We have been running our annual end of year competition for readers to name their top five drivers of the season and this year we had well over 700 entries.
The first ten entries which match my selection, will receive a free signed copy of our review book of the season; James Allen on F1 2011: Vettel Steals the Show, which is due to be published on December 13.
It was a difficult choice, as always, with many strong contenders throughout the field.
So here is how I see it:
1. Sebastian Vettel
I’ve gone with the World Champion as number one for the last two years and I see no reason to change this year. If anything this is the most emphatic superiority we’ve seen by one driver over the rest for a long time, regardless of how good his car was. Take Vettel out of this year’s standings and it would look like a close championship, with three drivers within 13 points of each other. Vettel is 122 points ahead!
His qualifying was nothing short of electrifying and he had to soak up more pressure in races than people give him credit for.
He adapted earlier and better than others to the new Pirelli tyres and put right some of the things he had got wrong the year before, like overtaking. He has his detractors, who think it’s all the car, but they are fighting a losing battle.
He’s the best 24 year-old F1 has ever seen. Where it goes from here, who knows?
I just wish Red Bull wouldn’t do things like hold Mark Webber back from passing him in the closing stages at Silverstone. It makes it look like there is a finger on the scales in his favour – he doesn’t need it and it undermines his achievements.
2. Jenson Button
It was a very close call between Button and Alonso for second place, because both drivers were outstanding this year in cars which were short of the Red Bull’s pace. Button gets the nod because of the way he took his three wins, especially the crazy 4 hour epic in Montreal where he was running last at one point. His win in Japan was top drawer too. The way he adapted to the Pirelli tyres was impressive as was his clever use of strategy.
Like Alonso his races were usually better than his qualifying performances, but he had some strong qualifying runs especially towards the end of the season.
I also give Button huge credit for having the courage to move to Lewis Hamilton’s team to prove that his 2009 title win wasn’t simply down to the Brawn car. He proved it this year, beating his talented but troubled team mate, scoring 54% of the team’s points in the process.
3. Fernando Alonso
For several years Alonso has been the most complete driver in F1 but that’s under threat now from Vettel and it will be fascinating to see how he responds in 2012 if Ferrari give him a more competitive car.
Alonso made life tricky for himself, by falling behind team mate Massa a few times in qualifying or at the start this year which compromised the first half of several races, but he never failed to squeeze the maximum out of the car, as usual. He scored 68% of his teams’ points this year.
He often got himself into competitive positions late in the race only to be passed on the out-lap from the pits on the harder tyres, like Germany and plenty of other examples. It showed the Ferrari’s weakness and must have been frustrating as hell for Alonso. But the fact that he was even fighting for the win in Germany shows he was doing something remarkable with a poor car.
It’s very easy to talk only of drivers in top teams when compiling lists like this one, but I’ve always seen F1 as a front race, a middle race and a back race and this year Kovalainen did the same at the tail end of the field as Vettel, Button and Alonso at the front; he dragged every ounce of performance out of his car and you cannot ask for more than that from a driver.
The 2011 Lotus was a step forward but was still a second off the pace the team had hoped for if it was to challenge the midfield. That Kovalainen was able to dominate the other new team cars by a big margin and battle with a Williams and other midfield cars some times says a lot about his ability and character. When you have a career setback, as he did when he was dumped by McLaren, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself.
But F1 is about adapting and overcoming and Kova has shown his quality this year. The experience will have made him a much stronger competitor.
5. Jaime Algeursuari
This final spot could have gone to Nico Rosberg or Adrian Sutil, both of whom had some great days in 2011. Or maybe even Paul di Resta, who had several good weekends in a strong Force India car.
But I’ve picked out Alguersuari because you always have to improve as a Grand Prix driver and he showed tremendous growth this year, which you can’t say about Sutil or Rosberg. After a shaky start he just got better and better to the point where you had an eye on him in every race in the second half of the season, as he took the improved Toro Rosso and made some bold strategies work for him. The key was his strong pace on worn soft tyres, which he pushed for long middle stints. Because we really went into the Race Strategies in depth with the UBS Strategy Reports this year, we could see close up what he was doing.
From Canada onwards he was in the points 7 times in 13 races, with outstanding drives in Italy and Korea and strong runs in Canada, Valencia and India. He scored 63% of his team’s total points which is a strong sign.
I don’t think he’s the next Vettel, but he’s a good racer and still only 21 years old. He’s started 46 Grands Prix now, so he’s got some experience. I’d expect him to really kick on in 2012 with the possible incentive of a 2013 Red Bull seat if he keeps growing. Let’s hope he does.
We’ll trawl through the 700+ entries to find the winners.
The limited edition JA on F1 2011 Review book is selling fast and at this rate should be sold out after Christmas. If you want to make sure you secure your copy, you can order one here for £9-99 plus postage. It’s deliverable pretty much anywhere in the world.
Click HERE to buy