We have been running our annual end of year opportunity for readers to tell us who were their top five drivers of the season and this year we had a great response with just under 600 entries.
As a fun sideline prize, the first five entries which match my selection, will receive a free signed copy of our review book of the season; James Allen on F1 2013: Winning at All costs, which is on sale now in our Online Shop.
The number one driver was easy to choose this year, but the next four are tricky as few drivers put on a consistent display all season long. To me there isn’t much to choose between P2 and P5 in the list and the margins are finely balanced.
But here is how I see it:
1. Sebastian Vettel
Unlike last year there was no-one else in it. Vettel set new standards in 2013 and improved significantly before our eyes as the year went on. Considering he was a three times world champion before the year started that’s quite a thing to say. He’s only 26 and on the evidence of this year, is now beginning to hit his peak.
Of course some detractors will say that their granny could have won the title in that Red Bull, particularly with the way it developed in the second half of the season, as Renault created some magic engine maps which harmonised with Red Bull aero developments in the diffuser area.
But it was the way he did it which lift him to a level above. The combination of Vettel and the RB9 was an unstoppable force – man and machine in perfect harmony in way that is rarely seen in F1.
His opening stints in Singapore and Abu Dhabi in particular were some of the best I’ve seen in 25 years in the sport; precise, consistent and devastatingly fast. To leave the field for dead at almost 8/10ths of a second per lap takes more than just a quick car.
Vettel has in the past had weaknesses in his game, which he has now virtually eradicated. It will be fascinating to see who has the fastest car in 2014 and – if it isn’t the German – to see how he adapts.
I also liked the way in 2013 he clearly listened to some of the negative feedback from F1 fans – he dropped the annoying “finger” celebration and also showed more of his undoubted humour. The introduction of the donuts celebration, previously frowned on in F1, showed that he is human and also his power within the sport as he has now blasted away a taboo there.
2. Fernando Alonso
This was a tough one. Alonso disappointed at times this season – it’s not been often in the last ten years that you could say that – as his motivation clearly dimmed a little in the second half of the year when it was clear that the title would again elude him.
He was anonymous in Monaco and Felipe Massa outqualified him eight times, so by his standards (and certainly his 2012 standards) it wasn’t a vintage year.
He also made a bad mistake in Malaysia, damaging his nose on the opening lap and not pitting to change it.
Normally this catalogue of negatives would not make you the number two driver of the year, but you have to recognise that he still – somehow – managed to finish runner up in the championship, ahead of the second Red Bull driver and both Mercedes and Lotus drivers in what was clearly not the second fastest car over the season. For that reason alone, he deserves to be considered ahead of the other candidates. It was a conjuring trick.
The Ferrari looked promising in the opening races, he was on the podium in Australia, won in China and Spain, but then they really dropped the ball and lost the development path. The car was regularly qualifying outside the front two rows of the grid and yet Alonso kept coming through to salvage points and podiums.
His calculated strategy of giving the team a chivvy up in July while there was still time for them to do something, fell on deaf ears and instead Ferrari’s president chose to publicly attack him. This was clearly an error. Things have not been the same since and although Montezemolo is now showering him with praise, it’s too late. Alonso is running out of time to win the third world title, which is his lifetime goal.
Next season, if he feels he has a better option for 2015, he will almost certainly take it.
3. Kimi Raikkonen
Again a very tough one. But Raikkonen surely deserves it for his consistency – prior to his falling-out with Lotus he had scored a win (his second for the team) and seven other 2013 podiums, including six second places. Romain Grosjean came good at the end, but second was the peak of his achievement, whereas Raikkonen was doing it consistently and was on a real roll in the early part of the season in particular, with a string of second places from China to Spain.
The Lotus was a very good car this year, but not the fastest. It was one of the most consistent across the whole season, with an impressively short blip after the Pirelli tyre compounds were changed post Silverstone. Without that Lotus and Raikkonen could have challenged for greater honours this year.
He wasn’t the fastest in qualifying, but, like Alonso, his race performances, strategic thinking, precision and patience were vital ingredients in success in 2013 spec Pirelli era racing.
Although his move to Ferrari for 2014 was one of the main stories of the year, it was sad the way things ended with Lotus. Owed something in the region of €20m, he tried to settle for around €5m and even that proved a challenge for the financially strapped outfit.
4. Nico Rosberg
This is where it gets really tricky as Hamilton, Rosberg, Grosjean and Hulkenberg all have a claim to be best of the rest, with various outstanding performances through the year. All of them had peaks and troughs though, some car related, others linked to their own performance.
Rosberg edges out Hamilton for me because he was a bit stronger across the season and was possibly able to get more from the car in the races than his team mate, for whom the advent of Pirelli tyres has been a huge handicap to his driving style. Although Hamilton’s peaks were probably higher, especially in qualifying, he faded a few times, whereas Rosberg kept adapting and plugging away and outpointed Hamilton strongly in the final four races. This is an interesting reversal because Rosberg has tended to fade in the closing stage of the season through his F1 career.
Rosberg also retired three times due to technical failures, so lost the chance to score more points which might have taken him above his team mate, who only had one retirement.
Rosberg’s run of poles and wins in April, May and June was the high point of his year, but his end of season form hints at a potent challenge from the outset next year if the Mercedes is a championship-worthy car, as many suspect it might be.
5. Lewis Hamilton
Hamilton, Grosjean and Hulkenberg are hard to separate here. Hulkenberg performed miracles in the Sauber from September onwards, but so did Sergio Perez in 2012 and look what happened with him this year. The Sauber is an unreliable form guide, in other words.
Grosjean was mighty impressive in the closing stages of the season with podium finishes in Korea, Japan, India and USA. He ended up with six podiums to Hamilton’s four and Rosberg’s five, but he was overshadowed by his team mate in the first half of the season. That said, he was asked to give up track positions to Raikkonen on a couple of occasions and could therefore have had more from the year.
Hamilton edges it with his consistently fast qualifying performances (up to the last three races, at least), his win in Hungary and he could have had a second win at Silverstone without the spectacular tyre failure.
* We will go through the entries and get in touch with the five winners who will each receive a copy of the JA on F1 2013 book “Winning at all costs”
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