After asking you to vote for your leading drivers from the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship season, the time has come to start the countdown to the driver you voted the top star of 2008.

Over the next ten weekdays, we will be revealing the top ten in reverse order, with the winner being revealed on Friday, 28 November.

More than 45,000 votes were cast in the F1 poll, with each driver's average score out of ten then being calculated to decide the winner.

F1 Driver of the Year - Third place:

Name: Fernando Alonso Team: Renault Car: Renault R28 Wins: 2 Podiums: 3 Pole positions: 0 Fastest laps: 0 Championship points: 61 Championship position: 5th

A handful of races into the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship, Fernando Alonso was publicly bemoaning the lack of competitiveness of his Renault and describing it as only the eighth-quickest car on the grid - out of ten.

Fast forward several months, and the same Alonso notched up more points over the second half of the season than any other driver - meaning had the title been determined by the final nine races alone, he would have clinched his third championship crown. How times change.

Qualifying a lowly eleventh for the curtain-raiser Down Under in Melbourne was an indication of just how much work lay ahead for the R?gie over the balance of the campaign, and only the Spaniard's determination and canny ability to stay out of trouble enabled him to claim fourth place at the chequered flag. The problem was, until the Hungarian Grand Prix almost five months later, in terms of results that was about as good as it got.

More happily, whilst Renault's fortunes took a while to improve, the pace did at least step up a gear, with Alonso pulling arguably the lap of the season out of the bag in front of his adoring home fans in Barcelona to line up a barely-believable second on the grid for the Spanish Grand Prix in April, ahead of title protagonists Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica and eventual world champion and former McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton. Though the engine would go on to let the 27-year-old down during the actual race, it was nevertheless a sign that things were on the up.

Indeed, only three times in 18 outings did the man from Oviedo fail to make the top ten on the starting grid - and on one of those occasions, in Singapore, it was completely out of his hands, with some observers having even tipped him to steal pole position. What's more, Alonso was the only driver in the field to out-qualify his team-mate - rookie Nelsinho Piquet - in every single race. If anyone had any remaining doubts about just how well the 21-time grand prix winner performed in 2008 and how strongly his motivation continued to burn with an uncompetitive car at his disposal, that statistic alone should have put them firmly to bed.

Whilst on-track results were relatively sparse over the first half of the year - Alonso counting a paltry 13 points from the opening ten grands prix - over the remaining eight he notched up 48, never finishing lower than fourth and in Singapore and Japan in particular producing two of the very finest showings of his glittering F1 career. In the former the double world champion refused to let an engine failure in qualifying sway his focus, as he took full advantage of a safety car period in the sport's inaugural night race to bring himself into play using all of his guile, experience and speed.

If it was an unexpected victory, it was nonetheless a wholly merited one, and he followed it up just a fortnight later with a second consecutive success at Fuji, atoning for an error in the same race twelve months previously that had likely cost him a third successive drivers' trophy, and a result that proved Renault were back - and back to stay.

The runner-up spot to an untouchable Massa in the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos was a similarly sublime performance, and one that enabled Alonso to leapfrog Heikki Kovalainen - the man who had replaced him at McLaren - and BMW-Sauber's Nick Heidfeld to fifth place in the final standings.

Given where he and the team had begun proceedings in 2008, it was a superb outcome, and one that had many of the sport's experts lauding the Asturian as the best and most complete driver in F1 once more - and one who had banished the 'spoiled brat' reputation that, rightly or wrongly, he had come to be labelled with by the media during his time at Woking the previous year.

Having pledged his future to the French concern for at least another season - even if the rumours of an eventual switch to Ferrari persist - should Renault maintain its progress over the winter months, there is no reason to suggest that Fernando Alonso will not hit the ground running in 2009 as a genuine championship contender. After what he has been through in 2008, it is the least his talent deserves.

Tomorrow: Who did you vote second in the Driver of the Year poll?


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