The best of the best, 2008 (part 2)

November 4, 2008

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.


One Response to “The best of the best, 2008 (part 2)”

  1. I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
    Very interesting posts and well written.
    I will put your site on my blogroll.

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