F1 Winter Break
My Top Five drivers of the 2009 season
My Top Five drivers of the 2009 season
Posted By: James Allen  |  24 Nov 2009   |  1:21 am GMT  |  218 comments

Thank you very much to the 1,100 readers who took part in the Top Five drivers of the year competition. I’m delighted that we got more than 1,000 entries!

There were plenty of interesting entries, Luca Badoer popped up a couple of times, while several Kimi Raikkonen fans put their man in all five positions!

I put a lot of time and research into my selection, going back through my race weekend data, looking at fuel corrected figures for qualifying and so on. I’ve also sounded out some of the F1 engineers for their data analysis of the drivers’ performances over the season.

As a result, here is my Top Five, together with my reasons.

1. Jenson Button – It was between him Hamilton and Vettel as to who would be one, two and three. I remember telling a 19 year old Button in Macau that F1 is all about “consistency at a high level’ and I had to give Button P1 because he showed it this year (mostly!), scoring points in all but one of the races. His peaks were very high; he won six races out of seven at the start of the year, pressing home his car advantage with the double diffuser early on and leaving nothing to chance. He also had to make some bold passes along the way. Unlike Vettel he did not make costly mistakes in races and unlike Hamilton he had to deal with the constant pressure of a championship fight. Most of his problems in the second half of the season were in his head and affected him in qualifying mainly, but he still dug in on race day and scored points. Many of his problems however were also to do with the way the car developed (or didn’t!).

2. Lewis Hamilton – Hamilton performed miracles in a car which was 2.5 seconds off the pace at the start of the year and even after a major update kit transformed it from Germany onwards, it was still some way off the pace of the Red Bull and the Brawn and yet he wrung two wins and four pole positions out of it. Even at the start of the season he was fourth in Australia and Bahrain in a car, which looked horrendous when watched from trackside. He damaged his image over the lying scandal in Melbourne, but I think he has emerged from a tough year as a far better, more humble and more mature driver than he was in 2008

3. Sebastian Vettel – I can assure you that there is not a shred of national bias in my choice of the top two. They just did a more complete job and that was the difference. Vettel was outstanding this year, the good things he did were every bit as good as anything Button or Hamilton did and I’m sure that the team principals put him top in their Top 5 because he is so exciting for F1. His four wins were superb, especially the drives in China and Silverstone. He is still a bit raw, still hasn’t got on top of tyre management and he made a number of expensive mistakes which cost him the championship. But he’s a really exciting talent and a fantastic person to deal with. If he continues to mature as he has these last two seasons, he will claim a place in the sport’s premier league.

4. Mark Webber – the Aussie had by far his best season in F1, getting the pole that mysteriously had escaped him, but also two long overdue wins. He was unbeatable in Germany and controlled Brazil. The reason he makes my top five is because for the most part he did the car justice. Fuel corrected Vettel was faster 10-7 in qualifying, which isn’t as dominant as people make out. There were also quite a few races where he started behind Vettel, but beat his exciting team mate to the finish. People also forget also that he wasn’t fit for the first couple of months of the season after his broken leg and shoulder. He reminded me of Nigel Mansell at times this year. On the downside, he went awol a couple of times in the closing stages of the season, but all the contenders for P4 and P5 in my list did that and the others were more inconsistent.

5. Kimi Raikkonen – This was an incredibly hard choice. There were many contenders; Massa was doing better than Kimi before his accident, but didn’t complete the season; Alonso did well with a poor car, but nothing miraculous and his team mates are no kind of benchmark; Barrichello had some great days, but was easily beaten by Button when the car was the class of the field; Rosberg was fantastic through the middle of the season; Kubica had some miraculous days, but others when he was outperformed by Heidfeld. So Raikkonen gets the nod. People say he had a quiet start to the season, but he was impressive in Bahrain and Monaco. But his performances from July onwards in a car which Ferrari had stopped developing, were astonishing. Even the Ferrari engineers don’t fully understand how he managed to get some of the podiums he did based on the performance of his car, compared to the opposition. He had a sniff of a win at Spa and he took it, holding off a clearly faster Force India car. Loses out on consistency, but gains on miracle achievement.

The five winners, who picked the same top five as me are:

Matt B
Richard Thurbin
Nathan Smith
Joe Sumegi

We will be in touch via email to get addresses.

Loads of people went for the same top four with either Barrichello or Alonso at P5. A few people had the same five drivers, but Rob Collins had Raikkonen and Webber the other way around, as did Evan, Jon Wilde and June Lee.

If you missed out, then please get yourselves a copy of the book anyway. All copies purchased through this site will be signed. Click on the book cover on the right of the page.

I will be at Motor Books at 13/15 Cecil Court, London WC2N 4AN (0207 836 5376), just off Charing Cross Road on Saturday 28th November from 3pm for a book signing so come down if you are in town doing your Christmas shopping.

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Hi James, miss your commentary on F1 get a job with the Beeb !

wanted to know yours views, I suspect Hamilton will destroy JB in qualifying but not in the races where I think Jensons skills as a racer will be decisive, if the cars right we could have another last race decider. Whose your tip for next year


I was at McLaren on Thursday and they are as interested in this as anyone. My own feeling is that Hamilton will qualify ahead more often than not and use that platform to stay ahead, but Button will have his days where he wins out, no doubt about it and will score lots of points and podiums, wins too if the car is fast.


Disagree with your top 5 but i respect your opinion James

Rosbeg and Alonso deserved a slot in the top 5, They both drove better then Webber and Button

Without the HUGE advantage, a second to be precise at the beginning of the season, Button would have been nowhere near the top of the standings

As for Webber, Top driver but he should have done more with the car he had, just like Button after his fluky six wins out of seven


Can’t say I would disagree with your list James.

Just curious if you’ve crunched the numbers and determined how the year-end standings would have differed if the FIA had gone with the medal system Bernie’s proposed for ’09.


I see everyone is looking at the Webber thing and those 5 races in particular without any real analysis. 1 of those he had a brake failure, another one a drive through because of a team error releasing him into the path of another driver, and another one the team stuffed his last pit stop, and at Monza was taken out on the first lap. Don’t just look at the results and see 5 non-scores, its never that cut and dry despite people thinking it is. I mean, the man did get 8 podiums, 3 fastest laps, a pole position and 2 race wins, not bad for someone who can’t even run properly.


That is F1 – like an onion skin, many layered.


Too true James, but i guess people only pay attention to the end results, and as Mark himself always says, that’s all that matters and the results don’t lie.


Ha!! how weird is that? I just asked for it and it appeared straight away. spooky.

anyway, really interesting list that. Almost the same as my top 5 with Lewis and Vettel the wrong way round.


Cant really disagree with your top 5 James, good work.

Can I make a big request and ask what the readers top 5 was? ie an average of the 1100 votes you received. I’d be interested to see the top 3 particularly.

If its a too big a job then no worries. thanks



So the result of the readers Top10 drivers selection is:

1 Jenson Button : 838 votes

2 Sebastian Vettel : 834

3 Lewis Hamilton : 820

4 Rubens Barrichello : 492

5 Kimi Raikkonen : 420

6 Mark Webber : 382

7 Nico Rosberg : 239

8 Fernando Alonso : 212

9 Kamui Kobayashi : 50

10 Sebastien Buemi : 30

These Top5 are also mine (but different order).

Kobayashi number 9! He has impressed for sure. Any news about him for 2010?


Thanks for doing that. Very interesting.


Thanks Pierre / James, quite interesting and seems very fair, I had a hunch it would be something like that. Agree completely in Rubens position and taking out Webber from the top 5.

Great job James, will keep on reading your site and will recommend it to my other F1 friends in Miami and Dom. Rep. Cheers!


Thanks very much for that.


I have to agree with your top 5! For sixth place I would have to go with Rosberg. He was also very consistent this season. I hope he can get his first win with Mercedes next season. We are big fans of his here in germany. Go Nico!


James, I can’t take out this feeling that you choose combination which were the least, just because you didn’t want to send to many free books.



There’s no pleasing some people, is there?


That’s not true becuase he could have picked something like this:




4.Webber’s leg


He picked a top 5 that he thought were the best, no complaints.


But if he picked up that, all would know that he isn’t objective. And no one else choose that, so then he couldn’t give anyone book. He is smart guy, knows what to do.


Well, I had the same 5 but my order was:






I agree with much of your analysis James but think what influenced me a fair bit was the realisation that this would require Rubens to be at best, 6th and I can’t help feeling that through the second half of the season in overall performance and speed he had Jenson beaten. It did not seem acceptable for there to be a 1-6 position spread between the two of them. Also I think that Raikonnen’s performance was extraordinary given what he was working with. In the end he finished the season very close behind Hamilton, and I think in terms of effort given what he was driving. like Lewis he deserved to be considered ahead of Button (who by my above analysis needed to be a little closer to his team-mate anyway).

Maybe next year! Too bad Canada is a little far away to attend your book signing…


Didn’t want my post to get too long but maybe could add this: In your analysis James the word miracle came up twice in describing driver’s performances – for Hamilton and Raikonnen. Surely such accolades reinforce my positioning of them at the top of the list? Don’t think any other drivers had performances warrenting such praise. Also for the first half of the season the Brawns were clearly superior to the rest of the field, which must discount Button’s performance somewhat.

Sorry to keep flogging a dead horse! (And also for the stray period that slipped in between the words ‘driving’ and ‘like’ above. Ah the joys of advancing senility!)


First of all, thanks a ton James for all your views all through the season!

2008 and 2009 have been seasons with differences in the way they respectively panned out. But both have been bit mediocre IMO in their own way. Both have been exciting I must admit. In 2008 we saw plethora of mistakes from championship contenders which could have cost them dearly. IMO 2009 had 3 average drivers and an inexperienced talent fighting for WDC.

If I need to come up with an example of 2006. That was an year when we saw a legend and a great driver fighting for championship. In the whole season we saw 1 mistake from Michael in Australia and none from Fernando. Yet they were so much on the edge wringing absolute best from the car lap after lap.

When we compare such season with 2008 or 2009, don’t the championships and champions of those season loose the shine a bit?


Niki Lauda and Ross Brawn disagree with James Allen?


I know, I know . . . he doesn’t say that exactly. Just TIC joshing … and adding to the different view points.


Well done James, I regret I missed entering the test.

You wrote about Vettel, “If he continues to mature as he has these last two seasons, he will claim a place in the sport’s premier league.” While I’m not as close to it as you are, I’m of the mind that he already HAS claimed that spot in the premier level. Immense talent and his openness and joy at being an F1 pilot are a breath of fresh air.

Please come to Austin, Texas for a book signing! Happy holidays.



Agree completely with your top 4. However, I think that Raikkonen is the driver who could least be justified in the top 5, because essentially his ranking is based on half a season – or at least from Hungary onwards.

Before Hungary, he’d scored a total of 10 points, and was looking un-motivated and off the pace, and distinctly the second Ferrari driver.


TBH it’s beyond me how you rate Jenson the driver of the year. To LEGITIMATELY rate him first is being a bit blind to the finer details of the season…but I’m not suprised given Button has been in F1 for 10 years and he’s ever so deserving in a lot of peoples eyes for whatever reason.

The bottom line is that the Brawn was a mile ahead of any of the competitors at the start of the season. For Button to not win those races would have been absolutely pathetic, especially considering Barichello had brake issues which meant that he couldn’t run the rear wheel fairings (which were worth ~.3 tenths) in the first 7 races or so. So basically it was just a one man race between Button and…Button. Once Barichello changed brake manufacturers and was able to run the rear wheel covers, look what happened…and Ruben’s isn’t even on your top 5!

When the RedBull came on strong and the Mclaren as well, the BGP-001 was no longer the clear dominant car on the grid…and WTF happened to Button then!? He continually underperformed big time, especially in qualifying where you sometimes have to work around a set-up that doesn’t suit your picky driving style (in Button’s case).

Vettel would have won the Championship had it not been for all of his engine problems…which Button had none of. And lets not forget how weak the Renault engine was at the power tracks like Spa and Monza. Then’s there’s also the fact that once RBR became the strongest overall car on the grid, they had to fight off Mclaren and Brawn as well as a few other teams that were competitive here and there toward the end of the season. And this brings me back to the point that the first 6 races were run-aways for Brawn…a MUCH different scenario compared to when RBR became the strongest car of the field (by a much lesser margin to!)

Everything I bring up makes Button’s drive look less and less impressive…I’m not at all trying to make excuses for Vettel or anyone else…just pointing out how lack luster Button’s performances REALLY were if you want to to look at the DETAILS.

Button had been dropping the ball big time in qualifying the ENTIRE 2nd half of last year, in a car that was still at least the 3rd strongest car on the grid on ANY given track. For him to drag out the Championship as long as he did was one long failure in itself. I mean open your eyes! Raikkonen outscored Button in the 2nd half of the season in a car that was far inferior to the Brawn. Had Kimi been in the Brawn and performed like he did throughout the 2nd half of the season he would have won nearly every race or at least podium’d in every race…and lets not bring up the first half of the season where he could have lapped everyone haha!

I’m just a bit dissapointed by your lack of attention to the details when making your picks.


I think the best way to sort out these 2 (KR and LH)is simply looking back not Last season but 2008. Remember Silvertone 2008. The Ferrari is very much on par with the Mclaren. But what happened; LH wins by a mile !!!

In the wet the performance difference of the car is at its minimal; and this is a test of the driver skills….. need I say more.


So the best way to sort out LH and KR is to cherry pick a race in 2008 where LH won and use that as your rationale to say LH is a better driver? Using that rationale, let’s go back to 2007 where LH blew a 17 point lead in the championship with two races to go. KR took the championship as we all know. So I guess that using your logic, KR is the better driver. Need I say more? 🙂


Lewis won by a mile becuase Ferrari made a bad tyre choice in Kimi’s first pit stop. They didn’t change the tyres as they expected the rain to stop. That was perhaps the longest stint of Raikkonen’s life. Kimi had hunted Lewis before the 1st pit-stop and it would have a very close contest had that blunder not been comitted.


based on this comment it does show your understanding of F1 how could u say d ferrari was on par with the maclaren the ferrar did not perform well in the wet hence lewis winning by a mile


I don’t see Hamilton as a top 3 performer this year. Raikkonen’s car was pretty bad but he made it look much better than it really was. Hamilton made some pretty amateurish mistakes that one would not expect from a WDC. (Crashing at Monza comes to mind.) LH has plenty of talent but he is not in the same class as Alonso or Raikkonen yet.


James would love to see a breakdown of user submission rankings crossed referenced against country of origin.

Perhaps your web designers can upload a simple form to complete that would automatically compile the results – I am sure that you can beat your 1100 results as most people on here seem to want to see this information….

Keep up the great work….


Judging by all the comments, it seems that Kimi is by far the most popular driver in f1.

And he’s the one who doesn’t even care!


disgruntled of York disagrees

(only because I wanted a free copy of your book James)

On reflection Kimi is above Rubens given that the Brawn (car) won the Drivers Championship then Rubens should have come second.

Re the Monaco conference I would love to be there but my budget is more duck pond at Scarborough rather than super yacht marina in Monaco:(

Look forward to the website updates!



Who would you rate as your top 5 drivers during your time as an F1 journalist?

I’d go with (in no particular order) Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Hakkinen, Alonso (sorry Raikonnen, you’re #6).




Probably Senna, Schumacher, Prost, Mansell, Alonso

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

I agree with Mansell being in the top 5. He managed to do things in a car that nobody else could and on his day was simply awesome. Who could ever forget Silverstone 1987, or Mexico 1990 at Peratalda.

Just watch this….awesome..



Mate, you’re more than welcome to prove your point any time you wish by building a car in my back yard without any help from Ross Brawn and racing your nuts off.

By your logic any WDC worthless unless the guy was driving a bike? So let’s give Jenson credit, he deserved the WDC and proved it with some very fine racing, especially in the later parts of the season.

BTW, I’m not Dutch but I’m not a Britisher either. I just think winning the title over an 18 race season is huge & worthy of a bit more respect


Thanks james. I like the blog and i hope in future maybe you could venture into the technical side of the sport. Like next year we are having significant changes in regulations. It would be nice to get a technical insight onto how this will affect car behaviour.

I tend to agree in general with your choices although i would have ranked Vettel a bit lower because he had a championship winning car and made very silly mistakes.

I think hamilton amazed me this season especially when he had a dog. His drive in Bahrain was sublime with that car and also in australia.

Thanks anyway.


Thanks Jesse, I plan to.


Also if that’s the races u r putting up . They all was over for him in the first few laps ( and nothing in F1 is predictible , especially with that kinda on the limit machinery )- monza blame him .( though he tried to make a race out of it – I was less than impressed with his comments -‘ I’m not surprised it’s happened , every lap was like a qualifying lap’ – sure it was , but he didn’t need to ‘promote’ himself)


I completely forgot to enter the competition 🙁

ive pre ordered

Agree with the top 5 i would have Rubens in 6th.

How about top 5 overtakes/battles of the season?

Koby vs Button for me in Brazil

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