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My Top Five Drivers of 2011
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Posted By: James Allen  |  09 Dec 2011   |  1:54 pm GMT  |  160 comments

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.


4. Heikki Kovalainen

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

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1

Don’t you think it would be fair to say that Alonso didn’t have a competitive team mate and at no time up to the settlement of the title. Alonso was always gifted Massa’s position when necessary, which turned out to be quite often, whereas Button had no such luxury and beat fair and square a well known talent.

If you swapped Alonso and Button, would Button get a subservient team mate? Did Alonso beat Rookie Lewis in equal machinery? I have to confess I don’t recall the result of that one.

2

Considering your position, I understand “polithical moves” as: Vettel, first and Button, second. Quite reasonable in my view.

3

Damn.!!

Got them right, but was 15th I think to do so..!! Know how Barrichello feels now..!!

Haha..

4

Just a thought. Jaime started from 18th most number of times. That position had an advantage as you saved up an extra set of tyres.

No wonder he made much more progress than Buemi who started only one place ahead but with a lesser set of tyres.

It makes Jaime look better than he actually was. I would give the no.5 spot to Michael / Stil / Paul.

5

Always fun to read these lists and how different people interpret different drivers.

I’d agree with the top 3, only real question mark against Button is the fact he was outqualified pretty handily against Hamilton (12-7).

The last two spots are up for grabs by about 6-7 drivers. I’m a little bit weary of Algeursuari, he qualified pretty poorly (out in Q1 5 times) and I think a lot of his results were the result of the bizarre fact that often missing the cut was an advantage as you had extra tyres for the race. Having said that, he still had to make it work, and his drive in Valencia (as highlighted on this website) was very impressive – 18th to 8th with no retirements in the race.

6

Hi James, if you were to pick the 5 best drivers of the season by using your after each race articles ‘who is your briver of the day’ who wil come out on top? i don’t think we will see much difference though.

You count the one he has the most votes for first and so on.

7

It comes out as Button, apparently

8

Gee, you were so close James 😉

I was secretly going to send you a prize if you got them right.

Better luck next year mate 🙂

Thanks for all your hard work James. I have enjoyed this forum immensely.

9

Button ahead of Alonso? No chance I think your giving 2nd place to him because he’s your fellow Brit. IMO Alonso should be number one.

10

Hi James

Was wondering if we could get some ideas about your 5 worse drivers or at least a few people who you think had a disapointing year?

11

That’s just asking for a flame war to break out!

But in terms of most disappointing, think I’d have to go with Hamilton, Webber, Massa, Rosberg, Maldonado (last one is tough)

12

Agreed with your answers there. Hamilton disapointing as we know how good he can be and his attiude at times. Massa was a non event this year and I think he can count himself lucky he has still got his drive there next year. Take away his run ins with Lewis and he doesn’t even feature in any of the races.

13

Good to see you did not pick Webber again in the top-5. Glad to see you picked Heiki and Haime, well-deserved. But I am wondering this: the logic for picking these two was that they over-achieved given the equipment they had. By the same logic, I think Alonso should be the No. 1 driver. What he did w/ this terrible Ferrari car was nothing less than tremendous. Button said exactly that recently for FA. The best 5 drivers, in terms of sheer ability, are Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton, Nico, Sutil.

14

In what way, may I ask are you related to Adrian sutil?

15

I got the same top five in the same order. Here’s hoping that was in the first ten!

The one I am most pleased to see in your list is Heikki. F1 is about great stories and this year was a great chapter in what could turn out to be something special. He has been an exceptional servant of Lotus/Caterham over the past two years and that mutual loyalty just may pay off next year. Gascoyne and co have got a driver who is motivated, comfortable in the team, a great spokesman for Caterham (surely important to Tony F) and seems genuinely on form behind the wheel. Given a mid-field car next year (circa. Sauba or Torro Rosso) we could be in for even greater competition for the final points finishes, one of the highlight of this season, in the absence of a close title fight at the front.

James, my question to you, from your insights into team personnel and dynamics, how was Heikki perceived during his time at McLaren? Clearly his confidence took a knock next to Lewis, but was he well liked by the engineers etc? Or was it simply a bad fit with the Mclaren way?

Thanks as always for the blog. Great reading. 2011 was your best year yet.

16

He really won over Whitmarsh on a personal level but he clearly couldnt cope with Hamilton and they gradually lost faith

17

I always noted that when Ron Dennis was there in 2008 he never once mentioned Heikki at all. Never in an interview I saw anyway, clearly for him Heikki was just a rent a driver.

18

I do not agreed:-)

Alonso had the best season….we shall see what Vettel will do in a car similar to what Alonso had this year.

19

Alonso should’ve been number two there James.. You said it. Jenson beat his “talented but TROUBLED team mate”. Shouldn’t that have been a given?

20

I’d take beating a troubled Hamilton over beating a troubled Massa any day to be honest…

21

It was always going to be a toss-up for 2nd place between Button and Alonso but obviously Jense got more wins/better results so he would come out on top. But imagine Alonso in a more competitive Ferrari or at least one not so miserable on hards. He’d be matching Vettel I’m sure of it. Those 2 electrifying starts in Barcelona and Monza were insane and you know if he has the lead he won’t let it go IF he had a proper car.

You can’t fault Vettel, he did have an amazing season. The team got EVERYTHING right and as long as Webber got within the top 5, the Constructor’s title was theirs. I guess I can’t complain about RBR’s treating of Webber due to the fact that Ferrari does the same but it’s very shameful because Webbo deserves better. After Turkey 2010, its not been the same. He hasn’t been able to beat his teammate since FOR SOME REASON. I miss the dueling between them. Vettel has been performed excellently but I’m suspect over the gap to Webber being that large. The RB7 and its handling of the Pirelli’s is built to Vettel’s preference (as also to Alonso at Ferrari), that I’m sure of.

As for Kovalinen, I’m not a believer. Yes, he’s beating Trulli but so what ? F1 is about pushing to the limit and his time in McLaren showed he wasn’t up to task. A few years later on and I’m not impressed. The limit of the Lotus is far below that of the front-runners so him pushing that car doesn’t prove to me he can get it done if he were in one of the top squads again.

Ultimately, the racing in 2011 was exciting but in the end, it was just fog IMO. It was interesting because of all the overtaking but it was artificial. The fastest cars over the full race distance would always finish in their order except for a few who found it difficult to overtake and therefore lost time. Vettel was the absolute fastest, always on pole and could take care of his tires while the others battled eachother. Just look at the lack of different podium finishers and the typical race results at the end. I can’t explain it well but I’m not a fan of 2011. I say get rid of DRS, which was mostly a kneejerk reaction instituted after Abu Dhabi (Alonso/Petrov). That track itself was THE problem. Oh, if I could make up the racing regs… *dreams*

22

Ahh bummer! I got the top 5 correct was comment #366 due to living in the U.S.! I just tallied it up and I think I’m the #12 correct answer… James, do you think you can give out consolation prizes for your loyal overseas readers?

23

Got them right… But I doubt that post #538 was high enough in the order to win it. 🙁 But well, at least I got them right. 🙂

24

Thanks for taking part

25

Anytime James, thank you for giving us the chance for winning something.

26

Great top five James, particularly pleased to see Jaime in there as his progress this year has been absolutely phenomenal.

On only one point would I disagree – that Alonso’s status as the most complete driver in F1 is under threat from Vettel, for two reasons:

1) We’re yet to see how Vettel will cope when things aren’t all going his way. I do think he improved this a lot betwen 2010 and 2011, and I realise that he’s only had a short career so far, but I don’t see that we can call him “complete” without seeing how he can perform in a broader variety of situations.

2) Alonso is still improving, and is clearly relaxed at Ferrari despite their issues this year.

All that said, I’d love to see them in a head-to-head next year in similarly-paced cars…though not as much as I’d like to see McLaren and (ideally) Mercedes get in on the act too, though.

27

I wasn’t even close to winning a book 😛

I picked Alonso for 2nd place since he was with Ferrari, but with his drives in Canada and Japan, I can see how Button got it. Kovalainen and Alguersuari were just outside my top 5, since I went for the underrated (IMO) Rosberg (who was solid throughout the year, and led for a while in China) and Hamilton (who still won 3 races), though I wouldn’t argue much about LH not making the cut.

28

I like your list- I knew there would be a lot of discussion about Alonso or Button for P2. It could have gone either way. However I think we now have a habit of underestimating Button, who is to say he would not do well in the Ferrari especially if he was the clear number one supported driver:-) ? As great as Alonso is, I just can’t stand the fact that he is not happy to compete on level terms with his team mate.

29

Vettel, Button and Alonso are also definite picks for me. For 4th I would perhaps have picked Rosberg. Kovalainen was a good pick though.

For the “2011 disappointments” I can immediately think of Massa and Webber.

30

James

I dont agree with your list not , I think it is worth mentioning that Jenson benefitted in a way from Lewis’s misfortunes, it is debatable whether all the incidents he has been involved in were entirely his fault.

Button has driven well no doubt about that, but I am not entirely convinced that he can now be considered a better driver

than Hamilton.one thing is certain he is is definetely worthy adversary but he is still needs to beat Lewis convincingly.

31

James,

Wish we can see worse 5 also from your side also. 🙂

32

I really can’t accept this.

Giving NO:1 to Vettel is just not good. Because, he had the best car in the grid. And always on pole. Never started from the back of the grid this season. Everything worked for him well except Yas Marina circuit.

Won the championship very easily.

Kimi, Fernando, Button, Schumi all started in middle or at the back of the grid had podiums and some even won races.

That really shows a true legend.

I think this guy never did that.

And James, I can’t accept your comment about Alonso, saying

“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 had proved that he is the best driver in the grid.

And everyone knows what happened at 2010, like how vettel became the youngest champion.

About vettel, if you look 2008 Toro Rosso, it is a good car, where even Sebastien Bourdais set the fastest time in Q1 in Spa.

Just like for lewis in 2009, for vettel also a year will come and let he may prove it.

33

So #1 should never be given to the driver of the best car?

34

As for 2008, it would be very hard to justify why a win, numerous top 5 finishes and 8th overall are down to the car, not his talent when he was competing against Ferraris, BMWs, Mclarens, Renaults, Red Bulls and Toyotas.

35

He can’t be the best for this year because he was always on pole. Yes, because in your world, grid order is determined by a random draw, not best time around a track.

36

Interesting comment about Algeursuari, about seeing things in the strategy over the course of the year.

Was there anything else discernible over the longer period? Perhaps about a driver, or perhaps the route a team has taken through development. Or maybe how Pirelli have fought to keep the teams on the back foot.

37

Red Bull was the best car out there, but I think McLaren actually had a car to challenge and beat Red Bull on more than few circuits this season. Button has driven better this season than he has ever has. Yet I still feel the 2007 Hamilton or Alonso would have given Vettel a far tougher challenge in the 2011 McLaren.

Thats not Vettels fault, he did all he needed to do and more to secure a well deserved 2nd championship. But I think Vettels so called “emphatic superiority” is somewhat flattered by the overall poorness of Ferrari, and Hamilton crashing and whining for most of the season.

In my opinion Alonso was the best driver out there this season, followed by Vettel. On his day Hamilton is capable of competing with and beating both Alonso and Vettel and if Hamilton ever grows up, he’s capable of doing it over the course of a season.

But for 2011, Button was the next best driver out there. My estimation of Button has risen this season far more so than than the year he won his championship.

I would definitely have Kovalainen and Algeursuari in the top five. But I have to say I think Rosberg was disappointing and DiResta was solid at best.

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