Top 10 of 2012: Number 1

This driver had a slightly up and down, but nevertheless, nearly flawless season in 2012. He overcame a 40 point deficit in the second half of the season to take a world championship which will go down in history as one of the most hard-fought ever in the sport.

1. Sebastian Vettel

With Red Bull’s 2011 dominance coming mostly from its exhaust manipulation, the Milton Keynes squad knew its strengths would be diminished somewhat with 2012’s regulations. In testing, the RB8 was not a bad car and would certainly be a front runner, but the dominance was a distant memory.

In Australia, Vettel was struggling to get the RB8 to cooperate and he qualified 6th. In the race he made good progress and moved up to second after a mid-race safety car. He couldn’t give Button a hard time for the lead and finished in second place.

Vettel struggled again in Malaysia in not only qualifying, where he qualified 5th, but in the race as well. He wasn’t in the battle for the win, but looked set for a decent fourth. As he went to lap an HRT, he cut his tire on its front wing, destroying the tire. He couldn’t recover from this and finished 11th.

In China, Vettel missed Q3 for the first time in a long time, as the top ten in Q2 was separated by just two and a half tenths of a second. Through good strategy he recovered to 5th place.

Vettel’s breakthrough came in Bahrain as he took his first pole and win of the season. He sustained early pressure from Grojean and huge late pressure from Raikkonen to win in one of the more controversial races of the season.

In Spain, the Red Bull wasn’t exactly the class of the field anymore and Vettel qualified 7th. He was on for a top 5 finish, but when he passed under the yellows caused by Schumcher’s accident with Senna, the drive through that resulted dropped him down to 9th. He charged his way to 6th by the flag.

In Monaco, Vettel was not on form and just squeaked into Q3. He started 10th after not setting a time, which allowed him to start on the harder tires. He went with a long first stint which allowed him to get up to 4th after his first and only stop. He stayed there until the finish.

In Canada, Vettel took his second pole of the year. He was in contention for the win until his one stop strategy had to be abandoned in the dying stages of the Grand Prix. Once he pitted for a second time, he was flying and recovered to 4th place by the end of the race.

Another pole in Valencia set up a dominant race. Flashes of 2011 showed as an unassailable lead was built up in the early stages of the race. A safety car brought the field together, but at the restart, Vettel barley finished the lap before his alternator gave up. He retired on the spot. A guaranteed win was gone.

Vettel qualified 4th in England and finished 3rd. He couldn’t quite challenge the leaders for the win, but he did a good job to help him team maximize their points haul that day.

In Germany, Vettel qualified on the front row and challenged Alonso for the win throughout the race. Button got ahead of him midway through the race which complicated the matter. A move to get past Button 3 laps from the end was done outside the confines of the track, thus making it illegal. It was too late to issue a drive through penalty, so 20 seconds were added to his final race time, dropping him down to 5th place.

In Hungary, Vettel again couldn’t challenge for the win but was in contention for the podium and gave Grojean a hard time in the closing laps, but had to settle for 4th place at the end of the race.

Vettel missed Q3 for a second time in 2012 in Belgium. After the first lap crash, it was as if Vettel started at the front. He made up several places and set about making inroads on the leader, Button. He couldn’t put a dent into Button’s lead and finished a distant second.

Red Bull was not strong in Italy. Vettel qualified 6th. In the race, it looked like he was set to finish there until an alternator problem struck and he had to retire.

In Singapore, Reb Bull brought a big update in a bid to whittle down Alonso’s points lead. Vettel qualified 3rd on the street circuit and was running second when Hamilton retired with gearbox troubles. He led until the end of the race.

Over the next three races, Vettel took 2 poles, 3 wins (in which he led every lap of the race) and with them, the points lead. He led the championship by 13 points after the Indian Grand Prix.

In Abu Dhabi, it looked like Mclaren had the upper hand on pace. Vettel qualified 3rd, but it was found that his Red Bull was underfueled. He was sent to the back of the grid. Vettel opted to start from the pitlane so he could make setup changes to his car. Starting from the back, Vettel made good progress to go up to 12th place early on. Under the safety car, Vettel changed his nose and was back at the back once again. By the time the second safety car came out, Vettel was all the way up to 4th! He battled for several laps with Button for the last spot on the podium and won out in the end. On a day when points seemed impossible, luck came to Vettel and he ended up with 15.

In Austin, Vettel dominated the practice sessions and qualifying, taking his final pole of the season. He led until lap 47 util, after a race long battle with Hamilton ended when the Brit passed him on the back straight. He held onto second until the end of the race.

Going into Brazil, it was just Vettel and Alonso in the race for the title. Vettel needed to finish 4th and he was guaranteed the title regardless of what Alonso did. Vettel qualified 4th, saying he could have done better. On the first lap of the race, disaster struck as Vettel was spun by Senna in the 3rd corner. He received damage to his exhaust and nearly had to retire. Luckily, the rain provided a good opportunity to make up places. Vettel battled throughout the race to finish the in 6th. He wrapped up the title in spectacular fashion with 3 points to spare.

Vettel did a fantastic job this season. While he wasn’t dominant until the last third of the season, Vettel never put a foot wrong other than missing Q3 in China and Belgium. To claw back a 40 point deficit to lead by 3 points in just 9 races was remarkable regardless of any shortfalls in Alonso’s car. For this reason, Vettel is my number one driver of the 2012 season.


Top 10 of 2012: Number 2

Many will argue that this driver should be at the top of this list. However, this driver’s season wasn’t faultless and, in the end, he just missed out on the world championship. He clearly out drove his car at the beginning of the season, but I don’t think his car was nearly as bad as he made it out to be by mid-season, by which time he had won the most races out of any driver.

2. Fernando Alonso

Testing was absolutely horrible for the F2012. It proved inconsistent and not very easy on its tires.

So, hopes weren’t high for Australia. Indeed, the great Alonso only managed 12th place on the grid after spinning late in Q2. He most likely would have just slipped into Q3 had that not happened. In the race, Alonso made a blinding start and made up several places. He drove like a man possessed to finish 5th.

Ferrari were in damage limitation mode in Malaysia. They were just riding out the first four races until the test at Mugello before the Spanish Grand Prix. Alonso made Q3 and qualified 8th. The F2012 proved handy in the wet and made progress once the rain started bucketing down. Soon after the end of the red flag session, Alonso found himself leading the Grand Prix. However, since the track was drying, the weaknesses of his Ferrari started to show, and the Sauber of Sergio Perez was catching him fast. Alosno kept him at bay and took the most surprising race win of the season.

Alonso was back at the lower ends of the top-10 on china and Bahrain, taking 9th and 7th in those races, respectively.

In Spain, the F2012 was much improved. Indeed, he proved this by qualifying 3rd. This became 2nd with Hamilton’s penalty. With the F2012’s race pace better than its qualifying pace, hopes were high for the race. Alonso made another great start on Sunday and took the lead into the first corner. However, the pace of his rival, Maldonado, was too good and the Spaniard had to settle for 2nd at the end of the race.

In Monaco, Alonso qualified 5th and made good progress in the race considering the track characteristics. Good strategy helped him jump Hamilton in the pits to take 3rd place.

Canada seemed to be a good track for the Ferrari as Alonso qualified 3rd. He was easily in the hunt for the win when he was leading for much of the race. His car however, couldn’t handle the one-stop strategy the team was attempting. He was left powerless in the last few laps and dropped from 1st to 5th by the checkered flag.

In another unexpected race in Valencia, Alonso qualified 11th. There wasn’t too much hope for the race, as passing on the street circuit is not easy. Nevertheless, Alonso made another great start and was up to 8th by the end of the first lap. He spent the race making fantastic overtaking moves and when Vettel and Grojean retired, Alonso found himself leading the race! He held back a charging Raikkonen towards the end of the race to become the first repeat winner of 2012.

A wet qualifying session in England helped Alonso to his first pole of 2012. On a dry race day, Alonso had his work cut out for him. He led for much of the race but found himself on the wrong tires at the end of the race. Webber took advantage of this and passed Alonso a few laps before the end. 2nd place was still a great result.

Alonso took pole again in Germany, but this time he held his ground against huge pressure from Button and Vettel to take his 3rd, and last, win of the season.

In Hungary, without the aid of rain, the F2012 was on the back foot in qualifying, going 6th. He did well in the race and finished 5th.

In Belgium, Alonso had another underwhelming qualifying, taking 6th on the grid again. He was, however, and innocent victim of the accident caused by Grojean at the start, and his race was immediately over. Alonso’s 40 point lead in the championship was cut down to less than 30.

In Italy, the Ferrari was very strong. Alonso felt sure he would have taken pole, but a mechanical problem held him back in 10th. Surprisingly, Alonso’s Q1 time would have been good for 3rd on the grid. Fernando made another great start and soon set about passing cars to get up to the lead. He was running 3rd when Button retired and seemed set to finish in his new second place. This was important given that Vettel retired from another alternator failure in this race. A charging Perez, however, was too much for Alonso to handle, and he had to concede 2nd place to the Mexican.

In Singapore Alonso took another solid podium in 3rd place after Maldonado and Lewis Hamilton retired.

In Japan, with his points lead under serious threat from an improving Vettel, Alonso was desperate to get better results. From a disappointing grid slot, Alonso made a great start, but tried to hard to get past Raikkonen and touched his wheel to the Finn’s front wing. Alonso’s tire went down and his race was over. This was his first huge mistake of the season. Considering Massa’s finishing position (2nd), one can only imagine what Alonso could have done in the race.

Two more runs to the podium in Korea, where he finally lost his points lead, and India, kept him in the title race.

In Abu Dhabi, Alosno had a great race to second place. This was overshadowed, however, by Vettel’s amazing drive from the pit lane to 3rd place. Alonso expected to take a lot points from Vettel, but in the end he only gained three.

In Austin, the Ferrari wasn’t quite on the pace with the Mclarens and Red Bulls, but he finished in a distant 3rd once Webber retired with an alternator failure.

In Brazil, 13 points down in the championship, Alsonso did all he could to take the win. He kept his wits about him in the tricky weather. Vettel’s first lap spin gave Alonso some hope, but in the end, 6th place was enough for Vettel to take his third consecutive world title as Alonso took 2nd in the race and the championship.

It is very clear that Alonso out drove his car for most of the season, and to stay in the fight for the championship until the last race was a remarkable feat. However, in the race, the F2012 was just as quick as the other cars and in Alonso’s hands, the car did amazing things. However, a few small mistakes throughout the season and his huge one in Japan have kept him from the top of this list.

Top 10 of 2012: Number 3

Had this driver not experienced the sort if bad luck he did this year, I am convinced he would be world champion. Many thought he would struggle again in the shadow of his newly dominant teammate like he did at the end of 2011, but he didn’t. He emerged as a strong title contender when he became the 7th different winner in as many races.

3. Lewis Hamilton

Lewis started the year on a strong note with pole position in Australia. In the race, Button made a better start and he proceeded to dominate the race. Lewis ran in second for much of the race, but a safety car caught him out, allowing Vettel to jump him for 2nd place. Hamilton couldn’t repass the German before the end of the race and ended a disappointing 3rd.

In Malaysia, Hamilton took pole position once again, but couldn’t hold back the flying Alonso or Perez in the race. Some very slow pit stops hindered Lewis’s progress slightly. He finished 3rd again in a race he also could have won.

In China, Hamilton’s pole streak ended with Rosberg going fastest in qualifying. Lewis took second, but a gearbox penalty sent him back to 7th. In the race Lewis made a good start and got up to 5th. He ran well for most of the race, staying in podium contention. Towards the end of the race, with the almost 15-car train still battling for points, Lewis took advantage of Kimi’s off to get past and into 3rd. He stayed there until the end to take his third consecutive 3rd place finish.

Bahrain signaled the start of Mclaren’s really bad run of pit stops. Hamilton qualified on the front row behind vettel, but was passed by Grojean early on. Lewis’s pace wasn’t strong enough to fight for the win, but solid points were still on the table. However, Mclaren made some shockingly slow pit stops and Hamilton soon found himself in 8th place. He couldn’t recover and finished the race with 4 points.

Spain looked like an easy win when Lewis stormed to a dominant pole ahead of Maldonando. However, the Mclaren was found to be under-fueled and Lewis was disqualified from qualifying. The Mclaren driver had a lot of work to do the next day. He did an excellent job however, to battle his was up to another 8th place.

In Monaco, Hamilton had a good battle with the leading 6 drivers. His 3rd place grid position turned into 5th place at the end. He might have finished 4th, but Vettel was able to jump Hamilton in the pits, with Hamilton blaming his engineer for not warning him about Vettel’s progress.

By the time Canada came around, Hamilton hadn’t won a race. Given the opportunities that Lewis previously had, he was disappointed by the lack of wins. Lewis was on the front row in Montreal and he and Alonso fought for the win with Vettel all race long. Hamilton was the only one of those 3 to do a 2-stop strategy and it proved inspired. Hamilton was able to run down Alonso and Vettel in the closing laps to take a hard-fought and overdue win.

In Valencia, Lewis was once again in the hunt for the podium until a clash with Maldonado ended his day early.

Lewis was at a loss for pace in England. He couldn’t make any progress from his 8th place grid position and finished with only 4 points.

In Germany, bad luck struck. He got a puncture on the first lap and soon saw himself a lap down on leaders Alonso, Button and Vettel. Hamilton’s bad luck meant he couldn’t take advantage of the huge upgrade brought to Germany.

His luck changed in Hungary as Hamilton led from pole, resisting huge pressure from Grojean and then Raikkonen to take his second win of the season.

Bad luck struck again in Belgium as he was victim to the crash at the start caused by Grojean. This weekend was also tainted by ‘Twittergate’. Hamilton tweeted secretive telemetry information when he was upset with his qualifying set up.

Mclaren was still the car to beat in Italy. Lewis took another pole and led until the end, staying ahead of the charging Perez.

Hamilton’s bad luck reared its ugly again when, while leading in Singapore, his gearbox died. A sure win, lost.

In the aftermath of the race, Lewis announced he would be moving to Mercedes for 2013, confirming what many believed was inevitable given the tensions between Lewis and his team.

In Japan, Lewis improved from his 9th place starting spot go finish 5th, while mechanical difficulties and a late-race run-in with some AstroTurf held Lewis back in 10th.

In India, Hamilton just missed out on the podium as he chased down the KERS-less Mark Webber.

In Austin, Hamilton was back on the front row. He stayed with Vettel after Webber retired with an alternator failure. A race long battle behind the leader ended on lap 47 when Lewis finally got past the Red Bull for the lead. He held onto this lead until the end of the race to take an historic first win at the Circuit of the Americas.

At the final race in Brazil, Hamilton wasn’t as brave on the slick tires in the wet as his teammate. After leading from pole, Hamilton changed to intermediate tires when the track got slippery. This proved to be the wrong choice as the track was still manageable on slicks. By the time the first safety car came out, Lewis was 40 seconds behind the leaders. On the restart, Hamilton got past both Button and Hulkenberg. However, Hulkenberg made a move for the lead into the first corner and ran wide into the Mclaren, immediately taking out Lewis.

This was a rather depressing end to an illustrious Mclaren career for the young Brit. I believe Hamilton would be champion had he not had all those mechanical failures and pit stop blunders. There is only one on-track mistake I can recall (Valencia clash with Maldonado), making 2012 one of his best ever seasons, if not the most spectacular. This mistake is the only thing holding him back from the very top of this list.

Top 10 of 2012: Number 4

It will be fairly obvious who this driver is, but after a 2 year break from the sport, many had low expectations for the returning 2007 champion. A test at Valencia in early February proved helpful to this driver, who went on to exceed…most expectations for his return.

4. Kimi Raikkonen

Pre-season testing was used partly as a chance to get the feeling for an F1 car back along with developing the promising E20 Lotus. It proved easy on its tires and consistent over long runs, something which would prove crucial over the 2012 season.

In Melbourne, things got off to a bad start, as Kimi dropped out of Q1. In the race, he made good progress and took advantage of a last lap crash to finish a solid 7th place.

In Malaysia, Kimi qualified much better in 5th place. In the race, the torrential rain threw off everyone except for Kimi, who stayed his ground and finished in 5th. He was actually catching the leaders pretty quickly towards the end of the race. Fastest lap was also a nice reward for a hard days work.

In China, Kimi was still improving. He qualified 5th again, which turned into 4th with Hamilton’s gearbox penalty. In the race, he was at his most impressive so far in the season. He was firmly in the hunt for the podium and was running a legitimate second towards the end of the race. However, a bad tire strategy left him on very old tires with a massive train of cars battling for positions behind him. Only a few laps from the end, Kimi ran a bit wide onto the marbles, which opened the floodgate. In the span of two laps, while he was regaining his composure, Kimi dropped from 2nd to 14th. His tires were too old for him to attack for positions. He finished a promising day without any points.

Bahrain was a track which seemed to suit the Lotus. With track temperature often being the deciding factor in each weekend’s grid, the high temperature of the Sakir circuit should have suited the Lotus. Qualifying didn’t go we’ll for Kimi. He tried just one lap in Q2 to save tires, but ended up 12th. This did, however, allow him to choose his starting tire.
On race day, he made a great start and had a good tussle with Massa in the opening laps. He eventually got past and set about being the fastest car on track. Like his teammate, he was picking off drivers one by one and found himself behind leader Vettel for a lot of the race. He had a perfect chance to overtake Vettel, as he was faster at the time, but didn’t make the most of his chance. After his one chance to take the lead, his tires started to fade. He stayed with Vettel to take a fine 2nd place at the flag, with his teammate 3rd.

In Spain, Lotus was still one of the cars to beat. A fifth place qualifying effort became 4th again with Hamilton’s exclusion. Kimi stayed in touch with the leaders throughout the race. In the last quarter of the race, with his last pit stop done, Kimi managed to claw back 17 seconds to catch the leaders. In the end, he couldn’t get past, but another podium was a good result at the end of the day.

In Monaco, a recurring problem was at it again. Kimi has specific preferences when it comes to steering feel, the Finn requiring a very light and sensitive system. He never got the steering to his liking and spent most of the practices in the pits trying to sort it out. This put him on the backfoot for the race, and ended Sunday in 9th place.

In Canada, Kimi had another underwhelming race, the steering still causing some issues. A 12th place qualifying turned into another 9th place at the end of the race.

Back in Europe, the hot Valencia street circuit suited the Lotus E20. Kimi was back on form and qualified his almost usual 5th place. On race day, Kimi had some great battles with several drivers, and was there to pick up the pieces after the retirements of Vettel, Grojean and Hamilton, along with Maldonado’s delay in his crash. At the end of it all, he took another fantastic 2nd place behind Alonso.

In England, the long, fast corners of Silverstone suited the Lotus. The rain, however, didn’t as much. Kimi qualified 6th on a track where he could have been higher, but it was decent nonetheless. In the race, he got tangled up a little in the new complex of turns introduced in 2010. He lost time and places after he had made a good start. Kimi, couldn’t stay with the leading 4 drivers from Red Bull and Ferrari, but got ahead of Schumacher to finish 5th, with fastest lap also to his name.

Germany brought another solid podium after an inconspicuous race. Had Vettel not illegally passed Button, Kimi would have been 4th.

In Hungary, hot temperatures on race day were on the menu. Another 5th place grid position was a bit disappointing considering his teammates’s front row start. However, he was solid in the first two stints, sizing everyone up for an assault on the leader in the 3rd stint. The characteristics of the Hungaroring don’t allow for any serious passing. Kimi was clearly faster than leader, Hamilton, but couldn’t get quite close enough in the DRS zone to make a serious challenge for a pass. He came home 2nd, just 1 second behind the leader.

In Belgium, Kimi impressed again with another inconspicuous podium, however, many thought he would and should have won the race.

From Italy to India, Kimi finished 5-6-6-5-7. Scoring solid pints in these races kept him in the title chase when his rivals fell in and out of form.

Abu Dhabi was certainly the highlight of Kimi’s season and one of the highlights for everyone. Another 5th place qualifying became 4th with Vettel’s exclusion from qualifying and a great start, shot him into 2nd behind Hamilton. When Hamilton retired with a mechanical failure, Kimi gracefully picked up the torch and resisted huge late race pressure from Alonso to take his first win of the season.

Kimi had another solid race to 6th in Austin and an interesting race in Brazil where he famously got lost on the outskirts of the track.

Kimi’s return to formula 1 was welcomed enthusiastically, but not everyone’s expectations for the Finn were too high. While there were times when Kimi could have done more in the races and especially qualifying, there is absolutely no doubt that his return was a resounding success. Many question his motivation, including me at times, and I hope he stays motivated enough next year to mount another title challenge. Because we all know he’s still got it in him.

Top 10 of 2012: Number 5

This driver has burst onto the F1 scene as a potential world champion. He did this prospect no harm by becoming one of the outstanding sophomore drivers of the year, with solid and sometimes spectacular results throughout the whole year! this guy is one to watch out for, I can feel it. If you don’t see him in a top team by 2014, there is something wrong with the world.

5. Nico Hulkenberg

Over winter testing, there was a sense of quiet confidence in the silverstone-based team. They finished the year in 6th place, and, had they run one more race, they would almost have certainly taken 5th from Renault.  Testing went down rather inconspicuously, with the team not making too many headlines right away.  Their goal of 5th in the constructors’ championship would surely be a tough ask.  Nico Hulkenberg was now a fully fledged member of the team after he took Adrian Sutil’s race season for 2012.  His impressive rookie year in 2010 was a great foundation to build upon in the new season.

In Melbourne, Nico started the year off on a positive note by making Q3 and qualifying 9th.  In the race however, he was taken out before the first lap ended, just like in 2010.

In Malaysia, Nico’s qualifying wasn’t as impressive, and he ended Saturday down in 16th.  The chaotic race provided an excellent opportunity for Nico to show his race craft.  He battled his way up to 9th place by the end of the race.  In, fact, Force India was the only team that day to have both cars in the points.

In China and Bahrain, Nico had some underwhelming performances.  In Bahrain, it was the other Force Dndia driver who starred, taking a fine 6th place.

In Spain, Nico was back to the points.  A slightly underwhelming qualifying was improved upon in the race, though.  The young German had a race long battle with Mark Webber, with Nico eventually winning, bumping the Red Bull driver out of the points.

In Monaco, the strengths of the Force India came to the fore.  The VJMO5 chassis loves the tight confines and sharp turns of the luxurious principality and this showed in the race.  Staying out of trouble with the late-arriving rain, Nico ended the race in 8th place, one spot behind his teammate.

Nico ended up pointless in Canada, however it was an all around good drive.

Back in Europe, Nico started to show his true abilities.  He had a great qualifying and went to 8th on the grid.  He took advantage of his car’s strengths on street circuits to manage his tire wear to perfection and pull off some fantastic overtaking maneuvers.  In the end, he finished a career best 5th place, taking home 10 hard-fought world championship points.

However, this form didn’t last as long as he would have wanted.  Over the nest 3 races, Nico managed only 2 points in Germany.  The race at Hockenhiem looked to be one of his most promising, though.  In the wet qualifying session, Nico showed his colors and skills in the wet to qualify 5th on the grid.  This became 4th when Mark Webber took his gearbox penalty.  In the race however, the tendency for the force india to eat up its tires faster than rivals Sauber, took hold and he was unable to hold them, and a charging Button and Raikkonen, back.  His 9th place at the end of the day was hard-fought, but you got the sense that he could have dont more to get a better result.

Following this was an average race to 11th in Hungary. In Belgium, however, the story would be much different.

Rain throughout the weekend made the race a gamble in terms of tire wear and strategy, however, a one-stop looked feasible for every team on the grid.  Nico had a good qualifying session considering the conditions of the 2 days prior and went 12th fastest, with his teammate 9th.  Nico took advantage of the startline crash on race day to rise up to second while heading down the back straight.  This was a revelation for Force india. Could they get that magical win that they just missed out on in 2009? They couldn’t win in the end, but Nico held his own against the likes of Vettel, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Webber and Massa to take a new career-best 4th place.  these 12 points elevated him in the standings and within his team.

In Italy, everything was still looking good.  He was setting competitive times in practice (although Di Resta was being much more spectacular) and his long run pace was decent.  By the time qualifying started, he was in good spirits with a lot to look forward to.  On his first lap, however, as he braked for the first chicane, he went straight on and took to the run-off area.  A mechanical failure meant a potentially great qualifying was lost.  With no time set, he had to start dead last the next day.  His pace was good during the race, but in the end, not good enough to get him into the points. He ended up 14th.

A final underwhelming race in Singapore, where his teammate also shined to take a brilliant 4th place, set the stage for a final third of the season for the German which would distinguish him as one of the stars of the season.

In Japan, Nico qualified 10th, making it his 6th Q3 appearance of the season.  In the race, he took advantage of the crashes at the start to sit in 7th place for most of the race.  He stayed user the radar for a majority of the Grand Prix, but took home 6 great world Championship points.

In Korea he improved on his last qualifying effort to go 8th fastest.  He was one of the movers and shakers of the race, putting on fabulous displays of race craft when he overtook Hamilton and Grojean at the same time in 2 corners.  He kept up his pace throughout the day and managed his tire wear well to finish the race in 6th place. 8 more points to take home.

In India, the team wanted to put on a great performance for their loyal home crowd.  Nico didn’t put in a fantastic qualifying lap, but did a decent  job to end up 12th.  In the race, once again, he displayed calm and poise to finish the day 8th on a day when a lot of the midfield drivers were busy knocking into each other.

In Abu Dhabi, Hulkenberg again had a decent qualifying and went 11th fastest.  On Sunday however, his day ended abruptly as he became the innocent victim of a clash between Senna and Di Resta.  Ironically, Hulkenberg was the only one to retire on the spot even though he had nothing to do with the crash. Nico’s teammate later crashed out after coming together with Perez.

In Austin, Hulkenberg showed his adaptability by qualifying 8th on the brand new track.  This became 6th when Romain Grojean and Felipe Massa took their gearbox penalties. The latter one’s being controversial.  Nico couldn’t quite keep up with the leaders on Sunday, but did a stout job to finish best of the rest behind the leading 4 teams, bar Webber, to finish 8th.  He also did a fantastic job to keep behind the much faster Senna and Maldonado who easily has superior cars that day.

Brazil was the race which pointed out Hulkenberg as a future star of the sport.  The Force India was going very well the whole weekend at Interlagos.  Hulkenberg’s natural skill on this track showed when he qualified 7th.  Surely the memory of taking that shock pole position in 2010 at Interlagos was playing in his mind during his qualifying lap.  The rain that bucketed down the next day provided him the perfect opportunity to prove himself.  At the start, he made his was up into 4th place.  It soon became 3rd when he passed Massa.  When the rain increased in intensity, everyone thought he would start to fall behind the leading Mclarens.  if anything, though, he caught up to them.  He stuck to the gearboxes of the silver cars and impressed everyone lap after lap.  what was more impressive was his confidence in staying out on the slicks with Button when the rain picked up even more.  This turned out to be an inspired choice when the rain quickly leveled out to a manageable intensity.  Soon, after everyone had sorted themselves out in the pits, Hulkenberg and leader Button found themselves 40 seconds ahead of the pack with no sign of that lead decreasing.  Hulkenberg passed Button for the lead and then kept himself there for 30 laps, until Button repassed him.  An unfortunate safety car closed the increasing gap between Hulkenberg, Button, and the rest of the field. on the restart, Hamilton got the better of Button and passed Hulkenberg a few laps later.  However, the young german stuck with hamilton and soon sized him up for a pass into the first corner.  As he dove down the inside of the Mclaren, he put his back right wheel into the wet and slid wide into the Mclaren.  amazingly, the Force India escaped unharmed, but the Mclaren’s day was over.  Hulkenberg recieved a drive-through penalty for this incident which was a bit harsh considering the driving conditions.  nevertheless, Nico pushed on and finished the race in a fine 5th place.  The podium was easily possible that day, however.

These performances at the end of the season, I think, made Hulkenberg’s career.  He is moving to Sauber for 2013, but only really because Mclaren didn’t think to snatch him up instead of Perez.  It is rumored that Hulkenberg is first in like for a Ferrari seat in 2014, which would be very interesting indeed.  I have put Hulkenberg 5th on my list because he, like Perez, put in performances that surpassed the car he was in.  But unlike Perez, Nico built up to these performances with steady improvements to his racecraft and qualifying skills.  Hulkenberg has proved this year, that he has the potential to win not only races, but championships in the highest level of racing.


Top 10 of 2012: Number 6

This driver had all the makings laid out before him for a serious title challenge. His team was behind him, he was comfortably the lead developer in the team, and he was in his Formula one prime. However, a mid-season slump left him at a loss for pace and not even 3 amazing wins could keep him in contention for the world championship.

6. Jenson Button

In pre-season testing, the Mclaren and Jenson looked like peas in a pod, as they quietly went about their business. The grew ever more confident as they saw that both their long run, and low fuel pace was consistent, along with their tire wear. Mclaren themselves said that if they went to Melbourne with a winning car, then they were sure the championship was theirs for the taking.

Indeed, Jenson proved this speed was not a fluke by qualifying on the fright row with his teammate, Hamilton. In the race, Jenson made a flying start to run first. He never looked back after this and went on to pull large chunks of time out of his teammate. He was in his groove. Safety cars threatened his commanding lead, but he kept his head down at all times and ministered every restart. Jenson’s win in Australia surely gave Mclaren a lot of hope for the rest of the season, proving that his late season improvement in 2011 wasn’t a one-off.

In Malaysia, the Mclaren was looking as strong as ever, with perhaps a little more competition from the Mercedes. Nevertheless, Jenson qualified on the front row again, but with the threat of rain looming for Sunday, a win was not guaranteed.
After the red flag session in the Malaysian rain, the Mclaren, and particularly, Jenson, struggled to get any heat in the intermediate tires, and progress was slight. A puncture while passing Karthikeyan was his fault but it ruined any chance of a good result. He ended the day in 14th.

In china, the cold weather I qualifying hampered his performance as he struggles to get sufficient heat into his front tires. He salvaged 5th on Saturday, but left the track disappointed. Hi made a lightning start the next day and was running 3rd for the first stint, behind the dominating Mercedes. He was lucky to take second after Schumacher’s retirement and soon set his sights on the other silver arrow. A win was not looking likely but was definitely on the cards. That is, until his final pit stop was ruined. An extra 6 seconds on the front left tire ruined his chances. He battled his way ahead again and finished 2nd. A good result for a hard day’s work.

In Bahrain, Jenson’s problems began. He did a good job to qualify 4th, but he couldn’t make much progress. He was looking at a probable 5th place finish until his exhaust died. He limped back the the pits and ended his run for the day.

The mid season test wasn’t seen as very useful for Mclaren, so it took its chance to give their test drivers a chance to have a go in the car.

In Spain, with a new nose on the MP4-27, Jenson was really starting to struggle with the tires. He couldn’t seem to get them into their operating window, and when he finally did, he couldn’t keep it there. He qualified 11th and battled throughout the race to take a lonely 9th place.

Such we’re Jenson’s struggles, that over the next 4 races, he manages only 2 points scoring finishes and 5 points total, with two 16th places along with a 10th and 8th.

In Germany, Mclaren brought a huge update designed to make the car more consistently in the operating window for the tires. The true potential of the package was masked in the wet qualifying, but in the race the car, along with Jenson, truly shined. He made a great start to run in 5th in the first stint, and after a tire change, he started charging, picking off the Force India of Hulkenberg and Mercedes of Schumacher. He was now on the move and hunting down Vettel and Alonso. He spent time within a second of the leader, and had a real shot at winning the race, but soon his tires started to go and he was passed by vettel. The nature of the pass, however, sparked controversy. On the run down to the hairpin, Button carefully placed his car on the inside forcing Vettel to pass on the outside. However, Vettel overstepped the boundaries of the track and completed the pass illegally. The FIA was aware of this and added 20 seconds to vettel’s final time, putting him down in 5th. This fine return to form was just what Mclaren needed after a long spell of disappointment.

In Hungary, the Mclaren was just as strong, with Jenson qualifying 4th and running 3rd for most of the race. However, a last minute switch to a 3-stop strategy, put Jenson in traffic and he finished 6th. This didn’t do the car’s speed justice, and certainly a podium was on the cards that day. Jenson admitted that he was surprised at the strategy switch, as he felt fine on his tires and didn’t want to change.

The summer break was a good opportunity to recharge and prepare for the assault on the championship, which was becoming ever more unlikely for Jenson.

In Belgium, rain made strategy a game of trial and error, but typical Jenson, he made the most of it and went on to take his very first Mclaren pole. In the race, the carnage that ensued behind him made an easy day for him, as he cruised to one of the most dominant victories of the season.

In Italy, another all Mclaren front row was a good sign for the race. Indeed it was, as the Mclarens were comfortably running 1-2 until Jenson had a problem with his fuel pump. A good result, lost.

Singapoe marked the return of Red Bull’s dominance, but second place was welcome after a long and grueling 2 hours in the heat of Singapore.

In Japan a good qualifying was hampered by a gearbox penalty, but he fought back in the race, just missing the podium behind homeboy, Kobayashi.

A potentially good result with a great strategy from. 11th on the grid was ruined when Kobayashi ran into him in Korea.

Over the next few races, Jenson had solid if unspectacular races. A 5th, 4th and 5th were his spoils from India, AbuDhabi and Austin. Austin was more impressive after be qualified 12th. He had the pace to challenger Hamilton and Vettel but his bad qualifying ruined any if those chances. He had some amazing battles with Raikkonen, however.

In Brazil, Mclaren were back on the front row. The race was anything but normal, however.
The rain made everyone second guess their decisions, but not Jenson. He braved many laps on slicks as the track became increasingly slippery. He and Nico Hulkenberg (the star of this race) built up a massive 40 second lead until it was wiped out by the safety car. With hulkenberg still leading and button right behind, Hamilton was able to close that gap to the leaders. On the restart, Hamilton got passed Button and soon got passed Hulkenberg. But Hulkenberg wasn’t going to have that and attempted a pass into the first corner. It all went wrong though and he slid onto the wet and into Hamilton, taking the leading Briton out of his final race with Mclaren. Button was there to pick up the pieces, however, and led until the end. Bookending the season is always a good sign for next season.

Jenson clearly had an up and down season. He had some absolutely fantastic races, but spotted his campaign with races we all wasn’t to forget. Had Jenson sorted out his tire issues earlier, maybe he could have challenged for the championship a little longer. Nevertheless, this didn’t happen and that is why he’s in 6th on this list.

Top 10 of 2012: Number 7

This driver, after the singapore grand prix, arguably had the bast car on the grid. However, he never managed to capitalize on this and never won a race after the British Grand prix.

7. Mark Webber

In Melbourne, Red Bull were on the backfoot a little in terms of coming to grips with the new exhaust regulations. Mark did a decent job to qualify 5th, one spot ahead of his teammate. In the race, he made a bad start and lost a few positions and spent most of the race trying to get them back. The retirements of Schumacher and Grojean helped him out a little, and by the end of the race he was 4th.

In Malaysia, qualifying wasn’t great again. The race was a bit if a lottery in terms of strategy so he did a good job to bring the car home 4th again on the wet but drying track.

In China, which turned out to be one of the closest races in the whole season (apart from the leader), Mark did a good job again to finish 4th. At this point, he was 4th in the championship.

In Bahrain, Mark’s teammate made his breakthrough with his first pole and win of the season. Mark, on the other hand, underperformed again on a weekend where he had arguably the best car in the field. He finished 4th once again, in desperate need to make his mark on the championship.

This mark didn’t come in Spain, as Webber missed Q3 for the first time in the season. The race was unproductive as well, as a near race long battle with Nico Hulkenberg, one in which he lost, meant he ended the day without a single point.

In Monaco, Mark was back in his element, on a track in which he had already won before. He backed this up with a superb qualifying to go 2nd. Michael’s Schumacher’s penalty gave Mark his first dream pole on a track where grid position is paramount. In the race, the Australian resisted tough pressure from his teammate and Nico Rosberg to take his fist win in convincing fashion, as the track became increasingly wet from rain.

In Canada, things returned back to earth a bit, as mark qualified 4th. He went backwards in the race as the charging Grojean and Perez blew away the competition. Mark ended the day a disappointing 7th.

Disaster struck back in Spain for the European Grand Prix. A problem before qualifying meant Mark didn’t have the necessary pace to challenge. He qualified am extremely disappointing 19th. The race didn’t look promising. On Sunday though, Mark avoided the crashes and used the safety car to his advantage to be on the reign tires for the last few laps of the race. He and Michael Schumacher made amazing charges through the field to make up positions on their competition. In the end, Mark just missed out in the podium to finish in his almost customary 4th place. It was a position well deserved, as Mark delivered again on Sunday.

In England, Mark did a great job in the wet qualifying session to get on the front row. The race was a little more straightforward as he made a good start. He stayed with leader Alonso for the whole race and made his move with just a few laps to go. This was a classic example of being on the right tire at the right time. Little did Mark know, however, that this would be the last time he would stand on the top step of the podium for the rest of the season.

Another wet qualifying session in Germany made the going a bit tough, but mark did a good job to go 3rd. A gearbox penalty made his race more difficult but there was reason to be optimistic as the Red Bull was proving to be one of the fastest cars on race pace. This pace was nowhere to be found on Sunday. Mark made mo progress throughout the whole 67 laps and finished 8th. This would mark the start of a stretch of disappointing races for the Australian.

Marks results for the next five races were: 8-6-DNF-11-9. On two of these occasions, he failed to make Q3. This was bad news for his championship hopes, but he was still within a slim chance of the title by the start of the Korean Grand Prix.

He did himself a favor by taking pole for the race in Korea. His teammate, now on a remarkable race winning streak, eventually took the race win, but a second place for mark webber meant Red Bull took the first 1-2 of the season for any team.

India ended in a similar fashion, but a KERS problem throughout the race meant he had no chance of holding back Alonso for 2nd place. He almost lost 3rd place to Hamilton in the end but held on just long enough to take 15 hard fought points. By now, the championship, although mathematically a possibility, was all but realistically gone.

In Abu Dhabi, mark qualified on the front row, but made a terrible start, losing about 3 places. This set the tone for the rest of the evening as he made little progress. His teammate,now ever, managed to get on the podium after starting from the pit lane. Getting involved in the Di Resta-Perez crash was not his fault, and a disappointing end to an already disappointing race.

In Austin, Mark again had a good qualifying, but an alternator failure (a recurring problem for the Red Bull team) ended his day prematurely.

In the chaotic Brazilian Grand Prix, mark stayed out of trouble (apart from giving his title-chasing teammate a hard time in the first corner) to finish 4th.

In a season where his teammate took his 3rd consecutive drivers’ championship, Mark will always be compared to him as a bit of a letdown. While Mark did have some stellar races, he had way too many unnecessary disappointing races that ruined any chance he had at his first world title. Too many average performances are starting to define this clearly, above average driver.