Sebastian Vettel was crowned the youngest world champion in history after a memorable final twist at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but was he the best driver of the year?

It's a subjective question, and so difficult after such a momentous season that I have been wrestling with it for some weeks.

Does Vettel's pace in the dominant Red Bull mean he was Formula 1's top driver? How does that rank alongside the performances of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in inferior cars?

What about Robert Kubica's ability to mix it with the title contenders in the Renault? Or Kamui Kobayashi's attacking verve in the Sauber?



10) After battling for the title with Brawn in 2009, it cannot have been easy for Rubens Barrichello, at 37 going on 38, to drum up the enthusiasm for a season battling to make the top 10 in qualifying with once-great Williams.

But drum it up he did, impressing the team with his technical feedback and producing some excellent drives that resulted in strong points positions when Williams had something of a purple patch mid-season.

The veteran Brazilian was outshone by rookie team-mate Nico Hulkenberg at times as the German found his feet late in the season.

Nevertheless, as he heads into an astonishing 19th F1 season in 2011, Barrichello clearly still has a lot to offer.

9) Kamui Kobayashi emerged as one of F1's most exciting talents with some all-action performances in 2010.

Overtaking is notoriously difficult but the Japanese simply went for it, finding unconventional passing places to liven up such races as Valencia and Japan.

There remain doubts about his ultimate potential, with Sauber drafting in the reliable Nick Heidfeld for the final five races of the season to give Kobayashi a benchmark to measure himself against.

But Kobayashi responded perfectly and gives all the signs of having a great future.

8) It all started so well for Felipe Massa, who out-qualified new team-mate Alonso at the first race of the season. But when Alonso passed the Brazilian around the outside of the first corner, it set the tone for the entire year.

Alonso trounced Massa in 2010, proving faster than him at virtually every race, and there is no doubt the Spaniard's relentless excellence got to the man in the second Ferrari.

There were some good drives from Massa - particularly his third places at Monza and Korea. But he will have to pull something very special out of the bag, not to mention rediscover his mental equilibrium, to reverse this trend in 2011.

7) Nico Rosberg convincingly beat Mercedes team-mate Michael Schumacher this year and, had he achieved that feat 10 years ago, there would have been no doubt he had emerged as a truly great F1 driver.

But the Schumacher of this year was not the same driver as before, as even the seven-time champion himself effectively admitted.

Rosberg drove a strong season, and some good races, and there are an increasing number of people in F1 who believe he is emerging as a top-class contender.

But until he goes up against - and beats - a driver of the highest calibre, it will be hard to tell whether he deserves to be considered as that himself, or whether he is nearly there, but not quite.

6) Not even Jenson Button probably expected to be leading the championship after winning two of the opening four races of 2010 and out-qualifying McLaren team-mate Hamilton 3-1.

Button's two victories in the wet in Australia and China owed a lot to clever strategic calls but that was not all. The sight of Button pulling away from Hamilton in China on a wet track and on tyres of comparable age proved once and for all that this is a driver of the very highest calibre.

After that, Hamilton got on top and stayed there but Button, who was rarely very far away in qualifying and often more or less matched his team-mate on race pace, provided a convincing answer to those who said he had gained his 2009 triumph more by luck than ability.

5) Mark Webber chose the name Aussie Grit for his Twitter account, and 2010 proved why. Expected to fulfil the role of an obedient number two at Red Bull, Webber went toe-to-toe with team-mate Vettel throughout the season and led him in the championship for most of it.

After a shaky first couple of races, Webber came on song when the season came back to Europe with dominant wins in Spain and Monaco that left Vettel bemused at where his team-mate had found such electrifying pace.

By mid-summer, Vettel had got his edge back, but Webber remained large in his mirrors, ready to take advantage of any mistakes. That he was able to do this despite suspicions that Red Bull were not perhaps being quite as even-handed in their treatment of their drivers as they insisted was all the more impressive.

But his challenge faded in the end, crashing in Korea and failing to make any real impact in the final two races of the campaign.

4) Did Renault's Robert Kubica perform better than any other driver on the grid when you consider the equipment he had at his disposal?

You can certainly make that case. No-one else can claim to have made so few mistakes while extracting what appeared to be the maximum from his machinery.

The Renault was not fast enough for Kubica to regularly mix it with the title contenders but on three occasions he transcended the car's limitations in a way only the truly great can - at Monaco, Spa and Suzuka, F1's three great drivers' circuits.

To qualify second in Monaco, third in Spa and fourth in Suzuka was a momentous achievement - and he backed that up by taking podium places in both Monaco and Belgium before being robbed of another when his wheel came loose in Japan.

There is still a slight question mark over a man who, in 2009, was not able to comprehensively overshadow Heidfeld at BMW. And let's not forget that Kubica was not burdened with the kind of pressure that the likes of Alonso, Vettel, Button and Hamilton were.

3) Sebastian Vettel is a great talent and a deserving world champion but, considering the stunning pace of the Red Bull car, he should have won many more races and clinched the title much sooner.

The car's fragility did not help - failures in Bahrain, Australia, Spain and Korea cost him a lot of points - but the German also made a number of high-profile errors. He crashed into rivals in Turkey and Belgium, suffered a puncture following a red-mist moment at Silverstone and was penalised for misjudging the safety car in Hungary.

Ten pole positions and five wins speak for themselves to an extent but, as the (slightly) faster driver in comfortably the fastest car, they are to be expected.

Some of those pole laps were stunning, though, with Vettel possessing an Ayrton Senna-esque ability to pull that little bit extra out on his very final lap, no matter what the circumstances, while each one of his wins was a masterpiece of domination.

However, there have to be fewer mistakes, more wins dragged out of adversity and more convincing performances when he is back in the pack for him to be ranked above the next names on the list.

2) Had this article been written after the Belgian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton would have occupied the number one spot.

Up to that point, Hamilton had made not a single mistake worth the name and he was leading the championship in what had from the mid-point of the season been the third fastest car.

Hamilton had maintained his exuberant, attacking style and stunning natural pace and had mated it to a consistency that was making him a formidable competitor.

His fantastic victory at Spa - not forgetting the qualifying lap that earned him second on the grid on slicks in a shower of rain - confirmed him as the outstanding driver of the season to that point, notwithstanding the canny Button's two wet wins.

Suddenly, though, it all went wrong. Hamilton crashed out of the next two races in Monza and Singapore and when he crashed again in Friday practice at the next race in Japan his season appeared to be coming apart at the seams.

But then came one of the laps of the season - third on the grid at Suzuka in a car in which he had done just six flying laps before qualifying. It was a reminder of Hamilton's amazing talent. By then, though, as far as the championship was concerned, the damage had been done.

1) Fernando Alonso's first year with Ferrari started with a few shaky races and finished with a strategic mistake that cost him the title. In between the Spaniard did just enough to earn the right to call himself the best driver of 2010.

Early-season errors were born of trying too hard in a car that was not quite on the pace. Combine that with Ferrari losing their way for a while and Alonso was 47 points off the lead at the midpoint of the season.

But in a car that established itself as the second fastest behind the Red Bull, he recovered that margin by driving with a consistent, relentless brilliance that his rivals were not able to match. His victories at Monza and Singapore were stunning. Only Hamilton at Spa and perhaps Webber at Monaco can claim a performance of comparable quality.

That ultimately Alonso did not win a third title was only because of his team's error in Abu Dhabi. For the 2005 and 2006 champion, as he said himself, it was still a great year.




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