Driver by driver – the review of 2009

2009 provided an exciting season of F1 motor racing, decidedly not short of on-track or off-track controversy. Jenson Button eventually triumphed in his Brawn BGP 001, to pip Sebastian Vettel and Rubens Barrichello to the chief honours. Here, forumula1.com presents its definitive driver review of the 2009 season, examining each and every of the 25 combatants and rating their efforts out of ten.

BRAWN
Jenson Button. The Frome man was practically flawless for the first seven races of the season, with the third place in the chaotic Chinese Grand Prix his only blot. He capitalised on a Brawn car that suited him perfectly and was the class of the field, and used it to devastating effect. At and after the British Grand Prix, though, his performances were wanting. Critics did not shy away from laying into him, but it is a mark of his character that he was able to come back to take the title with a champion performance at Interlagos. 9/10

Rubens Barrichello. Barrichello was written off before season’s start, not least by this column. He did nothing to disprove that assertion for the first half of the season, where if he managed to avoid incident he generally dutifully followed Button home. His awakening came at Valencia, and then again at Monza, where he showed why he was generally considered Michael Schumacher’s best team-mate. He was in the running until the penultimate race but his early season had hurt him. The championship-winning machinery with an equal chance had come too late in the day for the charismatic Brazilian. 6/10

RED BULL
Sebastian Vettel. Vettel took a strong second in the final tables, with outstanding drives in China, Britain and Japan showing why he is so feared by his competitors. Vettel was hampered by three factors: the first, his machinery (which, although tremendous, did not incorporate the giant-killing double diffuser until halfway through the season); the second, his bad luck; and third, mistakes (viz Monaco practice, Turkey). If he irons those out there are precious few that will beat him. 7/10

Mark Webber. Only one word describes Webber’s early season – heroic. No-one will ever know how much pain the Aussie was in as he took to the track in pre-season, but he drove through it and even turned in some fine performances once the racing got under way. His duck was finally broken in Germany, coincidentally as he was starting to look the equal of his young German team-mate. But by season’s end, and despite another win, many were wondering whether he could keep the lid on Vettel in 2010. 7/10

McLAREN
Lewis Hamilton. The season started ignominiously for the reigning world champion, with the Liegate saga tarnishing his otherwise spotless reputation. It also became glaringly obvious that his MP4 24 was dreadful, a fact vindicated by the results tables. That is, until Germany. There, thanks to some inspired upgrades on the car, Hamilton was able to show his combative self both in qualifying and up until the first corner, where he picked up a puncture. Not to be deterred, he went on to win the next race and remain a thorn in the side of the championship pretenders right until the last race. A sterling effort to turn round the season. 7/10

Heikki Kovalainen. Kovalainen was in the unenviable position of having a dog of a car and one of the best drivers in the sport opposite him, so he was never going to impress. Quite the level of his underachievement, however, could not have been hazarded at even by his biggest detractors. Even given that McLaren prefer Hamilton, scoring fewer than half the Englishman’s points is not really good enough. Best result a fourth place; expect to see him in worse machinery in 2010. 4/10

FERRARI
Kimi Raikkonen. Raikkonen began the season with his customary nonchalance intact. The Finn’s attitude in Malaysia, where it was undecided whether the race would continue but he had waltzed off to get an ice-cream, was the nadir of his efforts. But after Felipe Massa’s accident, Kimi-Matias came into his own. It might have had something to do with the persistent rumours that Alonso had been guaranteed his seat; it might just have been that Raikkonen benefited from the team’s (nearly) undivided attention. Towards season’s end the Finn thrillingly reminded all his fans of his true ability, dragging a dog of a Ferrari consistently into the points. 7/10

Felipe Massa. Until the accident that saw him ruled out for the remainder of the season, Felipe Massa had looked exactly like the new, improved version of Felipe Massa he has been since about late 2006. That is, fast on his day, a definite threat if the machinery was under him, but not much otherwise. That was probably mainly down to the car, and he had beaten the then ineffectual Raikkonen. But he will have to be better than he has ever been to beat Alonso. 7/10

Giancarlo Fisichella. Fisichella is filed under Ferrari, as that was where he finished his season. But his finest hour came in a Force India at Spa, where he too disproved the idea that his best days were behind him. It is therefore difficult to understand why he could not do anything with the Ferrari he was given the keys to after the Badoer debacle. The factors affecting performance in F1 are myriad and far beyond the comprehension of most observers. But the fact that he could scarcely do better in a Ferrari than he could a Force India does seem to suggest his future lies in testing. 5/10

Luca Badoer. Luca Badoer was drafted in at short notice after Michael Schumacher could not fill Felipe Massa’s seat. The hapless Italian was presented with an F1 car so different to those he had raced a decade ago and even those he had tested last year that it would have been a miracle if he was on the pace. Suffice it to say that he was not. He was quite a long way off it. A pity that a career should end this way. 1/10

WILLIAMS
Nico Rosberg. Rosberg had what many consider to be his best season to date in 2009. He was consistently able to use his car’s latent pace to turn in good performances, with an amazing run of points finishes that started in Barcelona and ended in Spa. Williams perhaps ought to have capitalised more on the big teams’ malaise, but nevertheless Rosberg was a shining star. It should have earned him a top drive for next season. 8/10

Kazuki Nakajima. The young Japanese had a less than spectacular season, with no points to his name. He had the lion’s share of unreliability within the team but that should not excuse his mediocrity. It appears that his patron Toyota’s withdrawal from the sport will mean the end of the Nakajima name in F1. 3/10

TOYOTA
Jarno Trulli. Trulli had an up and down season, even by his own general standards of fluctuating performance. His customary speed in qualifying perhaps flattered to deceive; he was rarely able to translate it into results. His early season podiums and fourth-placed finishes were arguably more down to others’ misfortune than his own skill. Probably NASCAR bound. 5/10

Timo Glock. This was supposed to be the German’s big season, and he did not disappoint in the first half, with an admirably consistent run of points finishes. In the latter half, an unsettled TF109 and the strengthening of withdrawal rumours had a deleterious effect on his results. His season culminated in a bizarre accident at the final corner in Suzuka where he appeared to have misjudged the line and speed of the bend, and received a bad injury for his trouble. 5/10

Kamui Kobayashi. In this column’s opinion, the best rookie of 2009. Kobayashi had but two races to prove his worth, and boy did he do it. A superb and mature example of defensive driving to contain the world champion-elect was his offering in Brazil, and then a hard charge to sixth place in Abu Dhabi. It would be such a pity if Toyota’s withdrawal ended his chances of showing what he could do at the pinnacle of motorsport. 7/10

RENAULT
Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard was characteristically hard-charging throughout the season in an R29 that had looked unstable, lacking in grip and difficult to drive from day one. The distractions over the Crashgate scandal and subsequent remodelling of the team did not appear to have sapped his energy, and he always gave his all. He misses out on a very high rating because of his inability to drag the team back to the front as he has done before. But maybe he was distracted by the looming prospect of a nice red car next season. 8/10

Romain Grosjean. The young Franco-Swiss was put in a very difficult position as the best candidate for the departed Nelson Piquet’s seat. Although he has shown tremendous pace in other formulae, and indeed stood out, forcing him to learn on the job, with no testing and a terrible car, will have had a damaging effect on his confidence and reputation. Crashing into Jenson Button at Spa will not have helped that. 3/10

Nelson Piquet Jr. Off-track events are what dominated young Piquet’s half-season, in particular the Crashgate scandal. The evidence that the Brazilian provided let him off the hook, unfairly in many commentators’ eyes. He had, after all, taken the final decision to crash his racing car. But that was 2008. 2009 consisted of a string of dire performances followed by a sacking. It says much that Flavio Briatore was prepared to sack him even though that would probably mean Piquet would come clean about the events of Singapore 2008. Still a contender for a 2010 seat, probably because of his name. 2/10

BMW Sauber
Nick Heidfeld. Heidfeld drove a consistent if unspectacular 2009 season. He was essentially unable to bring anything special to the table because of an unwieldy car, but nevertheless his second place in Malaysia and string of points finishes towards the end of the season demonstrate an ability to get more out of a mediocre car than his illustrious team-mate. He will probably stay with Sauber if they can be resurrected for next season. 6/10

Robert Kubica. The highly-rated Pole was for many observers the disappointment of the season. Despite a possible win at the first race, he had for the first time ever a truly difficult car in which he failed to shine. Unless he can rescue his reputation at Renault, he risks being associated with the Buttons, the Massas et al instead of the Alonsos and the Hamiltons. 5/10

Scuderia Toro Rosso
Sebastian Buemi. Buemi had a good season in a car which was never one of the quickest. He managed to comfortably outpace both team-mates and gained a more-than-respectable tally of four points finishes, all in only his second year of F1. He will go further if Toro Rosso can provide him with the machinery – which because they have to build their own chassis for next year instead of borrowing Red Bull’s, unfortunately does not look likely. 6/10

Jaime Alguersuari. The young Catalan was in a similar position to Sebastien Grosjean, in that he was put in a difficult car, unexpectedly, and with no testing. As such nothing could have been expected of him. Driving into the wrong pit box in Abu Dhabi was an embarrassing episode that should not distract potential bosses from his very real talent. 5/10

Sebastien Bourdais. The two eighth places that Bourdais won in his abbreviated season now seem like a better recommendation of his speed than they did at the time. But essentially Bourdais was an unspectacular performer who had failed to live up to the expectations that he was set. He looks likely to continue his career in the lower formulae. 4/10.

Force India
Adrian Sutil. Sutil had a characteristically gutsy and giant-killing season, including a wonderful fourth at Monza, but of which more might and should have been made. He was always a magnet for Ferraris, and more than once lost the chance of good points through what might carefully be labelled as incautious driving. In spite of this he was not at fault for Trulli crashing into him in Brazil. But he should have made more of the speed the team found at Spa, where it was team-mate Fisichella who got the glory. 5/10

Vitantonio Liuzzi. Liuzzi went some way to restoring his battered reputation by ably stepping into Fisichella’s shoes mid-season. Consistent if not startling pace helped the team to finish the races in creditable positions. However, it is thought that Liuzzi will not be a future world champion. 4/10