10. Nick Heidfeld
Heidfeld did a solid job in difficult circumstances at Renault GP. Parachuted in to drive a car that was designed primarily for injured Robert Kubica, Heidfeld struggled at times. But he did secure an impressive podium at Malaysia, and continued to score points while the car’s performance slumped.
He was kicked out by Eric Boullier at the midway point of the season, while he was ahead of Vitaly Petrov in the Drivers’ Championship. With a full season, Petrov still finished only one place ahead of Heidfeld in the Championship. But Heidfeld’s poor qualifying performances did nothing to raise his stock.
9. Adrian Sutil
After a bad start to the season, which was further marred by unsavoury allegations about his extracurricular activities, Adrian Sutil really turned up the wick as the season progressed. It’s almost as though the alleged incident made Sutil turn the corner and focus.
I have never particularly rated Sutil, but I have to say I have found myself changing my mind as the season has progressed. He has two 6th place finishes to his name this year — impressively beating both Mercedes GP cars in the process.
At last, after all these years, Sutil has proved himself worth of an F1 seat. But is it too little too late? Force India appear to have lost patience with him, despite the late season surge. I guess there is nothing so irritating as a driver who suddenly performs well when his contract is up for renewal. (See also: Toro Rosso.)
8. Sergio Pérez
Pérez is showing huge amounts of promise. It has not been a perfect year, but in his rookie season Pérez has shown an ability to make difficult strategies work more than anyone else. His ability to make Pirelli tyres last longer than anyone else verges on a superhero power.
Either that, or it is a sign that he doesn’t succumb to trendy theories or groupthink, a trait he also demonstrated when he very maturely sat out the Canadian Grand Prix to allow himself to recover fully from his Monaco qualifying crash. In a sport of chest-beating bravado-men, Pérez has shown himself to be a no-nonsense driver with immense intelligence.
7. Mark Webber
It’s been a scrappy season for Mark Webber. In a year when so many have described the Red Bull car as dominant, Webber has struggled to actually perform with it. There were only three 1–2s (compare with six for Williams in 1996, eight for Ferrari in 2004, and nine for Ferrari in 2002).
Webber’s one win came about as a result of a technical problem with Sebastian Vettel. Webber has never looked remotely in contention for the title. Jenson Button in the McLaren outperformed him. So much for Red Bull dominance.
Webber’s chief problem seems to be a failure to adapt to the new rules. Webber is a ballsy driver, but not the most intelligent on the track. So when it comes to making the Pirelli tyres work, or using the DRS rules to his advantage, Webber seems to come unstuck. Remember when he overtook Lewis Hamilton in Korea, which only allowed Hamilton to use his DRS right back?
Having said that, Mark Webber has pulled off some of the very best overtaking moves of the season, including the absolutely remarkable move on Fernando Alonso at Eau Rouge, which is destined to go down in history.
6. Lewis Hamilton
It’s no secret that this has been a difficult year for Lewis Hamilton. His slump around two thirds of the way through the season was particularly alarming, and his clashes with Felipe Massa verged on complete embarrassment. To make matters worse, he is being totally schooled by Jenson Button, who most thought would be on the back foot at McLaren.
However, Hamilton has managed to pull a few strong performances out of the bag, notably in China and Abu Dhabi. But it is disturbing how events in his private life appear to affect his on-track performance so negatively.
One thing’s for sure. In 2007, people (primarily Matt Bishop) talked about Lewis Hamilton being in the same league as only Fangio, Clark, Senna and Schumacher. Today you could never say that without people laughing you off the face of the planet.