- ESPNF1's driver of the year
Sebastian Vettel: The golden boyLaurence Edmondson December 20, 2010
Six drivers led the championship during the 19-race 2010 season, four of which were still in the running at the final round. There were so many ifs, buts and maybes throughout the year that it would be easy to make an argument for any of the title contenders to be crowned driver of the year, even before the likes of Robert Kubica in less competitive cars are considered. But when ESPNF1 asked a panel of contributors (including Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Frank Williams, Gerard Lopez, Tonio Liuzzi and Sam Bird) for their top three drivers of the year, one man came out conclusively on top...
1. Sebastian Vettel
After winning the championship he may seem like the obvious choice, but 10 pole positions and five victories are hard to argue against. To prove that point, F1 legends Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart and Sir Frank Williams all put him at the top of their rankings along with two thirds of the panel. For Moss it was "sheer speed" that made him stand out from the crowd, while GP2 star Sam Bird - also ranking Vettel as No.1 - said: "It was just an amazing performance." There were low points along the way, but overall Vettel was a deserving world champion and ESPNF1's driver of the year. Read Vettel's reaction.
2. Fernando Alonso
In keeping with the championship positions, ESPNF1's panel put Fernando Alonso at No.2. His fight back in the second half of the year was hugely impressive and in Abu Dhabi he was the only man really capable of denying the dominant Red Bulls the title. However, mistakes on the startline in China, during final practice in Monaco and towards the end of the Belgian Grand Prix stick in the mind, not to mention the controversy surrounding his victory at the German Grand Prix. However, like him or loathe him, you have to respect him and he featured in all but five of the panel members' top three.
The dark horse of 2010, Robert Kubica took votes across the board in recognition of his outstanding performances in Australia, Monaco, Belgium and Japan, where he either qualified or finished much higher than his Renault deserved to be. On every circuit where a driver could steal an advantage he did so and he finished eighth in the championship, nipping at the heels of Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa. Renault majority shareholder Gerard Lopez, who unsurprisingly voted Kubica as No.1, said: "The only mistake I can remember him making over the entire season was spinning out of qualifying in Brazil. That's it in 19 races! So that's a pretty phenomenal record."
4. Lewis Hamilton
Probably the most exciting driver of 2010, Lewis Hamilton just edged fourth place ahead of Mark Webber by virtue of being voted No.1 by fellow driver Tonio Liuzzi. He battled hard in the early races, suffering from bad luck in qualifying but storming through the field in the races. By mid-season he found his rhythm and beat the Red Bulls fair and square in Turkey and Canada. His consistency was mightily impressive and had it not been for mechanical failures in Spain and Hungary, he would have scored at all of the first 13 rounds and been leading by a considerable margin after his final victory in Belgium. But errors while attempting to overtake in Italy and Singapore blotted his copybook and McLaren's stuttering development in the final races put an end to his challenge. Nevertheless, he still came second on Sir Frank Williams' list and Sir Stirling Moss - who put him third - said: "If he'd been in a Red Bull this year it would have been a different story".
5. Mark Webber
The Australian was a popular choice on the panel, but tellingly did not top anybody's list. Up until the final race of the season he remained a favourite for the title, but mistakes in Korea and a botched strategy in Abu Dhabi proved very costly. He convinced himself that Red Bull was favouring Sebastian Vettel, but channelled his frustration positively and put in a defiant performance at the British Grand Prix to beat his team-mate fair and square. He was third on Sir Jackie Stewart's list and Sir Stirling Moss named him as the most improved driver of 2010.
6. Nico Rosberg
Going up against Michael Schumacher at a team run by Ross Brawn was an unenviable task at the start of the season, yet Nico Rosberg rose to the occasion. In reality he had very little to lose as all the media attention was on the other side of the garage and Rosberg was left to get on with his job in relative peace. By the time the chequered flag fell in Abu Dhabi he had scored nearly double the points of his team-mate and featured on the podium three times in a car that Brawn admitted was far from perfect. If Mercedes can deliver a better package next year there is little doubt among our panel that Rosberg has the talent to deliver victories.
With 32 points he was statistically the best rookie of 2011, but it was his flamboyant driving style that really caught the eye of our panel. He could often be relied upon to provide entertainment, and despite only qualifying in the top ten four times, he often turned unconventional strategies into points. Vitaly Petrov and Nico Hulkenberg also picked up votes, but Kobayashi was the resounding favourite.
On the ESPNF1 panel: Sir Stirling Moss (motor racing legend and ESPNF1 columnist), Sir Jackie Stewart (three-time world champion), Sir Frank Williams (nine-time constructors' champion), Gerard Lopez (RenaultF1's majority shareholder), Tonio Liuzzi (Force India race driver and ESPNF1 columnist), Sam Bird (GP2 race winner and ESPNF1 columnist), Mark Sutton (F1 photographer and ESPNF1 columnist), Martin Williamson (ESPN managing editor), Alex Livie (ESPN.co.uk editor), Laurence Edmondson (ESPNF1 deputy editor), Fraser Masefield (ESPNF1 contributor), CI Sport Agency (ESPNF1.fr editor), Daniel Bastien (ESPNF1.fr contributor), Jonathan Hungin (ESPN product manager), Deepak Gulati (ESPN content manager).
Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1