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

We continue the Richard’s F1 Driver-By-Driver Rankings series today with Part 2, covering positions 18 to 10 on our countdown.

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 floated around the middle of the pack, or perhaps partly failed to live up to the hype? Find out here…


18. Nick Heidfeld
Nick Heidfeld Nick Heidfeld

It’s never easy being helicoptered into a race seat midway through a season, but Nick Heidfeld made sure he grabbed the opportunity with both hands when called upon to replace the hapless Pedro de la Rosa at Sauber.

Despite having had little time in a Formula 1 cockpit (his few outings as Pirelli’s first tyre tester notwithstanding), he quickly adapted to the routine and racked up as many points in five outings as de la Rosa managed in fourteen, and ran close to the pace of the more established Kamui Kobayashi.

Steady without being truly spectacular, he deserves a place on the F1 grid, but whether this is enough to convince another team to take him on is another matter altogether.

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Team: Sauber
WDC: 18th Points: 6
Starts: 5 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 8th
Heidfeld has neither the headline-grabbing profile nor the sponsorship backing to make him a truly attractive option where seats still remain vacant. One sense he is very much yesterday’s man, and his few outings might just be a quiet farewell from F1. A shame indeed.


17. Sébastien Buemi
Sebastien Buemi Sebastien Buemi

After a hugely-impressive debut season last year, Buemi can only walk away from his 2010 campaign disappointed, having been let down by a combination of a less-than-spectacular car and some rather questionable driving at times.

In fairness, he found himself caught up in several opening-lap accidents (from many of which he emerged blameless), but at times his driving was quite ragged and untidy as he struggled to regain momentum, such as at Korea.

There were the odd bright spots – leading the race and passing Michael Schumacher at Canada being an example – but he was largely consigned to midfield anonymity.

Despite outscoring team-mate Jaime Alguersuari, the balance of power clearly shifted to his team-mate in the latter half of the season, and being outqualified at each of the final five rounds of 2010 won’t have helped his cause at all.

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Team: Scuderia Toro Rosso
WDC: 16th Points: 8
Starts: 19 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 8th
The talk within the Toro Rosso camp during the off-season has been about Alguersuari’s improved form, and little love has been directed to Buemi. Buemi will need to impress immediately to avoid being under threat from the team’s Friday driver, Daniel Ricciardo.


16. Felipe Massa
Felipe Massa Felipe Massa

Sixteenth in our overall rankings is perhaps a brutal position for a driver who achieved five podiums and 144 points, but in comparison to his team-mate Fernando Alonso (5 wins and 100 more points), the 2010 campaign was a disaster for Felipe Massa.

Yes, he was still recovering from his life-threatening accident at Hungary in 2009, and it certainly could have dulled his form this year. But there were times when he looked more on the ball: beating Alonso in four of the first seven races and remaining close to the Spaniard’s qualifying pace early on.

He even led the championship race after Australia, but he quickly started being out-driven and out-flanked by Alonso – with the latter becoming all the clearer at races like China and (more tellingly) Germany.

Germany was perhaps the turning point in Massa’s fortunes, but his head dropped after being forced to cede the win, and despite having little choice but to play a supporting role from there on, he appeared utterly disinterested and all but invisible.

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Team: Ferrari
WDC: 6th Points: 144
Starts: 19 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 5
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 2nd
Excuses over his inability to heat the tyres in qualifying grew tiresome as the season wore on, and he was really patchy throughout 2010. He has promised to bounce back in 2011. For the sake of remaining on the Maranello payroll, he undoubtedly needs to.


15. Jaime Alguersuari
Jaime Alguersuari Jaime Alguersuari

After a difficult baptism to F1 in 2009, this season was about Jaime Alguersuari establishing himself as a worthy F1 driver. But from within the cockpit of the generally off-the-pace STR5, it certainly wasn’t an easy prospect at times.

Nonetheless, the young Spaniard showed a level of maturity and skill that belied his tender years, and finished in the points on three occasions, with particularly fine drives at Sepang and Abu Dhabi proving the highlights, along with outqualifying his team-mate in each of the last five rounds of the season.

There is still some work to do, with some less-than-stellar driving at Hockenheim (hitting Buemi), Spa-Francorchamps, Monza and Suzuka, but Toro Rosso confirmed their faith in his ability by announcing a contract extension early in the mid-season.

It would be fascinating to see what results he could produce with better machinery.

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Team: Scuderia Toro Rosso
WDC: 19th Points: 5
Starts: 19 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 9th
Alguersuari transformed from being the junior team-mate to the more favoured son at Toro Rosso over the course of 2010, and will be targeting a further improvement in his results in 2011 if he wants to get a promotion to the senior Red Bull Racing outfit in 2012.


14. Adrian Sutil
Adrian Sutil Adrian Sutil

Adrian Sutil cemented his reputation as a solid and dependable midfield peddler in 2010, but this season hasn’t done anything to establish if the German has what it takes to translate his talent to a higher level.

He showed an impressive turn of speed in the opening races of the season while Force India enjoyed an advantage over its rivals, and comfortably kept team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi at arm’s length for much of the season. Nine points’ scoring finishes and an impressive streak of six consecutive races in the points were particular highlights, and it was very much down to him that the team was able to challenge Williams in the Constructors’ Championship.

But as their rivals caught up and Force India dropped back to the midfield, Sutil really seemed to lose his mojo and his driving lost its edge, with the nadir being an error-ridden race at Korea in wet conditions that he has typically excelled in.

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Team: Force India
WDC: 11th Points: 47
Starts: 19 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 5th
Increasingly critical of the team’s loss of form as the season wore on, Sutil held out for a possible berth at Renault and Mercedes GP, but those opportunities evaporated and his only hope is to remain with Force India for another year. Is a change of team needed…?


13. Michael Schumacher
Michael Schumacher Michael Schumacher

Should one be disappointed or greatly surprised by Michael Schumacher’s hugely anticipated comeback season?

At times, the seven-time World Champion looked a complete amateur in the field and was comfortably outperformed by team-mate Nico Rosberg for much of the season. But with three years out of the sport, an in-season testing ban and wholesale changes to the regulations, could much more have been expected of him?

At times, he looked off the boil and his driving smacked of desperation, as was shown by his too-forceful defence at Canada and Hungary, in particular.

After a few races of the 2010, the press and several key figures were baying for his blood, leaving many to wonder how the 41-year-old was going to bow out without too much damage being done to his reputation.

But he deserves full credit for sticking to his principles, and for the more rounded persona he adopted when dealing with the press in comparison to his earlier days. There was a genuine thrill at simply being back in the mix once again.

He struggled at getting the front tyres to work, and the W01’s understeering nature didn’t suit his ‘chuck it at the apex’ style of driving.

But there was some hope. The crew continued to develop the car and at Singapore he found an improved pace, which translated into his strongest weekends yet at Japan and Korea. Perhaps the return to form is just around the corner…

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Team: Mercedes GP
WDC: 9th Points: 72
Starts: 19 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 4th
If 2011 delivers more of the same midfield mediocrity, then Schumacher will be looking at how he can exit stage left quietly. But if the upward trajectory can continue, then expect Schumi to be in the mix once again.


12. Timo Glock
Timo Glock Timo Glock

Timo Glock did well to bring the ‘rookie championship’ fight to Lotus Racing when, frankly, the VR-01 probably wasn’t a capable machine to do so.

He handled the drop down the grid – from the relative highs of Toyota in 2009 – with good grace (by contrast to Trulli at times), and was the key figure in driving what little development could be performed on the VR-01 during its debut season.

By and large, it was the team’s appalling early season reliability (or lack of it) in the opening races that saw Glock having to play catch-up, and while Heikki Kovalainen was largely considered to be the star of the rookie teams’ drivers, Glock also tried very hard.

Not surprisingly, he stood out in wetter events when the handicap to the frontrunners was lessened, and but for a poor strategy decision (pitting too early) at Suzuka, and clumsy driving from Sébastien Buemi at Korea, he might have caused a major upset.

His defence of his position at Singapore – running tenth ahead of much quicker cars by not pitting – showed his class, before his strategy was destroyed by more safety car interruptions. Here is a driver who deserves better machinery.

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Team: Virgin Racing
WDC: 25th Points: 0
Starts: 19 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 14th
Virgin have confirmed Timo’s re-signing for the 2011 season, and he will again prove crucial to improving the squad’s fortunes in its second season. But will a clear number-two team-mate in ‘D’Ambrosio bring out the best in Timo in 2011?


11. Heikki Kovalainen
Heikki Kovalainen Heikki Kovalainen

Having been comprehensively destroyed after seasons spent partnering the likes of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen’s F1 career was at the crossroads.

And Lotus Racing saw an opportunity to give Kovalainen a supporting environment in which he could rebuild his career and rediscover his motivation, while in turn tapping into his knowledge to develop a first-year project. You would struggle to identify a tougher environment for the Finn.

But excel he did, contrasting his team-mate Jarno Trulli by remaining unwaivered in his support of a difficult cause and showing huge commitment to Lotus’ improvement to be the best of the newcomer outfits.

His on-track performances showed that Lotus could, on its day, punch well above its weight, becoming the only ‘rookie team’ driver to finish ahead of an established team’s driver, which he managed at Shanghai and Canada.

Appearances in Q2 at Malaysia and Belgium simply served to show his class. In truth, it was a sterling effort.

Back to the top.

Team: Lotus Racing
WDC: 20th Points: 0
Starts: 19 Poles: 0
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 12th
With his stock well and truly on the rise, Kovalainen will be hoping that Team Lotus (or whatever it is called) delivers a more aggressive package for him to strut his stuff in 2011. Hopefully he can continue to punch above his weight and let the team figure out the rest.


10. Nico Hülkenberg
Nico Hulkenberg Nico Hulkenberg

How on earth Nico Hülkenberg cannot have a drive for the 2011 season simply beggars belief. It’s certainly not down to a lack of talent, but it’s his lack of sponsorship that has seen his seat at Williams go to Pastor Maldonado. Such is the era the sport finds itself in today…

Despite arriving with one of the most formidable pedigrees in the junior formulae, the first half of ‘The Hulk’s season was a bit hit-and-miss: a tank-slapper at Bahrain, a crash in Australia, and then a clever fifth on the grid at Malaysia with a point for 10th. By mid-season he had just two points to his name, and team-mate Barrichello was lapping up the plaudits.

By then a light switched on. Suddenly, Nico found form and could put it all together in the one weekend: qualifying and racing well, and matching the pace of his hugely experienced team-mate. It all looked so easy, although he earned few friends with how wide he made his car to pass, such as with Mark Webber at Monza.

Then came that inspired pole position at Interlagos – Williams’ first since 2005 – and another plucky points’ finish, but just a fortnight later, it was confirmed Williams had dropped him. A crying shame, indeed.

Back to the top.

Team: Williams
WDC: 14th Points: 22
Starts: 19 Poles: 1
Wins: 0 Podiums: 0
F/Laps: 0 Best Result: 6th
Being able to leave the likes of Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton et al in your wake, and have them confused as to how you did it, then you’re an exceptional talent indeed. It would be appalling if he couldn’t find a race seat for 2011, but where is there room for him?

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

COMING SOON! The final instalment of our Driver-By-Driver Rankings (9-1)

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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.