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.

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

  1. Maciek said on 27th November 2009, 9:28

    2009 would deserve two separate ranking tables, one for each half of the season. When performances were more equalised among the teams in the second half, that’s when driver skills really showed up and made the difference (in individual races, not in the championship, of course.) If we could have a full season like the second half of this one, we’ll have a memorable championship.

  2. The Sri Lankan said on 27th November 2009, 9:39

    in the same car ALONSO , VETTEL and Hamilton will own the show. everyone else would be second grade

  3. antonyob said on 27th November 2009, 9:45

    With the full benefit of hindsight and without the worry that JB was going to blow it, his cool head whilst driving in the pack was actually more impressive than when he won the first few races. His overtakes were stunning and leagues ahead of anyone else. Its often said of a great football team that they will pick up points even when not playing well. It seems football has a more sophisticated view on form and class than F1 where JB was widely seen as bottling it and not that good after all. My view is he hung in even when the car or he wasnt competiitive in a season that saw an unprecedented level of competitive cars.

    On a slightly separate point his failure to do Webber in the last race does actually give an insight into where the problem with overtaking lies. When JB made all those overtakes he had huge incentive to do so but with Webber he was going to be 3rd or 2nd, so not much difference really, why take the risk. If he’d had to take him to win the WDC my guess is that he would’ve nailed Webber. We’ll never know but somehow we need to incentivise drivers to overtake rather than just spend years changing the cars and tracks.

    • antonyob.

      First para very much to the point. We must never forget how damn close the whole field were this season. Brundle was always banging on about it, and rightly so. When you saw Force India suddenly wipe the floor for an hour or two in practice/qualifying, and then young Buemi startle every other driver with his times, you realise how wafer thin were the differences between good and bad drives right down the field. I can remember one race ( somebody remind me which one ! ) when, with about one minutes qualifying left Alonso was on Pole. In less than 30 seconds he was back in 16th ! Unbelievable stuff !

      In crushingly tight situations like this season, where the slightest error could spell disaster, you needed cool, calm , nerves of steel and staggering concentration levels. Button was under more pressure than anybody to deliver.

      He delivered. QED.

  4. S Hughes said on 27th November 2009, 9:47

    Button, pah. Totally disagree, Hamilton should have been no. 1. Nevermind, we all have our own opinions, and this blog is still one of the best. I would have put

    1. Hamilton

    The others are only there because of the cars.

    • So tell me where had Hamilton been before the race in Hungary. And why did he suddenly win there…
      He did it only because of the car.

      • S Hughes said on 27th November 2009, 16:14

        Hamilton, as I have said in previous posts, dragged that car to positions it wouldn’t have got to with other drivers – just look at Heikki. Yes, he started winning when the car was competitive, but there were still downforce issues in that car as highlighted at Spa (which was after Hungary) which were mitigated by KERS, but it was not the best car on the grid by far. The Autosport journalists agreed there. His margin of difference to Heikki also speaks volumes, who ended up 12th. Barrichello was third, because of the car (I mean, he ain’t a top drawer driver is he?), and similarly Button who was average when the car wasn’t head and shoulders above the others in the latter half of the season. I reckon the Brawn was still a superior car to the McLaren throughout the year, yet Lewis got more points.

        Can you see now??

      • And where was Button after Turkey, no where…

        It’s funny how people go on so much about how good Button did in Brazil when Hamilton and Vettel started behind him and ended up finishing ahead of him

  5. Overall I pretty much agree with the list. For me it gets harder to decide where to rank drivers at the top of the list. I am still not sure who I would put at number one, but it would probably be Button, for his consistency and lack of mistakes compared to other drivers.

    If I had to make up my own list without seeing any others for inspiration some of the main differences would have been that I don’t think I would have had Alonso so high, but then by all accounts the Renault was one of the worst cars over the course of the year. I would also have put Raikkonen higher though I am not sure quite how high.

    I would have had Glock either just below Trulli or just ahead in the rankings, and would have probably swapped Heidfeld and Kubica around.

  6. christopher (sennaboy3) said on 27th November 2009, 9:51

    the collision with Kubica at Montreal

    Keith, we can only wish there was a collision at Montreal this year! maybe today we’ll have confirmation for 2010!

  7. Wizzer said on 27th November 2009, 9:56

    How can you rate Lewis and Fenando so high without no decent team mates to compare with? :)

  8. Ferrari stopped development half way in a season and what Kimi managed with this underdeveloped car is simply amazing.

    • Terry Fabulous said on 27th November 2009, 10:40

      So that must be why they got rid of him?

    • Roland said on 27th November 2009, 15:59

      If you read james allen’s blog (jamesallenonf1.com), he says that some of the Ferrari engineers “couldn’t believe” that Raikkonen had managed podiums and wins with the car, given the figures from their data. I reckon the Alonso deal was done before his supposed ‘resurgence’.

      • Roland said on 27th November 2009, 16:02

        Actually this is the quote:
        “But his performances from July onwards in a car which Ferrari had stopped developing, were astonishing. Even the Ferrari engineers don’t fully understand how he managed to get some of the podiums he did based on the performance of his car, compared to the opposition.”

        • Terry Fabulous said on 29th November 2009, 21:37

          Hi Roland

          But if he did such a good job, surely they would have kept him on for another year?

          Maybe he didn’t do such a good after all?
          or maybe it was too late and they had already signed Alonso?
          or maybe he got sacked because of earlier disappointment rather then the second half of this season?

          I’m not sure but it doesn’t add up?

  9. Terry Fabulous said on 27th November 2009, 10:38

    Yaah! I’m so glad you picked Button as the driver of the year. He was the MAN this year. Some of his passes were totally awesome.

    And the way he delivered in the first half of the season was exceptional. He is the World Champion and deserves his Winter as the main man.

  10. antonyob said on 27th November 2009, 10:39

    yes Kimi was so amazing Ferrari dropped him and Mclaren passed

  11. TommyB said on 27th November 2009, 10:54

    I knew this would be the top 5 but I don’t agree with any of it :-P

  12. I have to agree with IDR, S Hughes and some others! We are looking for the best driver, not driver-car combination. It means we should be able to judge and distinguish driving skills and achievements without taking into account emotions or faults in the somebody’s character, and ponder these skills against the quality of the car. With Brawn and Red Bull dominance this year I don’t believe any of their drivers did anything so spectacular to ascertain the No1 place on the list.

  13. F1 will always be a difficult series in which to judge best driver due to differences in car performance. We’ve all known it, and this year we’ve all said it enough times – to win you need the best CAR. Kimi’s win at Spa and Lewis’ two wins were opportunistic and showed great driver skill. But one or two races a season do not make.

    The fact that Button could not and did not win in the last ten races tells me that the car advantage was gone and that he did not drive that well. Rubens scored two wins in that period of time. Neither Vettel nor Webbo could capitalise on their speed and Button’s lack of it to overtake him in the championship. Lewis and the might of McLaren showed that even they could turn a dog of a car into a winner – but only Lewis managed to look competitive in the upgraded Macca.

    In Schumi’s first championship season he was by far the best driver as he won without being in the best car (TC issues aside). Button won in the car that in all reality was illegal at the start of the season and he built his advantage while the rules were changed/clarified and the other teams caught up. Once they had, as I mentioned, he was nowhere in the races. But by that stage the damage had been done.

    I, despite being an Aussie with an inbred dislike for all things British, have to agree with Autosport and more than a few fellow fanatics – Lewis was the standout driver this season. He smashed his teammate, motivated himself and his team to victory, and went balls out to pick up another place at Monza resulting in the most heroic crash of the year.

    Next year will prove just who should have been No.1 in this poll, and I’m betting it won’t be Button…

  14. antonyob said on 27th November 2009, 11:24

    Well as the best drivers will naturally gravitate to the best teams then i think in the main but not always you can discount the guy coming in a plucky 17th in a Minardi, there may well be an Alonso driving it but more as likely there wont be. Button made the least mistakes the most overtakes, won the most races and the WDC. Its fairly clear he should be up there, whether its 1st 2nd or 3rd is largely subjective.

    You will never get a pure measure of a drivers worth but certainly beating your team mate is the nearest to it and Button did that too.

  15. Icthyes said on 27th November 2009, 11:38

    Whilst I’m not going to pan Keith for his choices and will simply I disagree (Vettel better than Hamilton is actually “more incorrect” – if there could be such a thing – to me than Button being top), I have to point out that many of Button’s overtaking manoeuvres were down to having awful starts, especially in the second half of the season. If we can fault Vettel’s lack of overtaking (which is at most only half due to the Red Bull being so bad in turbulent air), then we can definitely fault Button’s starts and ability to cope under pressure. I think the reason he rose to the challenge so well in Brazil was because it was his to win, not to lose.

    Button was indeed consistent, but that would have counted for nothing without the Brawn dominance and small doses of luck in the first 7 races (Button really ran his luck much more in the second half of the season). Keith has every right to judge him on consistency and put him #1 because of it (and other things, like the great drives which no-one can take away from him but didn’t really dwarf others’ amounts), I personally don’t think the evidence is clear-cut enough to give him #1.

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