5. Michael Schumacher
I never expected to be placing Michael Schumacher this far up my driver rankings. But there is no doubt about it — he has raised his game, and has proved that there is still some life in the old dog yet. He is being outperformed by Nico Rosberg, but perhaps this shouldn’t particularly be a surprise. The first year of his comeback may have been shaky, but the second year has been very solid indeed.
4. Nico Rosberg
I feel a bit sorry for Nico Rosberg, because his career can not have gone in the direction he was expecting. We still have no real idea of what he is capable of. This is mainly because most of the cars he has driven have been quite poor, and also because most of his team mates have been of questionable quality (including Michael Schumacher).
However, what is impressive is that Rosberg performs consistently, normally mistake-free. All he needs now is a good car, and we might see what he could truly achieve.
3. Fernando Alonso
A difficult year for Alonso. The Ferrari was clearly a pig of a car, and it only seemed to get worse as the season progressed. A solitary win sums up how poor Ferrari’s season has been. Not Alonso’s fault of course. In fact, I think Alonso has probably had his strongest season in quite a while. In 2010 he made a lot of mistakes, but 2011 has been relatively mistake-free. If Ferrari come up with a genuinely great car, Alonso will be ready to pounce towards his third World Championship.
2. Jenson Button
I think a lot of people will have modified their opinions on Jenson Button this year. I certainly have. I thought he had improved during his Championship year in 2009 — form he continued at McLaren in 2010. But in 2011 he has improved further, becoming a truly staggeringly talented driver.
So often this year, I would look at the live timing screen and be drawn towards checking Button’s times. He would frequently be seen setting consistently quick times during a race when it matters the most, when others are struggling. His racecraft is superb.
Surely his drive in the Canadian Grand Prix will go down as one of the greatest in the history of motor racing. On lap 40 of the 70 lap race, Jenson Button was running dead last, in 21st. 29 laps later he overtook Sebastian Vettel to take the lead and win the race. During the race he made 27 on-track passing moves.
Any other driver would most likely have got bogged down in the midfield. But the fact that Button managed to fight his way all the up to the top speaks volumes about his incredible mental strength.
It has not been a perfect season for Button, and he has a few creases yet to iron out. In particular, his qualifying performances could be improved. But nonetheless, Jenson Button is very close to being the best driver in the world.
1. Sebastian Vettel
I don’t think many could have predicted before the start of the season just how dominant Sebastian Vettel would be in 2011. But on the back of his first narrow Championship victory, Vettel appears to have grown significantly in confidence. Now he looks very close to being the absolute complete package.
While many like to put Vettel’s success down to the supposed dominance of the Red Bull Racing RB7, the fact is that it was only dominant in the hands of Vettel. Almost always, Vettel had the upper hand over Mark Webber, who could manage only one win and two 2nds.
Vettel was a particular star of qualifying, with an amazing ability to pull a brilliant lap out of the bag right when it counts. He has also shown himself to be a brilliant overtaker when it matters, proving the doubters comprehensively wrong on a number of occasions.
Moreover, the stories you hear about Vettel’s commitment and hard-working attitude underline that he really does live up to the nickname of Baby Schumi.