The 2012 Formula One season was one of the most competitive seasons the sport has ever seen, with more drivers fighting for wins and podiums than at any time over the past few years.
With so many standout performances over the year, it was incredibly hard to come up with the top ten drivers. In the first of two parts, here are the drivers who ranked between sixth and tenth over the 2012 season.
10) Felipe Massa
The first half of 2012 was a nightmare for Felipe Massa. The Ferrari was uncompetitive and difficult to drive at the start of the year, and while his teammate Fernando Alonso led the championship going into the summer break, Massa had only a fourth and a sixth place to show for his efforts, with his seat at Ferrari coming under serious threat.
However, Massa returned from holiday a changed man. A solid fifth place at Spa was followed by a front row start and fourth place at Monza, and a superb drive to second place in Suzuka sealed the Brazilian’s first podium finish in two years and confirmed his return to form.
A succession of consistent points finishes then followed, with Massa regularly matching the pace of Alonso, and a tremendous third place on home soil in Brazil after he selflessly backed his teammate’s title challenge put the lid on a fine second half of the season, with Massa fully earning a new one-year contract with the Ferrari team.
9) Kamui Kobayashi
Kamui Kobayashi had the strongest year of his career at Sauber. Despite being edged in the points battle by teammate Sergio Perez, the likeable Japanese driver showed his talent with some impressive performances.
Some of Kobayashi’s qualifying results were particularly strong, with a third place in China and a front row start in Spa impressing hugely. He backed this up with some good race performances, with fourth in Hockenheim and fifth in Barcelona giving himself crucial points. But the undoubted highlight was his stunning drive Suzuka when he held off the much quicker Jenson Button to claim his first podium finish in Formula One in front of his adoring home fans.
Despite this, Sauber have decided not to retain Kobayashi for next year, leaving him with the possibility of not having a drive next year. If Kamui is unable to find a seat it would be a massive shame, as he has shown himself to be worthy of a place in Formula One.
8) Mark Webber
After a difficult 2011 in which he was comprehensively beaten by Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber had a better time of it in 2012. Despite having to drive a Red Bull that was built around Vettel, Webber was much closer to his teammate, especially in qualifying where there was little to choose between the two drivers.
Two brilliant wins in Monaco and Silverstone gave the Australian a genuine chance of challenging for the title, but some difficult races, notably in Monza and Suzuka, saw him fall out of contention for the championship and slip down the standings.
Despite ending the year only sixth in the points, Webber can be pleased with his overall performances after a year in which he proved himself to be much closer to Vettel than in previous years.
7) Sergio Perez
If this list had been compiled after Monza, Sergio Perez would have been in contention for the top spot. The Mexican driver was incredible in the first part of the season, demonstrating an uncanny ability to make his tyres last longer than his rivals, with brilliant podiums in Malaysia, Canada and Italy making him stand out as a star of the future.
They were performances that convinced McLaren to sign him up to replace Lewis Hamilton next year, but the announcement that he was to join the Woking-based team in 2013 coincided with a downturn in form for Perez, with the Sauber driver making a series of mistakes and failing to register a single point in the final six races.
With his move to McLaren on the horizon, Perez will need to perform the same way he did in the first half of the season as opposed to the second half as he looks to cement a reputation as a potential title challenger in the future.
6) Jenson Button
Although in some ways this year was a disappointment for Jenson Button, the Englishman still showed how good he was with some top drives. Button began the year in fine style with victory in Australia, but things went downhill for the McLaren driver soon after, with tyre warming issues blighting his first half of the season.
A return to form came with second at Hockenheim, before a first pole in three years and dominant victory at Spa put him back on track. Although he never seriously challenged for the title, Button produced a series of consistent points finishes towards the end of the year, culminating in a brilliant win in difficult conditions in Brazil.
With Button entering 2013 as the team leader at McLaren, he will be confident of mounting a challenge for the championship as he looks to win a second world championship.