• Driver of the year

ESPN's driver of the year - Part one

Laurence Edmondson and Chris Medland
December 21, 2013

Part one of ESPN's top 10 Formula One drivers of the year

10. Valtteri Bottas

© Sutton Images
Enlarge
Related Links
Bottas has been highly regarded within the Williams team for some time and this year the rest of us started to understand why. Whatever you think of team-mate Pastor Maldonado, you cannot deny he is quick. Yet over the course of the year Bottas out-qualified him 12-7 and, to his credit given the car at his disposal, he only dropped out in Q1 on five occasions. But it was the glimpses of brilliance that earned him a place on this list. His wet qualifying lap to secure third on the grid in Canada was remarkable as the slippery track helped mask the deficiencies of the Williams FW35. In Austin, when the car was stripped of its troublesome coanda exhaust, he excelled and finally had the confidence to push, scoring the first points of his career. There's definitely more to come. LE

9. Jules Bianchi

© Sutton Images
Enlarge

Bianchi could be forgiven for being a bit off the pace at the start of the season, having missed out on the Force India drive at the final test, he was snapped up by Marussia to replace Luiz Razia and only got a day and a half of running in the car before Melbourne. But going in cold appeared to be the ideal preparation as Bianchi was mightily impressive in the opening races. In Australia, he set the 11th fastest lap - just 0.05s slower than Sebastian Vettel's best - en-route to a solid 15th place finish. After that he qualified 0.5s off a spot in Q2 in Malaysia - again very close to Vettel's time - and delivered a 13th place in the race which proved to be good enough to secure Marussia 10th in the constructors' championship. They were crucial results which Bianchi delivered at a time when he may have been expected to be getting up to speed. After that, his season tailed off somewhat as Marussia dropped back from the established teams in terms of development, but he still comprehensively beat team-mate Max Chilton and was often fighting a lone battle against the Caterhams to defend that 10th place. CM

8. Daniel Ricciardo

© Sutton Images
Enlarge

Ricciardo spent more time going backwards from his grid positions than he did going forward in 2013, and on that basis it would be easy to kick him out of the top 10. But a closer analysis of his qualifying performances shows that he was putting his Toro Rosso in positions on the grid that it had no business in being. He made Q3 on nine occasions, five of which were in the top seven, while team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne only graced the top-ten shootout on four occasions. In the races the Toro Rosso had a tendency to drop back to its natural position in the pecking order, but Ricciardo still scored 20 points. Add to that a convincing performance at the Young Driver Test for Red Bull (which helped him seal the most coveted drive in F1 for 2014) and he is worthy of a place in the top ten. Underestimate him at your peril; he will be a serious rival to Sebastian Vettel next year. LE

7. Nico Rosberg

© Sutton Images
Enlarge

There's a strong case for putting Rosberg ahead of Hamilton on this list. The two were very evenly matched over the course of the year and, even though Hamilton still appears to have the edge on outright speed, there were weekends when Rosberg's methodical approach won out. His Monaco victory may have looked easy due to the difficulty of overtaking in the principality, but securing pole position and then resisting his Mercedes' hunger for rear tyres was no mean feat. Despite his team-mate's celebrity status, he retained his standing within the team by working hard to overcome the tyre issues it faced for much of the season. He also seems more likely to drive Mercedes forward into 2014 and was in the simulator testing the new car before the end of the season (and before Hamilton) as well as driving at the recent Pirelli tyre test (which provided us with the tweet of the season). If the new cars require more of a tactician behind the wheel than a magician, Rosberg has the potential to come out on top at Mercedes next year. LE

6. Lewis Hamilton

© Sutton Images
Enlarge

It's a sign of how much we expect of Hamilton that this turned out to be a slightly underwhelming season from him. His move to Mercedes seems to have given him a new lease in terms of his personal life and feeling comfortable within the team, which at times have been evident in his on-track performances, but his dip towards the end of the year was a disappointing way to end after plenty of promise. The high points were undoubtedly his pole positions - with five only Sebastian Vettel had more - and his brilliant victory in Hungary. That result came at a time when he was wrestling with problems in his personal life but he delivered an unexpectedly dominant performance which threatened to ignite a title challenge. Ultimately, Mercedes couldn't keep up with Red Bull's development pace and Hamilton wouldn't stand on the podium again after finishing third in Spa. However, his own form also tailed off and he was often critical of himself in the closing stages, as well as citing an unfamiliar car for his lack of performance. Far from his best year, but he showed in Hungary and Silverstone - where he would have won but for a tyre failure - that there's plenty more to come. CM

Close