2011 final driver rankings: 10th – 4th

This is the third article in a 4-part series, ranking all 28 drivers of the season. This section of the ranking covers drivers such as Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

10th – Paul di Resta

Di Resta has proven to be a surprisingly fast and reliable rookie

Di Resta has proven to be a surprisingly fast and reliable rookie

Previous ranking: 13th

Review from previous ranking: “Ragged drives have lost him points, but nevertheless a decent start to his F1 career for the Scot.”

It still amazes me that Paul di Resta is in only his first year in F1 – his form makes him look like an experienced veteran.

Aside from a few scrappy rookie errors, Di Resta has been incredibly reliable and solid for a rookie, amassing the most racing laps by any driver this year. He out-qualified teammate Adrian Sutil 9 times, and held this advantage 6 times in the races.

Force India later began to split their strategies between their two drivers, which resulted in a hit-and-miss second half for Di Resta. Despite this, many have been seriously impressed with the Scot’s mature attitude and confident driving this year.

The fact that he scored points in his first 2 races, as well as 6 of the last 9, spoke volumes.

9th – Adrian Sutil

Sutil performed well, but it wasn't enough

Sutil performed well, but it wasn't enough

Previous ranking: 15th

Review from previous ranking: “If he is beaten by Di Resta in his first year, then Adrian will find himself shunted out of the way by the hotshot rookie.”

It’s both a blessing and a curse for teams to see their driver perform brilliantly while their contract is up for review. A blessing because it brings the results the team craves, a curse because the form rarely continues into the next season (see Toro Rosso).

Sutil found himself under huge pressure from rookie Di Resta, and delivered the goods fantastically in the second half of 2011. Taking season-best 6th places in home race Germany and Brazil were the highlights. It has been a complete turnaround from Germany only 2 years ago, when he bottled his first-ever points-scoring finish by clashing with Kimi Raikkonen.

He enjoyed a decent overall margin over Paul in both qualifying and the races, and rarely lost an opportunity when it was presented.

Adrian has proven himself to be much more reliable and mature than his previous driving indicated, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to retain his contract for 2012.

8th – Mark Webber

Webber tussled with the Pirelli tyres all year

Webber tussled with the Pirelli tyres all year

Previous ranking: 7th

Review from previous ranking: “Webber seems to be lacking in pace, and is at risk of being beaten (points-wise) by Alonso.”

After the end of one of his most disastrous seasons in Formula 1, it is a mystery as to how Mark Webber can pull his career around.

Webber has been completely annihilated by Sebastian Vettel in every single sector this year. While his German teammate finished in the top two 16 times, Mark could do the same only 3 times across the entire season.

He struggled massively at starts, couldn’t extract any performance from the Pirelli tyres in qualifying, and wore them out too quickly in the races. A solitary win in Brazil was barely deserved either – it was only because Vettel suffered gearbox issues.

His racecraft was hit-and-miss as well. His pass on Fernando Alonso in Spa was breathtaking, but he showed inability to adapt to the 2011 racing style in Korea, passing Lewis Hamilton just before a DRS zone, allowing the McLaren to sail past.

A charge through the field in China was fantastic to watch, but overall it was incredibly disappointing to see Webber toil with the Ferraris and McLarens rather than with his teammate.

7th – Sergio Perez

Perez is a completely different type of driver than other rookies

Perez is a completely different type of driver than other rookies

Previous ranking: 8th

Review from previous ranking: “Impressive pace has led many to praise Perez as rookie of the year.”

A crash in Monaco ruled out Perez when the Sauber car was at its best, but he has still done an immense job in his rookie year.

“Checo” made an immediate impact in F1 by scoring points on his debut, only to have them cruelly taken away after a minor technical infringement. A scrappy few races followed, particularly in China, where Sergio picked up two penalties after some questionable driving.

One of the things that has impressed me the most about Perez is his mature no-nonsense attitude. After his Monaco crash, he sensibly sat out the Canadian GP as well, after not feeling well in Friday practice. There are many drivers on the grid who would go into the Grand Prix regardless, putting themselves and their fellow drivers at risk. The fact that Perez reported side-effects from the crash up to 4 races later shows that his decision was the sensible one.

He was soon back to his best, taking a career-best 7th in Silverstone. He was vastly superior over Kamui Kobayashi in qualifying, and was very competent at adapting to the Pirelli tyres. The fact that he is already being lined up for a Ferrari drive is a signal of his prowess.

6th – Lewis Hamilton

Undoubtedly the worst season of Hamilton's career

Undoubtedly the worst season of Hamilton's career

Previous ranking: 4th

Review from previous review: “Hamilton needs to ease off at times, and learn which battles to fight and which to avoid.”

My prediction for Lewis Hamilton could not have been more wrong – it’s been an incredibly difficult year for the former world champion.

Needless clashes, spats with the stewards, tussling with a superior teammate, and apparent overwhelming personal issues all dogged Lewis in 2011. He hasn’t lost his racing ability, as shown by excellent driving in China, Spain and Germany. However, it was clear that Hamilton was surrounded by the wrong people.

The decision to hire a celebrity manager rather than a sporting one took its toll – Lewis was making 3 media/sponsor appearances every single day for a 3 week period at one point. His frustration took to the track, and several shunts with Felipe Massa in Monaco was just the beginning of a fracas that would last the entire season.

As well as the collisions with Massa, Monaco proved to be the worst race of the year. Hitting Pastor Maldonado near the end provoked another penalty from the stewards, and Lewis didn’t hold back in his criticism afterwards.

To make matters worse, the fact that Jenson Button had improved to become an increasingly competitive teammate proved calamitous. In Canada, relations were tense after the two collided in the treacherous conditions.

However, we must not forget that Lewis was still able to show his talents this year. He was completely deserving in every race he won, and pushed Vettel to the flag in Spain, where Red Bull have dominated so much in the past. Wonderful passes in China and Germany were a demonstration of how good a driver he is.

It’s absolutely certain that Hamilton has the pace to win championships, all he has to do is calm down. But that’s easier said than done.

5th – Michael Schumacher

A notable improvement from Schumacher this year

A notable improvement from Schumacher this year

Previous ranking: 10th

Review from previous ranking: “Further improvement this year would be the main aim for Schumacher.”

It’s been more than improvement for Schumacher – he has seriously upped his game, and pushed Nico Rosberg in nearly every way to the final race in Brazil.

Ending the season only 13 points behind Rosberg, it’s been an impressive year for Schumacher. He deserved a well-earned podium in Canada, only for an oversized DRS zone to rip it out of his hands.

Poor qualifying was his hindrance, but he frequently made it up in the races. Michael has set 116 overtakes this season, more than any other driver. Of course, this stat is skewed in the fact that Rosberg was unable to make up much places, while Schumacher would ascend from the depths of Q2, but it is still an impressive statistic.

It’s no secret that Schumacher’s side of the garage is 100% geared towards defeating Rosberg. There is apparently a growing tension in the team as both sides do their best to out-perform the other. It will be very interesting to see how the German duo battle it out in 2012, but much of it will hinge on the car.

4th – Nico Rosberg

Rosberg needs better machinery to show his potential

Rosberg needs better machinery to show his potential

Previous ranking: 5th

Review from previous ranking: “Consistently beating Schumacher will do his reputation a world of good.”

Another year, another lacklustre car at Rosberg’s disposal. It’s a wonder why he puts up with it.

While he was unable to completely dominate Schumacher in the points total, Rosberg completely out-classed his fellow German in qualifying pace. While Michael’s races were spattered with retirements, Nico has cleanly and consistently been taking points finishes by the truckload.

His points margin over Schumacher was reduced this year compared to 2010, but that was to be expected after a torrid campaign last time around from the 7-times champion.

Rosberg is completely capable of mixing it with the frontrunners whenever the opportunity arises, such as Spa or China. He has led quite a few Grands Prix, but the lack of pace from the W02 has constantly held him back from crossing the chequered flag first.

The start of next season will be similar to the start of 2011 – many will be looking to see does Mercedes deliver on its long-awaited frontrunning car. I’m also looking forward to that day – but mostly to see can Rosberg show what he’s really made of.

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