F1’s Best Driver

Posted: April 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

OK, so this started a couple of weeks ago when my boss – no newcomer to F1 – stated that he thought Sebastian Vettel was currently the best driver in F1.  Time Warner Cable had deemed it best that I miss the Australian GP by only supplying me with one second in every three that was filmed. Tangent – F1 on the SPEED Channel (that’s right, all caps – shout it!!!) is pretty much unwatchable even when the broadcast reaches me intact.  After years of complaining about commentary on the BBC and ITV, SPEED’s team shouting about the “AWESOME PITSTOP!!!” make me miss them thoroughly – tangent over.  So I was informed by my boss that Vettel had been outstanding in Aus, only for his car to break late in the race.  Come the end of the Malaysian GP, again dominated by the shabby-haired German, and my boss was convinced.

This got me thinking.

That evening I made the mistake (number one) of looking at the ‘comments’ section at the bottom of an article on the website Planet F1.com. There I found a considerable amount of uninformed opinion on who is currently the best driver in F1.

This annoyed me and got me thinking more.

I did a bit of an internet search (mistake number two) and found many polls. The Castrol Rankings, a points based system which tells me that Nascar driver Jimmie Johnson is better than Lewis Hamilton, got me chuckling.  However, most of these polls were asking ‘Who is the Greatest F1 Driver of All Time?’ rather than who is the best currently racing.  If you are ever so inquisitive you’ll find they range from the sublime (Jim Clark No.2 – The Times, go and pour yourself another drink and get all nostalgic again) to the ridiculous (Rubens Barrichello No.7 ahead of Alain Prost No.9 – The Independent, whatever you guys were smoking was gooooooood…).

This upset me.

You see, I started watching Formula One Grand Prix racing on 22nd May 1983.  That day, my Dad and his friend Neil explained the nature of a lap to me (aged 4). I had thought that this kind of race, just like every other race I had known up until that day, would start at point A and finish at point B. I was delighted to be wrong. I watched as Alain Prost drove his yellow Renault up the sweeps of Eau Rouge at 170 mph over and over again on his way to victory in the Belgian Grand Prix and, barring a couple of years in the early part of this century when F1 was basically in a coma, I have been watching ever since.

I can name, as I have been able to since about the same time as I learned my capital cities and times tables, every F1 World Champion since 1950 on demand. Before the age of every race being televised live, I used to watch whole, two hour long, races on Ceefax. Every now and then a friend will call me mid-pub quiz where an F1 question has just come up. I have seen ground effect, active suspension, turbos, slicks, fuel stops (more than once) and more points systems than I can remember come and go over the years. Today, if I could have one job in the world it would be an F1 driver. It has been that way since 22nd May 1983.

I am therefore comfortable that, barring those who spend their working lives traveling with the Grand Prix ‘circus’, I have F1 knowledge to match anyone.  Which is why I get upset at the kind of ignorance it takes to place Rubens Barrichello above Alain Prost on an all-time list and publish it.  This is like saying ‘Joey’ was better than the ‘West Wing’ – the fact that some idiot somewhere probably thinks so still doesn’t make it true.

So, with my little resume in mind, please humour me for a while by letting me explain the two major reasons why it is so difficult to rank F1 drivers.

First – and very much foremost – the cars. They are not the same.

Double world champion Fernando Alonso’s highest finish in his maiden season in a Minardi was 11th.  He won the first of those world championships three years later.  Three time world champion Nelson Piquet managed only a 9th place finish before he landed a competitive drive. Another three time champion Niki Lauda even managed a 5th place in his third season before landing a plum Ferrari drive.  I would need to invent some kind of statistical analysis to prove this properly, so for now you’ll have to trust me when I say that Senna, Prost, Schumacher, Fangio, Vettel, Hamilton or anyone else would not have won a race in Alonso’s Minardi through anything other than sheer luck. It was not a good car.

Likewise, there are great cars.  If you were not in a Williams in 1992, you were not going to win the championship. Ricardo Patrese, driving one of those, managed only one victory (where his top three rivals failed to finish), did not finish 5 of the 16 races and still ended the year in a clear second place in the drivers’ championship. He basically finished second to Mansell in every other race. Was he the second best driver? No. Was he the second best driver/car combination? Absolutely.

The cars are not the same.  Some are fast, some are slow.  Some are fast, but break very often.  Some are slow but will always finish. Some are fast and always finish (yep, these are the ones that will normally have the Drivers’ World Champion sat in them at the end of the year).

So, while one can compare teammates over the course of a season it is extremely difficult to compare drivers who happen to race for different teams, as separating the relative performance of a driver from their car is nigh on impossible.

Secondly – and although this one is more about judging performance over different eras, I cannot stress this enough – the competition. F1 goes through phases, like any sport, where competition is high, and where competition is low.

Despite what The Independent would have you think, Rubens Barrichello is not the seventh best F1 driver of all time.  He had six seasons driving the best car in F1 at the time.  He has 11 career wins.  And how is this for a stat?  In all but three of his sixteen F1 seasons before the present one he was beaten over the course of the season by his teammate.  Read that again – thirteen times in sixteen years he was beaten by his teammate. Incidentally, Prost, a four time world champion, was beaten by a teammate twice in thirteen seasons, both by three time champions, Lauda and Senna (the latter of whom he actually outscored by 11 points in 1988, but still lost the championship due to the most absurd points scoring system ever, in which he had to drop certain results).

Barrichello is also the biggest knock against Michael Schumacher’s claim to being the greatest F1 driver of all time as he was, along with Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard and Juan Pablo Montoya (all in vastly inferior cars), pretty much all Schumacher had to worry about for five years.  Those were five years in which Schumacher coasted to five of his seven world titles.  Would he have won a title with Prost and Senna anywhere near their peaks?  We have no idea.  Never let anyone tell you otherwise.  And that’s why comparing drivers over different eras is as difficult as comparing drivers in different cars.

Right then. With all that said and done, here is the list.  And, because I’m a man, I like lists.

Rules:  This is done on the basis of points value.  Let’s pretend that you run an F1 team and there is a draft of all the current F1 drivers for the next season only.  Who do you choose?  We will ignore money as there is no salary cap in F1.  Nor is this a ‘who is fastest over one lap’ quiz.  This is simply a choice of who one thinks will get the most points over the course of the season for your new team. That’s how we’re defining the best F1 driver, ok? I make the rules here.

The Ryman League Division 17:

24.  Karun Chandhok – Hispania

Pop Quiz 1: What do you do with someone who finished 10th in GP2, the formula just below F1, in 2008 and then finished 18th in GP2 in 2009?

Answer: Give him an F1 drive of course!

In completely unrelated news, Bernie Ecclestone has been outspoken in his desire to have an Indian GP over the next few years.  Good luck to young Karun, hope he’s enjoying himself.

23.  Bruno Senna – Hispania

Every driver in F1 is a good driver.  However, right up until just a few years ago one could always find a drive on an F1 grid.  It just took a lot of cash and the proof you had previously driven something that didn’t require you to change down gears when going uphill.  One could find plenty of drivers who were not as good as the talented guys in the lower formulas – equally as desperate but more deserving of the drive – but these little minions had considerably more cashish to hand so it didn’t matter.  There is still an element of this in F1 and being the nephew of the driver most agree is the greatest of all time doesn’t hurt either.  Here is the killer fact.  He and Sebasiten Buemi are the only F1 drivers I am aware of to have reached the premier formula in motor racing without having won any junior championship.  From now on I’m calling him ‘The Nephew”.

Pop Quiz 2:  What’s worse – the Hispania F1 car, or who the team hired to drive the thing?  I don’t know the answer, but they are both unprecedented levels of suck.

The “TV’s hit series – Lost” (why is this still in my life?) Division

22.  Jarno Trulli – Lotus

Three facts about Jarno.  One, he is very good over a single lap. Two, he has never, ever, sustained this speed over the course of a race. Three, most amazingly, he still has a drive.

21.  Pedro De La Rosa – BMW Sauber

Pedro is apparently a good test driver.  Hmmm, economist Adam Smith’s theory of specialisation comes to mind.

20.  Rubens Barrichello – Williams

I once saw Rubens out at a club in Valencia following the 2008 European Grand Prix.  He was very drunk.  So was his teammate, Jenson Button.  They had been racing a very bad Honda that day.  Both looked like they had needed the drink.  Button looked like a guy who was sick of being in an awful car, a guy who wanted a chance in something that could challenge.  Rubens looked lost, like a dad who had come in to find his teenage daughter to take her home only to start dad-dancing to the ‘groovy’ music.  Fast forward a year, a lot of rule changes and a new team name, they had the best car on the grid.  Button then had a chance to show he had what Rubens has never had. Speed.

“But, he’s smooth…”.  No, he’s not – he’s slow.

The “Isn’t This Why We Test Kids in Junior Formula Before F1?” Division:

19.  Lucas Di Grassi – Virgin Racing

A bridesmaid.  Technically he’s in the Bruno Senna camp of never having won anything, but I’m claiming his victory in the 2005 Macau Grand Prix (a sort of ‘cup’ rather than championship) on technical grounds because he’s in a different class to Senna.  He finished 2nd or 3rd in everything before F1.  Hmmm, I don’t believe in giving someone like that an F1 drive.  He’s been supported by Renault his entire career.  If he stays anywhere near teammate Glock, I’ll pipe down.  For now, I don’t know why he’s here.

18.  Vitaly Petrov – Renault

The “Vyborg Rocket” is Russia’s first ever F1 driver.  He’s a two time winner of the Lada Cup.  It’s amazing the things I don’t have to make up.  He also won a series called the “Lada Revolution”.  Brilliant.

He’s not too bad at all actually.  Especially considering he never drove in karts, as there weren’t any in Russia.  He had a better than average record in GP2, he scored 6 points with a seventh place finish in China, but he also being destroyed by teammate Kubica.  And let us not forget that Bernie also wants an F1 race in Russia.  Still, good luck Vitaly.  You’ve come a long way from the Lada Revolution, that’s for sure my friend.

17.  Vitantonio Liuzzi – Force India

Has displayed nothing that makes me believe he will still be driving in F1 next year.  Has nearly double his points haul from 2005-2009 already this season, but has clearly been outclassed by Sutil in what is an average, reliable car.  Was lucky to get the second chance in F1 and will have to do something special to keep his drive next year.

16.  Jaime Alguersuari – Toro Rosso

Cool name.  Only reason he’s in F1 was a decent British Formula 3 season in 2008 when aged only 18.  He broke Mike Thackwell’s 29 year old record when he became the youngest driver to start an F1 race halfway through 2009.  His Toro Rosso drive became available after Bernie Ecclestone decided there couldn’t be 3 Sebastie(a)n’s in F1, making Toro Rosso choose between Bourdais and Buemi – they immediately sacked Bourdais.  Alguersuari wasn’t dreadful in Malaysia a few weeks ago.  That’s as good as it will get.  He will not be in F1 in three years time.  By the way, I only made up one of these facts.

15.  Kamui Kobayashi – BMW Sauber

Not awful.  Came in to drive the soon to be gone Toyota for three races at the end of 2009 and impressed.  Has not finished a race yet this year, but has out-qualified De La Rosa in the last two races.  He has done nothing to suggest he’ll be around in a few years, but hasn’t had the chance to prove why that shouldn’t be the case yet either.  He could just be really good you know…  Incomplete grade.

14.  Sebastien Buemi – Toro Rosso

Another bridesmaid.  Never won anything, but unlike The Nephew he had the decency to finish runner up in nearly everything he competed in prior to F1.  He’s quick enough  but I don’t believe he’s ever going to be really competitive.  Sorry, that’s it really.  What else..?  Ummm…  he’s the fourth best Swiss racing driver of all time?  There you go.

The Best Of The Mid-Table Aston Villa Division of F1 Mediocrity

13.  Timo Glock – Virgin Racing

Oh Timo.  In a decision that threatens to haunt him evermore, he decided against a Renault drive for 2010 as they weren’t guaranteed to take part following ‘crashgate’.  He picked the ‘safer’ option of Virgin, who can’t build a car to get him to the finish of a race.

Glock had three podiums in two years in the quick but horribly inconsistent Toyota, never ‘breaking through’ or doing enough to show he was ever going be elite.  That could have changed in the Renault.  Now he’s relying on luck and a more competitive team needing a driver with some kind of prior record next season, who are also willing to forgive this season.  Because this season, in this car, he’s doing nothing.

12.  Adrian Sutil – Force India

The most famous motorcycle saying of all is “you can teach a fast rider to stop crashing, but you can’t teach a slow rider to be fast”.  Sutil crashes a lot, but he is undoubtedly fast. The problem here is Andrea De Cesaris.  Dear, dear Andrea raced during the 1980s and basically crashed every single race he started (he holds the all time record for consecutive non-finishes – 18!).  He was quick, but he never made it over the hump and stopped crashing.  This may be why it’s a bike saying and not an F1 saying.  I like Sutil, I’m just not sure he’ll ever make it over the hump.

11.  Heikki Kovalainen – Lotus

Super, super Heikki Kovalainen.  The most important thing you need to realise about Heikki Kovalainen is that he is fast. Like, really fast.

Proof lies in a little known charity endurance karting race that took place in Hertfordshire in the summer of 2003 when Heikki had graduated from F3 to the Nissan World Series (which he won).  Heikki was in a team of current and ex F3 drivers, who comfortably won the event.  I too was racing that day, and recorded the second fastest lap.  Hekki’s fastest lap of the day (which I think was around the 40 sec mark) was a full three seconds quicker than mine.  Observers on the day congratulated me, and pointed to the fact that he was about 5 stone lighter than me (he’s tiny…) and the fact that I was recovering from surgery three weeks before – I actually couldn’t take my helmet off once I had put it on because the swelling was so big on that side of my head.  Excuses, excuses I say.  No, I was beaten by the better man.  One of the world’s best.  I don’t like talking about it really.

Heikki won a GP driving a McLaren two years ago.  That’s probably as good as it’s going to get (barring that glorious day in 2003).  He’s had his shot really.  After getting the better of Fisichella in 2007, he was completely outclassed by Hamilton over the next two years.  He’s well on top of Jarno Trulli this year, but it’s going to be a long road back if he’s ever going to get another chance with a competitive drive.

The “Quick, but are they really quick enough?” Division:

10.  Felipe Massa – Ferrari

Is a bit like the hit TV show ‘Lost’.  I saw him a few times and he looked promising. But then, the more I watched him the more he looked like nothing special.  Then, every now and again, he would do something ridiculous.  So I kind of stopped paying attention.  But everyone raved about him. He got a drive in the best car on the grid and had a default shot at the title with a teammate apparently so bored and disinterested in racing that he must have been surfing the net while he was supposed to be racing (here’s looking at you Kimi!).  He didn’t win the championship.  Now Alonso has joined Ferrari and is wiping the floor with him.  And suddenly in his fifth season (see: Analogy, Lost) everyone is acting all disappointed and I could not be less surprised.  Sorry, he’s good, but he’s simply not that good.

9. Nico Hulkenburg – Williams

Let me get this out of the way early – I like Nico Hulkenburg. His pre-F1 resume is a thing of beauty.  He has won five titles in six years of junior formula.  Dominant.  That’s Prost / Senna / Schumacher territory.  Although he won the Formula Three Euroseries in 2008, he still went to GP2 rather than straight to F1.  Then he won GP2 too.  I don’t understand how Williams, rather than anyone more competitive, were able to snag him for this year but good luck to them.

He has a mid-table car, an established teammate (Barrichello) who he should be beating consistently by the end of the year (he has no right, Barrichello knows these tracks far too well after all these years) and…  well… that’s not a bad position to be in.  It’s a position that is good enough to turn people’s heads if he is indeed good enough.

Godspeed Nico Hulkenburg.  I’ve got my eye on you.

The “Threatening Their Own Legacy with an Ill Advised Comeback Division”

8.  Michael Schumacher – Mercedes

Statistically the best F1 driver ever, Schumi is clearly on the downside of his career, but the question is how much has he lost already?  A sure fire Hall of Famer, at his best he would be a lock for the top 3, but his comeback so far has been less than impressive and he is being out-qualified and out-raced by his teammate Nico Rosberg.  With the lack of testing allowed due to current regulations, do I want to give him some kind of mulligan for this season and rank him on the basis of years gone by?


The Contenders Division

7.  Robert Kubica – Renault

Has only once had a really competitive car, the BMW in 2008, and was quick in it.  He won a race, had six more podiums and finished 4th in the championship.   A great pedigree – from karts up and onwards until a Formula Renault championship netted him an F1 drive.

He suffered horribly in an awful BMW last year, but has begun this season in the Renault very well indeed, scoring a 2nd place in Australia and finishing in the top 5 in the last two races.  There are rumours that Ferrari is losing patience with Massa’s mediocrity and that he has until the British GP to impress them or they’ll approach Kubica to take over his seat.  I would kind of like this to happen.  You see, I’m not sure Kubica’s got it.  He’s very quick for sure, but is he elite?  Can he compete if he has Alonso for a teammate?  Not sure.  I’d love to find out though.

6.  Nico Rosberg – Mercedes

Son of one of my favorite racing drivers ever, Keke Rosberg. This was a man who used to smoke 20 a day, was ragged as anyone ever and still won a world championship in 1982.  Loved Keke.

Nico doesn’t smoke, at least I don’t think he does.  Then again he hasn’t won a race, let alone a championship, yet.  He is, however, quick.  He had a very decent 2009 in his fourth season for Williams, having eight top-six finishes.  This season he is proving consistently quicker and getting better results than Michael Schumacher, his teammate in the all German (except for the bloke who runs the thing, Ross Brawn, who’s as British as Marmite) Mercedes team.

He’s currently second in the championship.  What does he need to firmly cement himself in the second tier, the level just below the elite?  He needs a win.  He needs to finish in the top five in the championship.  That means finishing higher than Schumacher and Massa.  Yes, if he does that, I might just start to really believe in young Nico.  They’re not bad these Nicos you know…

5.  Mark Webber – Red Bull

I really like Mark Webber.  I was there when he, as a 20 year old, won the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch.  He never had the easy route (he drove the Minardi a couple of years before Alonso), never had the big money, or big sponsorship but has always been quick.  More often than not he’s beaten his teammate.  He’s won two races.  He’s a nice guy.  I like him.

He is probably the best ‘number two’ driver in F1 today.  The most clear examples from the last 30 years: Rene Arnoux, Ricardo Patrese, Gerhard Berger, David Coulthard, Eddie Irvine, Heinz Harold Frentzen.  Every one of these drivers won a Grand Prix (Coulthard won 11), but were never going to win a championship.  Irvine came closest in a ridiculously good Ferrari, but even he couldn’t make it.  Tangent alert – Nick Heidfeld would have made this list except he holds the record for most amount of points without a win (219!) – redefining the phrase ‘always the bridesmaid’. Having these guys as number two to someone better means you have a very good shot at a constructors championship.  In that way, Webber is very useful, fantastic over a single lap, but is also second best to Vettel in every way.

Please note the carefully embedded irony in the fact that I exclude Barrichello from this list of ‘number twos’ because he is a ‘number two’ (ahem) F1 driver and always has been.  I thank you.

The “2010 Tottenham Hotspur, Wait Just A Second – Are They Actually Challenging?” Division

4:  Jenson Button – McLaren

Oooh, the quandary.  World Champion, Jenson Button.  He had the best car last year he did (ok, everyone else caught up halfway through the season, but he won six of the first seven races and had Barrichello as a teammate…).  Yet here we lie – early days yet – with ‘Jense’ atop the championship standings once more, and the McLaren is not the best car right now.  Quandary.

The thing about Button is the he was secretly always great at fast tracks.  Really, really good through fast corners. Committed, smooth and consistent.  Great at Spa and Suzuka.  He just couldn’t deal with the slow stuff.  Modern F1 tracks demand that one attacks slow corners by throwing the car over kerbs accurately while dealing with the bumps and adjusting through mid-corner corrections.  Senna was unbelievably good at this, Schumacher too.  Coulthard was very good.  Now, Alonso and Hamilton rule the roost at Monaco, Valencia et al.

What he has now over those who rank above him here is race-craft.  At some stage over the last couple of years his experience started to count.  He tends to make decent tyre choices where Alonso doesn’t, chooses not to overtake where Hamilton may lose a front wing trying to do so, and he may get his car to the finish intact more often than Vettel does.

So why does he not reach the top tier?  One, he’s never done anything in an average car.  Two, he seems to struggle if track conditions / his car require him to adapt driving style.  He’s never been a master of wet weather driving and tends to fade if his car is not working for him.  Two minor knocks – and this season could see him disprove these and make this a top four, rather than a top three.  But that would be getting greedy, because…

The Premiership, Champions League Final, Superbowl, World Series (of poker), World Cup Elite Division:

…there is a very good chance we have never seen an era like this one.

Eras dominated by drivers in F1:

1950 – 1957: Juan Manuel Fangio

1963 – 1965: Jim Clark*

1969 – 1973: Jackie Stewart

1975 – 1977: Niki Lauda

1984 – 1993: Alain Prost & Ayrton Senna

1994 – 2004: Michael Schumacher**

2009 –         : The three best F1 drivers racing today

* This is pushing it.  In an era of privateer teams and gentlemen drivers where it was not uncommon to race in two or three series of racing a year, Clark was probably the superior driver of his day, but only managed two championships before his untimely death racing in one of those series at Hockenheim in 1968.  I took him out and put him back in about seven times.  He is basically filling a 1960s gap where no driver(s) became really dominant.

** Schumacher didn’t win a championship from 1996 to 1999, but he was absolutely the best driver.  He simply took a very average Ferrari and challenged every year until the team became half as good as he was.  When they did (and without any competition) he won five in a row.

There is a famous picture of Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet sitting on a pit wall before the Mexican Grand Prix of 1986.  This was the penultimate race of the season and each driver was still in with a chance of the championship.  Bernie Ecclestone brought them together that day so the photographers could capture the ‘fab four’.  In reality, he need not have bothered.  F1 had never had (and has not since) a duel like the one that we would witness over the next years.  Within a year of this photo being taken, Senna would sign with McLaren and join Prost at the pinnacle of the sport for three incredible years from 1988 to 1990.  Prost had been the best driver in F1 for years – only Renault self combusting in ’83, a rain shortened race at Monaco in ’84 and a vastly superior Williams in ’87 denying him every championship from 1983-1987.  All Senna needed was a half decent car.  Senna and Prost were as different as could be, but every bit as good as each other.  They are the two greatest F1 drivers in history and they raced at the same time. But that’s for another day.

The point is that F1 had never seen a period of two dominant drivers at the same time.  It hasn’t since.  Clark / Hill / Brabham were in the wrong era and never in competitive cars at the same time for long enough.  Lauda was not at his best when Prost came through and eventually was blown into retirement.  Piquet won three championships but was always in a far superior car to Prost when he did so.  Alonso / Schumacher came close, but Alonso was too hungry and Schumi wasn’t at his best.

The last couple of years have been a breath of fresh air for F1.  These three drivers are a large part of the reason why.  They have a very good chance of giving us an era to match the Prost/Senna years.  They are all absolutely as talented as anyone who has come before them and are nigh-on impossible to split.  But here goes:

3:  Sebastian Vettel – Red Bull

Outstanding.  The youngest F1 driver to basically do everything except win the championship.  Constantly quick, aggressive without being dirty and has learnt the knack of lights to flag wins very early on in his career.  Competitive from his first race and actually won a race in a Toro Rosso.  Ran Button extremely hard in 2009 and if he’s in a competitive car, looks like he will challenge anyone for the next 10-15 years. Has as much upside as anyone in F1 history.

Why is he only third? Because he hasn’t won the championship yet and he still makes tactical errors.  He can also fade when not absolutely in contention (in a way Hamilton never does).

Slight, and sad, tangent.  I’ve been around long enough to have seen two other equally talented German drivers.  One, Michael Schumacher, became statistically the greatest F1 driver of all time.  The other, Stefan Bellof, died in a World Sportscar Championship race on 1st September 1985 at the same Eau Rouge corner I first watched Prost navigate over and over again two years beforehand.  People often speak of Senna’s wet weather brilliance and point to the Monaco GP of 1984, where the race was cut short just before he passed Prost for the lead.  Bellof, in third, was lapping three seconds a lap faster than Senna, and had the race run it’s full distance would surely have won himself.  He also completed a ridiculous 6 min 11sec qualifying lap of the old 13 mile Nuerburgring in a Porsche 956.  I firmly believe his death, along with Johnny Herbert’s ankle shattering accident at Brands Hatch in 1988 robbed us of an even greater era than the one we enjoyed.

2:  Lewis Hamilton – McLaren

Like him or loathe him (see: Spaniards), Lewis Hamilton has had more to do with F1 returning to a fantastic sport once more than anyone else.  He is, without doubt, the most exciting F1 driver today, almost single handedly announcing to the world that overtaking was still possible in his debut F1 race in 2007.  In that debut season he finished his first nine races on the podium, took six pole positions and won four races – all records.  Yes, he was in one of the best cars, but still…

To the best of my knowledge and research skills, he’s won every series he’s ever completed a full season in.

His 2008 British Grand Prix drive (which would have been easier in a boat, such was the weather) is one of the top 10 I have ever seen.  It was ridiculous.  He won by over a minute, the biggest winning margin since 1995, having eased off dramatically over the last few laps.  It was elite in every way.  If you ever want to know what I’m talking about when I say there’s a clear difference between say, Hamilton and Massa – watch that race.  Just watch it.  They’re simply on different levels.

After becoming the youngest ever driver to win the world title in 2008, he even dragged the wretched 2009 McLaren to two victories to end up 5th in the championship.

So, why is he not clearly number one?  Firstly, Vettel and Alonso.  In nearly any other era, Hamilton would dominate alone.  Secondly, he’s the closest thing we’ve had to Senna (minus the horrible “God is on my side not yours so I can do whatever I like” stuff) since Senna.  That’s good and bad.  The bad is typified by the sole reason he didn’t win the championship in his debut season – the stupid, needless crash in China in the penultimate race of that year.  He can lose concentration.  He can (and does) make mistakes.

So do you, as our fantasy team manager, take Hamilton – the quickest driver in F1 today, the best pure racer, the guy who will win far more often than not.. if only he would stop making those errors – as the driver in your team?  Will he get you the most points?  Will he win you the championship?  Do you take him?  Or do you take the guy who is a maybe a fraction slower, a fraction less aggressive in overtaking, but hardly ever puts a tyre wrong…  do you take…

1:  Fernando Alonso – Ferrari

Alonso’s career so far is very similar to Michael Schumacher’s.  Both won back-to-back titles early in their careers in cars that were not the best on the grid at the time (Schumi in the 1994-5 Benetton, Alonso in the 2005-6 Renault).  Both left that team after that second title.  Both, at this equivalent stage in their careers, have yet to win it again.  Schumacher has one thing over Alonso, he has never been beaten by a teammate.  Alonso technically lost out to Hamilton in their season with McLaren, but even then they finished with the same amount of points.

Alonso therefore is the only one of these three elite drivers who has won multiple races and championships in an inferior car.  He has dominated every teammate, bar Hamilton, he has had in F1.  I believe he will effectively end Felipe Massa’s career this season by continuing that trend.

He has a funny knack of being quicker than he looks.  He’s not edge of your seat Hamilton or Vettel quick, but he records the same lap times.  In pure driving terms, he’s very much Prost to Hamilton’s Senna.  Vettel is more Schumacher-like.  This also means he tends to get a reliable car to the chequered flag more often than Hamilton or Vettel does.  He’s most likely to score good points in every race, winning his fair share in the process.

And that’s why he’s number 1.  That’s why I would pick Alonso today, because he is most likely to score more points than any other driver on the grid today over the course of the season for my fantasy team.

However, the important thing here and the real beauty of all this is that I’m not sure he’s the best driver in F1 today.  Is he better than Hamilton?  Is he better than Vettel?  I don’t know.  They are all brilliant, elite and as good as anyone that’s come before them.

And that really is the best news for us all.

  1. LaMurph says:

    “Shabby-haired German”????? You’re not my brother.

    Please note I wrote this comment after reading one paragraph only. I reserve the right to declare you my brother again at some future point if you redeem yourself.

  2. LaMurph says:

    OK, so I’m only up to the Heikki Kovalainen bit but I’m commenting again. Firstly: get over that kart race. The fact that Heikki Kovalainen beat you at karting does not make him a great F1 driver. Here’s an almost-certain fact for you: Bruno Senna could beat you at karting. Stick that up your rankings.
    Kovalainen has won one grand prix, in an excellent car in which his teammate went on to win the drivers’ championship, and he won it ONLY because Hamilton had a puncture and Massa’s engine blew. He is really not that good. He’s not terrible, but not great. Ranking him above Glock is just plain wrong. Please apologise to Timo. Right now.

    • lemurph says:

      I will accept any karting challenge from Bruno Senna and, if he wins, I promise to be a good loser. Until that day you can make all the wild “almost-certain” accusations you wish. Only because you’re my sister.

      OK – this isn’t easy (or short), but it’s all the history we’ve got to play with, so…

      1. Kovalainen beat Fisichella in his debut season when they were both with Renault (that, by the way, is how he got the McLaren drive – beating someone as established as Fisi in your debut season is no picnic).
      2. Trulli beat Glock in both seasons they were teammates at Toyota.
      3. Having both raced for mid table teams since 1997, Fisi and Trulli have somehow conspired to never be teammates. Fisi has, however, finished higher than Trulli three times more than than other way round over those thirteen seasons (even including the Force India one).
      Kovalainen > Fisi
      Fisi >Trulli
      Trulli > Glock
      therefore Kovalainen > Glock

      What a terribly weak argument.

      Anyway, a better one is that Kovalainen has only ever been beaten by Hamilton – no shame there. He beat Fisi, and this season, when they’ve finished, he’s beating Trulli too. They’re also 2-2 in qualifying, something which has been Trulli’s specialty over the years. There is no evidence whatsoever that Glock would not have been thrashed by Hamilton too if he had the McLaren drive. The difference between them is that, unlike Glock, Kovalainen earned that move in the first place.

      I’ll apologise to Timo when he earns the apology 😉

  3. LaMurph says:

    Two things:
    1 – don’t diss Kimi.
    2 – don’t pretend you know anything about Nico Hulkenburg when in actual fact your knowledge of Nico Hulkenburg comes almost entirely from your little sister, who actually knows things about Nico Hulkenburg having followed his career in junior formulae. Oh, and if you’d asked her, she would have told you that the reason Williams got The Hulk this year was because they had the foresight to give him a test drive in 2007 and then sign him as a test driver the following year, thus securing his commitment.
    Your sister has no idea why she is talking about herself in the third person, but she started, so she’ll finish.

  4. LaMurph says:

    You rated Webber above Kubica and Rosberg? I’m not sure you’re right, but I love you. You’re my brother again 🙂

  5. LaMurph says:

    Oh, hang on, now Button’s in the top four. Back to the doghouse with you.

    • lemurph says:

      Unfortunately your hatred of Button doesn’t make him less good. He’s been borderline sensational so far this year.

      I know you don’t want it to be true, just like I never want to admit that people were actually that stupid that a second series of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip was never made. It’s still true. 😦

  6. LaMurph says:

    Two more things:
    1 – I would hardly call Hamilton’s retirement from the 2008 Chinese GP a “crash”. It was more a “grind to a halt in the gravel”. It certainly wouldn’t make it onto Alan Partridge’s Crash-Bang-Wallop What A Video.
    2 – You may be wrong, oh so wrong, about some things, but I will concede that you are right about others. I love Nando. He is the number one. His only real flaw is that he’s not driving a Red Bull…

  7. LaMurph says:

    …and yes, I mean 2007 Chinese GP. That was a typo. I think you’re familiar with such a thing 😉

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