Sunday, 20 November 2011

Who is the best driver on the grid?

Here we go, this is the big one: Who is the best driver in the world?

A hotly debated topic, and the first question to be answered: Who is the best Formula One driver in the world? Its a pleasure how difficult it is to write this article, as there are so many contenders in this fantastic array of talent we have got going on in Formula One right now. We have brilliant individuals, who all have specialities right through the grid. To be honest, I don't think there is a right answer to "Who is the best driver on the grid?" and while I will express my opinion towards the end of this piece, I believe that a fair case could be argued in favour of a number of drivers as the best on the grid.

 Vettel completes his beautiful move on Alonso
 He's won the last two world championships, taken 16 race wins and 24 pole positions in the last two years, so surely Sebastian Vettel is the best? Well, he's absolutely a contender. Vettel is a special driver, and its not often that someone with his brilliant qualifying speed and pure intelligence comes around at such a young age. And his dominance and stunning drives this year show why he has to be considered as one of the best in the world. Lots of people say "Vettel's won because of the car" and to that, I respond that without a driver, the car wouldn't leave the garage. His "nightmare" race this year was qualifying third and finishing fourth. Also, he has often been criticised for supposedly not been able to overtake, but just remember back to Monza, when he put that audacious move on Fernando Alonso on the outside of the Curva Grande at 200mph.

Hamilton brilliantly wins last weekend
 You  certainly can't discard Lewis Hamilton at McLaren. Similarly to Vettel, Hamilton entered the sport at a young age and was on it immediately, finishing runner up in his first ever year, winning four races and finishing level with his mercurial team mate Fernando Alonso. Hamilton is often described as the most exciting driver, and that's not easy to disagree with, as he provides so many amazing qualifying laps, overtakes, and tension inside the cockpit of that McLaren car. Despite a troubled, reckless season, he has still had moments of brilliance, with his stunning victory at Germany one of the highlights. Hamilton was given huge praise from his enemy-turned-friend Fernando Alonso on Thursday, saying "In fact, at the next winter testing he [Hamilton] will be the only one I'll be watching closely. The other guys can win if they've got the best car; he's the one who's able to clinch a championship with a car that's not the best." Getting praise like this from your rivals and colleagues must be brilliant for your confidence,something which Hamilton will need to take into 2012, if he is to have a better season than this year.

Button's brilliant Canadian victory
 And then there's Hamilton's McLaren team mate, Jenson Button. The 2009 world champion has been in excellent form this year, and is certain to beat Hamilton in the championship standings. I would definitely say that Button is the best driver for managing his tyres, as he has displayed on numerous occasions, he has the ability to manage his tyres and preserve them better than his team mate. Sometimes this can translate into less pace, but this season that's not been an issue as Button continues to improve his qualifying and race pace. Another thing is his performance in mixed conditions, so much so that four of Button's five McLaren race wins have been in wet/dry conditions, at tough tracks to master, Melbourne, China, Canada and Hungary. Button is a world class driver, and certainly one of the best in the world.

Alonso's fantastic 2nd place in Japan
 When discussing the greatest driver in the world, you simply cannot ignore Fernando Alonso. The Ferrari driver is a stunning driver, and always rings every last bit out of his Ferrari, even when it is completely uncompetitive, like this season, and get brilliant results. Alonso very rarely makes errors, and will never give up. Remember his stunning last stints at Japan and Korea, where he put in qualifying lap after qualifying lap to chase down Jenson Button on both occasions. He also has the ability in qualifying, even though he doesn't seem to be the sort of driver oozing with raw speed. His ability over one lap was proven in Barcelona this year, where he somehow found a second in Q3, beating a McLaren to qualify fourth. Alonso later described the lap as "perfect", while Alonso's race engineer Andrea Stella stated it was a "very, very special lap." What for me makes Alonso one of the best is that, as he said about Lewis Hamilton this week, able to do brilliant things in mediocre cars. His driving this year has been sublime, as he has wrestled the dire Ferrari to ten podiums this season. The feisty Spaniard has also been nailing the starts this season, taking the lead from fourth on the grid at both Monza and Barcelona this year.

The two Mercedes drivers are evenly matched right now
 I would say those are the main four people I would consider as "the best", but lets continue, and start by having a look at the Mercedes drivers. Currently involved in a titanic intra-team battle going into the season finale next weekend, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher have been far more evenly matched in Schumacher's second season of his comeback. Rosberg is a young, talented and fresh driver, who is thrashing Schumacher in qualifying sessions, and is very error-free in his driving. He can be brilliant over one lap as well, qualifying third at Turkey this year. Schumacher is beginning to get the upper hand though, and has performed very well at the "traditional" tracks, like Spa, Monza, Suzuka and Montreal. He is often believed to be the greatest of all time, and this season we have seen flashes of the old Schumacher, not least his brilliant drive from last to fifth in Belgium, and his fabulous performance in the wet at Canada. His defending is top notch as well, as he proved at Monza when he kept possibly the best overtaker in the world, Lewis Hamilton, behind him for nearly 30 laps. Both Germans are very very good drivers, and this intra-team battle will be very interesting in 2012.

Mark Webber and Felipe Massa - F1 Grand Prix of Italy
Webber and Massa collide in Italy

We can't ignore Mark Webber and Felipe Massa, who are both race winners in their own right. Webber is a fantastic overtaker, and performed a breathtaking move on Fernando Alonso up Eau Rouge at Belgium this year. He is very good over one lap as well, taking three pole positions this year. His greatest career achievement must be his sensational victory at Monaco last year, where he led every lap on his way to a memorable win. As for Massa, well, like Webber he is been thoroughly beaten by his team mate this year, but he can still perform. The Brazilian qualified third at Canada this year, and beat Alonso in Malaysia and China. Also, in Canada, Massa passed Kamui Kobayashi on the last straight.

There are still plenty of other very talented drivers further down the grid. Though he isn't racing this year due to injury, Robert Kubica is a world class driver, who gets everything out of his car. Force India currently have a very talented pair, as German Adrian Sutil is a class driver, and young Scot Paul di Resta has had a very impressive debut season. Lets not discount Sauber either, who's pair of youngsters Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi have brilliant speed, and are great overtakers. Both prospects for the future, they have both excelled with managing their tyres this season. Someone else with great promise is Jaime Alguersuari, who is driving brilliantly in the Toro Rosso right now. There is an excellent plethora of talent on this grid, which is surely a "golden era" for Formula One.

My top three men
 So, I've come to the end of this article, and its time to answer the question. I think the top four are Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso and Button in no particular order. And if I had to eliminate one from those four, I would say Jenson Button. He's a great driver, but I would just put the other three ahead of him. Which leaves me with my three best drivers in Formula One: Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, and Lewis Hamilton. Three entirely different drivers, all with different strengths and weaknesses, but all possessing one thing: An abundance of pure talent. They're all world champions, all from different teams, and all different ages. If you could have Vettel's qualifying speed, Hamilton's overtaking, and Alonso's intelligence, you would have the greatest driver ever. However, these three are phenomenal drivers, and brilliant individuals. So its time to make a decision.

And this is it: Fernando Alonso. I believe the Spaniard is the most complete driver, and can do so much. With Alonso, it is all about the man behind the wheel, and he can get himself into positions he shouldn't be in. Up until this weekend, I was saying Vettel was the best. And its so hard to call. The three of them are superb drivers, and this was such a tough decision to make. But I think Fernando Alonso is the best driver on the grid.

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