Season review - F1 2013 Driver rankings: part two

By on Sunday, December 22, 2013

Having evaluated the lower half of the 2013 grid, attention now turns to our top 10 of the season, featuring those who battled for victories and the world championship. You can still view the first part by clicking here.

10 | Jenson Button | Vodafone McLaren Mercedes | Championship: 9th, 73 points

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

Button declared after the Canadian Grand Prix that he had never been so happy to climb out of a car, which is a bold comment considering some of the awful machines that he’s driven down the years. Few could have anticipated that McLaren would produce such a terrible car but the question that remained was how much Button was truly extracting from the machine, especially following his good, but not great, record against Lewis Hamilton. There were good drives – Malaysia, China, and Brazil – and he scored points in the majority of the races. But his Saturday record against Pérez was underwhelming while there were also a couple of un-Button like first corner collisions. He’ll have to make his experience count more often next year, especially with the new regulations and against a young charger.

High point: Feisty drive in Brazil

Low point: Miserable weekends in Canada and Britain

9 | Felipe Massa | Scuderia Ferrari | Championship: 8th, 112 points

Scuderia Ferrari

Scuderia Ferrari

Massa began 2013 brightly as he beat team-mate Fernando Alonso in qualifying and claimed a podium finish in Spain. But from there a freefall began and he ended the season with an inferior championship position and fewer points than in 2012. Monaco was the turning point as he suffered a huge accident in practice and then repeated it in the race (not his fault) but sloppy mistakes in Canada and Germany cost him points and once his form improved, the Ferrari had regressed and he was scrapping for the lower points positions. There were a couple of good drives later in the year – Italy and India – but Massa’s problem is his inability to maintain his pace across a whole weekend, especially during the race. His peaks are potentially as high as Alonso’s, but his troughs are much lower and far more frequent. He did, however, pull off a couple of superb starts, most notably at Silverstone when he rocketed from 12th to fifth in a single lap. Freed from the shackles of being deputy to Alonso, Massa has the chance to prove that he deserves another shot at Formula 1 with Williams.

High point: Stunning start at Silverstone

Low point: Heavy accident at Monaco that left him in a neck brace

8 | Mark Webber | Infiniti Red Bull Racing | Championship: 3rd, 199 points

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

Webber bowed out of Formula 1 after a season in which he failed to win a race, compared to the 13 achieved by his team-mate, but still finished third in the championship. There were strong drives – Silverstone being a prime example – but he was comprehensively beaten by Sebastian Vettel. Webber made no bones about his dislike of the tyres and it was the early phase in a race that frequently nullified his challenge and left him mired in traffic. The starts didn’t improve – fortunately, he’ll have rolling starts in the World Endurance Championship next year – while he suffered misfortune in several races towards the end of the year. Ultimately Webber’s time in the sport will be defined by comparisons to Vettel and on occasion he held his own against once of the greatest in history. Malaysia defined his season as Webber – who had pitted for slicks at the right time – was leading until Vettel ignored team orders and relegated his team-mate. Nonetheless, he was an integral part in the rise and success of Red Bull.

High point: Pole lap in Abu Dhabi, a circuit antithetical to Webber’s style and attitude

Low point: Luckless race in Korea, where his car sustained a puncture, was hit and then caught fire

7 | Nico Hülkenberg | Sauber F1 Team | Championship: 10th, 51 points

Sauber F1 Team

Sauber F1 Team

Another year, another barrage of ‘how on earth is Nico Hülkenberg still not in a top seat’ comments and of course, such quotes are justified. For while credit has to go to Sauber for improving an ill-behaving car, Hülkenberg utilised it wonderfully and maximised its potential. The year started woefully as Hülkenberg claimed just seven points across the opening 11 races and didn’t even start due to a fuel system problem in Australia. There were messy races along the way in Spain (not his fault) and Canada (partly his fault) and points were occasionally gained through sheer brute force (Britain). But Monza proved to be the turning point as he nailed his lap in Q3 to start a dizzying third on the grid and raced to fifth place, just 10 seconds shy of the winner. There were several strong drives across the rest of the season but the highlight was Korea, where he held off world champions to secure fourth place, displaying composure in a high-pressure situation and placing his car perfectly lap after lap. Lesser drivers would have panicked, but Hülkenberg knew that he could leave the door open at the first corner and attack his rivals again into turn three. He comfortably held the upper hand over team-mate Esteban Gutierrez and raised his own reputation considerably. One can only hope that Force India provides him with a car that his talent deserves.

High point: Hard to choose between his stellar qualifying lap in Italy and the entire race in Korea.

Low point: Aside from missing out on a top seat, Canada was messy.

6 | Romain Grosjean | Lotus F1 Team | Championship: 7th, 132 points

Grosjean India

Lotus F1 Team

This is the Romain Grosjean that promised so much across his junior career so huge credit has to go to Lotus for retaining their faith in the French driver. His season began badly as he struggled with a mysterious car problem, had a failure in Spain before a completely messy weekend in Monaco where he crashed four times. It was during that period when Raikkonen built a title challenge, which simply exacerbated Grosjean's predicament. He rebuilt himself and arrived in Germany fired up, finishing on the podium and being a match for Räikkönen. From there, he was equal to the Finn but finally received the justly deserved credit in Japan, where he was the only driver capable of taking the fight to Red Bull. There were also very strong drives in India, Abu Dhabi and Austin, while he negotiated the first laps without problems: it was fitting that at Suzuka, 12 months on from his faux pas, he rocketed into the lead and drove an extremely mature race. In the second half of the season, he was phenomenal and second only to Vettel as he racked up the podiums and points; it is his first half of the year that means he is not higher up in our list.

High point: Taking the fight to the Red Bull drivers in Japan – and splitting them in the USA.

Low point: Littering much of Monaco with bits of Lotus.

5 | Nico Rosberg | Mercedes AMG Petronas | Championship: 6th, 171 points

Rosberg Monte win

Mercedes AMG Petronas

‘Just how good is Nico Rosberg?’ It’s a question that has been posed repeatedly for ages, but after Rosberg’s eighth year in the sport the answer is ‘very good’. Rosberg was more than a match for Lewis Hamilton and only narrowly missed out on usurping his team-mate in the championship. He started brightly and built on the promise with three straight poles, completed by a magnificent drive in Monaco, where he was untouchable all weekend and led every single lap. He then embarked on a middling sequence of races, with his win in Britain owing more to fortune rather than outright ability. He improved towards the end of the season as he began to get the upper hand on Hamilton, although the one remaining question is whether Rosberg has the ability to mount a title challenge across a 19 race season: for while he excelled in Monaco, there were underwhelming performances in Germany, Hungary and in the USA. Rosberg undoubtedly impressed in 2013, although some of that was down to the lofty expectations of Hamilton. If he can find those final couple of tenths more frequently, he’ll be able to rattle Hamilton on a regular basis.

High point: Winning flawlessly on the streets of his childhood home.

Low point: Q2 exit in Germany that precipitated underwhelming race.

4 | Lewis Hamilton | Mercedes AMG Petronas | 4th, 189 points

Mercedes AMG Petronas

Mercedes AMG Petronas

When Hamilton joined the fifth best team and promptly found himself heading into the barriers within a few laps of running in Jerez, he probably wondered whether he’d made the correct decision. That he personally outscored McLaren in the championship will be just a trivial matter for the Brit as he impressed in his first season for Mercedes in the sport. Across the first half of the season, it was only the Spanish Grand Prix that was a write-off for Hamilton: he racked up the points, took several pole positions and stormed to victory in Hungary. His pole position lap at Silverstone came after a weekend of struggling with the car and sent the home fans wild. But the second half of the year was less effective as he failed to secure a podium finish and appeared at sea with his W04. Mercedes discovered a crack in his chassis after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but the team did not think that such a problem accounted for all of his issues. Hamilton was electric at times in 2013 but occasionally the impetus on saving tyres was detrimental to his driving style. He just shaded Rosberg – it was close – and he’ll hope that continuity with Mercedes will lead to a stronger 2014.

High point: Qualifying lap at Silverstone was immense...

Low point: ...but puncture in the race robbed him of a home win.

3 | Kimi Räikkönen | Lotus F1 Team | 5th, 183 points

Lotus F1 Team

Lotus F1 Team

It’s hard to envisage now, but it was Räikkönen who entered the second half of the season as Vettel’s nearest challenger in the championship. A magnificent win in Australia was followed by a trio of second places as the tyre friendly Lotus E21 played to the strengths of the Finn. There were a few struggles afterwards as Räikkönen was hit by Pérez in Monaco while the car was ill-equipped to deal with the low-grip conditions in Montreal. A podium was possible at Silverstone but Lotus opted to leave Räikkönen out on used tyres and he slipped to fifth place. Another couple of podiums elevated Räikkönen into title contention but his hopes soon disappeared. His run of points ended when his brakes failed at Spa while an uncharacteristic mistake at Monza blunted his chances. He magnificently fought back pain in Singapore to return to the podium and followed it up with an incisive pass on Grosjean in Korea, but relations with Lotus soured as he revealed that he had not been paid in 2013, with money a key factor in his decision to switch to Ferrari. Räikkönen couldn’t get to grips with the longer wheelbase Lotus and it was telling that upon returning to the shorter wheelbase machine for Abu Dhabi, he was closer to the front. He was also not as comfortable on the updated tyres as Grosjean, particularly in qualifying, and opted to skip the final two races of the season to undergo back surgery. While Grosjean rightly claimed credit for his revival, Räikkönen still enjoyed a productive season, until the final quarter.

High point: Starting the year in winning ways.

Low point: Back pain that ruled him out of final two events.

2 | Fernando Alonso | Ferrari | 2nd, 242 points

Alonso China

Scuderia Ferrari

The problem when a driver delivers magnificently in one season is that the following year is likely to be underwhelming in comparison. Yet Alonso was still comfortably best of the rest and finished as the runner-up for the third time in four years, in a car that was not second quickest for much of the season. However, his campaign was compromised by early mistakes that handed Vettel an advantage, which the German duly seized upon. The decision not to pit in Malaysia was utterly baffling, as even unseasoned observers could tell that his wobbling front wing would soon detach. DRS problems in Bahrain stunted his progress while his drive in Monaco was un-Alonso like as he appeared passive in battle and half-asleep for most of the afternoon. But these misfortunes were sandwiched by outstanding victories in China and at home in Spain, the latter set-up by a bold move around the outside of turn three on the opening lap. Ferrari went in the wrong direction mid-season, hurting his qualifying performances and leaving him playing catch-up. He valiantly hung on with three straight podiums after the summer break, but even by then the title was lost. Relations with Ferrari cooled as he vented his frustration and the Italian team responded by re-signing Räikkönen. Alonso will be fired up in 2014 to prove that he deserves the third title that he desperately craves.

High point: Brave opening lap in Spain which led to home win.

Low point: Decision not to pit in Malaysia was costly and left him playing catch-up.

1 | Sebastian Vettel | Infiniti Red Bull Racing | World champion, 397 points

Red Bull/Getty Images

Red Bull/Getty Images

He just keeps on getting better. 39 wins. 45 poles. Four titles. And he’s still only 26 years old. To dominate such an era of the sport was a phenomenal achievement and his run of nine successive wins to close out the season was stunning. Of course, there’s the caveat that he has the best car and the right environment in which to flourish, but he utilised it to perfection and made perhaps just a few minor errors all season. If we’re going to nit-pick, here they are: a last lap lock-up while hunting Hamilton in China cost him third, an underwhelming qualifying lap in Hungary unravelled in the race as he was stuck in traffic (he still managed third) and an error in qualifying in Abu Dhabi cost him pole. Plus, there was the whole Multi-21 saga in Malaysia. But if that’s the biggest mistakes across 19 weekends, it shows what a superb job the German did in 2013. Unlike last year, he had consistency early on, with his worst finish being a pair of fourth places in China and Spain, which were damage limitation operations due to the RB9’s tyre restrictions on front-limited circuits. This approach left him with a comfortable buffer mid-season and from there he reeled off win after win, not so much as beating the opposition but destroying them, winning by over half a minute in Singapore and Abu Dhabi. He had to fight for several wins as he held off the advances of Lotus in Germany and clinically passed Grosjean when he needed to in Japan. The modifications to the tyres aided his cause, but Vettel still had to deliver the goods. He did so resoundingly. It’s impossible to determine Vettel’s place in the history books among the pantheon of greats until he bows out of the sport, but in 2013 he was undoubtedly in a class above the rest.

High point: Home win after a battling performance in Germany.

Low point: The way he dealt with the fall-out from Malaysia.

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