So where does a bloke who’s shone in a two litre touring car fit in among the F1 elite and sportscar aces? Well I’ve tried my best and made an attempt to work it all out, so here goes.
Salute my top 20 drivers of 2009.
20. Andy Soucek – 1st in Formula 2
19. Yvan Muller – 2nd in WTCC
18. Stefan Mucke – 1st in Le Mans Series
17. Petter Solberg – 5th in WRC
16. Rubens Barrichello – 3rd in Formula 1
15. Gary Paffett – 2nd in DTM
14. Fernando Alonso – 9th in Formula 1
13. Bertrand Baguette – 1st in Formula Renault 3.5
12. Jimmie Johnson – 1st in NASCAR
11. Daniel Ricciardo – 1st in British Formula 3
10. Kris Meeke – 1st in Intercontinental Rally Championship
Kris Meeke was the main man in his first IRC year. In a series which really never followed up on its amazing start on the Monte Carlo rally in January, Meeke and his Union Jack-liveried Peugeot managed to keep the championship on the nation’s rallying radar with some excellent performances.
The most dominant champion in IRC history, the 30-year-old managed to avoid the mistakes that had dogged his career in the past. The result was an impressive 42 stage wins out of 127 contested.
9. Dario Franchitti – 1st in IndyCar
After a year away, following an unsuccessful dalliance with NASCAR, Dario Franchitti returned to his first love to win his second IndyCar series title this year.
To return to a brand new team and score five wins, five poles, all after a year away from open-wheel racing, is worthy of commemoration. The Scotsman was also chased to the bitter end by two of the best in the business (Dixon and Briscoe), but his use of strategy, intelligence and speed helped him clinch the championship title.
The league’s best driver is now at the height of his career, it would be criminal if his efforts continue to gain little in the way of exposure in the UK.
8. Mark Webber – 4th in Formula 1
Sebastian Vettel was apparently going to be the driver that was going to see off Webber’s career. But that looked to be the least of his worries after shattering his leg and heavily damaging his shoulder having been involved a horrific incident with a Nissan X-Trail during a charity event last year.
Undeterred, the competitive Aussie picked himself up and worked his backside off to get ready for the season opener down under, and from there Webber did pretty well: bagging his first two grand prix victories and emerging as a contender in the fight for the world championship.
While team-mate Vettel regularly out-qualified him, there were several races where he completely out-performed the German wunderkind. Particularly during the Spanish and Turkish Grands Prix where he drove immaculately.
The pinnacle of his season had to be at the Nurburgring where he was outstanding all weekend, sealing pole under changeable weather conditions and pushing aside a drive-through penalty to win the race.
7. Nico Hulkenberg – 1st in GP2
It’s fair to say that it took a while for Hulkenberg and ART to get to grips with the car this year. Yet come mid-season, the floodgates were well and truly opened, and from there he was unstoppable.
Arriving in GP2 having already won titles in German Formula BMW, A1GP and the F3 Euro Series, the 22-year-old German had his work cut out for him, competing in a season featuring the most experienced grid in the series history.
But when Hulkenberg overcame the tyre degradation issues that plagued the start of his campaign he was in a class of his own. The highlight being on home soil at the Nurburgring where he showed his hand by taking pole during changing conditions and then bagged two wins, while all his main rivals struggled.
With a ticket to F1 more-or-less booked irrespective of whether he was crowned champion, GP2 probably needed Hulkenberg to win the series more than the German did. Yet, GP2 couldn’t have asked for a more ideal graduate and his success could not have come at a better time.
6. Jules Bianchi – 1st in Formula 3 Euro Series
Bianchi became undoubtedly the most dominant F3 Euro Series champion since Lewis Hamilton in 2005. This season he went on a relentless run of victories, winning nine races out of 20 and making history along the way by doing the double at Zandvoort.
Sublime in overtaking with an abudence of speed to boot, the Italian looks set to realise his Formula 1 ambitions having been taken under Ferrari’s wing recently.
5. Mikko Hirvonen – 2nd in WRC
Whilst Citroen and Loeb predictably took both titles this year, Mikko Hirvonen fought hard and never gave up his fight against WRC’s man of the millennium – coming within a single point of winning the championship.
His mightily impressive 11 podium finishes from 12 starts helped invigorate what looked on paper to be a fairly dull season in the pinnacle of rallying.
The Finn is getting better and better all the time and continues to be the biggest threat to Loeb’s reign in the sport.
4. Jenson Button – 1st in Formula 1
Button may have delivered the world title, but mid-season wobbles worked against him. The latter half of the year was heavily bogged down by some mediocre qualifying efforts as cracks began to appear as he led the championship.
But on the form of his first half-season, he would undoubtedly have been number one in my list. There were a number of impressive races – Bahrain and Barcelona – where he not only out-drove his team-mate but both Red Bulls who were as equally fast on the day.
As the Brawn entered less than competitive territories though, Button began to struggle and his silky driving style worked against overcoming the car’s faults.
3. Sebastian Leob – 1st in WRC
Once again, and for the sixth time in succession, Loeb delivered both titles for Citroen this year in the WRC. Five rallies in this season he had won the lot and at one point looked like he couldn’t be beaten.
But quick as a flash, something changed, and the man who couldn’t put a foot wrong, appeared to lose his competitive ability. Amid speculation that he had his sights set on a possible Toro Rosso seat in Formula 1, Loeb did what all champions do and found his impressive form again – normal service was resumed. He went all out and won in Catalunya and Wales, to bring his season tally of rally wins to seven out of 12 rallies contested.
Still in a league of his own in the WRC.
2. Sebastian Vettel – 2nd in Formula 1
He may have missed out on the title, but Vettel showed enough to win over the majority of F1 fans this year.
His highs were spectacularly high – a fantastic performance in the wet of China possibly the best drive of the season – but there were several costly errors that cost him the title in the end. The clash with Kubica in Australia, crashing at Ste Devote in Monaco and sliding across the grass in Turkey to name but a few.
But let’s not dwell too much on the negatives here, because Vettel was brilliant this year and it’s far too easy to forget how little experience he has, such are the dizzying heights he’s regularly attained.
Four wins, out-qualified his widely regarded one-lap specialist team-mate Mark Webber and a smiling, joking demeanour to boot. He will progress further in the years to come and looks certain to become world champion very soon.
So which driver has impressed me the most this year to clinch the top spot? Well tune in again tomorrow when all will be revealed…