Comparing drivers from the same category is difficult enough, but where does a bloke who’s shone in an entry-level series like Formula Ford fit in among the F1 elite and rally aces?
Well, once again this year I have tried to work it out, and what follows is a list of the ten drivers who have impressed me the most in 2011.
So, without further ado, let’s salute the first batch from the cream of this year’s crop of drivers…
10. Felipe Nasr – 1st in British Formula 3
Another year, another Carlin champion in British Formula 3, albeit one without Red Bull’s backing.
Felipe Nasr was the star of the show in what was a largely competitive championship this year, with the Brazilian’s team-mate Kevin Magnussen applying much pressure in the second half of the season.
But it was pre-season favourite Nasr who was quickest out of the blocks and scored two impressive race wins at the Monza opener.
Five further race wins followed over the course of the year – Magnussen scored as many by the end of the season – but it was Nasr who reaped the benefits of reliability and showed impressive consistency with his regular podium visits, winning the title with two rounds to spare.
9. Heikki Kovalainen – 22nd in Formula 1
He may well have finished 22nd in the final standings, but Heikki Kovalainen enjoyed arguably his best F1 season to date this year.
The Finn regularly eclipsed the other new team cars by some margin and managed to put the rather disappointing T128 in places where it didn’t belong, often battling with the likes of Williams and other midfield cars.
Kovalainen also made a mockery of team-mate Jarno Trulli this year, and his stock is rapidly rising following his departure from McLaren.
8. Dario Franchitti – 1st in IndyCar
In comparison to his rivals, Dario seemed to be immune to any form of bad luck this year, with only a couple of poor finishes to his name.
Okay, so there was the Takuma Sato incident in New Hampshire, but that truly was his only real major blip all season long.
Forget about that and remember the second race at Texas, where he drew the 28th spot on the grid and worked his way up to seventh without the help of a caution in just 114 laps. This type of performance was typical Franchitti fare in 2011 and, despite Will Power’s best efforts, the other championship contenders lacked the Scot’s consistency.
7. Tony Stewart – 1st in NASCAR
The most important 10 NASCAR races of the year are the Chase races, and in these Tony Stewart donned his team owner’s cap to motivate not only himself as a driver but his entire team.
From ninth in the standings – 12 points adrift of first-place – he began a remarkable run in the chase that included a phenomenal five-win run in the final 10 races and culminated with the drive of his life at Homestead to seal the deal.
Stewart pushed the limits of the car and outdrove the competition when it mattered. He’s far from perfect, but there’s no denying his talent behind the wheel, and his passion and determination this year deserves full respect.
6. Sebastien Loeb – 1st in World Rally Championship
Another year, another title – brilliant again.
Okay, so he didn’t win as many rallies this year (five) as he did in 2010 – the strife from within the Citroen camp was certainly no help – but Loeb demonstrated that he is still firmly the WRC’s benchmark and he still has the fire in his belly to pull something amazing out of the bag whenever he feels like it (think Rally Cataluyna).
5. Scott Malvern – 1st in British Formula Ford
Some may question the 104-point margin by which Scott Malvern clinched the British Formula Ford title, but if anything, it was up to his rivals to work harder to try and catch him, and they failed.
With 18 victories from 24 races, and an all important Festival win, Malvern rewrote the series’ history books this year, which, lest we forget, features previous champions such as Ayrton Senna and Jenson Button.
One to watch as he tries to realise his motor racing ambitions.
4. Martin Tomczyk – 1st in DTM
Nobody in their right mind would have expected any major results from Martin Tomczyk this year.
Shuffled from the Abt Sportsline team to the Phoenix Racing squad with their old-spec A4, the German racer didn’t look to have a hope in hell racing for a team that had not won anything in a decade.
But, rather spectacularly, everything came together for Tomczyk this year as he benefited from combination of weight advantage and the introduction of Hankook tyres following Dunlop’s departure.
The 29-year-old produced a stellar season, one that saw him enter the DTM record books as the only driver to score points in every single race. It was this consistency and his ability to get the best from his team that saw him win his maiden title.
That’s your lot for today, and I’ll leave you all on tenterhooks until tomorrow when I’ll reveal my top three drivers of the year.
Just who will be crowned numero uno? I’m sure you can pretty much guess who it’ll be, but you never know…
Images © British F3/ Photo4/ xpb/ Getty Images/ C. Thomas/ Red Bull/ GEPA/ LS Photos