Who were the top 10 drivers of 2011?

10. Michael Schumacher (WDC: 8th, Best finish: 4th in Canada)

It was a close call between Schumacher, the two Toro Rosso drivers and Heikki Kovalainen for the first place in the top 10, but the seven times world champion just edged it.

On the whole the second season of his comeback was much stronger than his first. Although it would be wrong to say he is anywhere as good as he was in his first career. Over a single lap he is still lacking raw pace compared to team mate Nico Rosberg.

However his race pace has generally been very strong, and very close to Nico’s, in some races better. In the majority of races this year Schumacher has always gained places off the line, and often made up for a disappointing qualifying performance immediately.

No doubt his best race came in the wet at Canada. There was evidence of his old self as he pulled off quality overtaking move after another. At the last safety car period he was up for second place. If it wasn’t for one of the most powerful DRS zones of the season he would have had a podium.

Schumacher holding off Hamilton in Monza (© Mercedes GP)

He was very strong in Monza where he overtook Hamilton straight after the early safety car period for third, and then held him off for nearly 30 laps. He finished in a fine fifth place.

His drive through the field in Spa was one of the performances of the season. He started 24th but got all the way back up to fifth ahead of Rosberg, who had originally led the race.

He still made a few silly errors when overtaking including moves on Vitaly Petrov, Kamui Kobayashi, and Sergio Perez in Turkey, Silverstone and Singapore respectively. However even at his peak, Schumacher got himself involved in collisions from time to time.

In the end when you consider the disparity between their qualifying performances and the errors mentioned above, Schumacher did well to finish eighth in the standings, just 13 points behind his German counterpart.

9. Mark Webber (WDC: 3rd, Best finish: 1st in Brazil)

Whatever way you look at it, it’s been a horrible season for the likeable Australian. Being thrashed 16-3 in qualifying and 11-1 in terms of race victories by Vettel doesn’t make for very enjoyable reading. Even that race victory was inherited due to Sebastian’s gearbox issues.

Even more disappointing for Webber was that in what was the best car all year he could only finish in the top two three times out of 19. In the years when Schumacher was dominating in the Ferrari, Rubens Barrichello was able to make it a 1-2 more often than not.

Whilst Vettel has managed to extract everything out of the RB7 (and quite possibly more), Mark has come nowhere near to achieving that.

Webber's only win came at the final race in Brazil (© Getty Images & Red Bull)

The main problem has been with the Pirelli tyres. He's simply struggled to make them last as long as all his key rivals have been able to. This along with a number of poor race getaways have put him on the back foot all season.

There have been some strong drives though. He recovered brilliantly from a botched start in Spa to finish second. That race included the daredevil, hands over your eyes move on Alonso through Eau Rouge. Again in Malaysia he did well to finish third despite problems with KERS for most of the race, which resulted in another of his bad starts.

His drive from 18th place in China to third was one of the performances of the season. If the race had lasted a few laps longer, it’s very conceivable he would have overtaken both his teammate and Hamilton to win the race.

8. Paul Di Resta (WDC: 13th, Best Finish: 6th in Singapore)

Considering a lack of recent single seater racing experience Di Resta was fast straight out of the box in 2011, demonstrating an abundance of natural racing talent.

Although there were a few mishaps during the year, Paul has shown that he has an incredible amount of potential, and is a star of the future. His peak performances have been very high.

He enjoyed eight points finishes during the season, which is strong for a rookie in a midfield car. If certain races had turned out differently he could have had a few more to add to that tally.

Di Resta impresses the British crowd to secure P6 in Q3 (© Sahara Force India)

His best moments included Silverstone where he produced an astonishing lap to line-up sixth on the grid. He delivered one of the drives of the season in Singapore to finish in sixth, by making full use of his strategy starting on the prime tyres.

His performance in Hungary, despite the difficult conditions, was also very strong. He did brilliantly to finish as 'best of the rest' behind the top three teams in seventh.

To be competitive alongside Sutil was very commendable, as the German is one of the most underrated drivers in the field. The main downside to Paul’s season were a few mistakes whilst going wheel to wheel with other cars. He had a slight tangle with Sebastian Buemi at Silverstone, and broke his front wing whilst overtaking Nick Heidfeld in Montreal. This was a huge shame as he was in fifth at the time and could have been in contention for a podium there.

7. Kamui Kobayashi (WDC: 12th, Best finish: 5th in Monaco)

When these top 10 lists are compiled it’s only natural that it’s the second half of the season that will dominate the mind, and heavily influence the final order.

Because Sauber fell back down the field in the second half of the season Kamui didn’t have many chances to shine in the latter races. He kind of became a forgotten man.

However in the first half of the season his performances were strong, consistent and attracted lavish praise. If you include his eighth place in Melbourne (when Sauber were disqualified for a technical infringement) he scored points in each of the first seven races of the season.

Kobayashi at his home GP in Japan (© Sauber Motorsport)

Considering the fact that Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Lotus Renault were clearly the best five cars at this point of the season, Kobayashi did brilliantly to consistently score points.

His finest moment was running in second just behind Vettel in the wet at Montreal, but slipped back as the track conditions improved.

Another strong point for Kamui was qualifying seventh in Japan. That showed that he does possess strong raw pace and not just strong race craft. Just a shame his anti-stall kicked in on race day and he couldn’t convert his grid slot into good points.

Of all the runners outside of the top four teams he finished in the points the most times (ten, again including the disqualification in Australia). However he finishes just behind Sutil in this list, as Adrian managed to get a bigger bite of the points. Four of Kamui’s points finishes were in 10th place - the final points paying position.

6. Adrian Sutil (WDC: 9th, Best finish: 6th in Germany and Brazil)

Sutil’s strong season appears to have gone unnoticed, as the media have tended to be more interested in his team mate Paul Di Resta. After the drivers from the top four teams the German driver was the best of the midfield group in the championships.

Beating his very talented rookie teammate was always going to be critical for the future of Sutil’s career, and that’s what he managed to do.

Sutil impressed to easily beat his rookie teammate (© Sahara Force India)

In qualifying he beat Di Resta 10-9 and points wise out-scored him comfortably by 42 points to 27. Achieving that was no mean feat as Di Resta endured a very impressive debut season.

Sutil’s best two races of the season came at the Nurburgring and Interlagos. At both those events he punched above the car’s weight to finish ahead of Rosberg’s Mercedes.

Throughout his career Adrian has been involved in far too many incidents. Like 2010, he has improved enormously in this area, and is now a more reliable racing driver.

Considering the Force India was on average only the sixth or seventh quickest car in the field, Sutil did well to finish in the points nine times, and in four of those races he finished in the top seven.

There is no doubt Sutil deserves a midfield car at the very least in 2012.

5. Lewis Hamilton (WDC: 5th, Best finish: 1st in China, Germany and Abu Dhabi)

By his incredibly high standards Lewis has endured his worse season in his Formula 1 career so far.

A mixture of problems within his personal life, the regulation changes, and being de-moralised at Red Bull’s pace, have all contributed to a very disappointing season for the Brit.

Despite all the silly errors he has made, his peak performances this season have still been good enough to warrant him a good ranking on this list. Also, despite a number of disappointing races he was still the second strongest qualifier in F1 this year behind Vettel with an average grid slot of 3.58.

The other key reason for his placing is that those behind him on the list haven’t set the world on fire enough, to earn a place ahead of him.

Hamilton attempts to pass Vettel in China (© Getty Images and Red Bull)

His victory in China was the best of his career. He made a three stop strategy work by producing some brilliant overtaking. At the Nurburgring he won an intense race long fight with Webber and Alonso to take a very hard fought victory there.

In Spain he pushed Vettel exceptionally hard on a track which is normally owned by Red Bull. He also did well to finish second in Melbourne on one of Red Bull’s strongest weekends.

It also can’t be forgotten that he was the only non-Red Bull driver to claim a pole position at the Korea GP. His defence against Webber in the last part of the race for second was very admirable, considering the length of the DRS zone.

It seemed as if Monaco was the place where his season unravelled. If the weekend had gone smoothly and had he won the race, you wonder whether 2011 might have turned out differently. Until then he was performing brilliantly.

If he can get his head back in the right place next year there is no reason why he can’t win a second title in 2012.

4. Nico Rosberg (WDC: 7th, Best finish: 5th in China and Turkey)

It’s still hard to know exactly what level Rosberg operates at, as he hasn’t had the car to take him to the top. Mercedes have been comfortably behind the top three teams for pretty much the whole season. However he has delivered some impressive moments in 2011 and at the same time, he has been consistent.

In qualifying he's beaten his teammate, Schumacher, 16-3. He did incredibly well to qualify third in Turkey and fourth in China. He also managed to qualify amongst the big three teams in Montreal and Spa.

Rosberg qualified 3rd in Turkey (© Mercedes GP)

The rest of the time he has mostly been qualifying in seventh place. So there is no doubting his single lap pace on 2011’s evidence. Even Schumacher had admitted that his team mate is a great qualifier. In races it has generally been more competitive between the pair. Schumacher’s race pace has been up there with Rosberg’s. However it has still been 12-7 in Nico’s favour in the races, and he ended the season with more points than Michael.

Rosberg had a stint leading the race in China, and in Spa after a very impressive opening lap. He also ran second in the early stages of the Turkish GP.

The problem for Nico in those 3 occasions was DRS. It was always very difficult for him to keep much quicker cars behind him when they could use their DRS. If it wasn’t for the drag reducing system, he might have been able to score a couple of podiums.

Overall you would have to say Rosberg has done all he could this season. He has consistently scored decent points for the team and managed to beat Schumacher again.

Furthermore there have been snippets such as his China, Turkey and Belgium, performances which show signs of a great driver if only he had the right car.

Until he gets given that great car we still won’t quite know where he stands in F1’s pecking order, but all in all he has had a decent season. He has done enough to qualify as best of the rest behind 2011’s three best performing drivers.

3. Jenson Button (WDC: 2nd, Best finish: 1st in Canada, Hungary and Japan)

Jenson has arguably had his strongest ever season in F1. He has proved beyond doubt that moving to McLaren was the right career decision for him. He seems to fit McLaren’s ideal mould for a racing driver perfectly, and in turn the team suits Jenson.

With three fine victories in 2011, superb consistency and being the first teammate to beat Hamilton, he has proven his class as a racing driver.

No question his finest hour was in Canada where he was last with 30 laps of the race to go. He brilliantly fought his way through the field and timed his moment to switch to dry tyres with perfection. His ability to make great decisions in wet/dry races won him another race in Hungary, where he elected not to put on intermediates during a mid-race shower.

Japan proved that he doesn’t need wet races to be able to win. It was his ability to nurse his tyres on a day where degradation was high, which allowed him to out-race Vettel and Alonso.

Button feels at home on a wet circuit (© McLaren)

Button should have won the Monaco GP but bad strategy by McLaren meant that he only finished third. Button was also immense in Spa coming from 13th to finish third. Had he qualified at the front it probably would have been his race to lose.

From Hungary onwards Button was very consistent finishing on the podium eight times out of nine. In those nine races Vettel only outscored him by 15 points (176 points to 161).

On the negative side you would have to say that beating Lewis was probably more down to the latter’s mixed form during the season. When both are on top form Lewis is still the quicker driver, as we witnessed in the races where Lewis was at his best.

Even though his race pace and tyre management has been exceptional he still lacks the raw pace over a single lap. If he is to challenge Vettel for the title next year this is an area he still desperately needs to improve.

Also a few of his performances in the first half of the season including China and Turkey were slightly underwhelming.

2. Fernando Alonso (WDC: 4th, Best finish: 1st in Britain)

On paper 2011 may have looked like a very poor season for Alonso, but considering his equipment it could also be described as one of his greatest.

Overall the F150º Italia was only ever the third quickest car in the field. Therefore to be in with a realistic chance for second place in the driver’s championship at the final race was a very impressive achievement. Throughout the season he has constantly out-driven the car, extracting every last possible drop of performance out of it.

Valencia was one of the tracks where Red Bull was most dominant. Despite this, Alonso did brilliantly to split the pair of them in the race and finish second. Pushing Button and Hamilton hard for victory in Japan and Abu Dhabi respectively was also mighty, especially as the development had stopped on the car by that point.

The German GP was another fine drive, when despite the cool conditions (which were tough for Ferrari with their tyre warm-up issues) he nearly managed to win the race.

Alonso's sole win came at Silverstone (© Ferrari)

Albeit helped by a mistake in the Red Bull pit box, Alonso’s victory at Silverstone was one of the most emphatic we saw from anyone during the season. If it wasn’t for the red flag he may well have won the Monaco GP, as he was pushing Vettel very hard on much fresher tyres.

Alonso was also very strong at Spa, coming back from 8th to get involved in the fight for race victory. If it hadn’t have been for a badly timed safety car he may have won there too.

He finished on the podium ten times during the season. Teammate Felipe Massa’s best finish was only fifth. It may well have been that Massa’s showings demonstrated the true performance of the Ferrari, therefore showing just what an incredible job Alonso managed to do.

It may seem unfair that Jenson didn’t get second on this list. However it was the fact that Alonso put his car in places where it didn’t deserve to be so regularly in races this year, that puts him ahead of the Brit.

If he had managed to win a couple more races it might have been enough to just pip Vettel to the top spot.

It’s amazing how much Alonso has achieved in his career, considering he has never had a car that has consistently been the best in the field.

1. Sebastian Vettel (WDC: 1st, Best finish: 1st in Australia, Malaysia, Turkey, Spain, Monaco, Europe, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Korea and India)

There is no doubt that Vettel had the best car in 2011, but it can’t be denied that he took full advantage of it, re-writing the F1 record book in the process.

In F1 you have to take your chances when they come along. For all we know it could be another ten years before he gets another car he can challenge for the title with. There have been plenty of drivers in the history of F1 who have had a good car but haven’t made the most of it.

Throughout the season the young German has been super consistent, and has showed maturity beyond his years. He never made any mistakes on a qualifying lap that cost him pole position. He has this Senna like ability to produce the perfect lap under immense pressure whenever he needs it, and can find that extra little bit of time from nowhere.

Apart from the slight slip on the last lap in Montreal that cost him the victory to Jenson, he didn’t make any major mistakes worth speaking of.

Vettel wrapped up the title early in Japan (© Getty Images and Red Bull)

The key to his season was understanding the Pirelli tyres better than any other driver. He appeared to be able to make them last longer in the races, and unlock the pace out of them immediately on a single flying lap. His driving style gelled perfectly with them... whilst others struggled.

It should also be said that the performance advantage of the RB7 wasn’t always that great. McLaren were often more competitive in race trim than Red Bull, as the RB7 was often harder on its rear tyres.

Spain, Monaco, Belgium, Korea and Monza were all races where McLaren were very strong (and could have won) but Vettel still managed to win them. In other words he won all the races he should have won, and then a few of the races he shouldn’t have. That’s the hallmark of a great champion.

At times he actually made the RB7 seem better than it actually was. You only have to look at Mark Webber’s performances in the same car to see how big the Vettel effect was.

Out of all the dominant campaigns we have witnessed in F1, Sebastian’s has to rank as one of the best. Look back at 2004 and 1992 as examples and you will see that Michael Schumacher and Nigel Mansell both had cars with a much bigger performance margin over the opposition, than Vettel has had in 2011.

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