Great idea! :)
Although I had seen a handful of races from before 1996, that was when I started actively following F1, so that’s where I’ll start.
1996: Damon Hill – no change.
1997: Jacques Villeneuve – no change. Even though Schumacher arguably drove better than Villeneuve, he deserved to be kicked out for what happened at Jerez in the last race.
1998: Mika Häkkinen – no change.
1999: Eddie Irvine – changed from Mika Häkkinen. As much as I love Mika, and as well as Heinz-Harald Frentzen did in his Jordan, results from the British Grand Prix onwards (where Michael Schumacher broke his leg) show that Irvine picked up 48 points, compared to Häkkinen’s 36 and Frentzen’s 31. Irvine had a virtually impossible task in leading the team in Schumacher’s absence, but he took his chance to challenge for title and came very close.
2000: Michael Schumacher – no change.
2001: Michael Schumacher – no change.
2002: Michael Schumacher – no change (yawn).
2003: Michael Schumacher – no change. Kimi Räikkönen was only two points away, having had two more retirements, but he only won one race to Schumacher’s six. Montoya came close too.
2004: Michael Schumacher – no change (yawn again).
2005: Kimi Räikkönen – changed from Fernando Alonso. Both drivers won six races, but Kimi’s problems, not of his own making, in both German races and San Marino cost him dearly. This was his best year, I feel.
2006: Fernando Alonso – no change.
2007: Lewis Hamilton – changed from Kimi Räikkönen. To perform as he did in his debut year was really special. Alonso and Räikkönen both drove well too, but if there had been harmony and a completely clean fight between the two McLaren drivers, I think Hamilton would have come out on top. I know some will disagree with me.
2008: Felipe Massa – changed from Lewis Hamilton. Massa had to fight back from two retirements in the first two races, and still came within a point – or one corner, if you prefer – of the title. To outperform his world champion team-mate so convincingly was impressive. At the time, I was delighted with Hamilton’s victory, but as he won in 2007 in my alternate universe, I wouldn’t feel too bad about him losing out in 2008.
2009: Jenson Button – no change. He didn’t win any races from the eighth round onwards, but the rest of the season was split between so many drivers: Vettel, Barrichello, Webber, Hamilton and Räikkönen, so I couldn’t pick any one of them as deserving it more.
2010: Mark Webber – changed from Sebastian Vettel. This was very tough. After a lot of thinking, I decided that both Webber and Fernando Alonso deserved it more than Vettel, but then I had to decide which of them deserved it more! Webber did really well to challenge for the title in a team which so clearly wanted Vettel to win it. The crash with Vettel at Turkey, for example, was pretty clearly Vettel’s fault, but the team refused to acknowledge that. Then there was the front wing incident in Britain. Despite that, he managed to take it down to the final race, and could have won with a different strategy. Though if his strategy had been different, so would Alonso’s, who had a near-perfect second half to the season with four wins and seven podiums from the last nine races. Alonso’s challenge fell apart because he couldn’t get past Petrov at Abu Dhabi, but knowing what he had to do and with nothing to lose, I think he should have taken more risks to make it happen.
2011: Sebastian Vettel – no change.