2009 F1 driver rankings part 1: 25-16

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So who was the worst F1 driver of 2009?
So who was the worst F1 driver of 2009?

Working out who was the best F1 driver is never easy – a driver typically only has one rival who has the same equipment, and even within teams two cars are not necessarily always the same.

And it’s been even harder this year with the sudden emergence of Brawn and Red Bull as front runners, and the complication of drivers missing races and switching teams.

So thanks to everyone who offered their suggestions for how to rank the best drivers of 2009. I’ve looked at your lists, weighed up the stats and re-watched the races to produce my verdict on the top races of the year. Starting in reverse order here are the bottom ten drivers of 2009 with my thoughts on their performances and a selection of your comments.

No rank: Nelson Piquet Jnr

It would be wrong to rate Nelson Piquet Jnr as if he were just another driver.

He has damaged Formula 1 with calculated cynicism, agreeing to crash a car on purpose and then confessing to it a year later in an attempt to damage his former team.

Regardless of the self-serving nature of his actions, the FIA granted him immunity. He escaped the ban faced by co-conspirators Flavio Braitore and Pat Symonds – but any team manager would be mad to hire him after this.

Spin in Melbourne (blaming the brakes), three spins in China (destroying multiple nose cones), calling Buemi inexperienced after their crash in Monaco, crying to the press before being fired, crying some more after being fired, then almost causing an entire team to drop out of Formula 1 (maybe still time for that to happen) in one of the biggest scandals in a scandal-ridden sport, while pretending to be a victim in a crash he caused, in a situation he should’ve been man enough to just say no.

Four words: Reject of the Year.
Pedro Andrade

24. Luca Badoer

He was rushed in at Ferrari after it became clear Michael Schumacher would not be able to race.

At first Badoer’s struggles at Valencia were explained away by him being unfamiliar with the track. But at Spa it became clear the problem was driver-related.

Giancarlo Fisichella’s subsequent struggles with the F60 gave some insight into the difficulty Badoer faced. But not enough to excuse him being whole seconds off the pace of the next-slowest car.

Yes Luca, it was the media’s fault you were dropped. Specifically the medium of television, through which we could all see how bad you were.

23. Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais made his last F1 start at the Nurburgring
Sebastien Bourdais made his last F1 start at the Nurburgring

No noticeable improvement over last year, he usually failed to beat his rookie team mate. It’s fair to ask why Toro Rosso get through so many drivers but even so it wasn’t a surprise to see Bourdais get dropped.

His second year could have gone either way, sadly it went bad.

22. Kazuki Nakajima

The only driver to start every race and not score a point. Given that his team mate racked up 34.5 and finished seventh in the championship, Nakajima’s dismal performance is hard to excuse.

Very close qualifying was Nakajima?s downfall. Rosberg got into Q3 14 times. Nakajima managed it four times. That margin left him with zero points.

21. Romain Grosjean

Grosjean got a laot of criticism for his lacklustre showings for Renault, especially at Brazil where he seemed to go backwards.

A realistic appraisal has to take into account he was driving a dog of a car for a team that was reeling from the Singapore revelations, and up against one of the very best in the business.

In that context, lapping within a third of a second of Alonso at Yas Island is not something we should criticise him too harshly for, especially when he had little opportunity to test the car before his debut.

After some decent performances in GP2 I did expect a bit from Grosjean, but he was thrown into the deep end against Alonso no less. He properly deserves another decent shot at least, like Alguersuari.

20. Jaime Alguersuari

Became the youngest driver to start a Grand Prix despite lurid predictions he would crash into rivals, run over his mechanics and usher in the apocalypse.

In fact he beat Sebastien Buemi home in their first race together as team mates. It didn’t happen again, largely because of Alguerusari’s poor finishing rate (five retirements from eight starts) though that was largely down to the car.

Alguersuari qualified at the back and stayed there. I wish that Bourdais had been kept on.

19. Kamui Kobayashi

Kamui Kobayashi impressed in Abu Dhabi
Kamui Kobayashi impressed in Abu Dhabi

A difficult driver to place: Kobayashi only raced twice and gave two very different performances. In Brazil he qualified well behind Jarno Trulli and was criticised for some questionable defensive driving.

But his Abu Dhabi drive was a revelation. He kept Kimi Raikkonen at bay at the start to become the best of the ‘one stop’ runners, put a vital pass on Jenson Button after the new world champion had pitted, and jumped up to sixth ahead of team mate Jarno Trulli by the chequered flag.

Some may feel 19th is too low but given he only started twice putting him any higher would be a bit presumptuous. As many of you mentioned, hopefully the loss of backers Toyota from the grid next year won’t keep him from finding a drive for 2010.

Little time but already a solid performance from him.
Pedal to the Vettel

18. Adrian Sutil

Sutil should have been the driver to score Force India’s first points. But a crash in the rain Shanghai and an utterly unnecessary run-in with Kimi Raikkonen at the Nurburgring put paid to that.

Even after becoming de facto team leader following Fisichella’s Ferrari move, Sutil continued to squander good qualifying performances with avoidable clashes – with Nick Heidfeld at Singapore, and at Brazil where he paid the price of giving a rival no ‘racing room’.

Showed plenty of promise but still several mistakes and crashes.
David A

17. Vitantonio Liuzzi

Vitantonio Liuzzi was on course for a strong finish at Monza before retiring
Vitantonio Liuzzi was on course for a strong finish at Monza before retiring

Parachuted in at Force India for the last few rounds, he ran well at Monza before his car failed. He finished more times than Sutil in their five races together, was right behind his team mate at Suzuka and beat him at Yas Island.

There are many people who think Toro Rosso gave up on Liuzzi too soon, and his brief appearance in F1 this year suggests he deserves a spot on the grid in 2010.

Liuzzi gets my understated performance of the year award. His first race at Monza back in an F1 car was fantastic, he definitely would have picked up points and possibly a podium if his engine hadn’t blown up.

16. Sebastien Buemi

All told, a decent maiden season for the young Swiss driver. Especially given how the STR4 struggled to emulate the success of its predecessor, and was noted for its unreliability.

He got off to a strong start by scoring on his debut and adding an eighth in the rain at China. A long point-less spell followed but towards the end of the year the car came good and suddenly Buemi’s name was getting noticed in practice sessions.

At Suzuka he impressed by reaching the top ten – despite several very wayward moments and a crash late in the session. But he was back in the points in the final two races and qualified a fine sixth at Interlagos.

Good first season in F1.

Join us for part two covering positions 15 to six tomorrow. The top five will be published on Friday – along with your chance to vote for the driver of the year.

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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74 comments on “2009 F1 driver rankings part 1: 25-16”

  1. I personally think Grosjean wasn’t that bad in the 7 races he was involved in. Unlike Piquet, he came straight into F1 without any testing for months, into a team in crisis against a double champion.

    And remember, Renault ended the year with arguably the worst car on the grid. We couldn’t have expected much more than we got from him.

    1. I agree. I don’t want to criticise him or Jaime (I feel the STR driver shows more promise) they have had no testing so I don’t see what anyone expects. And everything you say about Renault was right. It wasn’t going to be easy for any rookie going in at that time.
      I feel they are in the right place as couldn’t really shine but that at same time they don’t deserve much criticism

    2. Fisichella proved how important testing is when he went from Force India podium finisher to Ferrari backmarker in one easy step. Giancarlo is never going to be one of the greats, but he’s a race winning, experienced F1 driver who really struggled to get anything out of the Ferrari without any testing.

      The fact that a driver of Fisichella’s experience did so badly puts Grosjean and Alguersuari’s performances into context – both are a lot better than they appeared in 2009. Both deserve a decent Winter testing programme and another chance in 2010.

      Kobayashi, on the other hand, at least had some testing and a reasonably competitive car. The last two races probably made him look slightly better than he really is – Kazuki Nakajima also looked pretty good on his debut at Interlagos ’07 and look what he did this year…

      1. Fisichella proved how important testing is when he went from Force India podium finisher to Ferrari backmarker in one easy step.

        I couldn;t agree more – that definitely figured in my thinking when it came to some of the rookies.

      2. When did Koby have testing? Pre-season? So did every driver on the grid, Fisi included. Fisi had been racing all year up until Brazil when Koby arrived, with one wet day of practice at Suzuka a couple of weeks before as his only F1 run in well over 6 months.

        Looking at his performance against those of Alguersuari and Grosjean Koby was a standout. A little rough around the edges maybe, but quick, determined and willing to take risks. He must get a seat next year.

        1. Mike "the bike" Schumacher
          25th November 2009, 23:01

          Yes Kobi was brilliant but he had a fast car, in brazil toyota might have even been in the hunt for victory, thats why I think trulli was so upset with sutil. Fisi was alwys going to struggle as Ferrari had stopped developing the car, he was always going to go backwards, so I think its unfair to compre Fisi to Kobi.
          But yes Fisi should have done better.

        2. When did Koby have testing? Pre-season? So did every driver on the grid, Fisi included.

          Kobayashi had some running in the ’09 Toyota before the season started – he had a relatively good car under him in which he’d tested. I’m not suggesting Kobayashi doesn’t deserve a shot in 2010, but I don’t think he’s quite as good as he looked in just two races.

          If memory serves, Grosjean also tested but not in the ’09 Renault – so he had a dog of a car (one of the worst on the grid) that he’d never driven outside race weekends.
          Alguersuari had nothing beyond a demo run in an old Toro Rosso – his superlicence came from his British F3 title.

          Fisichella did test pre-season – but not once in a Ferrari…

    3. chuck norris was the best driver

  2. Pretty much agree with your rankings so far. I think a lot of people will say that Kobayashi should be higher but I understand your reasons for placing him where you did.

  3. I think a lot of people would say Badoer, Bordais or NJP were 2009’s worst drivers, but for me it was Kazuki Nakajima. He started every single race and managed to score a frightful 0 points. That is a poor result in a car that wasn’t all that bad. I had high hopes for Williams this year, and he let the team down big time.

    Maybe saying he was the worst driver of the season is a bit harsh, but he certainly was the biggest disappointment of 2009.

    1. Well said, GeeMac.

      If Nakajima had been capable of scoring close to the same as his team-mate, Williams would have had a very different season. Instead of falling behind BMW at the last gasp to 7th, they would have been fighting with McLaren and Ferrari for 3rd. And that’s where the car deserved to be, in my opinion.

  4. Kobayashi to me is to be better ranked.
    Two races is really a little, but I think he’s been more impressive than Liuzzi and Sutil.

    1. I don’t think so… If that is the case, then I could pick just 2 races from Sutil and compare.
      Never the less, I want to see Kobayashi racing next year and rate him better

      1. I would place Koba much better too. I think some are forgetting the main point about his performances: he was a rookie that jumped in the car with almost ZERO experience, but was confident enough to deliver a good result plus — and most important — an exciting and brave driving.

        This is what captured the fans imagination on this two races and why I´d put him more higher…

    2. I have to agree on a higher ranking for Kobash. After two races he seems to have outshone his partner (Trulli) and performed exceptionally well in my humble estimation in some key moments…

      1. passing Button in Abba Doobie, even if we discount the fact that he was lighter by about 1 1/2 seconds a lap was still pretty impressive given how green he is. Faster cars, driven by drivers with experience, have not always gone as well and has shown us that passing is a much underrated skill. (Vettel/Kubica in Australia, Buemi/Kubica in Abba Doobie etc)

      2. holding Button behind for several laps at Interlagos (despite all the whinging about “moving around in the braking zone”) still showed nerves of steel, and he did this fairly cleanly, maintaining his laptimes, while under pressure from faster cars.

      I would like to see him higher.

  5. ned flanders and steph are absolutely 100percent right

    1. Thanks Xenon. I’m not always that generous!

  6. I think it’s slightly unfair for Bourdais to be rated below Nakajima. I was a big fan of Nakajima last year, but he failed miserably this year. At least Bourdais scored 2 points. Apart from that I think the list is reasonable, Liuzzi did a better job than Sutil, he was on course to beating him in Monza I think, despite the testing ban. Sutil was one of the worst drivers this year, I think Force India could have been pretty close to Renault in the constructors table or even could have beaten them. Sutil was knocked out in Q2 at Spa when Fisichella scored a pole and a 2nd place and had the pace to win, Sutil didn’t even score one single point that race. He also missed out on a podium in Monza because of his pitstop, collided with Raikkonen in the Nurburgring, crashed out of a 6th place in China etc. He should have atleast scored more points than Fisichella when he was struggling in the Ferrari :\




  8. Spot on. Fair assessment of the STR guys too. I think Jaime did well for the situation he was in. Everyone expected him to be dangerous and miles off the pace and in his first race he didn’t make a single mistake and beat Buemi. Buemi has also shone in the last 2 races of this year. Hope they’ll both come back strong in 2010 :)

    1. Me too. I feel good about the situation STR are in and I like their line up. It is lacking in experience but I think the talent is there and that is what matters

    2. I agree. Very fair assessment of the drivers.

      Keith, I like your explanation for keeping Kobayashi at a lower rank since he did only 2 races. And Also agree that Liuzzi is ranked higher than Sutil inspite of the lesser number of racers.

      However, 15-1 should be a tougher assessment.

  9. while everyone is blaming no testing rules for the failures of some rookies, how come Kobayashi and Liuzzi were on the pace immediately?
    This no testing thing seems to be a convenient driver excuse.

    1. They both had previous tests with this year cars, they were their reserve drivers

    2. Both of them had already tested in the car pre-season though.

    3. Jaime jumped straight into an F1 car without testing one. Koby and Liuzzi had pre season testing as they were the reserve drivers.

    4. How many days did they test? Roman Grosjean have been racing since the second half, certainly he had more time in the car than Kobayashi had upto Brazil. Yet Kobayashi was right on the pace, Grosjean still sucked all the way.

  10. Really difficult for Rookies to hit the ground at any pace this year, the lack of testing combined with the teams own struggles in optimising car set-up(even for those experienced)under the new aero regs really gave them a handicap.
    I agree with Keith on the rankings so far, the experienced Bourdais and Nakajima definatley the most disapointing, it’s difficult to grade the rookies, Kobayashi shows some speed and Alguerusari showed glimmers of talent. But it seems to take F1 drivers longer to acclimatise to the top formula these days, but I still hold hope for Sutil to make an impact.

  11. i love the quotation by icthyes :)

    Personally i’d put Bourdais above Nakajima but otherwise I think the lineup so far is looking good! I was perhaps harsh with my statement about Alg (as posted by keith w00t!) but I think he came to F1 too early and was fairly insignificant in the races he competed in

    1. Haha, cheers!

    2. Yeah I had to laugh at that one :-)

    3. Absolutely….Icthyes,very clever qoute!I laughed as hard as I did the first time I read it on the original post.

      I agree with Keith….you can’t even rate Piquet Jr.I believe Satan sent him here to destroy all that is sacred in auto racing.Badoer has to be the worst though.It had to be one of Ferrari’s most embarassing moments.

  12. Just in relation NPJ, i have been thinking recently about the outrage over him crashing deliberately and the scandal it has brought on the sport. I then thought about other drivers who have crashed on purpose in order to gain advantage, Schumacher Adeleide 1994, Jerez 1997. Prost/Senna. All of the greats have done it. Don’t get me wrong i am not condoning any of thier actions especially not NPJ’s. I think he is one of the biggest cry babies there has been but i do think that people should think about the term deliberately causing an accident. What do you think makes NPJ’s so much worse than any other?? Opinions???

    1. You compared him with race winners… He hasn’t or didn’t prove anything, he’s not a great one, or doesn’t look like one

    2. Kevin,

      no one else has ever crashed a wall himself, just to stop the race and let the team mate win a race.
      Schumi, Senna and Prost caused a crash while they were fighting for the title. It looks to make a lot of difference…

  13. I quite agree with the ranking. Only change Iwould like to make is swapping the positions of Sutil and Liuzzi. Sutil’s driving may be error prone but he has a 4th place finish to show for himself.

  14. The list seems very reasonable. Just a comment about the judging of “new” drivers to lower grid teams…

    Some of these teams seem to have a very difficult time adjusting their cars to the changing circuits (Practice…testing?), and with a second “untested” driver the whole process may be too challenging given the limited time and resources. Thus, any kind of “baseline” for judgment seems problematic. (Just a comment, not a criticism.)

    Also, when you see a reversal-of-fortunes, such as Fisi experienced, when going from a back-marker to a front runner…and yet being unable to perform….at all! One must wonder about the standard accepted judgments we all make.

    How would Sutil perform in a McLaren…how would Lewis do in the second Torro Rosso (well I’d guess)?

    It makes me want to cut these guys all a little slack…accepting one NPJr of course.

  15. I don’t think Liuzzi should be ahead of Sutil. But other than that I think everything else is justified.

    Piquet we’ll just mentally exclude from the record books, and Badoer, Grosjean, Alguersuari and Liuzzi were all short term replacements so there are mitigating circumstances even in their own performances. Really Nakajima is the seasons big disappointment for me.

    When you consider the sheer consistency of Rosberg’s scoring over the year, for Williams to be beaten by BMW is criminal, really, even allowing for their late season drive to respectability. A big fat “nul points”, as they say on Eurovision, is a waste of a decent car.

  16. Totally disagree with you about Piquet Jr. He wasn’t the power in that situation. Flavio was much more to blame and Symonds. I hope he gets another drive.

    Badoer was no worse than Fisichella.

    I think your rankings are just based on what points the drivers have got not what they did with the cars and what circumstances they were driving under i.e. no testing, being complete rookies with no testing. At this rate, you will have, predictably, Button as no. 1, Vettel as no. 2, etcetera etcetera. How can you have all the rookies at the bottom – I think this is a bad ranking example.

    1. He wasn’t the power in that situation.

      Remind me again who had the steering wheel? :P

      1. You know what I mean :)

        1. Two of the people involved say Piquet suggested the idea himself. It’s their word against Piquet’s.

          Apart from theh fact that Piquet is outnumbered, it just makes tons more sense that Piquet was desperate to keep his seat.

    2. He was driving the car, he had a choice. I’m certainly not saying Briatore and Symonds were blameless, but nor was Piquet.

  17. I really dont think this is a good ranking system. For example, I cannot believe that Kovalainen isnt in the bottom few performers, and instead, you have Buemi and Sutil, who have been really impressive whenever their car was competitive. It is hard to rank drivers without taking their cars into context, so I honestly think your ranking is highly flawed

    1. Totally agree. 100% a-mondo!

    2. Welcome to the world of subjective opinions!

      1. I don’t even think you could call it subjective actually.

    3. Keith is always conservative on his ranks…

      1. I think its called an opinion.

    4. Tod Fod is a good name.

  18. For Sutil to be ranked behind Liuzzi is slightly unfair. Sutil seems to be very underrated. People say he crashes too much, but that shows signs of aggression. Also, most of the crashes he was in weren’t his fault. Even Hamilton was struggling in Shanghai, Raikkonen rammed him at the Nurburgring and Trulli speared into him in Interlagos. Get off his back people and recognise what a great job he has done this year in getting a Force India into the points. More of the same next year please.

    1. Sutil by his own accoutn said that he was pushing in Shanghai. That’s just plain dumb and asking exactly for the accident that he ultimately had (pushing on worn wet weather tyres = crash).

      Sutil rammed Raikkonen at the Nurburgring. On purpose. Again, he admitted this himself. Well, he admitted that he “blocked” Raikkonen, but he tried to “block” him right off the track.

      I guess Brazil was a driver error, but still. Sutil wasn’t paying attention, he messed up an overtake on Raikkonen, then missed a gear shift and lost even more time. Of course a car is going to show up right beside you after all that.

  19. Keith, Sutil and Heidfeld collided at Singapore not Shanghai, unless I have a bad memory.

    1. Indeed so – have fixed it.

  20. No rank: Nelson Piquet Jnr

    Bravo!!!! Thanks Keith, I could say that loudly but not clearly.

  21. NP jr. was the worst cause he’s a cheat. Luca Badoer was probably the worst driver. He’s getting older and been away from it too long. The best? Over the course of the entire season it had to be Lewis Hamilton. He made the best of a bad car in the beginning of the season. (Judge him against his team mate in equal equipment. Kovi wasn’t in the same zip code.) In the later part of the year, when the car got really developed Hamilton really put the hammer down. If the car would have ben good from the outset, he would have won a 2nd WC. Lets wait till tomorrow to see what Keith thinks!

    1. Hamilton’s drive at Bahrain was one of the best of the year IMHO.

  22. A bit more exposure for Bernt Maylander would be nice, no one ever rights about him, the guy is a brilliant driver.

    Remember him getting out of Speeds out of control STR at the Nurbumring.

    1. “write”, not rights, man I’m an idiot.

  23. Nakajima was worse than Bourdais. Otherwise, spot on I think.

  24. I’m amazed that Heikki Kovaleinen (Love isn’t always on time!) isn’t ranked down here.

    He had a seat in one the main teams on the gird and was just terrible. I would rank Sutil, Liuzzi, Buemi and Kobayashi all above him.

  25. Sutil should be rated much higher! He was one of the best to watch and he had a very noticeable presence.

  26. Pedel to the Vettel
    25th November 2009, 22:52

    Good list keith i would have it slightly different but its you choice not mine. cant wait for your next picks tommorow.

  27. Hmm quite a bit of positive feedback here but I suspect it’s all going to go pear-shaped once we get to the business end of the list!

  28. So far so good.I expected Kobayashi a bit further forward than where he is.& Nelson don’t even deserve to be on that list,why you put him there?

  29. chuck norris could kick kobayashis ass and so could I

  30. Why did you put Nakajima before Bourdais?!
    Nakajima didn’t score a point during the whole year, whilst Bourdais scored points twice in only half of the season – in argubly the worst car in the field, whereas Nakajima drove the Williams, on which Rosberg was able to score 34.5pts this year.


  31. It’s hard to rank the drivers, when as you say some only had the benefit of a couple of races, others had a whole season. Just for the fact that he raced every race in a reasonable car and scored a big fat zero points, I’d have to say Kazoo is ranked last on my list. Except for Jnr of course, he bears the dubious honour of the driver so lowly ranked he is in the negatives !

  32. What’s Liuzzi doing ahead of Sutil? I don’t remember Liuzzi scoring a single point all season. Buemi is a bit too high for me too. I’d rank it as such:

    16. Sutil
    17. Kobayashi
    18. Buemi
    19. Liuzzi

  33. My top 5


  34. whats Kobayashi duin there! My top 5 would be


    LOL! :)


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