Fernando Alonso has topped a poll of the best Formula 1 drivers of 2008, according to a leading British newspaper - and Crash.net's own readers' results are only just around the corner too.

The Spaniard - back-to-back F1 World Champion in 2005 and 2006 - surrendered his record as the sport's youngest-ever title-winner to former team-mate Lewis Hamilton this year, but a string of stand-out performances in the latter stages of the campaign saw him score more points than any other driver over the second half and hoist himself up to fifth spot in the final standings in a car that back at the start of the season had barely been able to make the top ten.

Alonso's part in Renault's stirring fight back has been recognised by readers of The Times, with the man from Oviedo receiving 1,071.5 votes - exactly ten more than newly-crowned world champion Hamilton, with whom he famously endured a fractious and ultimately destructive relationship at McLaren-Mercedes in 2007.

The pair were the only drivers to break the 1,000-point mark in the poll, and the success of Alonso - who plans to resume testing for the R?gie ahead of the 2009 campaign in December - made headlines in motor racing media around the globe.

"To be recognised for your work in your own country is one thing," the 27-year-old told Spanish newspaper El Mundo, "but from somewhere else it makes me really proud."

"He had a very poor car to begin with but he and Renault have turned their season round," mused The Times' motorsport correspondent Ed Gorman, "something which is extremely difficult to do when your main competitors are moving ahead all the time."

"He won the world championship and he produced some incredible drives," was the verdict on Hamilton, meanwhile, "but he was also erratic and unconvincing at times. It is early in his career to make firm judgements about how good he is going to be.

"As brilliant as he is, it is almost as if he can't face driving in a boring enough way to secure safe titles. Lewis loves to race - he is probably the best racer out there - but that is not always what championship-winning campaigns are about."

Title race runner-up Felipe Massa wound up third in the poll, with Gorman tipping the Brazilian to go from strength-to-strength in 2009 and remarking: "He confounded his critics who said he would not make it in the post-traction control era and he consigned Kimi [Raikkonen], the reigning world champion, to the margins.

"Had he not been let down by Ferrari on two occasions he could easily have won the title, as he might have done last year as well. It's funny, Felipe's image in Formula 1 is dogged by his woeful early performances, but also by the fact that he does not look or behave like a champion. He's far too nice and sporting for starters, and he does not throw his weight around."

Unexpected championship contender Robert Kubica was ultimately rated fourth just behind Massa, as BMW-Sauber 'seemed to reach for the sky, touch it, then run away again, as if terrified by what they had achieved'.

Scuderia Toro Rosso's Italian Grand Prix-winning star Sebastian Vettel was ranked fifth, with Gorman suggesting that the young German's talent 'may make him unstoppable' and admitting he wishes '[Vettel] was going to Ferrari in place of Kimi - what a prospect that would be'.

A 'disappointing and puzzling' Raikkonen - who 'only drives quickest when it is too late' - placed just sixth in the poll at the end of a desultory campaign as defending champion, notching up barely half the points of team-mate Massa, with the experienced Nick Heidfeld seventh, Toyota duo Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli evenly-matched in eighth and ninth and Red Bull Racing ace Mark Webber completing the top ten.

Amongst the high-profile names to be found further down the list were Williams' Nico Rosberg in eleventh, Hamilton's McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen a lowly twelfth, Rubens Barrichello - the most experienced driver in grand prix history - and record-breaking four-time Champ Car king S?bastien Bourdais equal 13th, Brits Jenson Button and David Coulthard just 17th and 19th respectively and F1 rookie Kazuki Nakajima bringing up the rear of the field with just a single point.

Crash.net readers' verdicts - beginning with the tenth-placed driver and working down one a day to your number one - will begin this Monday, 17 November.

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