Better late than never. I have finally got the chance to tap out the final part of my end-of-season driver rankings, although I am currently being distracted by the live web stream of the Race of Champions. Hopefully I’ll stay coherent enough for this section of my rankings to make sense. So here goes.
11. Heikki Kovalainen (9; 6)
I have found myself becoming increasingly disillusioned with Heikki Kovalainen. Not so long ago he looked like a star of the future. Now I think Kovalainen simply does not know how to win a race. His one and only victory came in Hungary — but he did not deserve it, having inherited P1 as a result of Felipe Massa’s engine expiry.
Kovalainen may well complain that the McLaren team has focussed all of its efforts on Lewis Hamilton, particularly when it came to fuel loads in qualifying. That is true. But even taking this into account, I can’t help feeling that Kovalainen has been a major disappointment this season. In what was arguably the fastest car on the grid, Kovalainen finished just 7th in the Drivers Championship, behind both Ferraris, both BMWs and a Reanult. You can’t lie all of that at the door of having one or two laps extra fuel on board during qualifying.
Most of all, I feel that Kovalainen simply does not have that extra drive that it takes to win a race. I struggle to think of many moments during the season when I was particularly impressed with him. Indeed, I can think of a number of blunders — among them the moment during the Australian GP when he gifted Fernando Alonso a position by accidentally hitting the pitlane speed limiter at the start of the main straight. And he was totally hoodwinked by better drivers at least twice during the season. Double-overtakes initiated by Massa in Canada and Heidfeld at Silverstone particularly stick in my mind.
10. Jarno Trulli (7; 17)
This time last year I had almost totally written off Jarno Trulli. Having achieved little throughout his F1 career, he appeared consigned to midfield anonymity, with his greatest legacy to the sport remaining the dreaded Trulli Train.
However, I have to say that I have been quite impressed with Trulli this season. He appears to have made a mini-resurgence. Although he will never be able to count himself among the very best drivers on the grid, he has scored a number of impressive results this season.
A lot of this may be down to the improved Toyota car. But even so, I think there have been a number of times this season when Trulli has excelled, particularly when he finished 3rd at the French Grand Prix.
9. Mark Webber (4; 10)
The first half of the season in particular was a very strong one for Mark Webber. The Australian has been hit by far more than his fair share of bad luck throughout his career, but at the start of this season, with a competitive Red Bull car underneath him, it finally looked like things were going his way. From Malaysia through to Monaco, Webber scored five points finishes in a row, a career record.
Unfortunately, mid-way through the season his Renault-powered Red Bull car lost much of its advantage and the second half of the season returned far less, with just a handful of 8th place finishes. At least he can say he totally outclassed his team mate David Coulthard this season.
8. Timo Glock (16; -)
After a slightly underwhelming start to the season, Timo Glock finally began to fulfil his promise more towards the end. The first sign of life came with a 4th place finish in Canada, a very strong result at a tricky circuit.
A huge crash at Hockenheim was a worrying moment, but from then on Glock has finished in the points more often than he hasn’t. A second place at Hungary, immediately after the German GP, was a particular high point. And his 4th place finish at Singapore is certainly not to be sniffed at either.
Glock appears this high on my list mostly as a result of the second half of his season. After his abortive first shot at F1 at the struggling Jordan team way back in 2004 — when, to be frank, he wasn’t ready — Glock has had a second spell as a rookie. Now the 2007 GP2 Champion looks set to have a creditable career in motor racing’s top flight.
7. Kimi Räikkönen (2; 1)
Kimi Räikkönen’s oddly scruffy season has been widely-commented on. The season started off reasonably strongly, with four podiums in the first five races, including two wins. From that point onwards, though, it all came unstuck thanks to a combination of horrendously bad luck and unusually unfocused driving.
The first warning sign came with a dire performance during the Monaco Grand Prix, culminating in a hugely unpopular crash into Adrian Sutil. Then came a run of bad luck. He was taken out of the Canadian Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton crashed into him in the pitlane. Then an unusual exhaust failure put paid to his hopes for a win in France. In the following race in Britain, his Ferrari struggled in the wet conditions. At Valencia he left the pitlane with the fuel hose still attached. As if that wasn’t enough, his engine blew a few laps later.
Amid this run of bad luck, the Finn lacked focus, appearing to lose his motivation. The only stand-out performance was in Belgium, and he even ended that race by crashing. A number of needless mistakes ensured that World Champion was in no shape to defend his title.
6. Nick Heidfeld (6; 4)
Unquestionably, Nick Heidfeld struggled this season in comparison to his BMW team mate. The German did particularly poorly in qualifying, with the finger of blame pointed at the difficult of getting heat into the tyres. To Heidfeld’s immense credit, he worked hard on fixing this problem and things very much began to look up in the second half of the season.
Even so, when you look at Heidfeld’s results, even at the start of the season they are extremely impressive. Four 2nd place finishes and a clutch of strong points finishes ensured that Heidfeld finished a creditable 6th in the Drivers’ Championship. The only reason Heidfeld’s season felt underwhelming was because his team mate was even better…