F1 07 review: Driver rankings (3/3)

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Here are my top three drivers of 2007.

I picked Fernando Alonso as my driver of the year in 2006, because he’d been competitive at almost every track and hardly ever made a mistake. But in 2007, all of the three championship contenders made clear mistakes at one point or another.

That – and the fact that they were so closely matched – made it even harder to pick this year’s top driver. This is my verdict – please share your thoughts and your top drivers of 2007 in the comments.

3. Fernando Alonso

I put Alonso at the top of my list for the past two seasons because he was competitive at almost every circuit, a gutsy racer, resolute under pressure, and largely error-free. For whatever reason, he just couldn’t replicate that performance at McLaren this year. At least, not at every race.

At the beginning of the season his performances were more inconsistent than we’d seen in the past – probably because of the difficulties of adapting to a new team and new tyres. He won at Sepang and Monte-Carlo but at other venues he was conspicuously below par.

He fell off the pace at Bahrain and was beaten by Nick Heidfeld in the BMW – one of few occasions a lesser car beat a healthy, unimpaired McLaren or Ferrari all year. An optimistic bid to pass Felipe Massa at the first corner of his home Grand Prix caused a trip across the gravel. He did the same at Montreal trying to pass Lewis Hamilton – and repeated the mistake several times during the race.

This was unheard of from Alonso. Over the past two seasons we’d become accustomed to how rarely he lost positions on the track and how rare his mistakes were. But whether the root cause was dissatisfaction with his team, his team mate or his car, the fact is they were Alonso’s mistakes.

On the other hand, there were days when he turned up and blew everyone into the weeds – Lewis Hamilton included. Alonso simply drove away from the chasing pack at Monza. His opportunistic, ballsy pass on Massa to win at the Nurburgring was vintage Alonso – as was turning the psychological screw on his rival by making sure the TV cameras didn’t miss Massa’s tyre mark on his sidepod.

Hamilton had mental weaponry of his own, though, and when the Briton fired one off at Alonso at the Hungaroring (by not letting Alonso lead the pack at the start of the final phase of qualifying) Alonso’s reaction both inside and outside the car set off a disastrous chain of events for everyone in the team.

For all that he railed against the team for allegedly giving Hamilton favour, Alonso had a better run of reliability than his team mate. A gearbox problem left him tenth on the grid at Magny-Cours, from which he raced magnificently. He was poorly rewarded with a mere seventh – behind several drivers he’d passed that day thanks to the vagaries of refuelling strategies.

The arguments over exactly why Alonso didn’t attain the heights of performance in 2007 that he did in 2005 and 2006 will rage on. But I think third in the world championship was a just reflection of his performance in the cockpit this year.

2. Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen snatched the world championship in the final round in a manner seldom seen in Formula 1. Not since 1976 has a driver overcome such a large points gap to win the title – and on that occasion James Hunt (Raikkonen’s preferred nom de plume, appropriately) beat Niki Lauda because the Austrian had missed several races through injury.

Raikkonen ended the season in fine style, scoring seven consecutive podiums and winning three of the last four races. Admittedly he had the pressure release of being so far behind in the championship that he could take risks, and Massa gave him a helping hand at Interlagos. But still these were not easy races to win – he never put a foot wrong in the wet/dry drama at Shanghai, and raced from 16th to third in pouring rain at Fuji.

Once he’d got the F2007 to his liking Raikkonen seemed able to win at will. At Magny-Cours and Silverstone he confidently took a heavier load of fuel in qualifying and used it to leapfrog his opponents on race day, Schumacher-style. After a bad crash in practice at Monza (which Ferrari seemed to blame him for but might actually have been caused by damper failure) he persevered to take third and a useful six points.

He won six races compared to Alonso and Hamilton’s four each, and he was the only driver in the top two teams to retire twice because of car failure. Given this, it might seem extraordinarily mean-spirited not to pick him as best driver of the year.

Weighed against Raikkonen’s bravura performances in the latter half of the season were some oddly indifferent drives in the first half of the year. At Sepang he seemed content to take third and rarely looked like passing Hamilton. At Bahrain he didn’t seem to be paying attention at the rolling restart.

At Montreal he ran wide at the start and was passed by Nico Rosberg, which ruined his race. He finished fifth behind Heikki Kovalainen who’d made his way up from last on the grid. And he missed the pit lane while leading at the Nurburgring.

Worst of all came when he crashed in qualifying at Monte-Carlo – the very worst track at which to make such a mistake. He made a valiant recovery effort on race day but the damage was done and he finished eighth.

Viewed from the perspective of the end of the season it’s easy to overlook some of the problems Raikkonen had early in the year, and how he struggled to overcome them. On balance he had an exceptional season – the move to Ferrari seems to have rejuvenated him. That said, over the course of the season the Ferrari was marginally the better car (regardless of whatever traumas were going on at McLaren).

In this same feature last year I said that Raikkonen was “clearly overdue a world championship” and I would not argue that he didn’t deserve this one.

1. Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton looked like a championship contender from the first corner of the season, when he rallied from being passed by Robert Kubica to re-take the BMW driver – and Fernando Alonso for good measure.

His uncanny ability to judge the latest possible braking point – particularly at the first corner of a race – was one of several impressive weapons in Hamilton’s arsenal. He picked off both the Ferraris at Sepang and jumped from tenth to fourth at the Nurburgring (until he was hit by a spinning BMW).

He did it partly by outstanding natural feel and partly because, unlike the kind of drivers who fall asleep at restarts or drive into their team mates in safety car periods, you got the impression that he’d bothered to read the rule book. Before the Malaysian Grand Prix he admitted he’d studied the previous F1 starts at the track – and it showed.

No doubt he also picked up the Michael Schumacher lesson that you can shut a door completely on a driver on a straight and not get punished for it. Hamilton’s version of that trick was to give his opponent just enough room to get through – and then insouciantly re-pass them anyway. He did it to Massa at Sepang – twice – and again at the start at Monza.

Perhaps I am old fashioned. If there’s one thing I appreciate in a driver it’s an affinity for wheel-to-wheel race craft – and if there’s one thing that 2007-style F1 undervalues it’s wheel-to-wheel race craft. But Hamilton was strong in other areas, too.

The tragedy of his fall-out with Alonso this year is that they’re actually not that dissimilar. Hamilton, like Alonso, knows just how to treat a set of tyres to inject as much heat and coax as much grip out of them as possible, without destroying them. They traded heart-stopping opposite-lock slides through La Piscine at Monte-Carlo. And they bitterly fought over every last advantage they could wring from their team.

Despite his much-lauded blunders in the final two races, Hamilton’s mistakes were no worse than those of his rivals over the course of the year. There were inconsequential errors at Melbourne (kicking up the dirt on one lap) and Silverstone (almost leaving the pits too soon). His most serious mistakes at the Nurburgring and Shanghai were borne of his unfamiliarity with judging when to change between wet and dry tyres in mixed conditions – not something a driver can pick up in testing.

It’s quite right to point out that he should have been more conservative in the final two races. In particular, trying to race Alonso for third at Interlagos was utterly pointless. But his brief foray off the track at that point didn’t cost him the championship – that came when his gearbox broke a few laps later. His indefatigable charge back through the field, in which he seldom paused before leaping past each driver, made you think on more than one occasion that he just might do it.

It was not the first time his McLaren let him down. It did in qualifying at the N???rburging, provoking a big crash and leaving him tenth on the grid. And it did in Istanbul when his tyre let go. But crucially, unlike Raikkonen’s troubles, his race problems were not terminal.

Race in, race out, Hamilton looked capable of scoring a podium anywhere. Indeed he led more laps than anyone else (321) and was second on more laps than anyone else (311). His consistency extended to qualifying, where he had more front row starts (12) and a better average starting position than any of his rivals (2.59 vs Alonso 3.18).

I don’t think Hamilton drove a better year than Alonso or Michael Schumacher did in 2006. But on balance over the entire season, Lewis Hamilton was the best driver of 2007.

And i didn’t even mention the fact that he did it all in his first year of racing in Formula 1.

Previous driver rankings

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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28 comments on “F1 07 review: Driver rankings (3/3)”

  1. I completely agree with this ranking. Well done, Keith! :) What other reviews do you have in store? Will you do year-end awards ala F1 Racing?

  2. didn’y Kimi win in Melbourne ? just a question :-)

  3. Sorry I was thinking Malaysia and wrote Melbourne – fixed now.

    I did do a piece on the F1 Racing Awards last year (F1 2006 Review: Men of the Year) but they seem to be doing it later this year. It may well be because, as I wrote last year, they couldn’t include various options that deserved to win their respective categories because the deadline for publication came too soon.

  4. Yeah I agree, stuff F1 Racing, your stuff is more up to date.


    If Hamilton was the best driver on the grid this year he would have won the championship. I would be switching your top two but have little arguement with the rest (Christian Albers is rated a little too well for my liking.)

  5. To me lifting Hamilton onto the top of the “pedestal” is a little bit premature taking into account how he fell apart under the pressure in the last two races. And to give his inexperience as the reason for his failure to handle wet conditions is basically more proof that he isn’t the finished article yet, which is of course very natural and acceptable. I guess the hype in the UK has affected everyone a little bit. If he would’ve won it I would be all for him, but he threw it away himself which for me is the deciding factor against him as driver of the year.

  6. I don’t think he failed to handle wet conditions at all – look at his drive in Fuji! And there was nothing wrong with his pace at Nurburgring or Shanghai. The problem was that he misjudged when to switch from wet to dry weather tyres.

    The mistakes at Shanghai and Interlagos weren’t necessarily borne out of pressure – he didn’t do what Carlos Reutemann did and forget how to drive – it was a tactical mistake, not a gaffe under pressure. If anything, he forgot he was in a championship battle and drove as if he had to win the last two races. Of course, the final nail in the coffin was the gearbox failure.

  7. I agree, the mistakes in the wet weren’t 100% mistakes under pressure, but as you already say were mostly due to inexperience, whereas I definitely wouldn’t discount pressure as a factor in the Shanghai mistake. In the last race he came apart completely in my eyes, or at least in a way that isn’t fitting for a top driver. He didn’t forget he was in a championship battle, I think he just wanted to win it in the best way possible. I watched quite a few GP2 races last year and that combined with what I saw this year leads me to think that the mistakes in the final race wouldn’t have happened to him if there was nothing riding on it. Just due to the fact that I hadn’t seen such a bad performance from him in any of the races I have seen so far.
    I think everyone will remember the “huddle” he had with his father under the umbrella before the start, have you ever seen a top driver do that? A top driver has to at least give the appearance of absolute coolness prior to a start and not be seen ducking the public eye for some kind of moral prepping session or whatever went on there.
    Don’t get me wrong, I think he will be an absolute top driver if the manages to stay cool when it REALLY matters, but due to this I wouldn’t make him my top driver of the year. The fact is he threw away a massive lead of 17 points (think about the size of that gap again, if you will) and even the most die-hard Hamilton fan can’t say that it wasn’t at least partly due to his mistakes whereas I accept the team is also to blame. If he hadn’t come apart (or made the mistake of racing, however you want to see it) in the last race he would’ve won the championship easily, but here also the fact remains that he didn’t. This alone is enough reason for me…

  8. Each of the top three drivers made mistakes this year and I’m not sure Hamilton’s were automatically worse because they came at the end of the season. I think Raikkonen’s are easier to overlook because they were longer ago.

  9. You are right, but what do you think Räikkönen or Alonso would’ve done in Hamilton’s position in the last race? The mistakes of Alonso and Räikkönen were also made in situations where they couldn’t afford to just “bring the car home” but needed to race for every point.
    Anyway, the future will show who of us is right as you are obviously willing to give him the benefit of the doubt now, because I’m sure he will find himself in similar situations as long as he has a capable car.

  10. Keith, F1 Racing will release MOTY 2007 on November 27 (Tuesday). But it won’t get to where I am until the week after. :(

    I’d rate Lewis higher because he performed well and truly above expectations, and was consistently at the front of the field. I agree with Keith that Kimi and Lewis’ mistakes have the same value.

  11. The only weighting that Hamilton’s mistakes came towards the end of the season was that they were rather untimely, and with the championship so tight it’s very easy to attribute them towards pressure.

    Regardless, I’m quite happy with the writeup – quite pleased you didn’t have to write anything about the rookie status of Lewis Hamilton.

    I think I would be more critical of Kimi though. That shunt at Monte Carlo was really out of nowhere and very unlike him. You can’t really excuse people blaming him for what went wrong at Monza after appearances like that and for many instances of seemingly falling asleep behind the wheel. Maybe they should fill his water bottle with vodka or something.

    I do have one question though Keith, given your conclusion of Kimi: “I would not argue that he didn’t deserve this one. [World Championship]”…would you say Lewis Hamilton would’ve deserved it more as your best driver of 2007?

  12. Yes I think he was (slightly) more deserving of it. Especially given that he had a much stronger team mate than Raikkonen – and certainly never got given a win by Alonso!

  13. Ok, now this is getting ridiculous, just go on and join the hype, pat the little guy on the shoulder, we will see what Hamilton will make of this in the years to come…

  14. It is very difficult choose between Kimi and Lewis.
    It could have been equally difficult to choose between kimi and Alonso for second place had Lewis won it .
    And had Alonso won it then I think, he would have got first rank for sure .
    So if we consider experience i.e. Lewis is rookie then Lewis deserves first rank but as a driver he is second this year in my opinion. Points table shows it properly.

  15. I’m sorry to disagree. What Hamilton made last race in Brazil can be compared with same situation managed by Alonso two years ago. An absolute novice driver trying to win the championship the first opportunity they had (although it was Hamilton’s first season). Alonso did what ii was needed to put the championship secure… and Hamilton did what was needed to ruin the championship on his own. That’s the way I see it…. and that made me qualify him in the last part of the pack.

    I can only say that if Nakajima would have ruined a championship like Hamilton did we would been laughing until the start of the next season. In fact, if I were Hamilton I would feel I would not deserve a seat in Formula 1 no more.

  16. I think some of the critics of Hamilton are fixating on a pair of incidents (which on their own were not enough to cost him the championship) and ignoring the wider context of the rest of the season.

  17. Come on, Keith,,, I would cut my balls and throw them to the basket if it wasn’t Hamilton’s fault pursuing Raikkonen what lead to catastrophic parking in China. Then came the whole team to cover it, trying to convince us that was his fault so the master bet of the team for the WDC could feel supported and would not cracked under pressure in final race, what finally happened.

  18. I strongly oppose keith’s argument to give lewis first place . Lewis proved in the last two races that he is not a challenger …think about Kimi , the quickest man on formula 1 circuit , filled a deficit of 17 points in 2 races with Charm …

    shame on you lewis ..u didnt win the same in track , u tried to win the same on court …bad :)

  19. I can’t complain too much about the rankings. The only reason I believe Hamilton comes at the top of it, is because this is his first year racing in F1, all other drivers he competeted 3 championship contenders, had over 4years of experience racing in F1. His consistency belied his inexperience.

    As for throwing away points, review the entire season of the top 4 finishers, and u will find they all threw away almost an equal amount of points during the entire season. Unfortunately, the law of averages caught up with hamilton at the end.

    Why I can support a no2 ranking of Kimi is due to his initial indiference and also his monaco accident. I remember a few years back, when Alex Yoong crashed into the unforgiving barriers that is Monaco, and that was the first time, I ever saw Kimi really laugh. But of course we all know what Kimi is capable of, but laughable still.

    Well Alonso, It still remains a mystery to me. He just lost psychologically. Its my belief what ever motivated the breakdown of his relationship with the team, originated from outside the team. He wasn’t appreciated by the English media, because the had one of their own there, and from that angle the seeds of discord were sown. In that situation, it would have been quite easy for any old friend or manager (Flavio) to suggest things to his suspicious mind. The outcome was really sad for both parties, himself and Mclaren.

  20. Keith I quite agree with youre top 3 rankings and they have all had their mistakes/strokes of misfortune – depending on your choice – but the thing is that you could vitually swap them about as they all showed signs of both brilliance and frustrating stupidness/mis judgement.
    But Hamilton because it was his first year in F1 proper just did enough for me – but will he be as competitive next year? – well thats the big question – we know both Raikonnen and Alonso have been compeitive each year so lets see what happens 2008

  21. I would place Kimi at the top for one reason – he is the champion and he won most races, even if we deduct the win given to him by Massa. He overcame huge point deficit, Hamilton threw away huge lead…

    But it is difficult to rank the top 3, at the end there was only a point between them. It is easy to find arguments for and against any of them.

  22. I agree with Lewis at the top, I think he would have deserved the title!
    But many ppl can’t handle lewis on top..cause he’s so ‘hyped’…sorry this is not just a hype… he is this good, and don’t forget that some ppl knew this before this season started (me) .. With Montoya leaving, it felt natural to sheer for Lewis, as i loved his aggresive drives! It’s a pitty in a way he got so popular..you got the old hate or love him with ppl who can’t look at f1 in a neutral way!
    If he wins its his car, if he fails its a bad driver…
    I agree with Keith… he didn’t really make a driver error… China was really bad luck, that tyre was so badly damaged, he didn’t overdue it in the pits.. any driver could have gone off i think.. and the transmission failure in Brasil isn’t his fault DUH…and his move on alonso, why not, not that smart ok..but else ppl complain they don’t ‘race’… but again it will never be good for us all, right!

  23. I am not sure , it is a driver error or not . As a f1 driver , he should be smart enough to identify the tyre situation at that point of time ( For SoLiD and Keith’s information , u know what happened in china , lewis was pushing hard , to get fastest laps , keep him on front , where as smart guys saved there tyres :) ) . Even if mclaren refused bridgestone’s request to invite lewis to pitlane , he can just do that . he had the bad history of disobeying team orders in this season … ron wont care :):) ..

    Let see what is happening in next year …

  24. Hamilton is NOT #1 in my book and although this article was about Keith’s version of the top three let’s not forget Kimi is champion only because Massa performed flawlessly at Brazil to displace either Mclaren from scoring second. Massa himself should have been in this discussion but for a suspension failure at Monza which tipped the scales to Kimi.

  25. Hi Keith, I am reading your article for the first time. And I must say, Your analysis is spot-on. The top-2 are the same for me. I would even put Nick Heidfeld ahead of Fernando Alonso. Lewis deserves the #1 spot for his consistency. Even after 2 mistakes in last 2 races, He didn’t lose the championship until the gear-box failure. Kimi was definitely lucky to win this championship

  26. Well, I’m sure Hamilton will be a great driver in the future. But are we judging drivers or cars?? Would have any other rookie perfomed like Hamilton if they had been in McLaren? Maybe better? or worse?

    Anyway, I think Kimi has been the best one this year (the best wins, and he did it), and though Hamilton and Alonso were pretty close I’d say Alonso is number 2. Why? Let’s see:

    Alonso made McLaren’s car a winner car.

    How could Hamilton act so well in his first race in F1? Cause he had a car Alonso had improved and he had his experitse as well due to McLaren’s policy of giving the same chances to both drivers (which means learning from the champion and using that knowledge with Hamilton). For this I think Alonso deserves part of Hamilton’s merit.

  27. Hamilton led more laps than anyone else (321) and was second on more laps than anyone else (311). His consistency extended to qualifying, where he had more front row starts (12) and a better average starting position than anyone else…………….

    BUT, he didn’t win the championship!

  28. Kieth, I know this thread is a little dated by now, and I’m sorry for posting now, but I have to say this.

    Most Hamilton fans, even those who aren’t antagonistic toward Kimi, have claimed at some time or the other that Massa gifted Kimi the win in Brazil. I couldn’t agree less, and this is probably (and completely inadvertently) the best time put forth my argument.

    Yes, we all watched at Interlagos when Kimi leapfrogged Massa in the pits, and then Massa dutifully shadowed him to the chequered flag.
    We all know that Massa would have been categorically asked to do so, and he did (although I think he was a little excessively sour about it).
    But what if he hadn’t been asked to move?
    Or what if he had refused?
    Does anyone actually believe that a driver of Raikkonen’s caliber wouldn’t have leapfrogged a hypothetically uncooperative Massa either if he had to? And if you’re one of the few who answered ‘yes’ to the last question, may I present Exhibit ‘A’ – laps 16-19 of the Malaysian Grand Prix, 2008.

    Oh, and one more thing. You claim that unlike Kimi, Lewis gained no advantage from his teammate. What about the advantage he gained by clearly being the team’s favorite son over the second half of the season? And if you think that claim is disputable, may I present Exhibit ‘B’, a quote from Ron Dennis in Shanghai – "We were racing Fernando."

    Thank you for letting me vent. Having vented, may I say I think it’s a very well written piece, even though I dispute (as few have) the top two results.

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