• F1 2012 review

ESPN's top ten drivers of 2012 - Part one

ESPN Staff
December 21, 2012

ESPN rates the drivers of 2012 in order, check back on December 24 for the top five

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10. Nico Rosberg

For a short period between the Chinese and Monaco Grands Prix, Nico Rosberg scored more points than any other driver. During that time Mercedes had one of the fastest cars, albeit not the most consistent, and Rosberg made good use of it.

His victory in China was immaculate, from a qualifying lap that was 0.5s faster than team-mate Michael Schumacher and the rest of the field to an equally impressive performance in race conditions. Everything came together and Rosberg gave a glimpse of what he is capable of. The latter half of the season, however, was not as competitive as Mercedes never recovered from a hiatus in the development of the car while it updated its wind tunnel.

Both Rosberg and Schumacher struggled as a result and by the end of the season the emphasis was on collecting data for 2013 rather than scoring points - so much so that Rosberg failed to finish in the top ten at the final six races.

Despite beating Schumacher for three consecutive seasons, Rosberg still has his detractors. The hope for his supporters is that he will be able to prove the critics wrong by going up against Lewis Hamilton in a competitive car in 2013.

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9. Pastor Maldonado

Pastor Maldonado has the potential to be much higher in this list, and the signs are he will be in the future. From a stereotypical pay-driver in 2011, Maldonado displayed outstanding raw pace that marks him out as having genuine potential to become a world class driver. Ally that to his flawless performance under pressure from Fernando Alonso in front of the Spaniard's home crowd and Maldonado really does have all the skills required to win more races.

The problem is for every flash of qualifying brilliance (think Spain, Valencia, Singapore and Abu Dhabi), Maldonado gets involved in a needless - and sometimes even downright dangerous - incident. Needless was his clash with Lewis Hamilton in Valencia that cost him a podium, but dangerous was his decision to drive into Sergio Perez during Monaco practice.

For now the lows stand out as much as the highs, but his win in Barcelona and ability to challenge until a KERS failure in Abu Dhabi show that he's learning how to keep a cool head in the cockpit and deliver. This year he stepped out from the shadow of the PDVSA dollars and marked himself as a truly exciting driver to watch.

From 11-24

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  • 11. Kamui Kobayashi
  • 12. Romain Grosjean
  • 13. Daniel Ricciardo
  • 14. Felipe Massa
  • 15. Paul di Resta
  • 16. Michael Schumacher
  • 17. Charles Pic
  • 18. Bruno Senna
  • 19. Vitaly Petrov
  • 20. Jean-Eric Vergne
  • 21. Timo Glock
  • 22. Pedro de la Rosa
  • 23. Heikki Kovalainen
  • 24. Narain Karthikeyan

8. Mark Webber

Statistically, Mark Webber's season doesn't impress. For starters, he finished 102 points behind Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel but, as is so often the case in F1, the statistics do not tell the whole story.

Webber and Red Bull rolled the dice several times with strategy, but the odd safety car here and some unexpected degradation there proved very costly. It was so often a case of nearly-but-not-quite and the closeness of the field in 2012 magnified those small mistakes.

Qualifying was an improvement on 2011, especially towards the end of the season, and his two wins at Silverstone and Monaco came from front-row grid positions. But when the car was clearly the class of the field from Singapore onwards, it was Vettel who was consistently a couple of tenths quicker over one lap. But, as is always the way with Webber, he didn't give up and continued to push to the very last race, not least by squeezing Vettel into turn one in Brazil.

7. Sergio Perez

Had we compiled a top ten in early September then Sergio Perez - sitting ninth in the drivers' championship having just taken his third podium of the year - would probably have been staking a claim for the top three. Unfortunately, from that point onwards his best finish was tenth place at the following race in Singapore and he then failed to score for the rest of the season.

The Malaysian Grand Prix was a watershed moment. Perez had some promise but hadn't displayed anything that made him stand out from the crowd until the mixed conditions at Sepang where he drove brilliantly and would have won but for one slight error six laps from the end which dropped him too far off the back of Fernando Alonso. He similarly rose through the field late on in Canada before a sublime second at Monza ahead of both Ferraris that cemented his reputation as Formula One's most promising prospect.

His poor run of form at the end of the season unfortunately came following his announcement as a McLaren driver for next year and as a result leaves him under more pressure than he should be going in to 2013. Incidents like spinning out trying to overtake Lewis Hamilton in Japan also highlight how far away he is from being the finished article, but Perez has shown he has all the required attributes to be a success at McLaren, perhaps bar a flash of one-lap speed, and having already stepped on the podium three times this year a win is all he's lacking at this point.

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6. Nico Hulkenberg

There was a lot of pressure on Nico Hulkenberg in 2012. After his breakthrough year in 2010 with Williams, he was forced to sit out of 2011 before returning to a race seat alongside Paul di Resta at Force India this year. In his tear on the sidelines he had missed out on the introduction of Pirelli tyres and also had to come up to speed quickly with DRS and KERS. However, anybody who had followed his rapid ascent through the junior categories would have know he was more than up to the job.

The first half of his season was solid if not spectacular and by the midway point he was eight points adrift of di Resta. Then things started to click for both Force India and Hulkenberg and he scored solid points at five of the final six races, which was enough to elevate him to 11th in the championship and 17 points clear of di Resta by the final race.

His confidence was clearly soaring by that point of the season and his fifth place in Brazil could have been a victory had his car not snapped from underneath him while trying to pass Lewis Hamilton for the lead. The talent is definitely there and what's more it appears to have been spotted by Ferrari with his move to Sauber widely perceived as a precursor to a shift to Maranello. He's definitely one to watch.