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Formula One: Most impressive driver seasons of the 21st century

While there is always a debate in motorsport whether a driver is as much to praise as the car itself, it is never hard to pick out some achievements that are worthy of recognition.

Since the turn of the century you have Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes who have dominated the sport. On the other hand, the likes of McLaren, Renault and the unlikely Brawn have shone brightly in small portions.

A handful of drivers have been the poster boys for this success.

 

Honourable mentions:

-Lewis Hamilton, 2014 = After five consecutive seasons of 4th and 5th placings, Hamilton finally broke through for championship number two in style, winning 11 races and grabbing 16 podiums.
-Sebastian Vettel, 2011 = Following on from his maiden title in 2010, Vettel claimed 11 wins and an impressive 17 podiums in 19 races, for a massive 122-point championship win.
-Michael Schumacher, 2004 = At the time Schumacher set a record for most wins with 13 in a span of 18 races, as well as most points with 148, winning the championship with four races to go. No one came close to the German.

 

 

Fernando Alonso, 2006

Fernando Alonso 2006 (Stuart R Brown)
Fernando Alonso driving for Renault in 2006. (Photo / Stuart R Brown)

Races – 18
Wins – 7
Poles – 6
Podiums – 14
Races remaining after clinching title – nil

It’s a flip of the coin as to which of Alonso’s two championships in 2005 and 2006 was the best. One year saw him claim more podiums with a bigger margin of victory, while the other saw him claim more points against tougher competition.

We will go with the latter, his ‘06 title. Alonso’s success goes against the grain of winning with a known near-unbeatable machine propelling a driver forward. For context the Renault team have tasted little to no success outside of Alonso’s championships. From 2002 to 2004 the French outfit finished 4th, 4th and 3rd amongst the teams, and 4th (if we count McLaren) in 2007 with a total of two wins across those seasons. The two years in between?  16 wins, 14 of which went the way of Alonso.

No doubt the engine was strong, but such a haul of wins was a definite surprise.

Alonso started 2006 the way he finished 2005 – winning. The Spaniard took out the season opener in Bahrain and went on to win five of the next eight races, while finishing second in the other three. By this point he held a 25 point lead, with little looking likely to slow him down. A win, a few seconds along with a fifth, and the title was his, 13 points ahead of Michael Schumacher.

Alonso’s clear talent was able to supersede a car that was good, and make it great.

 

Sebastian Vettel, 2013

Sebastian Vettel Silverstone 2013 (Nic Redhead)
Sebastian Vettel at the 2013 British Grand Prix. (Photo / Nic Redhead)

Races – 19
Wins – 13
Poles – 9
Podiums – 16
Races remaining after clinching title – 3

2013 proved to be the final instalment of Red Bull’s stranglehold on Formula One, the cherry on top of years being number one. Sebastian Vettel and his team won their respective titles for the fourth consecutive year – all seemed perfect in the world of the Austrian team.

Vettel entered the season as the favourite to finish top again, as he had done the previous three years. He lived up to the expectation, clocking 13 race wins out of 19 entries and snagging a further three podiums.

It wasn’t the most comfortable start to the season, as Vettel held a slender four point lead five races in. However he went on an historic run, winning the final nine Grand Prix’s – a record for consecutive victories – and sealing the championship by a record-gap of 155 points to nearest rival Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.

Apart from one retirement, Vettel finished fourth or higher in every race. Add to that the quickness of the Renault RS27-2013 engine, with the German grabbing nine poles and seven fastest lap honours, both more than any other driver.

Unfortunately Vettel’s lack of success since and his at times questionable tactics and skill have all seemingly led to his four titles being looked at with less awe. He will also always have to counter the argument his success was all down to Adrian Newey’s unstoppable vehicle.

 

Jenson Button, 2009

Jenson Button Catalunya 2009 (Jose Asensio)
Jenson Button at the 2009 Spanish Grand Prix, one of six races he won that year. (Photo / Jose Asensio)

 

Races – 17
Wins – 6
Poles – 4
Podiums – 9
Races remaining after clinching title – 1

On the face of it Button’s 2009 season is nothing more than a standard good one, but some serious context is needed.

The Brit was driving for Brawn GP, a newbie that had risen from the ashes of Honda, who had withdrawn from the sport at the end of 2008. Ross Brawn and co. had been working on a new car years in advance which suited the new regulations that came into effect. Couple that with a new engine deal with Mercedes, the team created a shockingly quick car. That was evident in preseason testing, and it carried right through to the season opener in Melbourne.

Button was the on-track beneficiary, and showed off claiming six victories and four poles in the opening seven Grand Prix’s, creating a large 25 point lead over teammate Rubens Barrichello.

Whether it was a case of other teams catching up, or Brawn happily scaling back, Button didn’t win any of the final 10 races, rather taking two podiums and a flurry of top 10 finishes. It was all enough though for the driver’s title – the first and only of his career.

Barrichello’s two victories and third placing in the championship was enough to give Brawn the constructor’s championship as well, capping off a fairy tale-like season for a team that were never expected to compete, let alone win.

 

Lewis Hamilton, 2018

Lewis Hamilton Silverstone 2018 (Jen_ross83)
Lewis Hamilton engaging with fans at Silverstone, 2018. (Photo / Jen_ross83)

Races – 21
Wins – 11
Poles – 11
Podiums – 17
Races remaining after clinching title – 2

There isn’t a Lewis Hamilton championship that stands out as the outright best suitor for dominance, rather a piece of each six years since 2014 contribute to the Brit’s impressive résumé since the turbo charged V6 error spawned. So we’ll go with the one that appears the objective best.

Hamilton’s 2018 season, statistically speaking while ignoring the ever changing number of points, is his best. En route to his record setting 5th driver’s title – the most for a British driver – he claimed 11 victories while adding a further six podiums in 21 races. Aside from one retirement in Austria where his car lost power, Hamilton finished 4th, 5th and 4th in the remaining races – talk about consistency.

Hamilton and his nearest rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari traded blows in the championship standings right up until Germany, where a mistake from the front saw Vettel retire with Hamilton snatching victory as well as the points lead. He would never relinquish it, instead grow it.

The Brit took overall victory by 88 points, and secured another title in Mexico, still with two races to go.

Mercedes again won the constructor’s championship for the 5th year running, equalling the record held by Ferrari.

 

Michael Schumacher, 2002

F1 : BELGIAN GRAND PRIX 2002
Michael Schumacher at the 2002 Belgian Grand Prix, where he claimed one of his many victories that season. (Photo / Ferrarifan1956)

Races – 17
Wins – 11
Poles – 7
Podiums – 17
Races remaining after clinching title – 6

Much like Hamilton’s success over the past two seasons, Schumacher’s 2002 campaign comes down to consistency, though his efforts a little over 17 years ago are the absolute epitome – a season like no other.

Boasting the unstoppable engine Ferrari created in the early part of the century, this year with the F2001 before moving to the F2002, Schumacher claimed his 5th driver’s title with very little resistance from the rest of the field.

The German raced out of the blocks to a huge advantage after the sixth race in Austria, with five wins and a third to sit top with 54 points, double what his nearest rival Juan Pablo Montoya of Williams managed to that point.

Schumacher ultimately took 11 race wins, but more impressively in 17 Grand Prix’s he claimed 17 podiums… 17… a podium at every GP. At the time that was a record, and has since been equalled by Lewis Hamilton four times and Sebastian Vettel once, but both did so with more than 17 races in the calendar.

Schumacher’s early success allowed him to clinch the title after the French Grand Prix, still with six races to go. Though the percentage of wins scaled back in the later stages of the season, he still gained 144 points, finishing ahead of teammate Rubens Bartichello who finished with 77.

Ferrari as a whole won 15 of the 17 races, winning the constructor’s championship comfortably.

Lachlan Waugh View All

Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.

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