It’s time to name the top three drivers of 2010.
Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso are the final three drivers in the 2010 rankings – but which one comes out on top?
Read on to find out.
3. Sebastian Vettel
Half-term ranking: 3
Vettel’s late-season chase to the crown was the stuff of script-writers.
In Korea, after yet another car failure, it looked like it was all over. But by winning three of the final four races – and thanks to Ferrari being preoccupied by his team mate – Vettel pulled it off.
He was cursed with unreliability in 2010. Vettel was leading in Bahrain, Australia and Korea when his RB6 faltered, leaving him with 12 points instead of 75 from those three races.
That wasn’t the end of it. More car trouble in Canada, Spain and Turkey (qualifying) held him back. Earlier this year I calculated he’d lost 48 points due to unreliability – and that was before Korea.
To his credit, he never let his frustration get the better of him in the form of outbursts directed at the team. It was just as well, because he made a two major blunders of his own, colliding with Webber in Istanbul and Button at Spa.
Both these mistakes were born from overtaking attempts which went wrong. Even with a world championship under his belt, Vettel has not yet shaken off the impression that although he can win from the front with aplomb, racing for position is not his thing. His fight back through the field at Silverstone was scrappy at times.
Vettel’s raw speed has never been in doubt and, armed with an RB6, he was a fearsome proposition in qualifying, taking ten pole positions.
The stark fact that he scored half that number of wins leaves the nagging feeling that he made hard work of this world championship.
However his performance under pressure can’t be faulted. Whether in the rain at Korea, or after being pipped to pole by Nico H?â??lkenberg in Brazil, it seemed nothing could faze Vettel in the crucial final four races.
He got the job done in a clinical fashion that was supremely impressive for someone earning the title of youngest ever world champion.
You can’t argue with ten poles, five wins and the championship. Very unlucky with reliability, but lots of silly errors meant he snatched the championship rather than dominate it as he perhaps should have done.
2. Fernando Alonso
Half-term ranking: 6
The best driver of the second half of the season? Unquestionably.
Alonso went on the hunt for a third world championship having asserted his supremacy within the team at Hockenheim. His F10 became a much more competitive car after the addition of an exhaust-blown diffuser in Valencia.
Over the final nine races we saw him back at his 2006-vintage best. Singapore was an undoubted high point, stealing a win from the faster Red Bulls with a brilliant qualifying lap and a faultless drive under pressure.
He won at Korea having managed his tyres to perfection. It was a shame we never got to see whether it would have been enough for him to take on Vettel had the Red Bull driver’s engine not failed.
In Brazil he delivered a masterclass in restrained aggression, patiently wearing down Nico H?â??lkenberg to make a critical pass.
If he’d driven like that all year then he would have been champion. But for whatever reason he did not seem to be firing on all cylinders in the first half of the season.
His Ferrari career got off to a dream start with a win at Bahrain. But several of the following races were marred by costly errors.
Bizarrely, he jumped the start of the race in Shanghai. At Monaco he was fortunate to salvage sixth after crashing in practice.
Clearly, he was very unlucky in Valencia. But he was the architect of his own demise in the next race at Silverstone, failing to yield position to Robert Kubica having gone off the track to overtake the Renault driver.
To win races you need to do more than just be fast – sometimes you have to overtake people as well. There were times in 2010, such as at Silverstone, when Alonso’s racing savvy appeared to have deserted him.
Similarly, the Hockenheim debacle might have been avoided had he capitalised on a chance to pass Massa earlier in the race.
These were blips in an otherwise very impressive season which included a quite remarkable performance in Sepang where he coped with a transmission glitch throughout the race before the car failed a few laps from home.
In the end he came within a bad strategy call of winning a third championship title. If he can carry his late-2010 form into 2011 his opponents have a lot to worry about.
Like Hamilton (who I’d say he shares the title for the best overall driver on the grid today) he didn’t always have the fastest car but he pushed it to the absolute limit.
His first half of the year was fraught with mistakes but after the controversial German victory, he cleaned up and virtually dominated the last half.
1. Lewis Hamilton
Half-term ranking: 1
Having led the drivers’ championship in the middle of the year Hamilton hung on grimly despite having a car that patently wasn’t up to the job in several races in the second half of the season.
The arrival of the reigning world champion in the second car fazed him not one bit. He was usually the quicker of the two by a few tenths and sometimes in qualifying his car was half-a-dozen places or more ahead of the McLaren with the number one on its nose.
On the rare occasions he did start behind Button it usually didn’t last long, like at Melbourne where he passed Button soon after the safety car came in on a damp track.
Hamilton remains the most combative driver on the grid, the one most likely to a take on a rival instead of getting stuck behind them.
He won in excellent fashion at Canada, taking advantage of Alonso being boxed in behind leader Sebastien Buemi to pass him for the lead.
A fine drive at Shanghai yielded second place after a string of passes, taking Vettel along the way. But similar drives at Melbourne and Sepang were less well rewarded.
More points were lost with car failures at Spain and Hungary, plus his gearbox gremlins in Suzuka.
Back-to-back wins at Istanbul and Montreal, plus second places behind the Red Bull drivers at Valencia and Silverstone, marked the high point of his season. But as McLaren fell behind Red Bull and Ferrari in the development race there were times when Hamilton could only watch the other championship contenders drive away.
At times he tried to grab a bit too much. There were minor errors in Korea and Interlagos that were plainly born of over-driving. He flirted with disaster at Spa on his way to an excellent wet-weather win.
More seriously at Monza he threw away a vital opportunity to take points off the Red Bull drivers by tangling with Felipe Massa on the first lap.
Still on other occasions he was downright unlucky – particularly whenever Mark Webber was involved, as at Melbourne and Singapore.
This year’s world championship was remarkable in that drivers from three different teams had cars that were good enough to win races. Picking the best driver – the fastest, the best racer, the one who beat a strong team mate, the most dependable – is inevitably subjective. The margins between the very best are razor-thin.
Lewis Hamilton gets the nod this year because whatever state the track or his car was in, he was unrelenting in his pursuit of success and was always the driver who wrung the maximum – and sometimes a bit more – out of his car.
I hate to admit it but Hamilton was pretty impressive this season, his best by far, regardless of the result.
Unfortunately for him the car lagged behind in the later stages of the season. After Silverstone it was quite clear for me that he was favourite for the title, but McLaren struggled with development on the EBD front, and its new rear wing came too late to make any difference.
As expected he has beaten Jenson, while maturing more and more with every race (with the exception of Monza, but I guess that everyone has the right to make a silly error once) and getting more complete as a driver. If McLaren gets the MP4-26 right, expect him to be a contender, as he always have been.
Complete F1 Fanatic 2010 driver rankings
27. Sakon Yamamoto
26. Lucas di Grassi
25. Karun Chandhok
24. Bruno Senna
23. Vitaly Petrov
22. Christian Klien
21. Vitantonio Liuzzi
20. Sebastien Buemi
19. Pedro de la Rosa
18. Jarno Trulli
17. Nick Heidfeld
16. Felipe Massa
15. Nico H?â??lkenberg
14. Heikki Kovalainen
13. Michael Schumacher
12. Jaime Alguersuari
11. Timo Glock
10. Kamui Kobayashi
9. Adrian Sutil
8. Rubens Barrichello
7. Jenson Button
6. Mark Webber
5. Nico Rosberg
4. Robert Kubica
3. Sebastian Vettel
2. Fernando Alonso
1. Lewis Hamilton
Who do you think was the best driver of the year? Have your say below and vote for the best F1 driver of 2010 here.
Images ?é?Ž Red Bull/Getty images, Ferrari spa, www.mclaren.com