• ESPN's Driver of the Year Part Two

Vettel crowns a remarkable year

Laurence Edmondson and Chris Medland
December 27, 2013

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

5. Nico Hulkenberg

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Hulkenberg's first half of the year was low-key but only because of the car. The fact he was scoring points at all was impressive and his appearance in the top 10 in qualifying in China, Canada and Germany was proof he was performing above the car's expected potential. Then came an exhaust upgrade at the Hungarian Grand Prix that finally gave the C31 the rear downforce it needed to be competitive and things started to change. By Monza Hulkenberg had the set-up and driving style to match the improved car, qualifying third and finishing fifth. Fifth on the grid in Abu Dhabi and fourth in the USA proved he had the pace to match the top level drivers despite his lesser equipment. His performances in races were equally impressive as he defended position against faster cars, notably in Korea where he held off Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. Most impressively he didn't hold the positions by force but by positioning his car intelligently in corners to play to the limited strengths of the Sauber and outfox the more experienced drivers behind. Given a competitive car he has the potential for great things, but remarkably he is destined for another year punching above his weight in the midfield. LE

4. Romain Grosjean

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There was a real question mark over Grosjean going into 2013, but by the end of the year he marked himself out as fully deserving of a title-challenging car. Following his issues in 2012, all eyes were on whether he could prevent a repeat of his numerous first-lap incidents. As a result, Grosjean took a cautious approach to the start of the year but still finished ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in Malaysia before his podium in Bahrain. A suspension issue ended a promising weekend in Spain, but Monaco set him back as he seemed too eager to display what he could do around the streets. Impressive speed was punctuated by crashes and he eventually retired after taking out Daniel Ricciardo, going on to have two quiet races in Canada and Britain. Then it all changed in Germany. Grosjean was in the fight for victory and deserved better next time out in Hungary only to be penalised for a breathtaking move on Felipe Massa which caused him to drop out of podium contention. When the car wasn't competitive he still scored points, but when it was Grosjean became the biggest threat to Red Bull, embarking on a run of four podiums in five races - and even then his worst result was fourth. Definitely the most improved driver over the year, and now one of the ones to watch next season. CM

3. Kimi Raikkonen

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Strip away the missed payments and messy end to Raikkonen's year and you'll unearth pure driving performance. It's one of the reasons Lotus loved him so much; the guarantee that over a race distance the car would be driven to the max. Sadly that love was tested towards the end of the season when his missing salary went public and he quit the team to undergo back surgery two races early. It was a nasty break-up for an otherwise well-matched relationship, but go back to the summer break and Raikkonen was a strong contender for driver of the year. He was the only driver to score at every round in the first half of the season, at which point he was second in the championship and had six podiums to Vettel's seven. However, when Vettel and Red Bull stepped the competition up a gear in the second half of the year Raikkonen appeared to lose interest somewhat, but as an unpaid professional sportsman in a car limiting his abilities it was understandable. Despite missing the final two races he still finished 51 points clear of team-mate Romain Grosjean. When given the motivation of a championship-contending car, he is still a formidable force. LE

2. Fernando Alonso

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How do you follow your most complete season in Formula One? It was always going to be a tough ask for Alonso, who had arguably made just two mistakes all season in 2012 as well as consistently outperforming the car. However, the start of 2013 had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde feel to it. A solid second place in Melbourne - ahead of Sebastian Vettel - hinted at a better shot at the title, but he then ran into the back of the reigning champion in Malaysia, folding his front wing under the car at the start of the next lap to take him out of the race. Following a dominant win in China, a DRS issue restricted Alonso to eighth in Bahrain before he again bounced back with a strong win in front of his home crowd in Spain. But that was as good as it got for Alonso. He wouldn't win another race and by the time Formula One broke for the summer he was already 39 points adrift of Vettel. Three consecutive second places in the second half of the season were a reminder of his impressive consistency from the previous year, but Vettel had firmly closed and locked the door this time around. Little digs at Ferrari didn't help Alonso's cause, and nor did more mistakes such as contact with Jenson Button on the opening lap in India. However, his frustration was understandable after seeing a car that had won two of the first five races on pure pace slip to one which would only deliver him a solitary third place in the last six grands prix. To finish as best of the rest over the year was still a very impressive achievement. CM

1. Sebastian Vettel

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Fast, intelligent, ruthless... above all a winner. Sebastian Vettel fully deserved the 2013 drivers' title - his fourth championship victory in a row. He may have had the best car this season but it was the way he used it that was so impressive. He made no costly mistakes, with only one retirement all year (due to an engine failure while leading the British Grand Prix) and only one grid position outside the top three (in China when Red Bull opted not to run in Q3 for strategy reasons). He dominated his team-mate throughout the year by gaining a better understanding of how to exploit the extra rear downforce on offer from the clever exhaust system feeding the Red Bull's diffuser. No driver looked as comfortable with his car over the course of the season, and when he wasn't leading from the front he was using his reserves of brain power to figure out why - a trait Red Bull design guru Adrian Newey noted in India. "When he gets out of the car he is able to keep learning, he has very good recall and he knows exactly what's going on. The ability of the top drivers to recall a detail of a gear change on lap three of the race or whatever never ceases to amaze me. With all of them, they are very humble and they do not let the success go to their heads." He displayed a ruthless streak at the Malaysian Grand Prix when he robbed team-mate Mark Webber of victory and for a period became the paddock's pantomime villain. But nine consecutive victories at the end of the season left onlookers in no doubt that they were witnessing something rather special. It was Vettel's most accomplished season to date and, worryingly for the other drivers on this list, he shows no signs letting up. LE

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