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My Top Ten Drivers of the Decade
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My Top Ten Drivers of the Decade
Posted By: James Allen  |  31 Dec 2009   |  7:48 pm GMT  |  260 comments

It’s New Year and the end of a decade. The “noughties” were pretty good in F1 terms with some very talented drivers battling it out for glory. I spent most of it very close to the action as the commentator on British TV network ITV and I observed and worked with all the drivers very close up.

I would argue that the decade ends with a stronger cast of drivers than we had at the start. I’m really excited about the array of talent in F1 now, with three out and out aces, one potential ace and some very strong back ups.

Picture 58
1. Michael Schumacher – There can be no doubt about this at all. Schumacher moved the Art of the F1 driver on in the noughties and set the benchmark everyone else has to follow. He has an exceptional talent but doesn’t rely on it, instead put in so much effort to the details of winning. The outstanding driver of the decade with five world titles in the noughties to add to his two from the nineties. He contributed heavily to the rebirth of Ferrari and then he caps off the decade with a dramatic decision to make a comeback. His career will span three decades; a phenomenon.

Picture 59
2. Fernando Alonso – Twenty-one times a Grand Prix winner, many of them in a car which was not the fastest and two hard fought world titles makes Alonso a truly great champion. Alonso is fast and relentless. All the F1 engineers will tell you that there is no better race driver out there today. But it could and should have been three titles; his season at McLaren ended with him just a point off the world title, but common sense tells you that McLaren should have managed that situation better.

3. Lewis Hamilton – A world championship in his second season and proved a match for Alonso, the benchmark driver in the sport, in his first year, few drivers in history have made an impact on the sport like Hamilton. Like the two drivers ahead of him in the list he polarises opinion, but he’s already proved his credentials as a rare talent and a ferocious competitor. Has 11 victories and 17 poles from his 52 GPs and I think he improved immeasurably during a tough 2009 so he’s now a far better driver than he was when he clinched his title. Alonso vs Hamilton vs Schumacher in 2010 is the fight everyone wants to see – it’s box office gold dust

Kimi cool
4. Kimi Raikkonen – A favourite with many fans, who claim his weaknesses, such as poor communication, are in fact strengths. Easily as talented as any of the drivers he raced against, he let himself down by not trying on occasions. That said he performed heroics in the second half of 2009 in a truly awful car. One world championship, 18 Grand Prix wins and 16 poles tells of a pretty good career, but most savvy observers will say it could have been many more if Mercedes’ reliability and his own attitude had been better at times.

5. Felipe Massa – Eleven wins and 28 podiums so far for this likeable and very fast driver. On the cusp of making that difficult transition from a number two driver to a number one during 2008 and early 2009 and was still improving when he had that terrible accident at Budapest. Massa is admirable for keeping his head down after a dodgy debut and making himself into a really good driver.

Picture 57
6. Juan Pablo Montoya – I have to admit that I loved Montoya as a Grand Prix driver. He was fast, fearless, outspoken and always terrific to watch. He reminded me of Nigel Mansell in many ways. He took the fight to Schumacher on numerous occasions and had some no holds barred scraps with Raikkonen. He scored seven wins, 13 poles and 30 podiums for Williams and McLaren and was unlucky not to have hooked into a world championship.

7. Rubens Barrichello – Eleven race victories in the noughties with Ferrari and Brawn and an evergreen presence on the grid. On his day he could beat anyone, including the great Schumacher, but he also had off days. Kept Jenson Button more than honest during their time together at Honda and Brawn.

Butt celeb
8. Jenson Button – Always had the talent, just needed a good car to show what he could do. We got an idea of what he could do in 2004 when he and BAR took the fight to Schumacher, with 10 podiums and then he took that unlikely win in 2006 at Budapest. This year Jenson got his just desserts in a terrific car, winning six races and the world championship.

9. David Coulthard – He had a long and distinguished career, spanning two decades. He won seven of his 13 Grands Prix in the noughties, but only had a couple of really good years, 2000 and 2001. He struggled in the days of single lap qualifying, which held him back because he usually put in really strong race performances. But a major presence nevertheless.

Vettel
10. Sebastian Vettel – Only two and a bit seasons into his career he has established himself as a front runner and looks like he could become a real star. Five career wins and runner up this year, the key question now is has he learned from his mistakes and can he go on to be a dominant driver? I think he showed in Silverstone and Suzuka this year that he has what it takes.

Happy New Year to all the readers of JA on F1 and a sincere thank you to the half a million plus visitors who have come to the site during 2009, for spreading the word and contributing such interesting and inspiring comments.

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1

Hamilton = 109

Alonso = 109

Does anybody know in how many races Ham beat Fred ?

Does anybody know in how many races Fred beat Ham ?

If we’re comparing team mates to see who did better, the points each scored against everybody else don’t count, right ?

2

James,

I agree on the drivers selected for the list, but I disagree somewhat on the order. Your top-4 drivers are exactly as I have them, and I think most would agree are exactly as they should be rated. 5-10, though, could use a re-ordering, in my opinion.

For one, I think we have to classify Button at #5 for the simple reason that he is one of the five World Champions of the decade. The Formula One World Championship is the hardest thing for a racing driver to accomplish regardless of how good a car he has, and when a driver wins one, it means a lot about his ability. I’d bump him to #5, with Massa (who is well-deserving of being on the list) moving down to #6.

I would then bump Barrichello up to #7. Barrichello’s body of work over the decade proves him to be a quality driver who can develop the car and deliver results, even when the car isn’t optimal (as he’s shown the last two seasons).

I’d place Vettel in at #8. What he’s done in 2 1/2 seasons is, IMO, much more impressive than anything Montoya or Coulthard did in their years this decade. In particular, Vettel’s win in the wet at Monza far surpasses any individual performance that either of them put forth.

To me, Montoyta showed to just be a very fast driver who wasn’t very good at setting up/developing the car and was needlessly hotheaded, barbaric, and wreckless in his driving style. He also didn’t really deliver a body of work over a full decade, as Massa and Barrichello did. Still, I think he belongs at #9 just ahead of Coulthard.

3

Some very good points here. But don’t forget Coulthard’s win at Magny Cours in 2001 where he gave Schumacher the finger..there were others, some real quality wins there and he did score a heck of a lot of points. Montoya was fantastic and had some great victories, he achieved more in the last decade than Vettel, I’m sorry, but it’s a fact.

4

Montoya may have achieved more, but he was not a driver with champion greatness like Schumacher. While Montoya was fast, on occasion, he also was unique in having a SULK button on his steering wheel! Simply put, when things were not going his way, he hit the sulk button and all of a sardine the radical pace was gone! This is the opposite of how Shumi reacted in similar situations, the worse things went the harder he pushed! Yes Montoya achieved more than Vettel in the last decade, but no he is not the driver Vettel is. Vettel has rightly been described as having some of Shumi’s qualities, Montoya had erratic speed only, no greatness.

5

Hello.

Hi James. Good, reasoned and balanced list.

On the other hand, just wished to remark the amazing level of parrot-ism I’ve constantly seen in many hamilton-ians regarding Alonso, for the last two years. And it will continue… Never thought that “got beaten by a rookie” could last for so long…

Anyway, let’s hope all drivers get a good car for the following two or three years, and may be we will able to make a proper judgement then, not now…

Cheers,

TaCtO

6

Great list James which has provoked a lot of debate here! I agree with your list.

I have an idea for another article though…

top 10 races of the decade!

You’d have to put germany 01, Spa 00, Japan 05 and Brazil 07 in there!

7

James I am confused about the Hamilton Alonso debate.

Clearly Hamilton beat Alonso in 07 and had McLaren changed his tiers in China even for snow tires he would have been WDC in his rookie year. Yes he too made mistakes, but the wopper came from his team and not him, in China. He was a rookie, while the team with all their experience should have managed China better by any standard!

However it is clear that as a rookie he was a match (if not better) for Alonso! Need I point out how much more experience Alonso had and that he was a double world champion? How then did Alonso not clearly have the upper hand? It is so extraordinary that he did not a host of people can’t believe McLaren did not deliberately slow him down! Do you believe they did?

Now lets consider Hamilton in 08 and 09. Has he improved? You clearly think he has from your article and I would say you are correct!

And Alonso? Has he improved by a similar amount?

So if the 2 were team mates again this year, who honestly do you think would win?

8

That is a fascinating question – very hard to answer. All the points made here are valid about the way Hamilton took Alonso on from the first corner of the first race, which was truly astonishing. Both men have improved and I think they are probably still incredibly evenly matched.

9

It is an interesting question and it brings up another question: Massa vs Alonso.

Of course this one will be answered this year.

Why I bring Massa into it is quite simple as he too has improved in leaps since 07 and was a true competitor against Hamilton in 08. I am not sure what Alonso is doing right now but I can tell you what Massa is doing: focusing day and night with every ounce of his being on one single goal- beating Alonso!

It does not even matter that much to Massa if the 2010 Ferrari is not that competitive, as beating Alonso is as much an achievement and a point to prove to the world as winning the WDC. (Well almost!) But to Alonso WINNING is what is expected and the pressure is ON!

How well will Alonso handle things if Massa begins to get the upper hand? He did not handle it well over at McLaren in 07 and Massa is already established at Ferrari. But having said that, 07 has given Alonso the experience he needs to handle any such situation better should it arise and I imagine he has thought about it since 07.

I know the world is expecting an Alonso walk over, but I sense Massa as become a laser beam right now and 2010 is going to be his best year yet. He has nothing to loose and every thing to prove. Alonso on the other hand has a big question over him. After Hamilton in 07, if Massa beats him in 2010, history will look some what differently at Alonso.

The pressure is on!

10

JPM always had the better of him if you look at points / finished race and also pole positions. Only in 2001 Ralf had the better of him but mainly because of DNF’s. Ralf was good but didn’t have the raw speed of JPM.

11

Interesting thing here for me is the JPM/Ralf discussion points.

Montoya arrived in F1 with a red-hot reputation from F3000 and Champcar. I thought he would thrash Ralf regularly, but he didn’t. It’s certainly true he was never afraid to take on Schumacher M.

So, was Montoya over-hyped or did I underestimate Ralf? I’m still not certain but I do remember being disappointed that Montoya didn’t live up to expectations consistently. His final half season with McLaren was not good.

With regard to Ralf, in 2005 teamed with Trulli at Toyota, that season was curious too. Trulli seemed to just about have the measure of Ralf until right at the end of the season when Ralf nosed ahead by a couple of points. Wasn’t there a late upgrade that suited Ralf more than Trulli? It makes it look like there’s not much to choose between those two and few have suggested that Trulli should be in the top-ten list. So why should Ralf be there?

So, if Trulli shouldn’t be in the top-ten and neither should Ralf, then why should Montoya? As mentioned above, he hardly thrashed Ralf did he?

So if we drop Montoya from the top-ten, who is to replace him? Kubica? He has only won one race and he hasn’t consistently thrashed Nick Heidfeld. Many have pointed this out, but how many have suggested Heidfeld should be in the top-ten? Mark Webber perhaps, but only two wins so far.

Time to give up now, I’m more confused than ever but should there be a vote for ‘best post of the year’, this one gets my vote.

H.N.Y. to all and may we have a great season.

12

M_E- I don’t understand? No top team offered him a car or tried hard to get him. Ferrari paid him off, Mercedes looked elsewhere, McLaren went for Jenson etc.

Why? Because for all his talent, he’s not a team man.

13

great article!!!

In my opinion, Hamilton has strong chances to pass Alonso and MS for the all time glory. Surely he has time to get there, but future is uncertain as always.

Regarding weak drivers list, I think there should be two lists. One for drivers with less than 2 full seasons and another for short term drivers. Short term drivers tend to do stupid things that hurt their teams that drivers get sacked. However, other drivers that should develop and show their potential, fail to do so in many years and thus leave even bitter taste into their teams and fan base.

Ralf, Fisi, Rubens, Massa(to some extent), Coulthard have consistently failed to perform with accordance to their car strength and team mate.

14

The 2 worst drivers of the decade (if not F1 history): Yuji Ide & Alex Yoong, with Antonio Pizzonia a close 3rd. No question about this one.

15

In terms of talent I agree, Hamilton has it all and can only get better but to beat the records set by Schumacher will not happen as unlike him he will have to race his team mate and other great drivers (Alonso and Vettel to name two) which sadly Schumacher never did after the death of Senna 8)

16

fair comment!!

17

DC and no Mika Hakkinen?

18

First off, you are doing great work James, absolutely love the website. Its nice to see JP Montoya on your list, he was a brilliant overtaker & racer. I will never forget the move on Schumacher into turn 1 at Interlagos Brasil 2001, when he was heavier on fuel (1-stoping vs. Schumacher’s 2-stoppping). Its a shame he didn’t hang around for longer in F1. He always polarized people’s opinions, but thats what made him interesting to watch.

19

Thanks. Glad you appreciate it

20

What if JB hadn’t been replaced by JPM?
What if Renault didn’t have the mass damper system for half a year?

What ifs are all well and good but you could make anyone look better with a series of those.

21

‘2. Fernando Alonso – Twenty-one times a Grand Prix winner, many of them in a car which was not the fastest’

……………the michelin shod renault wasn’t the dominant car of 2005 and 2006???

Really james, wasn’t it?

Well, it was – certainly for the first half of 2005 before Mclaren got going, and by then it was too late.

And in 2006 a very similar situation, with Michelin dominant for the majority of the year and only Michaels persistence and bridgestone development allowed him to claw back a 26 point defeceit.

Unless i was watching another F1…..

22

James was spot on.

23

The 2005 McLaren was faster, but unreliable.

So it’s true that Alonso won the 2005 WDC in a car that was not the fastest, but this does not really say anything about his driving.

24

Happy new years James.

Just wandering what would be your nineties list.

It’s a lot more trickier because there was Ayton, Prost, Mansell in the early ninties. Mikka won two titles while another double WDC working on Ferrari resurgence.

25

90’s has to be divided before and after Senna’s death.

For me the best era was the end of 70’s and the 80’s,a LOT of great drivers,the ones that will be remembered forever and ever.

Look at now,not more than 5 will get that honor from 95 to these days.

26

It seems to me Alonso is more highly rated by F1 insiders and engineers than the average F1 fan who are probably influenced by his implosion at McLaren in 07. Does the telemetry demonstrate something we can’t see? Or is it his consistant excellence?

27

I think its down to more “results” then anything else. When he was with Hamilton he was really up against it. And we have to remember his renault years he had the whole team working for him -thats a fact and that gave him 2 WDC’s.

I don’t think he is supreme as people all make out.

28

From James said in reply to my question, which was that the engineers from all teams rate him based on all the available data that they have, so a few thousand sector times, straight line speeds, corner apex speeds (all provided by the FIA) and then the teams own intel through things such as acoustic analysis possibly. What the percentage difference is, and therefore could we pick it from the TV or trackside? We are yet to be enlightened…

29

What do you think happens at McLaren with Hamilton ?!

30

A good list, but I would have put Häkkinen on it. I know his only good year this decade was 2000, but it was a very good one (some even say he was actually better there than in 1998). And even if it’s just one season, if Coulthard, Barrichello or Montoya can be on the list than so could Mika IMO.

31

A fair top ten, except for the omission of Hakkinen and inclusion of Coulthard. Also appreciating Barrichello’s presence on the list, were he more consistent he would be a force to be reckoned with.

“Alonso vs Hamilton vs Schumacher in 2010 is the fight everyone wants to see – it’s box office gold dust”

Hell yes!! Bring on 2010 and a Happy New Year James and all!

32
Alistair Blevins

Interesting selection. I find it more interesting that it is hard to come up with many other drivers for consideration.

It certainly shows the career longevity of the modern F1 driver, and also that over the course of a decade, so few drivers, despite success in the lower formulas, really shine in F1.

Equally, looking at the stats, it shows that there are a lot of journeymen out there who manage to eek out careers far beyond what their talent should allow. Fisichella, Trulli, R. Schumacher, Alesi, Heidfeld, Panis etc…

33

Alistair, I think that your points are supported by the fact that for every Hamilton, Vettel, Kubica there’s a Yuji Ide, Tarso Marques and Gaston Mazzacane. Then consider Christian Albers, Patrick Freisacher, Alex Yoong and a few others that didn’t make the grade. See post 67 for a few more suggestions and you can see why Fisichella, Trulli, Ralf etc had long carreers.

I suspect that an examination of other decades in the history of F1 would show similar i.e. two or three ‘aces’ and lots of competent journeymen per decade.

Any volunteers to kick this off?

34

I think every driver on James’ list deserves to be there, excellent choices one and all.

Rubens has always been underrated and I’m sure that the Brawn car would have lost Jenson the WDC in the second half of the year without Ruben’s car development skills.

Montoya was a tremendous loss to F1 and it’s telling that many Autosport.com subscribers ( including me ) now go regularly to the NASCAR section just to see how he’s doing. He just wanted to race and have fun off the track. The politics of F1 and the highly disciplined environment at McLaren were clearly not ideal for him.

It would be pointless to argue with James’ rankings – we all biased by having personal favourites and he’s in a position to have far greater insight that any of us.

Where we are on a level playing field is contemplating the future. Five years is a good time period to look at and here’s my ranking for the five years ending 2014 :

Hamilton 2 WDCs

Schumacher 1 WDC (But back for only two yrs)

Vettel 1 WDC

Alonso

Raikkenen or AN Other

(A new find, maybe Kamui Kobayashi)

Why no WDC for Alonso ?

I predict he won’t be able to handle Massa’s popularity in the team or his speed. The Ferrari will probably not be a match for the other teams until in desperation they buy in Adrian Newey.

Other predictions :

Williams return to the podium with an excellent 2010 car, brilliantly developed throughout the year by the team’s very skilled engineering team and superb feedback from Rubens. They then attract a top driver for 2011 to drive beside Rubens.

( Maybe this is just wishful thinking ? )

Prodrive make the grid at last when one of the current teams fails and become a top running outfit by 2014.

By 2015 the team rankings will be :

1 McLaren 2 WDC

2 Mercedes 1 WDC

3=Ferrari, Williams and Red Bull ( 2 WDC )

6=Prodrive

Renault becomes only an engine supplier.

35
michael grievson

Coulthaf has won a lot more races. Plus he’s the highest British points scorer on record.

36
Christopher Snowdon

James, what about the ten misfits – always good to remember the ones that shouldn’t have made it!

Agree with your list, but can’t we add an eleventh place for Jarno Trulli? It would kind of sum up his decade in a way!

37

James,

I agree 100% with the first two picks of Michael and Alonso. As you say, there can be no doubt. But come on, Lewis 3rd over Kimi ? That can’t be. Kimi has been the fastest F1 driver besides Michael and has performed feats nobody else has, such as winning from 17th in Suzuka, winning at Spa in ’09 and coming back from 17 points in the last 2 races in ’07 to win the title. These achievements take speed, guts, courage and determination. And … he is a trully unique character, straightforward, unpretending, and simple. He never caused a scandal, never lied (unlike Lewis) and never complained about the car being slow, his engineers, pitcrew … not even when burning gasoline splashed onto his helmet from Vettel’s car. I don’t see Lewis having accomplished anywhere near what Kimi has, as a driver, to let alone his questionable character.

38

Question for you D.:

Was Kimi faster than Heidfeld in his first year? Or even as fast as Heidfeld in his first year?

Answer is no.

I agree that Kimi is up there with the best but the impact Lewis has made is exceptional.

39

Nice list James. Good to see you put Kimi up in the top 4, as it’s easy to forget after the last couple of seasons just how consistently good he was in the McLaren days. With better reliability he could have won one or two titles for McLaren. Also totally agree about Montoya. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved is aggressive race craft and outspoken comments, he was great value for F1 and very good driver too. Shame he didn’t stick around.

40

Barrichello and Button in the top 10 tell me there wasn’t the depth of talent we would all like to see in F-1 over a 10 year span!

41

As if they were underachievers!

42

The list only needs two entries:

1. Michael Schumacher

2. Lewis Hamilton

The others are there just to make up the numbers…

Kimi’s WDC was a result of extreme interference from the FIA – it was Ferrari’s 60th anniversary, and they did everything possible to ensure Hamilton’s easy win was thwarted…

Alonso’s WDC was a result of a massive tire advantage and little else…. he couldn’t even beat a rookie Hamilton, who was playing the no2 role for most of the season…

Button’s WDC has no value at all, because it’s purely the FIA giving a massive 1.5 sec a lap advantage with the double diffuser – they took half a season to clarify the rule, which is pathetic for such a fundamental issue… it was all contrived to attract sponsorship to the dying team… Button is now wasting a top seat at McLaren, as a result of this race fixing…

I sincerely hope the level of race manipulation will come down with the fall of Max “Meddling” Mosely…

43

Astonishing that a multi million pound company like McLaren have been hoodwinked into giving a seat away to a no hoper ……………… In your opinion obviously.

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