1. Vettel – Almost always got the best out of his car, showed us he could really overtake when he needed to, broke the record for pole positions, flattened his team mate and made one significant mistake in Germany out of the whole season.
2. Button – Proved everyone wrong, bringing home the most points the car could have achieved at almost every race, especially after Montreal. His overtakes were as clinical and risk free as possible in comparison to others, thanks to his perfect tactical use of the new toys, DRS and KERS.
3. Alonso – Did exactly as was expected of him, got the most out of the car, won the only race he had a real chance of winning, took podiums when he shouldn’t have been able to, fought hard and again, trounced his team-mate. I’ve only picked JB ahead of him due to his errors in Malaysia (hitting Hamilton) and Germany (sliding off on lap 2 and leaving the door open for Lewis on the outside after the pit stops).
4. Rosberg – I was surprised to find Rosberg so high up in my own standings but at the end of the day I couldn’t really find anybody who I thought had done a better job than him over the season. He’s still improving and seems to be bringing home the maximum points Mercedes are able to achieve each weekend, although we’re yet to see a truly inspired drive from him, which is worrying for a supposed top line driver in his 6th season.
5. Kovalainen – It’s hard to gauge his performance given that his team-mate was clearly underperforming, and the pace of the car is a little bit in no mans land, but nobody is going to argue that the Lotus was outright faster than any of Williams, Renault or Sauber this year, and he has repeatedly managed to capitalise on any incidents and penalties to finish ahead of them in the race. As a team leader, he seems to be excelling and delivering on the potential of his debut season in F1.
6. Hamilton – Despite having a poor season by his own standards, Lewis has still done a solid job at the end of the day. Three excellent wins and a stronger finish to the season have banished some of 2011′s bad memories, and we have to take into account his other stronger races – Australia, Spain, Valencia – but it’s disappointing that he isn’t up in the top 3 of these rankings where he belongs.
7. Sutil – Despite struggling in qualifying earlier in the season, he delivered the points his team-mate squandered with rookie errors. His drives in Germany and Brazil were highlights, and every bit as good as many performances from the likes of Vettel and Alonso in recent years.
8. di Resta – Rookie of the season, showed up well against his team-mate even when Sutil hit top form. Instantly made an impact on the sport, scoring points and reaching Q3 regularly with a midfield car, particularly in Hungary and Singapore. Could have been among the top 5 drivers this season if not for mistakes that cost him potentially big points in Canada and Britain.
9. Schumacher – A much improved season from Schumacher. He needs to improve his qualifying pace, but has started well, delivered some very strong performances in the second half of the season, but still been involved in too many collisions, with Petrov in Turkey and Valencia, Perez in Singapore, and Senna in Brazil, which isn’t really good enough for the sport’s most successful driver.
10. Kobayashi – Started the season well, but the mid season slump in form cost him a higher ranking. Often disappointing in qualifying but he’s made up for it with some very mature and consistent races and racked up an impressive points tally. Already looking like a solid F1 pilot for the foreseeable future.
11. Webber – I can’t justify putting a driver in my top ten who has failed to win a race in the best car, without a failure for his team-mate. Webber has given us false hope of a return to form too often this season, only to slump to poor qualifying performances, and squander his better ones with poor starts.
12. Alguersauri – Like Kobayashi, has trimmed out most of the rookie errors and delivered strong, consistent race performances. Albeit narrowly, he beat his more experienced team-mate and scored some solid points. Korea was a great drive, and was as good as even the top drivers would have achieved in the same car that weekend.
13. Perez – A solid rookie season, showing maturity when he pulled out at Canada and speed in good measure. A few small errors have cost him points here and there, but he was fantastic in Australia, and outqualified his highly-rated team-mate frequently after recovering from his Monaco shunt.
14. Barrichello – While many will blame the car, I think Barrichello was lacklustre at times this season. He had some good drives, but I was let down by his seeming lack of ability to lead the team forward out of the rut they were in and develop the car, as much as his lack of any spectacular performances on track.
15. Glock – Like Barrichello, doesn’t seem to have been able to build the team around him and inspire them to perform like the very top drivers. It’s hard to gauge his performance as a great drive will yield 19th or 20th place, on the same day that a poor performance would simply leave him behind whichever HRTs crossed the line.
16. Buemi – Having had 3 full seasons in F1, Buemi needs to be delivering some more special performances if he’s ever going to impress a top team, and he can’t afford to be beaten by another unproven driver like Alguersauri at this stage in his career. While he was usually close to his team-mate or slightly ahead, there were no particularly stand out performances that other drivers have managed.
17. Ricciardo – An impressive first half season, he didn’t seem to make any major mistakes in races and managed to settle into the team and match/beat Liuzzi very early on. I was impressed by Ricciardo although it is difficult to make a conclusive judgement given the amount of technical issues his team are prone to.
18. Heidfeld – I was keen to see Heidfeld do well, but he failed to lead the team and made too many errors. While he was unlucky in Hungary and had some good races like Malaysia, he was outqualified by Petrov too frequently for a driver of his experience. I have only placed him ahead of his Renault stablemates due to his slightly better race performances.
19. Senna – Although he didn’t pull up any trees, Senna kept Petrov honest and beat him on occasion. He did well in qualifying at Spa, and the race in Monza, and was unlucky to have his race ruined in Brazil, but at the same time, errors like turn 1 in Belgium are costly. I placed him ahead of Petrov because I believe the Russian should have been able to blow him away given his greater experience of the team and the car.
20. Petrov – I like Petrov, but without the podium finish in Australia, this would have been a very very poor season. The Renault was strong early on but he was poor in Malaysia onwards and troubled on occasion by Bruno Senna in the closing races. That said, he has managed to iron out his frequent crashes this season and delivered some solid, if unspectacular race performances.
21. Maldonado – Disappointing for a GP2 champion. He was unlucky to lose his best result in Monaco, but 1 point all season, even in that Williams doesn’t scream “future world champion”. He seemed to be clumsy and even petulant at times, ignoring blue flags at Abu Dhabi, and his run in with Hamilton in Belgium.
22. Massa – It might seem harsh to have Massa in 22nd place, but I can genuinely make a case for every driver above that they’d have scored more points with that Ferrari this year. He didn’t look like beating his team-mate all season apart from China, which was his best race in the last two years. He made too many costly mistakes (Hungary, India x2, Abu Dhabi) and has frequently finished 30 seconds behind his team-mate, even in races without incidents. His embarassing feud with Hamilton, despite not being entirely, or even mostly, his fault just added to a cringeworthy season in my opinion.
23. D’Ambrosio – Hard to judge his performance but he seemed to struggle to fend off the HRTs a lot of the time, and didn’t get a foothold in the inter-team battle. Virgin saw fit to let him go and we didn’t see anything during 2011 that stands up against their decision.
24. Liuzzi – Provided a safe pair of hands at HRT, but we will never know how well he really did due to the car’s pace. The fact that there was even a question over whether his mid-season rookie team-mate would out qualify him after just a few races speaks volumes for Liuzzi’s potential as a Formula 1 driver, unfortunately.
25. Trulli – Struggled badly and was more than half a second off his team-mate’s pace all the time it seemed. The fact that he finished 40 seconds behind Kovalainen at the last race and was crushed by a team-mate who has already had his chance to shine and failed to take it at Mclaren leaves me and probably countless others questioning his and Lotus’ decision to sign an extension for next season.
26. de la Rosa – Stepped in at the last minute and gave Sauber a safe pair of hands at Montreal, and always has a smile on his face in the paddock. Not much more to say.
27. Karthikeyan – Was unimpressive in the early races of the season, but put in a solid drive at his home race, which is why he edges out his compatriot at the bottom end of my rankings. I find it hard to believe he will ever drive in Formula 1 again though.
28. Chandhok – One race, one dreadful performance. If I remember correctly he was beaten by one of the Virgins at Germany… if not, he still crashed on his out lap in Australia in FP1, and finished a lap behind Kovalainen following a big spin in his only appearance in Germany. Given Trulli’s performances throughout the season, it says a lot that his team lacked the confidence to put him in the car in India due to their concerns over his performance.