Pit Stop – Top Ten Drivers in this Era – By Lewis Brearley

After 15 seasons of watching Formula One, there’s been countless memorable moments and races served up by some of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport.

Here’s my countdown of the top ten in the last 15 seasons.

10) Rubens Barrichello

Formula One’s most experienced driver spent half the decade as Michael Schumacher’s contractual number two.

He rarely got close to Schumacher and whenever he did was forced to concede his position to his team-mate, most notably at the infamous 2002 Austrian GP where the “switch” happened after the final corner.

However, the Brazilian could sometimes beat the great Schumacher and did the same when he partnered Jenson Button at Brawn, taking two wins in the 2009 season.

9) Mark Webber

Like Barrichello, Webber is most famous for being a number two to a German multiple world champion. But just like Barrichello, is able to beat the guy on his day.

Yet, Webber is more than that; he was a badly timed pitstop from winning the 2010 world championship and early in his career outperformed his midfield Jaguar regularly, especially in qualifying – a front row start at Hungary being the highlight.

8) Juan Pablo Montoya

The Colombian lasted less than six seasons in F1, yet made an indelible mark.

He started by overtaking Schumacher at only his third race and continued to fight him for the rest of his career. The man was fast, simple as that; five poles in a row in 2002 and a mega one minute victory with pole position and fastest lap at the 2003 German grand prix, testify to that.

It was his feisty, rebellious personality which made him leave the sport, mid-way through 2006.

7) Jenson Button

In 2008 Button was yesterday’s news, Lewis Hamilton was the new prodigy on his way to a world championship.

Button showed great promise in his first couple of seasons but was soon stuck in the quagmire of Honda F1.

Indeed, it was when his team became Brawn that Button exploded to front running status. However, it is since that championship that he has cemented his name as an all-time great rather a lucky world champion with some great drives for McLaren.

6) Lewis Hamilton

On pure speed, Hamilton probably is level with only Senna and Schumacher. However, grand prix driving involves so much more than that.

He seems to let his emotions affect his driving and just as importantly doesn’t take much interest in leading his team through a season.

That being said in 2012 he improved his consistency and with a new start at Mercedes next year, has the chance to impose himself as a leader of men.

5) Mika Hakkinen

The driver Schumacher claimed was his toughest rival, beat the German to two successive world championships before the turn of the century.

The best sign of the speed of the flying Finn is arguably found in the 1999 season when he set 11 pole positions in the first 13 races.

Oh, and the legendary overtake of Schumacher around a backmarker at Spa the same year.

4) Sebastian Vettel

Winning three world championships while at the same age Schumacher had not won any is quite a scary thought for statisticians. Indeed, every record is in Vettel’s sights and he is quite capable of taking them.

The German is improving every year, has already won 26 races and had 36 pole positions – behind only Senna and Schumacher – and has the might of the Red Bull operation headed by the genius Adrian Newey.
And as Monza 2011 proved, the boy can overtake.

3) Kimi Raikkonen

He says he knows what he’s doing and all the evidence supports that. He shook up F1 when he arrived at Sauber after just 23 career races and scored a point. A move to McLaren proved he could beat Coulthard with ease and the only thing that stopped him taking the 2003 championship was his McLaren’s dreadful reliability.

Chosen as Ferrari’s next man, he didn’t fit the latin atmosphere and was soon pushed out. Returned this year and proved he is indeed one of the greatest of the era.

2) Fernando Alonso

Second in wins in the era to only Schumacher, the Spaniard defeated the German in a titanic tussle for the 2006 title. This made him a double world champion but his career was about to dip.

Controversy at McLaren made him public enemy number one in Britain and he was forced into two seasons in a poor Renault.

However, just like the man he beat in 2006, his career looks set to be defined at Ferrari, where his leadership abilities and magnificent racecraft has earned him not only Italy’s, but the world’s respect.

1) Michael Schumacher

Whether he’s the greatest of all time can never be properly answered. It is much more certain that he is the greatest of this era, and not just because of his epic records.

Time and again, Schumacher overcame adversity with his true grit to win when he shouldn’t have done. He proved that he was better than all of the era’s great drivers, and at least on a par with Alonso, while ten years his senior.

It was the Schumacher era and he towered above it in a way never seen before or since.

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