A total of 65 drivers took part in the Formula One world championship in the 2010s, but which driver was the best?
Today I bring you a second statistical look at Formula One in the 2010s by looking closely at the drivers who put their mark on the sport between the years of 2010 and 2019.
Just like I did when ranking the constructors, I analysed all the statistics for the decade, comparing the number of races, wins, podiums, poles, fastest laps and points across each of the ten seasons.
This ranking is based on total points scored across the decade. Initially I was going to weight extra elements such as wins and championships, but the final list reflected any extra weight that would’ve occurred even if I had have included those.
So with that in mind, let’s get to the rankings.
10. Mark Webber
Fastest laps: 16
Best championship finish: 3rd (2010, 2011 and 2013)
Australia’s great hope entering the decade, Mark Webber came so close to a world championship in 2010. Leading the standings with only three rounds remaining, a heartbreaking spin during the Korean Grand Prix effectively ended his hopes, and Webber was only able to claim third in the championship.
This was the closest he would get to winning Australia’s first world championship since Alan Jones in 1980, and he was sadly unable to reach the highs he did in 2010 during his remaining four seasons in the sport.
Still, on his day Webber was sublime. Drives such as the 2010 Spanish Grand Prix, 2010 British Grand Prix and both his Monaco victories in 2010 and 2012 showed the skill and determination that gifted him the nickname ‘Aussie Grit’. A successful post-F1 career followed, and in 2015 he won the World Endurance Championship with Porsche.
One of the nice guys of the sport and a character that was very well received in the first half of the decade.
9. Jenson Button
Fastest laps: 6
Best championship finish: 2nd (2011)
Jenson Button had a rocky road to his eventual success, taking nine long years from his debut with Williams in 2000 to finally claim the world championship in 2009. Many were shocked by his switch to McLaren for 2010, especially when it came with going up against a certain Lewis Hamilton.
Button, however, held his own during the three seasons the pair raced together, and during his very successful 2011 season he became the first teammate to ever beat Lewis Hamilton. That season also brought about maybe his most famous drive in the Canadian Grand Prix, a race I recently said was the best of the decade.
Sadly for Button his fortunes soon faded along with those of McLaren, and the team soon struggled to match the early days of success the decade brought. A couple of obscure years with Mercedes power before a switch to Honda in 2015 and McLaren were right at the back of the grid. That soon meant Button lost his passion for the sport, and he announced he was stepping away in 2016, making a one-off appearance in 2017 at the Monaco Grand Prix.
And while he never ‘retired’ as such, it seems highly unlikely we’ll ever see him return to F1, especially given his recent success in the Japanese Super GT series, where he won the championship in 2018.
8. Max Verstappen
Fastest laps: 7
Best championship finish: 3rd (2019)
One of the most gifted drivers ever to have raced in Formula One, Max Verstappen set the sporting world alight when he made his debut during 2015 as a 17-year-old for Toro Rosso.
The Dutchman quickly showed what he was capable of and in 2016 was promoted to the senior Red Bull Racing team with immediate success, winning his first race for the team at the Spanish Grand Prix.
What soon followed was a series of erratic, entertaining and enthralling seasons that saw him end the decade as perhaps the best placed to fully take it to Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes entering the 2020s.
A total of eight wins seems light compared to the talent he possesses, and as he continues to get older the maturity level also continues to grow. We will no doubt be seeing more and more of him for many decades to come. The same can be said for his fans, with perhaps the most passionate fans ever to exist in F1 following him to every round.
7. Daniel Ricciardo
Fastest laps: 13
Best championship finish: 3rd (2014 and 2016)
Arguably the most likeable driver to compete in F1 this decade, Daniel Ricciardo vaulted into the position of Australia’s great hope after Mark Webber retired in 2013. After a few years spent impressing with both HRT and Toro Rosso, Ricciardo took on the then reigning four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull Racing and won, meaning he found himself the No. 1 driver for the team heading into 2015.
Seven wins and four seasons later, Ricciardo shocked the F1 paddock by switching to Renault, and in 2019 he sadly didn’t have the car to match his true talent.
One of the most complete drivers on the grid, Ricciardo can do everything from pull off the most incredible and daring overtaking moves to controlling a race from the start to the end.
No doubt we’ll be talking about him as one of the drivers of the decade at the end of the 2020s.
6. Kimi Raikkonen
Fastest laps: 11
Best championship finish: 3rd (2012 and 2018)
While Kimi Raikkonen perhaps didn’t light up the decade in the way he did during the 2000s, he still remained one of the most consistent performers across the 2010s.
Raikkonen spent the first two years of the decade trying his hand at both rallying and NASCAR before a return with Lotus in 2012. He spent most of the season pulling together podiums and strong points finishes and a famous win at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where he famously told everybody that he knew what he was doing. And he certainly did, even becoming a shock title contender until the closing rounds of the season.
In 2013 he started off perfectly with a win in Australia before ultimately fading away and announcing a shock switch back to the team he won the world championship with in 2007, Ferrari.
And while that tenure only brought one win, he was always consistent and played the team game perfectly to provide solid backup to both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel. Many thought he would retire in 2018, but instead he decided to sign with Alfa Romeo and put in a string of solid performances to impress many.
Raikkonen will become the most experienced driver in the history of F1 next year by overtaking the record for most races entered set by Rubens Barrichello. And as one of the most popular drivers in the sport, many are hoping that he will continue for many more years and races to come.
5. Fernando Alonso
Fastest laps: 10
Best championship finish: 2nd (2010, 2012 and 2013)
A strong couple of seasons for Alonso at the beginning of the decade see him sit right in the middle of the top ten. Sadly for Alonso fans he wasn’t able to take Ferrari to the top like he hoped he would, narrowly missing out on the championship in both 2010 and 2012. Another runner-up finish came in 2013, but it was not a close fight as he and Ferrari were nowhere near the Red Bull Racing of Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages of the season.
Most people remember Alonso in the 2010s for his ill-fated return to McLaren and the hope that Honda would take them back to the promised land. We of course know that didn’t come close to happening at all, and instead we got whiney Alonso at his worst. He did himself absolutely no favours with the team by taking all his personal grievances and frustrations out on them, all but assuring no other team would hire him by the end of the decade, bringing him to retire from the sport in 2018.
A talented driver for sure, and one some would argue deserved a whole lot more than he ultimately achieved. Will he return in 2021? Maybe. Will he be successful again? Only time will tell.
4. Nico Rosberg
Fastest laps: 18
Best championship finish: 1st (2016)
It’s somewhat surprising to see Nico Rosberg finish only fourth on this list given he is one of only three drivers to win a world championship in the 2010s. However, a lean few seasons at the beginning of the decade followed by his shock retirement in 2016 means it’s actually quite impressive to think he finishes so high off the back of only really three strong seasons.
Rosberg was always touted as a potential championship winner and finally got his chance to shine when we moved from Williams to Mercedes at the beginning of the decade. He got the better of Michael Schumacher in their three years together, and then the mouth-watering rivalry between him and Lewis Hamilton dominated the middle part of the decade and brought some entertainment into an otherwise extremely dull period.
It was a great relief to see Rosberg claim a title in 2016 and one that many people said he deserved after coming close in 2014. With that he joined Jenson Button as one of only two drivers to ever outscore Lewis Hamilton when they were his teammate.
Without a doubt he would’ve continued to shine after 2016 if he had decided to stay on. But somehow in hindsight it feels fitting that he hung up the helmet when he did, bringing an end to a pretty successful career from maybe one of the most underrated world champions in the history of the sport.
3. Valtteri Bottas
Fastest laps: 13
Best championship finish: 2nd (2019)
Say what you will about Valtteri Bottas, there is no denying he is a consistent driver. From his solid performances at Williams, he found himself in the perfect position to pick up from where Nico Rosberg left off after his shock retirement, and the Finn has proven to be a solid teammate for Lewis Hamilton in his three seasons at Mercedes.
He showed glimmers of true talent in 2017, suffered a woeful if not unlucky 2018, and then came out strong in 2019 to become a genuine title threat. Sadly that didn’t last very long, but he still had his best year by far to claim the runner-up spot to Hamilton in the final season of the decade.
The likeable and quiet Finn may not get all the attention the other five drivers do in the top three teams, but he certainly does his job when needed and on his day can easily be considered one of the best in the sport.
2. Sebastian Vettel
Fastest laps: 35
Best championship finish: 1st (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013)
No matter what people may think of him in the closing seasons of the decade, there is no denying Sebastian Vettel was a force in the 2010s.
The first four seasons were completely dominated by the German, but even with that said he had to fight very hard for at least two of his titles in 2010 and 2012. A certain driver who will finish above him on this list can’t exactly say that now, can they?
Vettel is definitely a unique driver who on his day can control a race like no other. He easily does best when starting from the front and maintaining his own style and pace in controlling a grand prix, a feat that he is easily one of the all-time greats at. And while this doesn’t serve as being overly exciting or flashy like some people expect from the sport, it still shows the unique talent he has in a Formula One car. No matter what anybody says about him, he won a race in a car that only three seasons prior was a Minardi. That takes skill. And not everybody can do that.
But that of course was in the 2000s, and we are here to talk about the 2010s. Nobody could beat Vettel on his day in the early part of the decade and for the most part every race turned out to be on his day. Yes, there are lapses of judgement and, yes, he has a hard time admitting his faults. But no driver is perfect. And there are far more positives than negatives from Vettel despite how the media seemingly portray him.
His move to Ferrari was one of the biggest shocks of the 2010s, and despite not winning a championship for the team he has still brought speed and talent to the Scuderia to help them remain up the front of the grid and move them on from their dour form of the later Alonso years.
Many people say he is past it and that he is set to retire, but many people may be wrong because you can’t keep a champion down for long. Just look at our final entry on this list for proof of that.
1. Lewis Hamilton
Fastest laps: 44
Best championship finish: 1st (2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019)
Lewis Hamilton seemingly entered the 2010s looking like he was going to be a one-hit wonder and finish his career as a one-time world champion. A decent season in 2010 ended up turning into nothing before two pretty terrible and sketchy years in 2011 and 2012 saw him on the ropes. He had raced for six seasons by that time and half of those were a bit erratic. So what was he to do? Shock the entire sporting world by announcing he would join Mercedes and leave behind McLaren, the team that had nurtured him since a child.
People called it stupid. People called it dumb. But in the end those same people were having to look at themselves in the mirror as it arguably turned out to be perhaps the most genius driver change in the history of Formula One. Since that move Hamilton has won five of the next seven championships, and in the 2020s he is set to statistically become the greatest driver the sport has ever seen.
Yes, he has had a purely dominant car. Yes, he has had oodles of luck. Yes, he has never driven for a ‘bad’ team in his career. They are all things that you need to take into account when looking at statistics. But at the end of the day statistics don’t lie, and consistency and talent are key when translating those factors into success. And Hamilton has done exactly that.
If you had asked most F1 fans a decade ago who would come out of the 2010s a six-time world champion, you would have been hard-pressed to find many who would have said Lewis Hamilton. But as we enter a new decade in the sport you’d probably be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think he can repeat his success moving forward into the 2020s and firmly stamp himself as the greatest driver the sport has ever seen.
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here