2011 final driver rankings: 3rd – 1st

This is the final article in a 4-part series, ranking all 28 drivers this season. As you would expect, this post tackles Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel.

3rd – Jenson Button

Button is a drastically improved driver from last year

Button is a drastically improved driver from last year

Previous ranking: 3rd

Review from previous ranking: “He has shown himself as a more complete driver this year, and unlike his teammate, shows restraint where necessary.”

In the first few races of 2011 it appeared that Jenson was still a step behind Lewis Hamilton in terms of performance. A single podium in the first 4 races was earned because of his trademark tyre conservation, not because of outright pace.

However, from Monaco onwards, the balance of power had shifted at McLaren, and Button is now comfortably ahead of his teammate in all areas.

He has scored double the amount of podiums compared to Hamilton this year (12 against 6). As well as his damp/wet weather skills, he was able to keep his car out of trouble – a complete contrast compared to Lewis. His two retirements were not caused by his hand, compared to two silly crashes by Hamilton.

He seems to have a sixth sense in changeable weather conditions. His drive in Canada was outstanding, overtaking the entire field in a matter of 30 laps. In Hungary, a straight fight between the McLarens, Lewis fell apart while Button cruised to victory.

In Suzuka, he was able to scrape a win deep in Red Bull territory – a remarkable feat considering the pace of the RB7.

Many doubted that Jenson could withstand Lewis when moving to McLaren. However, he has proven us all wrong by becoming the first driver to beat Lewis on points while in the same team, by 43 points – and it should have been a lot more.

Not only this, but he has firmly put himself in the elite group of top racing drivers.

2nd – Sebastian Vettel

Vettel was at the front 99% of the time, and seemingly unstoppable

Vettel was at the front 99% of the time, and seemingly unstoppable

Previous ranking: 1st

Review from previous ranking: “Nearly utterly faultless all season, Sebastian is more complete a racing driver.”

Sebastian Vettel is vastly changed from 2010. Barely a single foot put wrong all season, the German deservedly took back-to-back world championships – but still pushed himself the entire way.

He could have backed off on the first lap in Monza, but he didn’t. Taking to the grass at Curva Grande, he sliced past Fernando Alonso to take the lead in style.

He could have backed off in Spa, but again he didn’t. Vettel is the first driver in recent history to make a pass around the outside of the fearsome Blanchimont corner. I honestly can’t remember the last time a driver did this.

The dropping of points were almost always out of his control. His retirement in Abu Dhabi was mechanical, while gearbox issues in Brazil cost him the win. There is very little to fault Vettel with this season.

So the question is – why is he second instead of first?

Obviously, we saw the making of a top-class driver this year, but I feel there’s more to it than just raw pace. The Red Bull tactic of sticking the car on pole and tearing away in the first few laps, to remain out of sight for later, isn’t the most desirable tactics we’d like to see – especially if it’s done 90% of all the races.

He has the scope for overtaking moves, but this simply doesn’t define a season. Webber’s pass on Alonso in Spa proves that a ballsy move doesn’t earn you Driver of the Year on merit.

As well as this, whenever the slightest variable moves in the car, Vettel’s driving falters. Germany was the prime example of this, where a suspension change resulted in Sebastian’s pace falling off a cliff. He was lucky to finish 4th considering the pace he had.

There’s no denying that he is a world class driver, and one of the best drivers in F1′s history. But the absolute perfect team/car set-up cannot last forever, and when it slips away, Vettel’s talent will be severely tested. However, we still have one more driver, who has shown that he can still rip up tarmac while well outside of his comfort zone…

1st – Fernando Alonso

In similar machinery, Alonso thrashed anyone who stood in his way

In similar machinery, Alonso thrashed anyone who stood in his way

Previous review: 2nd

Ranking from previous review: “If there’s anyone on the grid who can [challenge Vettel] it will be Fernando Alonso.”

After the last two years I can easily say that Fernando Alonso doesn’t need the best car to inspire terror in his fellow drivers. While his championship challenge failed to materialise, he pushed maximum performance out of a lifeless car, and put that Ferrari where no other driver could.

As Felipe Massa proved, an average driver will produce average results from an average car. But Fernando is not an average driver. When the opportunity arose to take a single win in 2011, Alonso was there, snatching the victory while his teammate was half a minute behind.

Even when the car was nowhere near its best, Fernando was always ready to fight for whatever scraps Red Bull and McLaren had left behind. He made an astonishing start in Spain to grab the lead from 4th on the grid, and only the prime tyres proved to be his downfall.

When Vettel was out of the running in Germany, Alonso was primed to take another victory, but was thwarted by an excellent pass by Hamilton after his pit-stop. Without that move, it could well have been another win.

With such a dog of a car, the only driver we can effectively compare him to is Massa, and that’s a pretty easy comparison. Alonso has destroyed Felipe in every possible sector this year. While Fernando has taken 10 podiums this year, Felipe has none whatsoever. What’s more impressive is the fact that Alonso was out of the top 5 only twice this year (considering that Red Bulls and McLarens would dominate the top 4 according to car pace), while 5th was all that Massa could achieve at all.

This shows the gap between an ordinary driver and an extraordinary one. If I were to criticise him for anything this season, it would be  an ill-judged defense of his position in Canada, resulting in his only retirement of the year.

Despite this, Alonso is capable of pushing his car well beyond what it would achieve with any other driver at the wheel. His long-term contract with Ferrari shows that he has faith in the Scuderia, and the prospect of a competitive car next year will undoubtedly set us up for a brilliant showdown against Red Bull and McLaren.

For achieving what no other driver could in a dismal car, Fernando Alonso is my driver of the year.

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