My top five drivers of the season so far, including why I rate Fernando Alonso only 5th.
5. Fernando Alonso
There is no doubt that Fernando Alonso is one of the very best drivers in the world. But now is time to reflect on a career unfulfilled.
It is staggering to think that a driver of such calibre has not won a world championship since 2006. When he moved to McLaren in 2007, he could have been on the cusp of a highly successful period. We all know how that transpired, and since then he had to endure two years at a lesser Renault team than the one he had left.
Joining Ferrari was supposed to kick-start his career again. But the Scuderia have also underachieved since Alonso joined them.
If part of the skill of a driver is choosing the right time to join a team, then we must say that Alonso has failed at that task.
His 2013 campaign promised much, but went off the rails early on with his first-lap crash in Malaysia. Uncharacteristically, Alonso failed to play the long game and took a risk by not pitting at the first opportunity. Before he reached the next corner after the pit entry, it was game over.
Similarly, his DRS failure in Bahrain was uncharacteristically fatal. The first failure was not his fault of course, but it was surprising that, knowing it had failed, he tried to use it again. He might have salvaged a decent result had he not taken that risk by using the malfunctioning DRS.
Then his outing in Monaco was bizarrely off-colour, and he almost seemed to move over to allow drivers like Adrian Sutil to go by him easily. On a circuit that’s so difficult to overtake on, I was flabbergasted that Alonso didn’t put up a stronger defence.
The highs, like his victory in Spain, have been high indeed. But overall, the picture is of a driver who a driver who is panicking in the face of a potential seventh year without a championship victory. He has tried to change his championship tactics by taking more risks, but this has failed.
His very public telling off from Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo does not help paint a better picture either.
4. Lewis Hamilton
If Fernando Alonso has failed at choosing the right time to join a team, surely Lewis Hamilton has excelled. Received wisdom said that Hamilton was off his rocker by deciding to jump ship from McLaren to Mercedes. But his timing could not have been more perfect.
In many ways, it has been an uncomfortable year for Hamilton. Mercedes is his first team other than McLaren, and he has appeared to struggle more than most at switching to a different team.
On the other hand, Hamilton seems more comfortable in his skin than he did at McLaren. Evidently, moving to Mercedes has done him good in terms of his demeanour and his mental strength. Being able to channel the issues surrounding his private life into a strong drive to victory in Hungary, when in previous years it might have made him more erratic, is further evidence that Hamilton’s move to Mercedes might be his smartest career move ever.
3. Nico Rosberg
I said at the beginning of the season that this would be a make or break year for Nico Rosberg. This is the first time in his F1 career that he has been team mates with a driver we can judge him against. And we can say for sure that Rosberg has comfortably held his own.
Of course, it helps that Rosberg has been driving for Mercedes for a few years, while Hamilton has had to settle in. But Rosberg has nevertheless been very impressive. He has taken two fantastic wins.
While he trails Hamilton in the championship, part of this can be put down to some bad luck. He has had to retire from three races due to mechanical failures not of his own doing.
For the first time, we can say how good Nico Rosberg is. And the answer is that he is good.
2. Kimi Räikkönen
I have to admit it: a couple of years ago I thought Kimi Räikkönen was down and out; a laughing stock. But his return to Formula 1 has demonstrated how impressively complete he is as a driver.
Not only is he stunningly fast, but he is also clean, and approaches everything with a minimum of fuss. He is impressive in wheel-to-wheel combat. It speaks volumes for his talent that he currently lies in 2nd place in the Drivers’ Championship, clearly outperforming his car.
The only negative you can really say about Räikkönen’s driving is that his qualifying performances are not completely up to scratch. But when you rack up the race results the way Räikkönen does, qualifying hardly matters.
1. Sebastian Vettel
It amazes me that people still question whether Sebastian Vettel can be considered a great. He was the youngest ever World Champion, and topped that off by winning three consecutively. He currently leads the championship with a very handsome margin.
It’s all very well to put this all down to the fact that his Red Bull car is so good. But that does not explain his dominance over Mark Webber, who is no slouch.
And while the infamous ‘multi 21’ scenario in Malaysia may well have lost him a few fans, it certainly underlined one of the reasons why Sebastian Vettel is number one. Ruthlessness is a key ingredient that can separate the great from the really great.
Not only was it ruthless, but it also demonstrated the power he has, and that he knows how to use it. He knew that Red Bull would never punish him for ignoring team orders. He is too valuable as a driver to Red Bull for that.
This is perhaps an early sign that Vettel can play the political game as well. All of the greatest in the modern era have had that ability, and often made themselves unpopular as a result. It just gives him a further edge over all his rivals.