With the first part of the top ten yesterday revealing the drivers who ranked from sixth to tenth over the 2012 season, here is the second and final part which reveals the top five drivers over the course of the year.
5) Nico Hulkenberg
Nico Hulkenberg showed everyone what he was made of in 2012 with a series of good drives and performances that marked him out as one of the stars of the future. Having been forced to sit 2011 out, the Force India driver was both fast and consistent all year and comfortably got the better of teammate Paul di Resta.
Hulkenberg drove well all year, with fourth at Spa being his best result. But it was the German’s end to the season that really caught the eye, with five points finishes in the last six races, including possibly the overtake of the season when he passed both Romain Grosjean and Lewis Hamilton in Korea, and a stunning drive in Brazil where he challenged for victory before colliding with Hamilton and putting himself out of contention.
With a move to Sauber on the cards in 2013, Hulkenberg will be looking to repeat his impressive season as he looks to secure a top drive in the future.
4) Sebastian Vettel
Sebastian Vettel became a triple world champion in 2012, but there is no doubting that he took advantage of a vastly improved Red Bull to achieve the feat. When his car wasn’t as strong at the beginning of the year Vettel struggled, winning only one of the first 13 races, although he did lose almost certain victory in Valencia when his alternator failed.
It was only when Red Bull’s upgrades made it the class of the field that Vettel truly began to shine. He inherited victory from Lewis Hamilton in Singapore, before wins in Japan, Korea and India put him in control of the championship. Vettel then produced arguably the best drive of his career to come from last to third in Abu Dhabi, before another recovery drive to sixth in Brazil sealed the title.
Although Vettel became only the third driver in F1 history to win three straight titles, the question still remains as to how good he is when not in the fastest car.
3) Kimi Raikkonen
There were fears before the start of the season as to whether Kimi Raikkonen would be the same driver that wowed the sport in his first career. We needn’t have worried, as the Finn proved to be just as good as before, with great race pace and remarkable consistency helping the Lotus driver to an impressive third in the championship.
After the first couple of races were spent getting back up to speed, Raikkonen looked as though he’d never been away as he challenged Sebastian Vettel for victory in Bahrain, before further podiums throughout the year followed. Although the Lotus lost some pace towards the end of the year, Raikkonen continued to push hard and then produced a phenomenal drive to take his first win in three years at Abu Dhabi.
With the Iceman showing to everyone that he did ‘know what he was doing’ by returning to the sport, hopes will be high in 2013 as Raikkonen looks to build on a strong first year back.
2) Lewis Hamilton
Although he only came fourth in the championship, Lewis Hamilton drove as well as he ever has in 2012, with a series of team errors and mechanical failures preventing him from challenging for the title. After a disappointing 2011, the Hamilton of old was back with a vengeance, taking four victories and more pole positions than anyone else.
With a huge amount of bad luck hitting him throughout the season, costing him likely wins in Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Brazil and probable podiums in Valencia and Spa, it would’ve been easy for Hamilton to let his head drop. But fighting wins in Montreal and Austin, as well as dominant triumphs in Hungary and Monza showed the McLaren driver was back to his best, reaffirming his status amongst the sport’s elite.
With Hamilton moving to Mercedes in 2013, the Englishman has a chance to show he can build a team around him and become one of the best of his generation.
1) Fernando Alonso
In a Ferrari that started the season over a second off the pace, 2012 should have been a write-off for Fernando Alonso. But not only did the Spaniard launch a title challenge, he incredibly sustained it until the final race and lost out to Sebastian Vettel by just three points.
Alonso confirmed his status as the most complete driver on the grid with brilliant wins in Malaysia, Valencia and Hockenheim, and when the car wasn’t quick enough for him to challenge for victory he was always there picking up the points and keeping the pressure on. Had it not been for first lap retirements in Belgium and Japan, neither of which were his fault, it could well have been Alonso rather than Vettel celebrating his third title.
With Alonso producing probably the best season for a non-champion since Ayrton Senna in 1993, he will be right in the hunt in 2013, and if Ferrari give him a quicker car next year it will be difficult to bet against him winning his third world championship.