Trying to compare this year’s best performing race and rally drivers is no easy task. How, for example, does one compare a bloke who has shone in NASCAR against the F1 elite and rallying sportscar aces?
Well, I have tried my best and made an attempt to work it all out and what follows is a list of ten drivers who have impressed me the most this year.
So, without further ado, salute who I deem to be the biggest stars of 2012.
10. James Calado
5th in GP2
Ignore the fact that James Calado finished fifth in the GP2 points table this year, because he put in a herculean effort against more accomplished opposition and his inexperience never really showed.
His season was tainted with misfortune and dreadful bad luck – dodgy pit call in Valencia and gearbox failure at Silverstone spring to mind – and in hindsight he should have been fighting for the GP2 crown.
But even when the title was out of reach he kept plugging away and showed a determination that will see him go far in the sport. He also made his talented team-mate – not to mention F1-bound – Esteban Guiterrez look fairly ordinary.
9. Matheo Tuscher
2nd in Formula 2
Every now and again a driver comes into a series and grabs your full attention. This year, that person was Matheo Tuscher, whose performances in Formula 2 were nothing short of sensational, and at this rate, he looks destined to burst through to prominence in no time at all.
To finish runner-up having gone toe-to-toe with the likes of Luciano Bacheta, Christopher Zanella and Mihai Marinescu in your rookie season is nothing short of impressive, especially so when you’re only 15 years old and experience is not on your side.
His performances improved with each round and, had the season been a race or two longer, there is every possibility that he would have been crowned F2 champion instead of Bacheta this year.
8. Kimi Raikkonen
3rd in Formula 1
Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus were the surprise package of 2012 and, against the odds, they finished third and fourth in their respective championships overall.
Returning to F1 after two years dodging trees in rallying, Raikkonen was initially a couple of tenths slower than team-mate Romain Grosjean, but he soon reacclimatised and was back to his best, reaching a performance level similar to that of his Ferrari days.
He had a remarkably consistent season in which he finished every race and scored points in all but one: the Chinese Grand Prix where a terrible tyre strategy saw him drop from a likely podium position finish to 14th place.
There was a period during the second half of the season when Lotus lagged behind in the development race, but Raikkonen still managed to reach the top step in Abu Dhabi and gave the Enstone-based team its first win since 2008.
7. Antonio Felixa da Costa
3rd in GP3. 4th in Formula Renault 3.5. Macau GP winner
It was all-or-nothing for Antonio Felix da Costa this year, with the Portuguese driver admitting that he was giving serious thoughts of jacking it in and returning to education had things failed to come together.
His mega-busy season saw him continue in GP3 where he scored points on a regular basis, bar the catastrophic weekend in Germany, but after that he won several races to put the pressure firmly on eventual title-winner Mitch Evans.
And while that was going on, he was parachuted into Formula Renault 3.5 by his new paymasters Red Bull to replace Lewis Williamson at Arden Caterham and he hit the ground running.
After the summer break his worst result was fifth and he outscored everyone from the moment he arrived. He then continued his late-season run of form by winning the prestigious Macau Grand Prix with his GP3 squad Carlin.
One to watch as he undoubtedly filters his way through the lower echelons of motor racing to eventual F1 stardom.
6. Will Power
2nd in IndyCar
Will Power was unquestionably the class of the field in 2012 and, more often than not, he was an unbeatable force who was peerless in qualifying.
Pre-season favourite to take this year’s IndyCar crown, the Aussie looked likely to fulfill such a prophecy when he went into the final round at Fontana with a 17-point advantage over title-rival Ryan Hunter-Reay.
And then the unthinkable happened. On lap 55 the championship battle was turned on its head when Power ended up in the wall and not only lost 60 laps to Hunter-Reay, but also any hopes of securing his first title.
He’ll probably be ruing two costly mistakes during his campaign – pitching into E.J. Viso at Iowa and losing a probable win at Texas having been penalised for blocking Tony Kanaan – but those were the only blots on his copybook this year.
5. Brad Keselowski
1st in NASCAR
Brad Keselowski became only the third driver in NASCAR history to win the championship in only his third full season this year, joining legends Dale Earnhardt (Snr.) and Jeff Gordon, which is testament to how specular he was in 2012.
He won the championship with an impressive combination of victories (five) and consistency (23 top 10 finishes) and also outperformed the greatest NASCAR driver of his generation – Jimmie Johnson – in the Chase by topping his career average finish at every track of the playoffs.
At only 28, he looks likely to be a serious title-contender for the next decade.
4. Sebastien Loeb
1st in World Rally Championship
Another year and another dominant performance by Sebastien Loeb in the World Rally Championship to take his ninth, and final, title.
Nobody came close to matching him in 2012. Ford failed to pose any significant threat, and with Mikko Hirvonen joining him in a Citroen DS3, there was little chance of anyone stopping the Loeb steamroller this season.
Top of the points table all year long, he was sublime – bar mistakes in Portugal and Italy – claiming nine rally wins and 71 fastest stage times, with victory in Finland ranking as one of his best as he rose above the competitive field and won the support of the local crowd.
3. Sebastian Vettel
1st in Formula 1
Sebastian Vettel spent the early part of the season trying to adapt to life without a blown diffuser and the tons of downforce it generated in the past, and in this period, he didn’t completely have the upperhand over team-mate Mark Webber.
He did claim an early victory in Bahrain, and later lost a likely win in Valencia with an alternator issue, but he struggled to find his winning form until September’s Singapore Grand Prix when the RB8 became the potent weapon in a similar vein to its predecessors.
Vettel achieved a remarkable four successive victories from Singapore onwards to make up the 40-point deficit to Fernando Alonso and, thanks to his dogged determination in the season finale in Brazil, became the youngest triple champion in F1 history.
2. Lewis Hamilton
4th in Formula 1
Lewis Hamilton was back to his very best this year after a dip in form in 2011, and in driving terms, it was probably his best year in F1 to date.
It was also perhaps his most frustrating of his career, as there is little to doubt that he should have remained in the title fight until the last round, but was unable to so due to numerous points lost through reliability and operational errors, most not of his doing.
He claimed his first victory in Canada, before tasting similar success in Hungary and Italy, and then came a succession of mechanic gremlins that seemed magnetised to his car, the most pivotal of which was a gearbox failure while leading in Singapore which was the catalyst in his decision to join Mercedes in 2013.
He suffered further issues in Japan and Korea (suspension), but things looked like they were turning a corner when he took pole in Abu Dhabi, only to retire from the lead once again when a fuel pump problem forced him to stop.
But finally his luck changed when he took his fourth victory in Austin, with arguably his greatest performance of the season – playing the waiting game and timing his overtaking manoeuvre on Vettel to perfection.
1. Fernando Alonso
2nd in Formula 1
Who else could be number one this year but Fernando Alonso?
The Ferrari he was given at the start of the season was hopelessly slow and its pace fluctuated like a yo-yo all year long. At no point was the F2012 ever better than being third best, but even so, Alonso remained in the title hunt right until the very end.
He had a habit of putting the Ferrari in places where it didn’t really belong, transcending the car’s level of performance on an almost weekly basis, and he did fantastically well to reach the podium from some difficult starting positions.
An early wet win in Malaysia looked like it might have been a fluke, but it was to be the beginning for a title campaign and was followed by a superb victory in Valencia – where he started 11th – and another at Hockenheim.
Two startline incidents in Spa and Suzuka blunted his title ambitions, but even so, he always came out fighting, grabbing every half-opportunity and never letting go.
Best performance of his F1 career? I should think so.
Image credits: LS Photos.co.uk; GP2 Media Service; GEPA/Red Bull Media; Lotus/LAT Photographic; McLaren/LAT.