Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The top ten drives of 2011

Now it's time to look at the best ten single drives of the season, and as always please do leave your thoughts in the comments.

The next edition of my season review is focusing on individual drives. Not just race wins, this article looks at the ten best single drives of the year, and features some unusual, and hopefully interesting choices. Interestingly, the top ten are shared by just five drivers.

Qualifying: 4th Race: 5th
Yes, Alonso finished fifth and a lap down. Yes, he was nowhere near the leaders. But Alonso had a superb weekend, driving amazingly at his home race. It all started with qualifying, and Alonso produced a Q3 lap he described as "perfect" and his "best ever" to split the McLarens and take fourth on the grid after finding a second on his Q2 time. Then the race started, and he got away well. He used all of his KERS, and brilliantly used the slipstream, moving from side to side as he overtook Webber and Vettel to take the lead of the race. This was the start of the year, and some brilliant racecraft which earnt him a spot in the best overtakes of the season article. He held the lead up until Lap 18, when Sebastian Vettel took the lead from him in the pit stops. Alonso soon faded when his car gave up, and was just not quick enough. Somehow, he managed to keep Mark Webber behind him until Lap 39, when he made his final stop. When he put the hard tyres on, the Ferrari was a different animal and it just had no pace, Alonso losing so much time. Heroically, he managed to re pass Webber for fourth. However, that wasn't going to last, and despite a flawless drive, Alonso finished fifth and a lap down.

Qualifying: Pole Race: Win
Sebastian Vettel knew nothing about the Indian circuit, and had never driven on it before, like every other driver, as the teams arrived for the inaugral Indian Grand Prix. He looked brilliant all weekend long, and set a brilliant pole position, by three tenths of a second with a stunning lap. He made a good start to hold the lead, and then set about defending from Button, Webber and Alonso. Although there were times when Button got close, Vettel never looked troubled, and amazingly led every lap, after setting pole position and the fastest lap, this was his first perfect result. BBC Formula One pundit Eddie Jordan stated that he thought this drive was the best of the year, but for me its only ninth, despite Vettel being truly wonderful around the New Delhi circuit. Vettel was totally dominant in India, taking the victory by eight seconds in a typically comfortable but excellent Vettel win.

Qualifying: Pole Race: Win
If his previous entry on this list was all about the dominance, then this one was about racecraft, skill, bravery and oppurtunism. But that's for the race. First of all, qualifying. A sublime lap got Vettel pole, and then he pleased the fans with some skidding on his cool down lap. So with this pole position, on Red Bull's worst track, he had asserted himself as one of the greats of the sport. Vettel got a reasonable start, but no-one expected the fast starting Alonso to usurp the German and take the lead from fourth on the grid. Vettel could have got angry and irrational, but he didn't. Instead, he carried on, and waited for an oppurtunity. The first few laps were under the safety car after a Turn One incident, and virtually as soon as the race got underway again, Vettel had a look at Alonso into Turn One. It didn't come off, so he bided his time, and went around the outside of the Curva Grande at 200mph, putting two wheels on the grass as he made the best overtake of the season, taking the lead of the Grand Prix. The move was simply breathtaking, and there was no-one from there on who was going to challenge Vettel. He dominated again, comfortably winning his second Italian Grand Prix, in one of his finest drives of the year.

Qualifying: 3rd Race: Win
After two front row starts in the first two races, Lewis Hamilton may have being somewhat disappointed to have qualified third, being beaten by his team mate for the first time this year. Hamilton then faced a stressful situation before the start of the race, with a problem on his car causing the McLaren mechanics to furiously work at it, to try and get him out on the grid, otherwise he would start from the pit lane. Hamilton finally got to the grid, and lined up third, but if he had set off for the grid just thirty five seconds later, he would've had to start from the pit lane. However, he got away well, and moved up into 2nd behind his team mate, after Sebastian Vettel had a very slow start. Hamilton was now up to 2nd. However, just before the pit stops both Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa passed Hamilton, and with Rosberg taking the lead at the stops, Hamilton was in a disappointing fifth. After Massa and Vettel pitted, Hamilton was up to 3rd, which became 2nd when he put one of the best overtakes of the season on his team mate into Turn One, narrowly avoiding contact. After his third stop, he passed Rosberg for 3rd, and hunted down Massa and Vettel, who's two-stop strategy, as opposed to Hamilton's three, had given them the first two positions. On Lap 44, Hamilton took Massa, and was now lapping a second faster than Vettel, with not long to go. With four laps to go, Hamilton went up the inside of Turn Seven, deploying his KERS to take the lead. He held it, and took victory with a totally wonderful drive, one of Hamilton's best ever.

Qualifying: 2nd Race: Win
Sebastian Vettel had just come off the back of winning the World Championship in Japan, with his third place. He therefore would have been surprised to be beaten to pole position by Lewis Hamilton, the first time he had being defeated since Hungary, and the first and only non Red Bull pole all season. Hamilton and Vettel both got good starts, and they kept their position. However, Vettel made a very oppurtunistic move on Hamilton, into Turn Four, deploying KERS to take the lead. From there, he never looked back. By the end of Lap Five, he had a lead of 1.5 seconds, and was coasting. Even when the pit stops came about, no-one was anywhere near him. Vettel led all but two laps, when he came in for his stop, and took a very comfortable but very impressive win, his tenth of the year. He was very happy on the radio after the race, more than making up for his failure to finish in the previous Korean Grand Prix. One of my interviewees, Jack Leslie, stated that he thought Vettel's Korean win was his best out of all eleven in the season. It was up there, and for me, the sixth best drive of the year.

Qualifying: 8th Race: 4th
Michael Schumacher has taken so much criticism since his comeback to Formula One, but this was a fantastic weekend for Schumi. He took eighth on the grid, which is about what he would've expected to get, with the Mercedes being the fourth quickest car. After a few laps behind the safety car due to very wet conditions, the race properly got away, and Schumacher inherited a position when Mark Webber was soun around at Turn Two. He was up to sixth soon, and Lewis Hamilton tried an overtaking move on him at the hairpin, but it failed to come off. After Hamilton's retirement, he was now in fifth, just behind his team mate. Schumacher noticed that Jenson Button was lapping quickly on intermediate tyres, so pitted for them. However, this didn't work, as a rainstorm suddenly hit the track, forcing him to pit for wet tyres again. The race was shortly red flagged, and Schumacher was twelfth. When the race restarted, Schumacher instantly pitted for intermediate tyres, and started setting fast times. Schumacher had gained positions with collisions, and passed Vitaly Petrov and Mark Webber for fifth and sixth soon. He then passed Heidfeld, before making a brilliant move into the hairpin on Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi at the same time, to take 2nd place. Schumacher stayed 2nd behind Vettel after his pit stop, and as the race began to draw to a close, Webber and Button were chasing him down. Schumacher defended well, but unfortunately, the ultra-powerful DRS meant that the two got past him, demoting him to fourth, Schumacher was helpless. He finished fourth, but it was a stunning drive from Schumacher, and easily the best since his comeback.

Qualifying: 7th Race: Win
Who can forget Jenson Button's incredible drive at Canada? After two impressive races in Spain and Monaco, he knew this was a chance. It was not Red Bull's best track by a long way, and McLaren took a one-two in Canada in 2010. However, qualifying was quite disappointing for Button, with 7th on the grid not what he was expecting or hoping for. The race started in incredibly wet conditions, the type Button relishes and is strong in. Button moved into sixth after Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber came together at Turn Two, before Hamilton passed his team mate. Button didn't have to wait long to regain it though - Hamilton went wide at the hairpin, allowing Button back into sixth position. Going onto the start finish line on Lap Seven, Hamilton tried to pass Button, but the two came together, in a heavy collision which put Hamilton out of the race. Button later claimed he couldn't see Hamilton with the spray. Button decided to pit for intermediates on a drying track, but soon had to pit again, for a drive-thru' penalty, not for the Hamilton collision, but for speeding behind the pit lane, which dropped him to eighteenth. Button was running fast on the intermediate tyres, but a heavy rainstorm meant he had to pit again for wet tyres. Button was tenth when the race was red flagged, and when virtually everyone decided to pit for intermediates, Button came together with another driver. He tried to pass Fernando Alonso in the first chicane, but they came together, putting Alonso out of the race, and giving Button a puncture. Later, Button pitted early for slicks, and he was very fast, soon moving up into seventh place. He then passed Heidfeld and Kobayashi, and was into fifth, and flying. When Felipe Massa crashed, Button was up to fourth, which created a three-way battle for 2nd, between Michael Schumacher, Mark Webber, and Button. When Webber cut the chicane trying to pass Schumacher, Button capitalised, bravely moving onto the wet line with an excellent overtake, and he was now into 3rd place. Schumacher was dispatched with quickly, and Button now set about Vettel. He was closing at a rapid rate, and set the fastest lap on the penultimate lap. As they started the last lap, Button was a second behind. At Turn Six, Vettel went wide, putting two wheels on the grass, allowing Button through. Button won on the last lap, with a totally unbelievable drive. It was such a romantic and special performance, and certainly Button's sweetest ever victory.

Qualifying: 3rd Race: Win
After a 2nd place at Valencia, Ferrari seemed to have taken a step forward since their early season woes. The banning of the exhaust blown diffuser, just for this race, was expected to thwart Red Bull. However, they still locked out the front row, with Alonso just a tenth shy of Mark Webber's pole time. Alonso stayed third at the start, and stayed in sight of the Red Bulls. Just before the stops, 2nd placed Mark Webber had a terrible lap where he went wide twice. This cost him badly. On Lap 27, race leader Vettel entered the pit lane with Alonso just behind him. An uncharacteristic error from the Red Bull pit crew meant one of the wheels wouldn't go on properly. This allowed Alonso to take the lead of the race. From that moment, he flew. Alonso set qualifying lap after qualifying lap, to pull out a massive lead over the Red Bulls and Hamilton, not putting a foot wrong as he won by sixteen seconds, with an absolutely sublime drive. It was certainly Alonso's best drive of the year, and could be even higher on this list, with the Spaniard producing an immense performance.

Qualifying: Pole Race: Win
With former Monaco winners Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button, Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton all on the grid, you could have forgiven Sebastian Vettel for wanting to win the Monaco Grand Prix the most out of any race. This became apparent with his flawless weekend. It began on Saturday, Vettel taking pole in the principality, beating Jenson Button by four tenths of a second. But with Button, Webber and Alonso just behind him, the start was crucial. And Vettel got away brilliantly, leading Button and Alonso off the line, leading by an impressive 2.4 seconds at the end of the first lap. Vettel continued to build a lead and was well ahead when he came in for his first pit stop on Lap 16. The stop was very slow, and the team put the wrong tyres on, with the prime tyres now on Vettel's car, as opposed to the desired option compound. Vettel had lost the lead to Button because of this pit error, but resumed it again when Button pitted on Lap 33. The usual thing now would be for Vettel to cover this, and pit, but instead he came on the radio saying "Lets do a one stop." This was an incredibly unusual strategy, and would require a sensational drive if it was to give him victory. He would have to make the tyres go over 60 laps, when they were designed to do 40, at maximum. Vettel held the lead, despite these prime tyres being completely shot, and defended brilliantly from Alonso and Button. A heavy crash for Vitaly Petrov on Lap 72 brought the red flag out while he was extracted from the car. During the red flag period, the teams were allowed to change the tyres. Vettel did this and put on a set of super soft tyres for the last six laps. Some say he was gifted the victory, but this was an exceptional drive, and one of the best I have ever seen.

Qualifying: 2nd Race: Win
After a hectic British Grand Prix, this was a huge race for Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren looked really strong in the first sector, and Hamilton was the fastest man on Saturday. However, the middle sector was Red Bull territory, and Mark Webber was four tenths quicker than him in that sector. The third sector at the Nurburgring is just a makeshift chicane, followed by the pit straight, not a place you would expect to find or lose time. However, Hamilton set a blistering lap to qualify just five hunderedths of a second behind Webber, and on the front row of the grid. I honestly do believe that it was Hamilton's best ever qualifying lap, a really superb effort. And Hamilton took advantage of Mark Webber's slow start to lead the first lap. Just before the first round of stops, Hamilton made an error and ran wide at the chicane allowing Mark Webber to take the lead. However, this didn't last long, as Hamilton made a brilliant move coming into Turn One to re take the lead in one of the best overtakes of the season. Hamilton lost the lead again though, when Mark Webber pitted first of the top three, and took the lead. Hamilton was now second, in between Webber and Alonso. However, Hamilton took Webber at the second round of stops, defending Webber's move into Turn Two. However, Fernando Alonso surprised everyone, by getting into the lead at the stops, with his later visit to the pits. Nevertheless, this was only momentarily as Hamilton carried out one of the most memorable overtakes of the season, passing Alonso around the outside of Turn Two. He made his final pit stop, and won the race, with an exceptional drive, the best of the season.

These just missed out...
Michael Schumacher in Belgium
Paul di Resta in Singapore
Mark Webber in China
Sebastian Vettel in Australia, Spain, Singapore
Fernando Alonso in Japan
Sergio Perez in Australia

Browse all season review articles


  1. Hamilton drive in Germany was fantastic but Jenson's Canada drive was easily the best of the season! Alonso's Britian drive is too high in the list for my reasons on Twitter ;)

  2. I'd disagree quite strongly, I must admit.

    Here is my top 10:

    10. Vettel - Europe
    9. Vettel - Korea
    8. Schumacher - Canada
    7. Vettel - Monza
    6. Hamilton - Germany
    5. Alonso - Britain
    4. Vettel - India
    3. Vettel - Spain
    2. Hamilton - China
    1. Button - Canada

    There's probably a fair amount of Mclaren bias, but quite how you can put Vettel's drive in Monaco anywhere near the top is suprising. That win came down pretty much entirely due to luck, and Alonso deserved that win much more.

    In contrast, Vettel's defense of Hamilton in Spain was first class as were his dominant victories in Korea, India and Europe. Schumi's drive in Canada showed us that perhpas there is some of the old magic still there.

    Hamilton's Germany drive was very good, but it wasn't the best. Alonso's British victory was pretty special and so that is high up.

    Hamilton's overtaking in China was sublime. In terms of overtaking in one single grand prix, Lewis has to get it for that.

    Button in Canada, well, I can't see how it can be anything but no.1. Six times through the pit lane, covering pretty much every position there was. Yes, he created his problems, and yes he was assisted by the safety car, but the way he picked that Mclaren up from what looked to be a dismal weekend for Mclaren into a race winning weekend was by far the most impressive display of the year, in my opinion.

  3. And I'd like to add that this is about the best drives, and therefore should not include qualifying performance :P

  4. Vettel's drive in Monaco was sensational, defending lap after lap from two of the best drivers in the world, in faster cars, with much much better tyres, on the hardest circuit in the world. Interestingly, three of my season review interviewees thought Monaco was Vettel's best drive.

    Button's drive in Canada was amazing, and really really special. The only reason its not as high as some may have expected is that the DRS made overtaking easy at times for him, and more importantly, there were the needless collisions with Hamilton and Alonso.

  5. But Monaco isn't exactly the hardest track to defend on :P

  6. I think Canada should of been way up there, and where was Hungary for JB?!? that was a great raec! Number 1 for me would defo be Canada JB :) And what about Schumacher Belgium? 24th to 5th?! :) good though!

  7. @awittyweasel It is when your tyres are completely smashed, and you've got possibly the best driver in the world behind you.

    @JackLeslieF1 Hungary wasn't anywhere near the Top 10 for me, good drive but not great. The Schumi drive was really great, but didn't quite make it.

  8. @ awittyweasel There is no way Fernando's Britian drive is anywhere near Hamilton's Germany drive! His Germany drive(coming from a Lewis fan here) was in my opinion way better than his China drive. His mind was in the right place all weekend and his pace was incredible to the pace of JB.

    @ JackLeslieF1 JB's race in Hungary was good but the only reason why he won is because he made a better decision on tyres on 2 occasions compared to Lewis. Good decision and decent drive on his 200th GP.

    @ Daniel Good article by the way!

  9. @LewisWDC, yeh, perhaps you're right about Germany/Britain

    What is clear is that JB's Canada drive should be at the top though, eh? ;)

  10. @awittyweasel Yes for sure! Jenson was fantastic that Sunday in Canada. Best drive and race I've ever seen.