If I hurry, it might still be 2010 when I get this published.

Now the season’s over (alright: now the season’s been over for some seven weeks) and we’ve all had time to reflect, consider, quietly forget about it and then have a refresher with the season review DVD over Christmas, it’s time to put together a top 10 list for driving performance.  Last year’s list at petrolheadblog.com was tricky to put together because everyone involved in it had suffered from at least one prolonged spell of mediocrity.  This year’s is a pain for the opposite reason, with a number of men delivering consistently high performance and only occasionally letting their standards slip.

Just as last year, drivers have only been considered for selection if they’ve taken part in over 50% of this season’s races.  As a result, it’s an automatic fail for Nick Heidfeld, Karun Chandhok, Christian Klien and Sakon Yamamoto.  Three of those men deserve at least one more crack at Formula 1.  The fourth, Yamamoto, couldn’t drive sheep.  Onward!

10. Timo Glock

Didn’t stop trying all year in a Virgin that was never quite a match for the Lotus in the tail-end battle, particularly once his team had built a car capable of carrying enough fuel to finish a race.  His first stint in Singapore, running in the points after an early safety car, and his midfield run in Korea were stellar displays of driving in a machine that had no right to be so far up the field.  The German is more than capable of winning races given the right machinery and while it’s hard to see Virgin providing that in 2011, he might end up finding a 2012 berth much further up the field on current form.

9. Heikki Kovalainen

From Timo to the undisputed champion of Division 2, a man who’d have more than one race victory to his name had he only driven a McLaren half as well as he drove the Lotus.  Almost permanently at the head of the scrap among the new teams, Heikki suffered far less mechanical misfortune than team mate Jarno Trulli – though his fire in Singapore was 2010’s most spectacular mechanical failure by a distance – but was generally ahead when the two were running trouble-free, with a fine 12th at Suzuka the race highlight.  His completely unhinged qualifying run at Monaco saw him become the first team mate to ever outqualify Trulli on the streets of the Principality, achieving in one effort what world champions Button and Alonso before him could not.

8. Rubens Barrichello

300 not out for the most experienced F1 driver in history and the old stager shows no signs of slowing down.  Rubinho’s feedback and engineering input provided Williams with the kind of direction they’ve lacked for years.  The team love him and he gave them little reason to change their opinions during the races, with 4th in Valencia and a beautifully judged run to 5th at Silverstone being particularly noteworthy.  His involvement in one of the year’s biggest talking points, a move on Michael Schumacher in Hungary that threatened to become an aircraft accident, was testament to his bravery and his sheer driving skill, undiminished as he heads into his 19th season at the top level.

7. Kamui Kobayashi

We watch motor sport to be entertained.  We watch to see heroes do things our mortal bodies won’t allow us to accomplish.  We watch because 24 men doing 200 mph at the same time in the same space can’t fail to be exciting, then we’re dismayed on those too frequent occasions when it somehow does.  Their frequency has been diminished by the arrival of Kamui Kobayashi, a man who apparently hasn’t heard that you can’t overtake in Formula 1.  With a wide-eyed enthusiasm and an ever present smile, the Japanese driver became an instant fan favourite with a series of ever more improbable passes and only once (a wildly optimistic lunge on Schumacher in Singapore) was his judgement out by even a whisker.

6. Mark Webber

Had the fastest car, was the only one of the title contenders to have no breakdowns during a race and didn’t win the world championship.  Without equal on his better days – see his wins in Spain and Monaco for prime examples of a man at the absolute peak of his profession – Mark had too many days where he didn’t quite deliver.  Consider Bahrain, Australia, China and the decider in Abu Dhabi for starters.  For all that, he’d still have been world champion had it not been for a tiny mistake in the Korean rain, a mistake which he so nearly caught.

5. Jenson Button

JB finished higher up this little table last year despite not driving anywhere near as well, a reflection on the high standards across this top 10.  The outgoing world champion lacked a little ultimate pace for the most part but he was a model of consistency and his two wet-weather wins demonstrated how dangerous a smooth, controlled driving style can be when it’s married to one of the sharpest tactical minds in the business.  Held his own against Lewis Hamilton, made a home for himself at McLaren and earned his place among the F1 elite.

4. Fernando Alonso

Searingly quick as always while remaining a very difficult man to like, Alonso’s season was one of blinding pace in a Ferrari that didn’t always deserve to be at the front, spoiled a little by a few of the niggly errors that crept into his second spell at Renault.  His jump-start in China was early enough to have counted for the Malaysian race two weeks before, a practice crash in Monaco cost him what looked like a certain victory and his spin in the drizzle at Spa was that of a far less experienced racing driver.  More often, though, he was impossible to fault – last on the Monaco grid after that crash became 6th in the race, Bahrain and Italy brought masterful performances and he didn’t put a single wheel wrong in Singapore.

3. Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton has awarded himself 6/10 for his 2010 season.  In the season’s third fastest car, Lewis led the championship through the middle part of the season.  He pushed the Red Bulls until their drivers cracked in Turkey, won as he pleased in Canada and drove the qualifying lap of the season to take 2nd on the grid at Spa, in the wet, on slick tyres.  His drive to victory the following day wasn’t shabby either.  In the first 4 races of the season alone, he made 32 overtaking manoeuvres.  His opening-lap retirement after contact with Felipe Massa at Monza was one you could see coming well before the two cars touched but it’s hard to recall another major error from the Englishman.  If he achieves an 8/10 next season, the others won’t see him for dust.

2. Sebastian Vettel

For pure, raw pace, there is nobody in the world you’d hire ahead of Sebastian Vettel.  Outstanding in qualifying, with his pole position lap in Australia being the pick of a fine bunch, Seb continues to prove untouchable once he’s established a lead – in each of the 5 races he won this season, Vettel was leading at the end of the opening lap.  Question marks remain over his ability in traffic, with multiple collisions in Britain and Belgium, while we may never know what possessed him to spark the accident with his Red Bull team mate Webber in Turkey.  Racecraft can be learned, though.  Outright speed can’t be taught.  It was exactly that gift which allowed Vettel to overcome more technical issues than any other front runner (spark plug in Bahrain, wheel nuts in Australia, brake trouble in Spain and Italy and a grenade in the engine bay in Korea) on his way to a thoroughly well-deserved maiden title.

1. Robert Kubica

Why?  Because you won’t be able to find me a single race weekend where the Pole wasn’t significantly better than his Renault.  Buried within F1’s new, shiny, homogenised world order, you’ll still find a few proper old-fashioned racetracks like Monaco, Spa and Suzuka, circuits where a driver can transcend his machinery.  In a car never better than fourth fastest on any given weekend, Kubica was mighty at all three, securing two podiums and only losing a shot at 3rd place in Japan when a rear wheel detached itself early in the race.  To see him climb from 9th to 2nd in Australia and come scything back through the field after a late puncture in Singapore was to watch a driver on top of his game; should he recapture this form in a truly competitive Renault next year, you won’t see which way he went.

What say you?

  1. Smurfy says:

    I’m glad you have Kovalainen and Kubica on your list. As a frequent Trulli apologist in the past, I’d have to say I was surprised by Kovalainen’s performance over Trulli this year. Whether or not Kubica should be number one on your list isn’t too important to me. What mattered was that he saved Renault from what could have been an embarrassing season.

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