The top ten F1 drivers of 2013

Bianchi

10. Jules Bianchi

Driving for one of the two slowest teams on the grid, 24-year-old Jules Bianchi stepped into a Formula One seat at the start of this year after Luiz Razia was ousted in favour of Bianchi’s Ferrari support. At Marussia the Frenchman was seldom going to be offered the opportunity to make an impact on a race weekend, but the inter-team battle clearly showed which of the two drivers were better. An outrageous 18-1 victory in qualifying over Max Chilton showed the Frenchman was no slouch on Saturday, especially as his only qualifying defeat was at Japan with the knowledge he was carrying a ten-place penalty into the race. Setting the 11th fastest lap time at the season’s opener was as close as the Frenchman came to disrupting the middle order, but a point-less season should not be looked upon so when you’ve got Ferrari on speed-dial after a season that confirmed you’re clearly capable of bringing the car home well ahead of your team-mate.

 

Ricciardo

9. Daniel Ricciardo

Pre-season Daniel Ricciardo told us that podiums would be what he needed to impress the Red Bull hierarchy. Nine months later he’s yet to step on the podium but has landed that presently-coveted drive. After abandoning the STR7 mid-season in 2012 in order to focus on the ‘8, Toro Rosso will be disappointed the car wasn’t that couple of tenths faster than it was. Despite a few surprise qualifying results, Ricciardo was left to fight for the bottom end of the points on a handful of occasions and on many wasn’t able to even manage that. On paper it might be surprising Milton Keynes has promoted a driver with 30 points to his name (and only five under the old format), but the mechanics in the Red Bull garage have time and time again praised the 24-year-old for his tenacity when given the opportunity to succeed.

He’s not scored the podiums he was aiming for, but many wheel-to-wheel races with established “top” drivers have shown he’s ready for the challenge of taking on a much faster car. The luckless Jean-Eric Vergne will be disappointed his team-mate was promoted instead of him, but the Frenchman’s season wasn’t disappointing just because of mechanical issues. A failure to adapt to the car from the mid-season saw him drop out of the points after the seventh round and wouldn’t feature in them for at least another 13 races. Vergne’s got talent, but Ricciardo utilised his more in 2013.

 

Webber

8. Mark Webber

After the disappointment that was the second half of 2012, Mark Webber would have been forgiven for entering 2013 with the optimistic hope of challenging his team-mate for the World Championship again. Melbourne wasn’t great, Malaysia was – but then suddenly wasn’t – and the rest of the season seemed to be the culmination of the Australian’s notorious bad luck that he’s carried around with him for the last 12 years in Formula One;

A KERS failure in Australia was followed by the Multi-21 saga in Malaysia. His wheel came off in China after contact with Vergne and one of his pit-stops went all wrong the next race in Spain. Van der Garde coming over him in China lost hi half of his front wing, an incident replicated by Grosjean at the start of the next race and the wheels once again fell off in Germany, while a KERS failure in Hungary cost him positions. One of the all-too-familiar clutch failures dropped him much too far back at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix to compete for the race win. A gearbox issue at Monza preceded a rare engine failure in Singapore, which in turn preceded the banzai move by Sutil that put him out of the next race in Korea. An alternator failure leading to retirement in India capped off a season of mechanical.

Webber could barely touch Vettel on raceday in 2013 (and often couldn’t get close in qualifying) but the 198-point deficit that stood at the end of the season wasn’t nearly indicative of his pace. Eight consecutive podiums in his last eight races was possible if not for his recurring mechanical plight and securing third place in the championship in the final race will be little consolation for a man who was visibly done with the sport in the final races of the season.

 

Grosjean

7. Romain Grosjean

Grosjean entered 2013 in the shadows of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and started off the season looking very much the Finn’s subordinate. A run of four non-points finishes from Spain to Silverstone cost him valuable points that may have vaulted him up the standings at the end of the year, but the Frenchman turned a page mid-season and did much of the work he needed to do from there on.

Romain lost the crash-happy image he’d worked so hard to build the previous season and turned himself into a driver very capable of matching Raikkonen on a regular basis. The team’s management were most definitely behind him toward the end of the year, but a succession of podiums while Raikkonen didn’t look like he could match his pace cemented his spot on the grid for 2014. Grosjean is a genuine talent and proved that to his audience in the second half of the year; he must now continue to improve if he has any hope of a championship challenge in years to come. The level of talent on the grid is at one of its highest ever and it’s not going to be easy for any drivers to walk in and take titles.

 

Hamilton

6. Lewis Hamilton

Lewis was disappointing in 2013. A single victory and a few podiums was the minimum expected of him when his move to Mercedes was announced. The relatively unknown quantity in Rosberg was expected to be walked over throughout the year while the Brit was on his way to challenging for another championship.

In reality it was something very different.

The Mercedes rarely had the pace to challenge for race victories after the mid-point of the year, but a string of results barely any better than Rosberg’s throughout the season won’t have done his image as one of the sport’s best any good.

Lewis complains. He complains a lot and it doesn’t do him any favours. Perhaps we don’t hear as much of other drivers during the race, but the moaning from the number ten Mercedes was too much to handle by the Brazilian Grand Prix. He’s plenty experienced now and should be able to explain his thoughts without showing his deepest emotional feelings toward the team’s work.

In other words: shut up and drive.

 

Rosberg

5. Nico Rosberg

Could it be Nico is a whole lot better than most people give him credit for? Almost certainly. His obeying of team-orders in Malaysia while Mercedes’s closest rival couldn’t sort their own drivers out showed he’s at least as mature as the sport’s top talents, too.

Monaco and Silverstone were the only two wins Nico was able to secure in 2013 and he’ll be looking to improve that number next year. He’s shown he can put up a consistent battle against Hamilton and 2014 is the time to show everybody he can put his foot ahead long enough to get himself number one status at the team. He dismissed Schumacher in the two years preceding Hamilton’s arrival but that achievement was written off because Michael was just “an old man”. 2013 has shown that Schumacher was no souch and neither is Rosberg.

 

Raikkonen

4. Kimi Raikkonen

The season started so positively for Lotus; a commanding victory and fastest lap in Australia seemed to be the precursor of what was to come for the season. The Lotus seemed the cleanest on its tyres in a championship that was very much going to be decided by who could maintain the Pirelli compounds the best. Lotus entered Malaysia as favourites for victory – and then it all sort of fell away.

Seven more podiums would be the best Raikkonen could deliver in his 17-race championship, well short of what he needed to put his foot in the door for the title challenge. In the Lotus camp the first half of the season belonged to Kimi, who continued his dominance over the imperfect Grosjean all the way to Hungary. From there Kimi’s season began to get away from him a bit and while he was still able to perform to a standard that would net him podiums, the car wouldn’t come close to victory in his hands again.

The late-season announcement that he’d return to Ferrari for 2014 all but killed Kimi’s motivation to perform for Lotus and he trailed off in his final few races. A season cut short with a supposed back injury still couldn’t deny him a position in the top five drivers at the end of the year, but 2013 showed more than ever that a motivation-less Kimi isn’t one to deliver you world-class results.

 

Alonso

3. Fernando Alonso

Alonso started 2013 looking one of the most likely to steal the championship away from Red Bull this time around. Ferrari definitely had the pace to challenge early in the season, but the changes following Silverstone hurt the team’s chances at least as much as any other team’s. From there it was a case of fighting for second best.

Two victories and seven podiums were about the best Fernando could have hoped for in a year dictated by tyre performance. It wasn’t the Spaniard’s most convincing championship and his motivation did seem to be damaged a little after a fourth successive championship defeat to Sebastian Vettel.

In a less-than-perfect Ferrari, Fernando’s consistency again brought him silver and while Massa struggled in the mid points his team-mate was often battling it out for podiums. He finished the season with 67% of the team’s total, a stat only beaten by Nico Hulkenberg claiming 89% of Sauber’s points.

A last-race squabble with Mark Webber for second place in Brazil is hopefully a sign of things to come for Alonso and a team that has many times failed to get that close to the front in the last four years. Maybe 2014 will be a better season for Ferrari and Alonso, but with rumours that the Italian team has gone wrong with its power plant for next year, Alonso may be looking elsewhere for title glory in the future.

 

Hulkenberg

2. Nico Hulkenberg

He scraped into the top ten drivers in the points raking, but Nico Hulkenberg could’ve achieved a whole lot more given the right machinery. The mid-season changes to the tyres benefitted Sauber enormously and Nico took full advantage of the car’s new found pace. Fifth in Italy and Brazil and fourth in Monza were the highlights of 2013 in a team that would usually be excited about coming tenth.

Scoring 89% of the team’s total points explains in itself how dominant he was over Gutierrez in 2013. Give him a car worthy of his talent and he’ll bring home the results – but who is going to take on a driver who doesn’t bring money with them these days?

Hulkenberg has shown for years he’s got the potential to deliver in the right car and it’s a continued shame that he’s pushed back time and again into less-than-perfect machinery. With Maldonado having signed for Lotus next year, one of the last doors closed for Nico and it looks very likely that he will be at Sauber again in 2014. It’s unlikely Sauber will develop a car that is able to consistently compete for podiums but the future could, and should, bring him the opportunity to impress further. He’ll turn 27 next year and is no longer one of the grid’s young drivers; Nico needs a quick car soon otherwise his best years in the sport may pass him by.

 

Vettel

1. Sebastian Vettel

The World Champion for a fourth successive time, Sebastian Vettel was unmatchable in 2013. Mark Webber was unable to beat his team-mate in any race this season and finished the season 198 points down and without a single win to Sebastian’s 13. The multi-21 saga was a big blotch on Vettel’s reputation but this isn’t about how liked he is by the public, it’s about how quick he is.

I struggle to believe any driver would have been able to match Vettel in the RB9 and a record nine straight wins is testament to his outright speed and adaptability. In India he overtook half the pack in a matter of laps to recover from an early pit stop and was rewarded with victory. Silverstone should have been Seb’s, too, if not for one of the number-one car’s rare mechanical mishaps. If Button had come to harm early in the Hungarian Grand Prix and Seb’s gearbox not failed in Britain, we could very possibly have been given a 13-race winning streak. Great for Seb, not so great for the viewers.

Vettel enters 2014 as the fourth most successful Formula One driver of all time, with 39 wins – only two less than Ayrton Senna. Another season like 2013 would put him well ahead of Alain Prost and into second position – an impressive achievement for a driver who will have completed only seven-and-a-half seasons in the sport at the end of 2014. New team-mate Daniel Ricciardo is an unknown quantity when it comes to high-end performance and Seb will need to put the hammer down early on to deny his newest rival any chance of usurping him from the champion’s crown.

But Seb is more than just a champion, he’s a superstar. He’ll adapt to the situation and continue to grow over the next decade into a very, very punishing driver. Something makes you think this is only the beginning of Vettel’s rule in F1, so don’t complain too much about his consistent winning – it could get a whole lot worse.

Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments below.

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