So just who was the best driver on the grid in 2010?

The inaugural (and annual) Richard’s F1 Driver-by-Driver Rankings are upon us, and what a perfect way to round out the year with a highly opinionated piece such as this, designed to get the fans talking.

All 27 drivers will be ranked in a series of three articles, so have a read and let us know your thoughts.

Our rankings are based on driver form guides, statistics, reviewing of qualifying and race broadcasts, and just a little bit of gut feel. So who exceeded the capabilities of their machinery? And who’s languishing at the bottom of the pile by disappointing us the most? Let’s find out…

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27. Lucas di Grassi
Lucas di Grassi 1 Lucas di Grassi Profile

Poor Lucas di Grassi was on something of a hiding to nothing in his debut F1 season. A rookie driver in a rookie team with a limited budget, and paired against an experienced team-mate in the form of Timo Glock, he was certainly not on easy street.

But for all that Glock was able to do in wrestling what little performance there was in the VR-01, di Grassi was seemingly stuck in the shadows. Rarely able to match the pace of his team-mate (as evidenced by being thrashed 16-3 in qualifying) or the Lotus pairing, he was often found circling fractionally quicker than the Hispania cars.

Granted, it’s unlikely he was always given equal equipment to Glock – he was not the first to receive the ‘larger-tank’ car, for example – but making a mark in Formula 1 is about making the best of a bad situation.

His major gaffe came at the Japanese Grand Prix when he crashed at 130R on the installation lap en route to the grid, which occurred with no hint of mechanical failure.

And when the team opted to run the well-heeled Jérôme d’Ambrosio in his place for Friday practice, it gave plenty of indication that it valued the Belgian’s finances ahead of what little technical insight the young Brazilian could bring to the table.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS HOPES FOR 2011
Team: Virgin Racing
WDC: 24th Points: 0
Starts: 18 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 14th

Unsigned by any of the teams, and that’s hardly surprising. Plenty of well-heeled South American drivers have come and gone in F1, and poor Lucas could well be another statistic in spite of the talent he may possess.

OUR RATING: 22%

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26. Pedro de la Rosa
Pedro de la Rosa Pedro de la Rosa

We weren’t the only ones who were a little surprised by Sauber’s appointment of Pedro de la Rosa to its race line-up for the 2010 season. While it made sense for the team to pit an experienced driver alongside a rookie such as Kamui Kobayashi, what was strange about the team’s decision was that de la Rosa – in spite of his years of faithful service to McLaren as its test driver – has rarely proved the racing speed in F1 that he had in the junior formulae.

While he may have been a key figure in getting Sauber back into the midfield with his developmental background, his driving simply lacked spark all season long.

Despite being evenly matched in qualifying against Kobayashi, his Japanese team-mate made it into Q3 four times, while de la Rosa managed it just twice. His sole points finish came at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

After Italy, the team needed to decide if Pedro’s problems were down to the car or its driver, and his replacement Nick Heidfeld amassed the same points tally in just three races. One guesses that said it all…

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THE VITAL STATISTICS HOPES FOR 2011
Team: Sauber
WDC: 17th Points: 6
Starts: 13 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 7th

Pedro was quickly snatched up by Pirelli as its tyre tester after he was sacked by Sauber. Talks of a drive at HRT, but he’s not young, not quick, and has no sponsorship. Back to McLaren as a test driver once again?

OUR RATING: 25%

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25. Vitantonio Liuzzi
Vitantonio Liuzzi Vitantonio Liuzzi

You may have grounds to argue that we’re far too harsh in ranking Vitantonio Liuzzi this low in our season-ending Driver Rankings, but on the basis of the car at his disposal, the Italian could (and should) have delivered so much more in 2010.

The VJM03 was hotly tipped as a podium contender, and while the prediction certainly didn’t ring true, it seemed that ‘Tonio allowed his head to drop a little too quickly at times and he was decidedly underwhelming for much of 2010.

Having never been a particularly strong qualifier to begin with, his stock plummeted with no less than five separate failure to make it out of Q1 (the most of any ‘Division 1’ team driver).

Starting well down the order left him vulnerable to other people’s accidents, and he was involved in them too often. And when he kept it out of trouble, he often lacked the pace and the strategy to get him higher up the finishing order. A mature drive to 6th in the rain at Korea was one of the drives of the day, but one had the feeling it was too little, too late…

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THE VITAL STATISTICS HOPES FOR 2011
Team: Force India
WDC: 15th Points: 21
Starts: 19 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 6th

Despite his protestations that he has a contract for next year, Force India has remained tight-lipped about its driver line-up, and offered very little in the way of praise for Liuzzi. It’s hard to see him staying on the grid in 2011.

OUR RATING: 27%

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24. Vitaly Petrov
Vitaly Petrov Vitaly Petrov

A cursory viewing of the official F1 season review DVD for this season spends almost as much time showcasing Vitaly Petrov’s many and varied crashes than it does on the title battle at the front of the field.

And despite what significant sponsorship dollars you might bring to the party, the funding is better used on R&D than in panel-beating a mangled R30 chassis after young Petrov has had a go.

The GP2 championship runner-up came with plenty of speed but is far from the finished product, and his debut season bore testament to that.

That being said, there were some mitigating factors, with his not being given an equal opportunity to test pre-season, and when he did, it was in the worst of the weather conditions.

Partnered against someone of the quality of Robert Kubica, it was a tall ask to expect him to be able to match the Pole, and more often than not, this proved to be the case.

However, there were the odd highlights that seemingly warranted Renault re-signing him for 2011, not least of which was some excellent wet-weather pace, his staunch defence against the likes of Lewis Hamilton (Malaysia) and Fernando Alonso (Abu Dhabi), and outpacing Kubica at Hungary and Abu Dhabi.

The the scoreline difference in the championship points to Kubica – a margin of over 100 points – really hampered Renault in the Constructors’ Championship. He needs to lift his game.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS HOPES FOR 2011
Team: Renault F1
WDC: 13th Points: 27
Starts: 19 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 1 Best Result: 5th

He’d probably be out of a seat with fewer dollars or a different passport, but Renault have put faith in him again with a two-year contract extension. He’ll need to improve to still be on the grid by the 2014 Russian GP.

OUR RATING: 35%

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23. Bruno Senna
Bruno Senna Bruno Senna

When your car’s parked at the back of the grid, your reputation – irrespective of your famous surname – will ultimately depend on how well you fare against your team-mate, and on this basis, it was hardly the debut F1 season Bruno Senna would have hoped for.

Being the nephew of one of the sport’s most famous figures comes with massive pressure, but Bruno had a decent pedigree in the junior categories and many expected him to blow the doors of team-mate Karun Chandhok.

And while he may have marginally out-performed the Indian, he certainly didn’t stamp his authority over Sakon Yamamoto, and then getting out-qualified by a very rusty Christian Klien was the icing on the cake.

To be fair, one shouldn’t be overly critical of someone piloting a Hispania, as it’s almost impossible to draw any concrete conclusions on whether Bruno is F1 material. The jury is still very much out…

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THE VITAL STATISTICS HOPES FOR 2011
Team: Hispania Racing Team
WDC: 23rd Points: 0
Starts: 18 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 14th

An intelligent and charming man out of the cockpit, Bruno will be hoping his sponsors can squeeze him on the grid for another season. Talks of a tie-in with Lotus are a nice throwback to his uncle.

OUR RATING: 35%

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22. Sakon Yamamoto
Sakon Yamamoto Sakon Yamamoto

Cynics suggested that the only reasons Sakon Yamamoto made his presence on the F1 grid was down to his battery of Japanese sponsors and his close relationship with HRT boss Colin Kolles, and they’d be right in both instances.

Having achieved little in the way of results in his formative career, he carries with him the stigma of the well-heeled pay driver, and there were plenty of raised eyebrows when he was signed as the team’s test driver early on.

A call-up to deputise for Bruno Senna at the British Grand Prix led to him replacing Karun Chandhok for much of the rest of the season, until he too was replaced in favour of Christian Klien.

He was never going to be a competitive prospect in a HRT, but what surprised many was how respectable his pace actually was. Running close to – and occasionally quicker – than Senna turned heads, and many began to question their original judgements of Yamamoto.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS HOPES FOR 2011
Team: Hispania Racing
WDC: 26th Points: 0
Starts: 7 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 15th

Lacking a race-winning pedigree relative to his finances, he certainly didn’t disgrace himself, and out-qualifying Senna at Korea was a highlight. Should HRT be around in 2011, he could feature. For the right price, of course…

OUR RATING: 40%

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21. Karun Chandhok
Karun Chandhok Karun Chandhok

Little was expected of Karun Chandhok, who was an eleventh-hour sign-up to the Hispania Racing squad in the days before it made its debut in Bahrain, but one got the sense that the team’s signing of him was borne more from necessity than desire.

An Indian driver on the grid – particularly given the Indian Grand Prix making its debut next year – potentially brings great sponsorship opportunities from his homeland, and it seemed a surprise that corporate India wasn’t doing its level best to keep him in the team.

Despite some assured performances in his early races – picking up the team’s first finish and running much closer to Senna’s pace than many had expected – he was inexplicably turfed from the driving role after the British Grand Prix and never in consideration for a reprise role as the season wore on.

A hugely engaging character, he quickly became a fan and paddock favourite, and showed remarkably good spirits in spite of the unfair hand he had been dealt.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS HOPES FOR 2011
Team: Hispania Racing
WDC: 22nd Points: 0
Starts: 10 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 14th

Memory is a fickle thing in F1, and poor Karun risks being left behind in the sport’s consciousness. But with the Indian GP arriving next year, it would be good for him to find a seat and with what we’ve seen, he deserves one.

OUR RATING: 50%

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20. Jarno Trulli
Jarno Trulli Jarno Trulli

Sublime when he and the car are on-song, but otherwise anonymous and disinterested when this isn’t the case. Such is the mercurial talent that is Jarno Trulli.

Falling from the relative competitiveness of Toyota to the unknown environment at Lotus Racing seemed to be a bitter pill for the Pescara man to swallow.

Perhaps in some way he was his own self-fulfilling prophecy, being quick to write off 2010 as a gap year and often publically (and we’ll say bitterly) bemoaning the T127’s poor reliability and handling characteristics. Indeed, he didn’t have a single weekend where a reliability issue didn’t rear its head…

Jarno initially seemed to lose his mettle in qualifying – most notably being outqualified by his team-mate at Monaco – but actually wound up ahead of Heikki Kovalainen in the head-to-head figures by the end of the year.

But one always got the feeling that Jarno was never really prepared to extract more from that car than what he felt was capable. One certainly hopes that 2011 will allow us to rediscover Trulli’s inherent speed…

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THE VITAL STATISTICS HOPES FOR 2011
Team: Lotus Racing
WDC: 21st Points: 0
Starts: 18 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 13th

Optimistic for the year ahead, Jarno was recently reconfirmed in the team’s line-up for 2011. More time spent developing the T128 (coupled with the Red Bull rear end) should see him more competitive in 2011.

OUR RATING: 50%

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19. Christian Klien
Christian Klien Christian Klien

Of the entire Hispania Racing driver roster, Christian Klien was perhaps the most impressive, even if his last place in the Drivers’ Championship standings may not initially reflect that.

Having had little in the way of open-wheel racing opportunities since he last raced in F1 in 2006, he was signed as HRT’s second test driver and returned to the cockpit with separate practice outings at Barcelona and Valencia.

His deserved race opportunity came at Singapore in place of Yamamoto, and he created a major upset for Bruno Senna by out-qualifying the team’s regular driver by over 1.3 seconds, and backed this up again with a similar performance at Brazil, when he was next given a shot with the team.

Undoubtedly hampered by the anchor-like chassis, Klien conducted himself well and certainly showed that he deserves a long-term chance in the sport.

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THE VITAL STATISTICS HOPES FOR 2011
Team: Hispania Racing
WDC: 27th Points: 0
Starts: 3 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 20th

Were Christian not hailing from a traditional European base, he’d be armed to the teeth with sponsorship and be in the radar of many teams for 2011. Can he get the full-time berth he deserves? We hope so.

OUR RATING: 53%

[Original images via AUTOSPORT, GP Update, LAT & Sutton Images]

COMING SOON! The next instalment of our Driver-by-Driver Rankings (18-10)

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.
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