2012 final driver rankings: 7th – 3rd

In the third of 4 articles, I rank the drivers from the 2012 season in terms of how they performed across the entire year.

Part 3 includes drivers from Red Bull, McLaren, Force India and Mercedes:

7th – Jenson Button

Previous ranking: 12th

Previous quote: “It’s a harsh ranking, but I don’t think that so far in 2012 we can rank him amongst the high-level drivers.”

Like Webber, there are two ways of looking at Jenson Button’s season. He certainly took impressive wins at the start and end of 2012, and crushingly dominated in Belgium. But you have to doubt his team leader role next year, when he slides around the track in 16th place for weeks on end.

Button’s struggles with the MP4-27 are well documented, but the car is not entirely to blame. Like in 2009, Jenson seems to work his way into a bad spot, and cannot pull himself out, in terms of car development.

This resulted in a disastrous few races near the start, where he slithered around the racetrack, taking a pathetic 16th place in Monaco and Canada. It is completely unacceptable of a former world champion to fail so badly, and rule himself out of the title fight.

Granted, he did finish within 2 points of Lewis Hamilton, but this is mostly down to Lewis’ terrible luck. Button simply spent too much of the season finishing 4th or 5th to make an impact at the front.

It will be interesting to see how he fares as a team leader at McLaren – it can go either brilliantly or disastrously.

6th – Nico Rosberg

Previous ranking: 7th

Previous quote: “It’s the same old story for Rosberg – a great driver held back by an unpredictable car.”

Not much changes for Rosberg in this sport. Once again, a disastrous end to the season for Mercedes has held back Nico from performing better.

His emphatic win in China was obviously the standout moment, and he hounded Mark Webber in Monaco all the way to the chequered flag.

However, apart from that, the slowing pace of the W03 limited his charge. Chasing performance from the double DRS system instead of Coanda exhausts, they fell behind their rivals, ruling out Rosberg from scoring a single point after Singapore.

Will 2013 be the same story? Unfortunately, it appears that way. Despite Lewis Hamilton joining the squad, the team are not hopeful about their W04’s potential, and are instead looking towards 2014 to leap up the field. You’ve got to wonder if Rosberg will bother waiting.

5th – Nico Hulkenberg

Previous ranking: 13th

Previous quote: “So far, it is almost too close to call, but I think that Paul [Di Resta] has a slight edge over Nico at the moment.”

After a slugglish return to Formula 1, Nico Hulkenberg is back on form.

Taking advantage of the first corner pile-up, he snatched a brilliant 4th in Belgium, even leading the race for a while. His form towards the end of the season was impressive, and his 6th, 7th and 8th-placed finishes do not represent how well he drove.

His drive in Brazil was one of the best of the 2012 season. Personally I feel he was hard done by with the penalty, and without that clash with Hamilton, probably would have gone on to win the race.

In contrast to Paul di Resta’s terrible end to the season, Hulkenberg has done his career the best possible boost. A switch to Sauber may be viewed as a move sideways, but I think it might just pay off.

4th – Sebastian Vettel

Previous ranking: 4th

Previous quote: “Vettel is still completely sheltered by his team [...] he still has to develop as a driver”

The “test” I mentioned in 2011 came true in 2012, and Sebastian passed it with flying colours. Recovering from a poor start to the season, he stamped his authority on the rest of the field, and took a well-deserved third title.

So why is he out of the top three? Firstly, although it’s only a small issue, I’m still bothered by his childishness at times. After being held up by Narain Karthikeyan in Austin, despite the fact that there was nothing the HRT could do, Vettel claimed that the Indian had lost him the race. Worryingly, his team backed him up, which only supports Red Bull’s Ferrari-like arrogance.

The other issue is that his performances appear to be directly proportionate to his car’s speed in relation to the rest of the grid. In simpler terms, the majority of his wins came from when the Red Bull was the class of the field. Out of his 5 wins, the only one where his car wasn’t the fastest was Bahrain, and even that is debatable.

Obviously, he’s still a seriously fast driver. Just look at his drives in Abu Dhabi and Brazil, and you’ll have no doubts that he’s a deserving world champion yet again. But I still think that he was out-performed by other drivers on the grid. It’s been said many times, but if you compare Fernando Alonso’s and Lewis Hamilton’s performances this year to Vettel, the German loses out by a considerable margin.

It says a lot that the fastest driver is widely not considered to be the best on the grid. Perhaps that’s down to the brilliant quality of drivers we have at the moment, but nevertheless Vettel still has more work to do to be the best in Formula 1.

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