Which country is the most successful in the 58-year history of the Formula 1 World Championship? The following list is a breakdown of race winners by their nationality. I’ve not worked out percentages, as the picture would be overly-complicated by the rules in the 1950s, which allowed shared drives.

1950s

The first era of the great manufacturer teams – Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Mercedes-Benz – was also the happiest hunting ground for Italian drivers. Three of the first four Championship titles were won by racers from Italy, with Alberto Ascari’s 1953 triumph still the most recent drivers’ champion from his country. Despite this, they can only muster 3rd place, thanks to the brilliance of Juan Manuel Fangio and the emerging talent from Great Britain.

ARGENTINA 26 (by 2 drivers: Juan Manuel Fangio, José Frolián Gonzalez)
GREAT BRITAIN 24 (by 4 drivers: Mike Hawthorn, Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Tony Brooks)
ITALY 21 (by 5 drivers: Guiseppe Farina, Luigi Fagioli, Alberto Ascari, Piero Tauruffi, Luigi Musso)
AUSTRALIA 2 (both by Jack Brabham)
FRANCE 2 (both by Maurice Trintignant)
NEW ZEALAND 1 (by Bruce McLaren)
SWEDEN 1 (by Joakim Bonnier)

1960s

The manufacturer era was killed off by the revolutionary thinking of British constructor teams such as Cooper, Vanwall, Lotus and BRM. As such, the 1960s were completely dominated by British teams and drivers, with only the only other titles going to America (Phil Hill, 1961) and Britain’s great Antipodean rivals Australia (Jack Brabham, 1960, 1966) and New Zealand (Denny Hulme, 1967). In the mid-sixties, British dominance was such that English and Scottish drivers won eighteen consecutive races between 1962 and 1964, including all ten events in 1963. They were almost as dominant in 1965, only Richie Ginther’s victory in the last round preventing another clean sweep. Meanwhile, Jochen Rindt’s solitary win for Austria in 1969 heralded the beginnings of something big for the country in the 1970s.

GREAT BRITAIN 61 (by 6 drivers: Stirling Moss, Innes Ireland, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, John Surtees, Jackie Stewart)
AUSTRALIA 11 (by Jack Brabham)
NEW ZEALAND 8 (by 2 drivers: Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme)
UNITED STATES 8 (by 3 drivers: Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther)
BELGIUM 3 (by Jacky Ickx)
ITALY 3 (by 3 drivers: Giancarlo Baghetti, Lorenzo Bandini, Ludovico Scarfiotti)
GERMANY 2 (by Wolfgang von Trips)
AUSTRIA 1 (by Jochen Rindt)
MEXICO 1 (by Pedro Rodriguez)
SWITZERLAND 1 (by Jo Siffert)

1970s

A much more balanced picture in the 1970s, with British drivers heading up the list again only due to a series of what-might-have-beens. What if Jochen Rindt had not died before he knew he was the 1970 World Champion, driving the revolutionary Lotus 72? What if François Cevert had lived to assume Jackie Stewart’s mantle as the Tyrrell team leader? What if Jacky Ickx’s cars hadn’t gradually declined in competitiveness? Nevertheless, Austria and Brazil arrive on the scene in a big way, although for one it would be as good as it got. France, too, are starting to be very much in evidence, a result of the huge glut of talented French drivers who came through the European Formula 2 championship in that decade, plus big investments in talent by Elf and Renault. Italy, however, had a dismal 10 years, Vittorio “The Monza Gorilla” Brambilla’s shock win in the rain-shortened 1975 Austrian Grand Prix their sole success.

GREAT BRITAIN 25 (by 4 drivers: Jackie Stewart, Peter Gethin, James Hunt, John Watson)
AUSTRIA 22 (by 2 drivers: Jochen Rindt, Niki Lauda)
BRAZIL 15 (by 2 drivers: Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Pace)
UNITED STATES 14 (by 2 drivers: Mario Andretti, Peter Revson)
SWEDEN 11 (by 2 drivers: Ronnie Peterson, Gunnar Nilsson)
SOUTH AFRICA 10 (by Jody Scheckter)
ARGENTINA 9 (by Carlos Reutemann)
FRANCE 8 (by 5 drivers: François Cevert, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Jacques Laffite, Patrick Depailler, Jean-Pierre Jabouille)

AUSTRALIA 6 (by 2 drivers: Jack Brabham, Alan Jones)
SWITZERLAND 6 (by 2 drivers: Jo Siffert, Clay Regazzoni)
BELGIUM 5 (by Jacky Ickx)
CANADA 4 (by Gilles Villeneuve)
NEW ZEALAND 3 (by Denny Hulme)
GERMANY 1 (by Jochen Mass)
ITALY 1 (by Vittorio Brambilla)
MEXICO 1 (by Pedro Rodriguez)

1980s

The turbo era boiled down to a battle between France and Brazil. France win mainly due to the exploits of Alain Prost, who won 21 races before finally securing his and his country’s first world crown. Prost’s 3 titles were eclipsed, however, by the Brazilian effort. Nelson Piquet secured 3 world titles in 1981, 1983 and 1987, whilst Ayrton Senna’s emergence in the 1984 season was the decade’s big story. Britain, meanwhile, went through an uncharacteristically lean spell. For the first time since the Championship began, no British driver won a World Title during the decade, and in 1980, 1984 and 1988 British drivers failed to win any races at all. Towards the bottom of the table, one can also spot the emergence of Finland, finally starting to reach their all-conquering motorsport tentacles into the single seat arena.

FRANCE 53 (by 6 drivers: René Arnoux, Didier Pironi, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Jacques Lafitte, Alain Prost, Patrick Tambay)
BRAZIL 41 (by 2 drivers: Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna)
GREAT BRITAIN 19 (by 2 drivers: John Watson, Nigel Mansell)
AUSTRIA 13 (by 2 drivers: Niki Lauda, Gerhard Berger)
ITALY 10 (by 4 drivers: Riccardo Patrese, Elio de Angelis, Michele Alboreto, Alessandro Nannini)
AUSTRALIA 7 (by Alan Jones)
FINLAND 5 (by Keke Rosberg)
ARGENTINA 3 (by Carlos Reutemann)
BELGIUM 2 (by Thierry Boutsen)
CANADA 2 (by Gilles Villeneuve)

1990s

Britain were back on top in the 1990s, a consequence of weight of numbers as well as Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill’s world titles. Germany, though, appear out of virtually nowhere. A country which had only scored three successes up to this point was suddenly awakened by Michael Schumacher’s exploits. The floodgates open, German drivers would come to dominate Grand Prix entry fields towards the end of this decade and the next. Brazil’s total, whilst respectable, would surely have been higher had it not been for Ayrton Senna’s death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

GREAT BRITAIN 51 (by 5 drivers: Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Johnny Herbert, David Coulthard, Eddie Irvine)
GERMANY 38 (by2 drivers: Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen)
BRAZIL 24 (by 2 drivers: Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet)
FINLAND 14 (by Mika Häkkinen)
FRANCE 14 (by 3 drivers: Alain Prost, Jean Alesi, Olivier Panis)
CANADA 11 (by Jacques Villeneuve)
AUSTRIA 5 (by Gerhard Berger)
ITALY 4 (by Riccardo Patrese)
BELGIUM 1 (by Thierry Boutsen)

2000-2008

The story of Formula 1 in the noughties is accurately summed up by the numbers here: Michael Schumacher blasting to win after win and a series of young challengers trying to usurp him. The most successful people at doing this have come from Finland and Spain. Brazil’s position is artificially inflated by Schumacher’s final seven seasons in the sport being accompanied by a Brazilian teammate to pick up his crumbs after the title was in the bag. The current decade is also notable for another British lean-spell, although Lewis Hamilton has started to undo a lot of the damage, and the appearance of a number of new countries on the list. Spain is the one which stands out thanks to Fernando Alonso’s two world titles, but Colombia and Poland also register for the first time.

GERMANY 64 (by 3 drivers: Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)
FINLAND 24 (by 3 drivers: Mika Häkkinen, Kimi Räikkönen, Heikki Kovalainen)
SPAIN 21 (by Fernando Alonso)
BRAZIL 20 (by 2 drivers: Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa)
GREAT BRITAIN 17 (by 3 drivers: David Coulthard, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton)
COLOMBIA 7 (by Juan Pablo Montoya)
ITALY 4 (by 2 drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli)
POLAND 1 (by Robert Kubica)

TOTALS

GREAT BRITAIN 197 (19 drivers; 10.37 wins-per-driver)
GERMANY 105 (6 drivers; 17.50 )
BRAZIL 100 (6 drivers; 16.67)
FRANCE 77 (12 drivers; 6.42 )
FINLAND 43 (4 drivers; 10.75)
ITALY 43 (15 drivers; 2.87)
AUSTRIA 41 (3 drivers; 13.67)
ARGENTINA 38 (3 drivers; 12.67)
AUSTRALIA 26 (2 drivers; 13.00)
UNITED STATES 22 (5 drivers; 4.40)
SPAIN 21 (1 driver; 21.00)
CANADA 17 (2 drivers; 8.50)
SWEDEN 12 (3 drivers; 4.00)
NEW ZEALAND 12 (2 drivers; 6.00)
BELGIUM 11 (2 drivers; 5.50)
SOUTH AFRICA 10 (1 driver; 10.00)
COLOMBIA 7 (1 driver; 7.00)
SWITZERLAND 7 (2 drivers; 3.50)
MEXICO 2 (1 driver; 2.00)
POLAND 1 (1 driver; 1.00)

The 2008 World Championship was the first time in nearly twenty years that the driver who won the most races during the season did not also win the World Title. This was a common occurrence in the early part of the 1980s, but that was a very different age. Formula 1 noughties-style is a monolithic media animal, constantly striving to reach new markets. As such, Bernie Ecclestone is championing a major change to the way World Championships are decided from 2009. Taking its cue from the Olympics, the top three drivers will be awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals on the podium instead of trophies and points. Come the end of the year, the driver with the most gold medals will be the World Champion.

I have taken this system and applied it to every season in the World Championship’s history to see what effects it has. In each case, the champion is the one who had accumulated the most gold medals. In the event of a tie, the decider will be number of silver, then number of bronze medals. In the event of it still being a tie, best ‘other’ finish decides the winner. Champions listed in bold type are changes from the historical record.

1950 Guiseppe Farina (I) Alfa Romeo
1951 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Alfa Romeo
1952 Alberto Ascari (I) Ferrari
1953 Alberto Ascari (I) Ferrari
1954 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Maserati/Mercedes-Benz
1955 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Mercedes-Benz
1956 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Lancia-Ferrari
1957 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Maserati
1958 Stirling Moss (GB) Vanwall
1959 Jack Brabham (AUS) Cooper Climax
1960 Jack Brabham (AUS) Cooper Climax
1961 Phil Hill (USA) Ferrari
1962 Graham Hill (GB) BRM
1963 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus Climax
1964 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus Climax
1965 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus Climax
1966 Jack Brabham (AUS) Brabham Repco
1967 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus BRM/Lotus Climax/Lotus Ford
1968 Graham Hill (GB) Lotus Ford
1969 Jackie Stewart (GB) Matra Ford
1970 Jochen Rindt (A) Lotus Ford
1971 Jackie Stewart (GB) Tyrrell Ford
1972 Emerson Fittipaldi (BR) Lotus Ford
1973 Jackie Steward (GB) Tyrrell Ford
1974 Emerson Fittipaldi (BR) McLaren Ford
1975 Niki Lauda (A) Ferrari
1976 James Hunt (GB) McLaren Ford
1977 Mario Andretti (USA) Lotus Ford
1978 Mario Andretti (USA) Lotus Ford
1979 Alan Jones (AUS) Williams Ford
1980 Alan Jones (AUS) Williams Ford
1981 Alain Prost (F) Renault
1982 Didier Pironi (F) Ferrari
1983 Alain Prost (F) Renault
1984 Alain Prost (F) McLaren TAG-Porsche

1985 Alain Prost (F) McLaren TAG-Porsche
1986 Nigel Mansell (GB) Williams Honda
1987 Nigel Mansell (GB) Williams Honda

1988 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren Honda
1989 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren Honda
1990 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren Honda
1991 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren MP4/6 Honda
1992 Nigel Mansell (GB) Williams Renault
1993 Alain Prost (F) Williams Renault
1994 Michael Schumacher (D) Benetton Ford
1995 Michael Schumacher (D) Benetton Renault
1996 Damon Hill (GB) Williams Renault
1997 Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Williams Renault
1998 Mika Häkkinen (SF) McLaren Mercedes
1999 Mika Häkkinen (SF) McLaren Mercedes
2000 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2001 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2002 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2003 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2004 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2005 Fernando Alonso (E) Renault
2006 Fernando Alonso (E) Renault
2007 Kimi Räikkönen (SF) Ferrari
2008 Felipe Massa (BR) Ferrari

Under this system, Alain Prost would have been a 5-time World Champion to equal Juan-Manuel Fangio, whilst Nigel Mansell would have won 3. Both Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna win four, Senna taking consecutive titles in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Meanwhile, one-time winners Mario Andretti and Alan Jones both double up in the late 1970s. But the real winners are Stirling Moss, Didier Pironi and Felipe Massa, each man scoring a world crown which in actuality eluded them (or has so far eluded them). This in turn would mean no titles for Mike Hawthorn (1958), John Surtees (1964), Denny Hulme (1967 – also removing New Zealand’s sole world title), Jody Scheckter (1979), Keke Rosberg (1982) or the reigning World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. Most severe of the all, however, would be Nelson Piquet, the 3-time World Champion losing all of his titles (1981, 1983 and 1987). Ironically enough, the first two of these were secured driving for the Brabham team owned by… Bernie Ecclestone. Another of Ecclestone’s former drivers, Niki Lauda, fares little better. Under the Gold-Silver-Bronze framework, Lauda – an all-time great of the sport – retains just one of his three world titles.

You don’t have to be Piquet, Lauda or Lewis Hamilton to argue that the Gold-Silver-Bronze system also has its shortcomings. From a contemporary point of view, it is widely accepted that Lewis Hamilton deserved his world crown on the balance of his stellar entry into Formula 1. Indeed, it is difficult to argue a case for any of the drivers who lose out being a particularly fair reflection on the sport’s history. And that is what the scoring system should be all about. Under the Gold-Silver-Bronze system, it is clear that there are some major oversights. Not only would Nelson Piquet lose his place in the record books –ridiculous considering that Piquet was one of the sport’s superstar drivers for an entire decade and won 23 Grand Prix races – but Alain Prost’s fierce battle with Ayrton Senna throughout the late-1980s would see the Frenchman emerge completely under-represented. Under the proposed system, Prost would have won one more title than he actually did, but he wouldn’t have deserved any of them nearly as much as the ones he grappled his way to in 1986 and 1989, against the most ferocious competition. And whilst it would be a hard man to say that Didier Pironi or Stirling Moss would not deserve their crowns, on balance there are now more drivers who have undeservedly missed out than there were before. This is not a particularly acceptable state of affairs.

This is all moot, of course. It is disingenuous to retroactively apply a new set of rules and then claim they would not work in the future. Had each of these seasons been raced under the Gold-Silver-Bronze paradigm, they would have ended differently than the above list – different choices made, different strategies employed, different motivations and calculations. If 2009 is to see this radical overhaul, it will be the first real test of the framework. Whether or not it will produce a true enough reflection of the season, and whether or not it will actually intensify and improve the racing, we can only wait and see. But in a choice between taking the risk or sticking to the old system – itself so fraught with potential problems that I earnestly believe that, in time, a driver could win the title without winning a single Grand Prix during the season – shaking things up is by far the more desirable option.

However, Formula 1 is rather different to an Olympic event. The 100 metres sprint final has only 3 medalists, but the five other finalists who leave empty handed aren’t designed and built from scratch, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Furthermore, the Formula 1 World Championship is not a one-off race, but a series of events. It would, I believe, be unfair for the final table to see a driver who lucked into a third place finish just once finish ahead of a rival who had finished in fourth position seventeen times out of seventeen. The solution to this problem that I came up with is a supplementary points system – 3 points for 4th place, 2 for 5th and one for 6th, plus another 1 for pole position and one for fastest race lap. Points could then be exchanged for medals – a bronze for every 5, say, and a silver for every 10. Points would, however, never trump medals, and in the case of a tie, medals won for podium finishes would always prevail over bought medals. This is a neat and elegant solution to the problem of just three awards at the end of a multi-million pound twenty car race. And as such, expect it to be completely ignored.

For more Formula 1-inspired autism, remember to check the List of the week tab regularly.

Yesterday I impuned the reputations of 12 of the best 22 racing drivers in the world. Today I will do so with the remaining ten.

10th: TIMO GLOCK (Toyota) 25 points; 10th position

Glock’s first full season in Formula 1 was, broadly speaking, a success. Although he was outqualified 4-14 by his teammate Jarno Trulli, on race day things were a lot closer. Indeed, despite his season being hamstrung by two huge accidents in Australia and in Germany, in the second half of the season, Glock tended to be the first of his team’s finishers. Glock heartily deserves another season, which Toyota have duly granted.

9th: HEIKKI KOVALAINEN (McLaren Mercedes) 53 points; 7th position – one win, one pole, 2 fastest laps

A strange first season at McLaren for Kovalainen. Outpaced, as was expected, by Lewis Hamilton, his problem was rather the variability of the gap. At the business end of the season, the impact of this was particularly felt, as McLaren couldn’t rely on Heikki to be competitive enough to help Hamilton’s championship bid. To be fair to Kovalainen, he did have the lion’s share of the mechanical trouble in the team, which cost him some big points, plus in 2008 Heikki won his first race – albeit fortuitously – as well as taking his first pole position and one more fastest lap than Lewis Hamilton. It’s useful to have these monkeys off his back, because next season McLaren will be far less forgiving of another year like this one.

8th: NICK HEIDFELD (BMW Sauber) 60 points; 6th position – 2 fastest laps

Heidfeld – who somehow has still not won a Grand Prix despite his undeniable quality – had a difficult season. After having put successive teammates, including Kimi Räikkönen, Mark Webber, Jacques Villeneuve and Robert Kubica in their place, this year Heidfeld was comprehensively shaded by Kubica. His main problem was his inability to get the tyres working properly in qualifying, which saw him line up behind the Pole on 13 occasions. Heidfeld is still a great racer, though, as his final points tally suggests. However, Kubica had the measure of him on Sunday afternoons too, and Heidfeld’s position in the team next year looked to be under threat during the summer. Heidfeld will, however, be at BMW again next season. If the car is good enough, he should finally win a race. But if he loses out to Kubica as heavily again, even that might not be enough.

7th: JARNO TRULLI (Toyota) 31 points; 9th position

Trulli produced a reliable and consistent season in a car which only really became competitive from the summer months on.  Despite this, he made 14 appearances in the Q3 top ten shootout, typical of his excellence over one lap.  More impressive, though, was his improved race performances.  Too often Trulli has been seen fading backwards with a long queue of cars behind him.  This year he looked more assertive.  His teammate Timo Glock (>10) finished a little too close behind him for the Italian to get complacent, though.  The basic fact of the matter is that if Toyota can give Trulli a good enough car to run at the front, he will deliver the results.  But to ask anything more will be the precursor to a year of disappointment.

6th: KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN (Ferrari) 75 points; 3rd position – 2 wins, 2 poles, 10 fastest laps

Räikkönen’s year must have had Ferrari’s management pulling their hair out by the roots.  His raw speed is still there – as is evidenced by the way he equalled his own record for number of fastest laps in a season – and he also won two Grands Prix, in Malaysia and Spain.  However, Spain was only the 4th race of the season.  Suffering from similar problems in qualifying to Nick Heidfeld (>9), his second and final pole of 2008 came in race 8.  For the majority of the year he looked decidedly like a number two driver.  The fact that his salary compared to Felipe Massa’s would suggest otherwise, it’s unlikely Ferrari will tolerate anything other than a serious championship tilt in 2009.  Especially with Alonso and Kubica climbing over each other to get a Ferrari drive for 2010.

5th ROBERT KUBICA (BMW Sauber) 75 points; 4th position – one win, one pole

A fine season for Kubica.  He outclassed Heidfeld throughout having been resolutely beaten by the German in 2007 and also won his first pole position and Grand Prix race.  Kubica also had fourteen points finishes out of the 18 rounds, a feat only equalled by Lewis Hamilton.  When I planned this, Kubica came higher in the order, but I feel that his last few races saw him slip behind the main contenders for the title – of which he was one until a disappointing Chinese Grand Prix, the penultimate round.  Much of this is down to his BMW’s team to stop all development of the F1.08 car after Kubica’s win in Canada, to focus on the 2009 challenger with a view to a championship challenge.  Time will tell if this was a wise tactical decision on their part.  If it works out for them, expect Kubica to be at the head of the field again next year.

4th: FELIPE MASSA (Ferrari) 97 points; 2nd position – 6 wins, 6 poles, 3 fastest laps

3rd: LEWIS HAMILTON (McLaren Mercedes) 98 points; World Champion – 5 wins, 7 poles, one fastest lap

Inseperable to the very end.  Hamilton just shades it – as he did in the points, a vindication of the scoring system, perhaps? – by virtue of his extra consistency and the fact that he always came out on top in wheel to wheel combat with his rival.  Massa won more races than anyone in 2008, and would have won more but for mechanical problems and mistakes by his pit crew.  However, although Hamilton enjoyed greater reliability than the Brazilian, Massa didn’t have to contend with the same number of penalties or amount of paddock politics.  Hamilton will probably always feel hard done-by about the Belgian Grand Prix win that never was, but it was the French race which was perhaps the harshest on him this year.  Already docked 10 places for his pit lane mishap in Canada, he was then given a hugely dubious drive-through penalty for cutting the chicane when the other alternative would have been to hit Sebastien Bourdais’ Toro Rosso.  Meanwhile, Massa serenely cruised to a win over his out of sorts teammate.  This is to detract nothing from Massa’s season.  Several times this year he was simply unstoppable, and he has now proved he has enough to be a worthy World Champion.  Hamilton just edged him where it really mattered.

2nd: FERNANDO ALONSO (Renault) 61 points; 5th position – 2 wins

Initially it looked like Nelsinho Piquet was totally out of his depth as an F1 driver.  This, it turned out, was an unfair assessment.  The Renault car was really much, much less competitive than we thought in the first half of the season.  Alonso, far from being a bit off colour after his McLaren adventure, was in fact working miracles with it.  He is, perhaps, the most complete driver package in the field at the moment, although Lewis Hamilton – as he demonstrated when he was his teammate – runs him pretty close.  Alonso’s win in Singapore may have been a little lucky but it was thoroughly deserved nonetheless, and his victory two weeks later in Japan was magnificent.  From mid-season to the end, Alonso outscored all of his rivals.  I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again now – if Renault (or whoever) can give him a car which is anything near competitive, he will challenge for the world title in 2009.

1st: SEBASTIAN VETTEL (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 35 points; 8th position – one win, one pole

Vettel is the youngest man in the field – only turning 21 last July – and his inexperience looked to be showing in the early part of the season.  His first four races saw him retire 4 times after early-race accidents and he followed this up with a 17th place finish in Turkey.  However, when Toro Rosso introduced their STR3 car in Monaco, Vettel was completely transformed.  In the remaining 13 rounds, he scored points in 9 and also made the Q3 top ten shootout on 9 occasions (including the last seven events consecutively).  Due to his efforts, STR beat their parent team Red Bull – for whom Vettel will race next year – comfortably in the Constructors’ Cup.  And all of this is before we even get to his spellbinding victory in the damp Italian Grand Prix, where he led off from pole and simply dominated the whole race.  Vettel already holds the records for youngest points scorer, pole position taker and race winner in Grand Prix racing.  If he wins the World Championship in the next two years, he will take Lewis Hamilton’s new record for that, too.  Let’s not bet against that quite yet.  Because if the pundits are right about 2008 seeing the beginning of the Hamilton era, I suspect Vettel is the man he’ll have to beat.

In the spirit of being a judgemental old coot, I have decided to rank this year’s Formula 1 drivers in order of how well they performed in 2008.  For the record, this season saw absolutely no mid-season driver changes, which is unprecedented.  So, we can assume the teams all thought their drivers did OK.  Or, the drivers’ contract lawyers are better than ever.  Places 22-11 today and the top ten tomorrow.

22nd: TAKUMA SATO (Super Aguri Honda) No championship points; unplaced

21st: ANTHONY DAVIDSON (Super Aguri Honda) No championship points; unplaced

Sato and Davidson drove just four races in 2008, before their Super Aguri team went bust, so it’s difficult to draw any detailed conclusion as to how well they’re performing right now.  However, the facts are very simple.  Davidson outperformed Sato when it mattered in 2008.

20th: KAZUKI NAKAJIMA (Williams Toyota) 9 points; 15th position

Nakajima’s first full season of Grand Prix racing saw him take five points finishes.  Notably, however, four of these came in the first half of the season, as Nakajima’s performances tailed off.  Towards the end of the season he was more likely to come to anyone’s attention as a result of a prang with someone else rather than through his own prowess.  Out-qualified 14-4 by his teammate Nico Rosberg, Nakajima – confirmed in the Williams seat for 2009 – needs to improve very quickly to prove his place in the sport isn’t just on account of his nationality and his team’s engine supplier.

19th: DAVID COULTHARD (Red Bull Racing Renault) 8 points, 16th position

For all of the emotion of Coulthard’s farewell season, it’s impossible to argue that he hasn’t made the right choice in calling it a day.  His performances against that of his teammate, Mark Webber, were very weak: 2-16 in qualifying and 8-21 in Championship points.  Coulthard only troubled the scorers twice in 2008, and whilst this included a canny drive to 3rd in Canada – his team’s only podium of the year – DC’s problems on race day were not confined to a lack of results.  He was frequently involved in accidents with his rivals, most often when being passed.  He looked, sadly, like a man whose best days were long behind him.

18th: ADRIAN SUTIL (Force India Ferrari) No championship points; unplaced

17th: GIANCARLO FISICHELLA (Force India Ferrari) No championship points; unplaced

Sutil and Fisichella are virtually inseperable based on their performances this year, a sure sign of two evenly-matched drivers hamstrung by a not-competitive-enough car.  Sutil’s exceptional drive in Monaco, where the German was running 4th before being taken out of the race by Kimi Räikkönen, was Force India’s best Sunday afternoon of the season.  However, Fisichella shades it by virtue of a slightly superior qualifying head-to-head (10-8, including his team’s only appearance in Q2 of the year, in Italy) and a more consistent record on race day.  Sutil finished four less races than Fisichella this year, and will need to improve if Force India want to score points in 2009.

16th: JENSON BUTTON (Honda) 3 points; 18th position

To be fair to Button, his year has been another disaster through little fault of his own.  For the second consecutive season, his Honda car was so fundamentally flawed as to be a lost cause.  However, he was noticeably shown up by his teammate Rubens Barrichello.  Barrichello has more experience than anyone else in GP history, certainly, but Button – who will enter his 10th season in 2009 if Honda decide to retain him – has done little to persuade me that if Honda keep just one of their 2008 drivers for 2009, Button would get the nod for any reason other than his relative youth (he is 28 to Barrichello’s 36).  The Brazilian outqualified, outraced and outscored the Briton this term.  Button was not good enough.  Simple.

15th SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 4 points; 17th position

Bourdais’ 15th position is, yet again, a result of absolutely filthy luck.  So often in 2008, he did a solid job, only to lose out in the race – no more so than in Belgium, where he lost out on the last lap due to the weather, or in Italy, where his car failed to fire up on the formation lap from 4th on the grid.  Still, he always looked second-best to his young teammate Sebastian Vettel, who went on a spectacular run of points finishes in the second half of the year as Bourdais floundered.  History will probably look back on Bourdais more kindly – I suspect “beaten by Vettel” will, in 10 years time, be nothing to be ashamed of on one’s CV – but whether or not he’ll be on the grid in 2009 is very much in the balance.  It must be remembered that this was Bourdais’ rookie season, but I also feel that he was too easily bullied by his on track rivals this year and it may cost him his ride.  It would be harsh, but Formula 1 is.

14th: NELSINHO PIQUET (Renault) 19 points; 12th position

Another rookie who, like Bourdais, may find his shaky first year will see him pay with his drive.  Piquet’s saving grace is perhaps that this year’s Renault was really not much good until mid-season, and that as it improved so did his performances.  However, Piquet looked suspect in qualifying all through 2008 and it usually cost him on race day.  His best result – 2nd in Germany – came about due to a fortuitous pit call before a safety car, but his best drive was a strong 4th in Japan.  That race, however, was won by his teammate Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard also condemning Piquet to the fate of being the only driver in the field to be outqualified by his teammate 18 times out of 18.  Lucas di Grassi, a GP2 driver, waits menacingly in the wings.  It’s hard to see Piquet – not 24 until next summer – not getting another chance in Formula 1.  Whether it will be at Renault, however, is another matter.

13th: NICO ROSBERG (Williams Toyota) 17 points; 13th position

Rosberg remains one of Formula 1’s hottest properties for now, but another season like this one will probably see him slip into the “solid but unspectacular peddlers” class.  Much of it was caused by his car, which was perhaps the most maddeningly inconsistent in the field from race to race.  Rosberg also scored two podium finishes this year, 3rd in Australia and 2nd in Singapore, but the remainder of his points came from three 8th place finishes, meaning he only got as many points finishes as his largely disappointing teammate Nakajima (>19).  He’s fast, but there needs to be more return for it in 2009.

12th: MARK WEBBER (Red Bull Racing Renault) 21 points; 11th position

Webber was yet again solid and not a lot else.  His car was usually the culprit, unable to match the turns of ultimate speed it could reach in 2007.  Webber scored points in 9 of the 18 races and beat his teammate (>20) 14-4 on Saturday afternoons.  However, the highest of these finishes was only 4th, and the frequency of the top-8 appearances decreased through the summer and into the autumn, a result of the increasing speed of Red Bull’s “junior” team.  Webber deserves his place in F1, and deserves a decent car to show us exactly how quick he could be more than anyone.  Whether or not he’ll be able to match Vettel in the same team next year, though, I doubt.

11th RUBENS BARRICHELLO (Honda) 11 points; 14th position

Like Jenson Button (>16), the overriding factor behind Barrichello’s year was that his car was a piece of shit.  It was Rubens who acquitted himself the better, though.  As well as outqualifying Button 10-8, he also outqualified him where it really mattered, making more appearances in Q2 than the Briton.  He outraced him, too, his best result of the season was 3rd following a characteristically brilliant wet-weather drive at Silverstone.  Adding two other points finishes (three compared to Jenson’s one), the rumours that Barrichello, rather than Button, will be making way for Bruno Senna are all the more strange.  I suspect Rubens has now driven his last Grand Prix.  He couldn’t have done anything more to retain his place at the top level this year, though.  He would be a victim of nothing else but his age and in-team politics.

It was, without question, the most breathless and exciting end to a Formula 1 World Championship in the series’ 58-year history.  Indeed, it was probably almost the most exciting finish even technically possible.  It was a glimpse into a brave new world of sporting potential.  In the future, everybody will be World Champion for fifteen seconds.

It is completely impossible to not feel some sympathy for Felipe Massa.  He won more races in 2008 than any of his rivals and was, yet again, a class above anybody else at Interlagos.  This, his second win at home, came in altogether more difficult circumstances than his first in 2006, and is perhaps the strongest indication to date that Massa is now a complete enough package to be a future world champion.  The trouble is, I can’t help shake the feeling he may have already seen his best chance slip agonisingly away on the finishing straight of his home circuit.

This is not a reflection on Massa’s ability per se, but more a consideration of the abilities of the men who are likely to be his rivals next year.  Räikkönen probably just shades his teammate when he’s got his right head on, but both men are a little way behind Fernando Alonso – likely to start next season in a far more competitive car than he had at the start of this – and Lewis Hamilton.  Massa is almighty at commanding a race from the front and Räikkönen is probably the fastest one-lap driver in the field.  But are they able, like Alonso and Hamilton are, to be there, fast circuit or slow circuit, wet or dry, from the front or from the back, every single weekend?

It is also difficult to discount Robert Kubica if BMW’s decision to spend this year developing their 2009 car bears fruit.  Not forgetting, too, next season’s dark horse Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull Renault.  Vettel was superb yet again in Brazil, and he looks like a driver who has the quality to not be denied even by lesser machinery.

The most significant factor for all of these drivers – Massa, Räikkönen, Kubica, Vettel and Alonso – is an unknown.  How good will Lewis Hamilton be now he’s got the monkey off his back?  He’s already proved that he’s good enough to win a championship with the question mark hanging over him.  A few less mistakes next year and Lewis will probably not give his fans such a difficult time of it ever again.  He will start next year as favourite to retain his title and become only the second English driver to ever win multiple world crowns, after Graham Hill in the 1960s.

In the coming days, weeks and months, there are likely to be a number of people who will tell you that Lewis Hamilton was very lucky to win the 2008 World Championship.  This is, in the specific case of the Brazilian showdown, demonstrably true.  But it’s something that Hamilton’s doubters are going to have to get used to.  Because if there’s one thing the history of the sport teaches us, it’s that the best driver in the world doesn’t half tend to get “lucky” an awful lot.