the first half, but after that a champion-like comeback, and winning 2 grand prix’s. Singapore and Japan for Alonso in 2008, and Hungary and Singapore for Hamilton this year. these two performances from last year and this year are almost identical for me and emphasize the value of these guys.

  7. I personally think Hamilton should be number 1 as his car was truely awful but still managed to collect points and when the car improved he made the most of it. I know button had a good start to the yeah but he should be number 2 on that list. Also I can’t believe Alonso is there, if I was an Alonso fan I’d feel let down by him this year.

    • steph said on 27th November 2009, 9:20

      Hamilton made errors too though. Must crucially at Monaco which could have been a really good boost for the team.
      Alonso done his best with a fairly appalling car in my view.
      I think that in terms of championship and this year it is about right but the shame has been so many of the top guys spending most of the year in fairly mediocre cars.

    • Dennis said on 29th November 2009, 20:55

      It’s not Alonso who let his fans down, it’s that dreadfull renault. Normally, even without being a fan of the guy, he should be above Webber and Button and at least equal to Hamilton/Vettel/Raikkonen. He’s been so much better than his teammates Piquet and Grosjean..

      I think the ranking is fair. Button did have a huge advantage with his car but he was a lot faster than Barrichello and he just didn’t make any mistakes and he really does deserve credit for that IMO. Sure he’s been under pressure and Vettel did do a tremendous job in the second half of the season but he didn’t finish second for no reason :) Hamilton did a good job but I think Alonso was more impressive in that respect. Hamilton’s McClaren was terrible at the start of the season, however they kept developping and the car looked very strong in the second half of the season. Hamilton did make a few more mistakes than Alonso which is why I’d put Alonso in front of him. McClaren did do a terrible job placing Hamilton as first driver in 2007. Hamilton surprised me this year, he did a great job with a terrible car and I he really went up in my rank as a driver, even more than in 2007/2008 when he had the best car. So yeah, given his quality as an agressive driver and his speed he deserves to be up there. I think Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel and Raikkonen are exceptional drivers. Perhaps Kubica too. I do think Webber and Button aren’t up there with those guys but since they “overperformed” this year they deserve to end high as well. Webber did some fantastic races, love his style (Like Heidfeld), don’t see him all race but finishes most of the time and tactics are always superb.

  8. Hakka said on 27th November 2009, 8:30

    I know a lot of people say Vettel can’t overtake and that he needs to improve his racecraft. But a lot of that could have potentially been down to the RBR chassis being difficult under turbulent air (at least compared to the Brawn cars). It’s difficult to separate the two.

    I think most F1 drivers honed their passing skills in the lower series, and are all quite good. Some are unfair unfortunately. And Hamilton is head-and-shoulders above the rest in overtaking skill, possibly because of some refined trail-braking technique he uses.

    • DanThorn said on 27th November 2009, 10:22

      I think I’d put Button and Heidfeld up there with Lewis in terms of overtaking skill, and possibly Alonso too. Lewis has the mentality of being very aggressive and saying “I’m coming through now unless you want both of us to have an accident.” It worked well for Senna but Hamilton hasn’t quite refined it yet, every now and then he overdoes it. This year his overtakes have had a lot to do with KERS and have been rather dull, but I look forward to watching him overtake next year using his new found maturity.

      • There’s more to it than just the mentality (which may play a role, granted). Watch his races in the lower series, and you’ll see he has a completely different braking style.

    • I know a lot of people say Vettel can’t overtake and that he needs to improve his racecraft. But a lot of that could have potentially been down to the RBR chassis being difficult under turbulent air (at least compared to the Brawn cars). It’s difficult to separate the two.

      With a rocket in his hands Vettel have excuses this year, and this thing about “turbulent air” is one of them.

      Mark Webber made stunning moves this year: look back to China, Malaysia, Spain (his fight with Alonso!) and in Spa — when he overtook Vettel — and you will see that Vettel have serious problems to pass a slowest car.

      • I mean: “have NO excuses this year…”

      • Hakka said on 28th November 2009, 3:44

        Well, yeah he didn’t get the results. That’s quite clear.

        I’m just discussing a specific aspect of his driving and suggesting a technical reason for it. I would have said the same even if he had won the championship driving from pole in every race and still faced the “can’t overtake” label (i.e. even if he did get the results).

      • TonyK said on 30th November 2009, 6:04

        I agree that Vettel’s overtaking abilities are still an unknown quantity, that being said i thought his move around the outside of Barrichello at Turn 5 at Interlagos was one of the moves of the year. ( I know Rubens had just left the pits and was alot heavier.)

  9. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. This year Jenson Button was the man.

    Cometh the hour, cometh the man. This year Brawn was the man (and the car).

    I cannot agree on this, Keith. That was not Button, that was Brawn, a rocket beyond any other car during little bit more than half of the season.

    If I understand correctly we are judging here the driver, not the car, and despite Button deserved the title because he did the job he was asked for, there were more than one driver, that could have done at least as well as Button, if not better: Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Kimi, Massa, Heidfeld, Webber, Kubica. A long list.

    After turkey, we have seen the real Button with a car not being as far superior as the one they started with, they still were on the top three, with RBR and McLaren.

    Sorry Keith but I “don’t push that button”.

    Anyway, “quid pro quo”, my number one in this list is Hamilton.

    This year, Hamilton’s story remember me Alonso’s 2008 season, starting with a dog of a car and pushing every race trying to get each tenth of it.

    No doubt McLaren have done an extraordinary job with the car, but I’m pretty sure the fighting spirit Hamilton showed, represented a good incentive for the team to push and rebuild the car again.

    He has made errors, and some of them could be considered stupid errors as in Monza, but on the other hand, when you have not the best material, you have to take some risks… or being lost in the middle of the race. Hamilton choose not being nowhere and fight.

    He finalized 5th, with 2 wins and 4 poles, returning back the team the effort they putted in the car. The best man after Brawn’s and RBR’s. The best man not considering the cars.

    My final list:

    1 Hamilton
    (Not my favorite driver, by far, but the boy has done an amazing work this year)

    2 Vettel
    (My second favorite driver, but still too young and inexperienced)

    3 Button
    (Reliable, fast, nice guy but not in the top list of drivers)

    4 Webber
    (Same)

    5 Alonso
    (Sad to see a superchampion doing a superprofessional work for achieving a modest result)

    / Raikkonen
    (raw talent in the top list, but when the rest are “on”, no much talking about him)

    • Fernando Alonso rose above the media furore at Singapore and finished second

      Keith, I believe Fernando finished 3rd, not second.

    • S Hughes said on 27th November 2009, 9:59

      I don’t normally agree with you but I do here. I think if we’re judging “driving” it shouldn’t be associated with the car they are driving. Lewis got a bad car in positions it shouldn’t have been early in the season, and I feel helped develop the car into a race winner, but it still wasn’t the best car on the grid.

    • I cant agree more with our “Senior Friend, IDR… Great comment and free spirit to put Lewis on top this year!

      • Great response IDR – If Button had driven all season like he did at Brazil, I might yet be convinced of his talent. But he didn’t, and I am not. He lucked into the championship as far as I am concerned – it’s easy to win when you are in the best car. Not so easy when you are in a dog, and Button has driven many of those in his time and what did he do with them? Nowt, that’s what ! To compare him with Alonso or Hamilton who have hauled ****heaps up the grid into positions they had no business being in is, well, optimistic IMO.

        My top five would be slightly different as I wouldn’t have Button in there at all.
        It would be Webber, Barichello, Vettel, Hamilton & Alonso.

  10. James said on 27th November 2009, 8:31

    Lewis Hamilton all the way: the best baseline for comparison is team-mates, on which basis he has to win – Kovalainen is still quite a good driver!

  11. wasiF1 said on 27th November 2009, 8:36

    I don’t think the drivers were the difference,it was the car.We saw even the Force India on their day were on their best.

  12. Cheerful said on 27th November 2009, 8:53

    IDR:

    If I understand correctly we are judging here the driver, not the car, and despite Button deserved the title because he did the job he was asked for, there were more than one driver, that could have done at least as well as Button, if not better: Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso, Kimi, Massa, Heidfeld, Webber, Kubica. A long list.

    …this makes no sense to me; is Barrichello so bad in comparison to Button that is more inferior to all of these drivers you have listed?

    • is Barrichello so bad in comparison to Button that is more inferior to all of these drivers you have listed?

      No, Barrichello is no so bad, he’s just inferior (IMHO)

  13. sumedh said on 27th November 2009, 9:03

    Agree with the top 4. But Alonso in 5th is not done, Kimi in 9th is not done and I am still seething about Heidfeld below Kubika.

    About Alonso, a fantastic point about how he performs best when off-track pressures are at their most. I would like to add Monza 2006 to that list as well. He started well back, and was running 3rd before his engine gave away. Truly, a driver who saves his best for the most important occasion. But still, 5th is too high. He should be below Kimi in my opinion. Kimi should be 6th, Barrichello 5th, Alonso 7th, Rosberg 8th, Massa 9th.

  14. GeeMac said on 27th November 2009, 9:15

    I agree wholeheartedly with the top 5. 2009 was Jenson’s year and I can’t wait for 2010…

  15. Hezla said on 27th November 2009, 9:20

    I rate Alonso highly and also top 5 driver, but for the 2009 season he did nothing that should make him #5.
    Rubens, Rosberg and Kimi should all be in front of Alonso – for the season 2009.

    The ratings should be for the 2009 season and not what we know they can do.

1 2 3 4

Add your comment

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

All comments must abide by the comment policy. Comments may be moderated.
Want to post off-topic? Head to the forum.
See the FAQ for more information.