End-of-season driver rankings: #22-12

Well, the season is well and truly over, and we have now had over two weeks to digest the happenings. It is high time I gave the season a thorough review, starting with my opinion on all of the drivers.

First off, I should point out that I think the standard of driving was exceptionally high in the 2008 Formula 1 season. It was the first time in history that all of the teams on the grid kept the same drivers all season.

Even Nelsinho Piquet, who was almost universally derided early on in the season, has clung on to his seat and will even continue to race for Renault next season. Indeed, I think that almost all of the 2008 season’s drivers deserve to remain in F1, with the possible exception of David Coulthard who has retired anyway.

So it is a tough job to rank all of the drivers, and inevitably I have had to make some tough choices that will no doubt surprise some. Without further ado, here is the first part of my driver rankings.

The first number in brackets denotes a driver’s placing in my mid-season rankings. The second number denotes his placing in last year’s rankings.

22. Anthony Davidson (20; 23)

Poor Anthony Davidson has never really had a proper chance to demonstrate his talents as a race driver, always being lumbered with inferior machinery. But at the same time, he has had a handful of chances to prove why he should be given a better chance, and he has never taken them. He was not demonstrably better than his Super Aguri team mate Takuma Sato, and I struggle to see why he should expect to get a race seat with a better team, particularly with so many youngsters waiting in the wings.

21. Takuma Sato (19; 14)

Like Davidson, Takuma Sato had little opportunity to show what he is made of this season. However, I place him above the Brit because I maintain that Sato is a better driver than Davidson, a subject I covered in this post.

20. Giancarlo Fisichella (22; 16)

I have to say that I’m now struggling to see why Fisichella deserves to stay in F1. I always thought that Force India were wrong to hire him, and I can’t say I’ve seen anything this season that’s made me eat humble pie. On the contrary, his ridiculously dangerous driving into the first corner in Turkey would have seen a less well-respected driver receive a ban. Yuji Ide lost his super license for less.

In fairness, it can’t be easy to shine in what is undoubtedly the worst car on the grid. But he rarely showed what he is made of. Perhaps most worryingly, his best results all came at the start of the season. Fisichella began to look more and more jaded as the season wore on.

Fisichella’s one and only main achievement of the season is to make it into Q2 for the Italian Grand Prix. He qualified an impressive 12th, but he has the weather to thank for that as much as anything else.

19. Adrian Sutil (17; 15)

As with his Force India team mate, I’m struggling to see why Adrian Sutil should remain in Formula 1. Some people say he is supremely talented. And while it’s true that it’s difficult to show your talent in the dogs that Sutil has driven during his two years in Formula 1, the fact is that he shows no signs of moving up the ladder.

His showing in Monaco was highly impressive, whether or not he deserved to be as high up as 5th position (having overtaken some cars under yellows). That is the reason I have placed him above Fisichella. But besides that, Sutil has remained anonymous, and I doubt whether he truly deserves a third year in F1 when there are drivers that we know are talented and are being wasted as test drivers.

18. David Coulthard (14; 11)

DC had a tough final season, as it seemed as though he simply couldn’t stop crashing. It was a blunder-heavy season for DC, and there is no question that a number of his crashes were of his own making. It’s sad to say it, but his rustiness this season makes it look like he stayed in F1 just a season too long.

The season was not without its highs though, and the podium finish in Canada was a flash of the talented driver we came to know over the previous decade or so. You can question whether or not he deserved that podium, but there is no question that he totally outshone his team mate Mark Webber during that weekend, albeit not across the rest of the season.

17. Nelsinho Piquet (18; -)

There is no escaping the fact that Nelsinho Piquet failed to consistently meet the standard expected of him. Whether that is because he has to live up to his father’s name (literally), or we have heightened expectations of what a rookie can achieve after Hamilton, or Piquet is simply just crap, is something we can only find out after another season.

That is why I agree with Renault’s decision to keep Piquet on for one more season. For while he had a number of rather embarrassing blunders scattered throughout the season, he did manage to impress on occasion. The 2nd place in Germany, although slightly lucky, showed that he has the maturity not to throw away a good result when the opportunity arises. Meanwhile, his 4th place finish in Japan was almost forgotten under the celebrations of Alonso’s victory. By no means was Piquet’s season a washout, which is why he deserves another year.

16. Jenson Button (15; 7)

Last year I was impressed by Button’s ability to grab a few decent results in that dog of a Honda car, compared with Barrichello’s slightly heel-dragging demeanour. This year, the roles have been reversed. Button finished in the points just once all season in what was an otherwise depressingly anonymous season for the Brit.

15. Kazuki Nakajima (12; 21)

Nakajima impressed many this season with his ability to quietly collect the points on a fairly consistent basis. While his team mate Nico Rosberg is flashier, he is also more accident-prone.

That is not to say that Nakajima has kept his nose clean all season. But for a significant portion of the season, the pair were separated by only 1 or 0 points. Considering Rosberg is supposed to be one of the hottest drivers around, while Nakajima is meant to be another crap Japanese driver who is only there to pay for the engines, that’s not bad going at all. Sure, Rosberg finished a good eight points ahead in the end, but whether he deserved quite as many points as he got in Singapore is highly doubtful.

14. Nico Rosberg (13; 8)

Nico Rosberg had an okay season. He did lose a worryingly high number of front wings. But he also gained a couple of podiums, which is not exactly to be sniffed at.

But next season will be a make or break year for Rosberg. Mediocre machinery or not, the fact is that observers are still in the dark as to whether or not Rosberg is genuinely talented enough to ever be a regular front-runner. After three seasons, Rosberg needs to start showing why he deserves a 4th and a 5th season, because his record as it stands isn’t quite enough in my view.

13. Sébastien Bourdais (21; -)

In retrospect, my mid-season verdict on Sébastien Bourdais is extremely harsh. There is no question that during the first half of the season he failed to meet up to expectations. That was despite an extremely strong showing at the Australian Grand Prix where he was set to finish in 4th position.

The second half of his season was significantly stronger. The only reason he didn’t get the results was because of a barrage of bad luck. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for the Frenchman as he choked back the tears recounting the final lap of the Belgian Grand Prix, where he was set to finish 4th, only to struggle with grip on dry tyres in wet conditions. And we can only speculate as to what he could have achieved in Italy had his engine not stalled. This man deserves another year in F1, if only so that we can see for real what he is capable of.

12. Rubens Barrichello (10; 20)

What an improvement Barrichello has made on the 2007 season. Last year, Barry was beginning to look past it. This season, despite driving one of the very worst cars on the grid, it has looked like the Brazilian has had a renewed vigour.

A podium finish in very tough conditions in Silverstone that made mincemeat of his compatriot title contender, Felipe Massa, is testament to that. What a shame that the Honda 8 ball doesn’t appear to have noticed this! In my book, the most experienced driver in F1 history deserves to become even more experienced.

My top 11 drivers of the season will be published later this week.

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