After you voted in your thousands for who you thought to be the best Formula 1 driver of 2008, now's the time for Crash.net to reveal its own top ten, beginning today with positions six to ten.

10. Heikki Kovalainen

After out-qualifying team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the second race in Malaysia, and after setting fastest lap in two of the first three grands prix, some tipped Kovalainen - one of the true stars of the second half of the 2007 F1 campaign, his rookie season in the top flight - to take the fight to his title-chasing team-mate and give the Briton something to really think about.

Why that never materialised has been the subject of much debate. Over the balance of the year the Finn succeeded in out-qualifying Hamilton on only four occasions - and out-racing him barely at all - and his sole triumph in Hungary was fortuitous to say the least.

There are three schools of thought on why Kovalainen struggled so much - one is that he suffered from invariably being sent out on a heavier fuel load in qualifying than Hamilton, thereby putting him at an instant disadvantage when the lights went out; another goes that he was simply rattled by his team-mate's sheer pace; or finally, and most unpalatably of all for the 27-year-old's supporters, that he just wasn't all he had been cracked up to be after all.

That said, there were flashes of genuine promise along the way, most notably his Silverstone pole position, a victory potentially gone begging in Istanbul and a strong performance in Japan curtailed by engine failure. In 2009 he must convert those brief glimpses into a more concerted challenge - or else risk being considered merely a 'solid number two' for the remainder of his grand prix career.

9. Nick Heidfeld

Heidfeld's 2008 season was a strange one. The German - still without a race win to his name after no fewer than 150 starts in the top flight - encountered major difficulties in qualifying early on, as he struggled woefully to warm his tyres up sufficiently quickly to set a fast lap time in the required time frame.

That saw highly-rated team-mate Robert Kubica steal the edge over him, and before long the daggers were out for Heidfeld within the Formula 1 paddock, with the BMW-Sauber management outwardly seeming to offer him few guarantees over the safety of his seat at the Munich and Hinwil-based outfit.

Nonetheless, like the experienced pro that he has become, Heidfeld assiduously worked away at his problems and at one stage seemed to have overcome them, as he out-qualified Kubica in Britain, Belgium, Italy, China and Brazil. There were also brilliant performances when the odds were stacked against all the drivers and the chips were down - in Australia, Canada, Britain and Belgium, the man from M?nchengladbach mastered challenging conditions and confusing situations to perfection to seal rostrum finishes from sometimes unfavoured grid slots.

Silverstone, indeed, witnessed a truly spectacular showing, as the 31-year-old produced a brace of stunning double passes, and throughout his troubles his racing credentials and overtaking prowess were never in any doubt. Heidfeld reckons the new 2009 regulations will suit his driving style far better - if they do, prepare to see him fly again.

8. Timo Glock

Glock entered the season with a point to prove, having previously left F1 with his tail between his legs after just four outings with Jordan Grand Prix back in 2004 - even if he had joined the elite club of drivers to have troubled the scorers on their debut by coming home seventh in Canada.

Perhaps aptly, therefore, it was Montreal that would prove to be the catalyst for the turnaround in the young German's 2008 fortunes, as he got the better of experienced team-mate Jarno Trulli for the first time and went on to hold off a feisty late-race challenge from the patently faster Ferrari of Felipe Massa in the closing stages to clinch fourth position.

It was just the confidence boost the reigning GP2 Series Champion had been needing after a torrid start to the campaign with a hefty shunt in Australia and no points from the first six outings, and over the remaining eleven grands prix he would prove to be every bit Trulli's equal in both qualifying and the races, even achieving Toyota's finest result of the year with the runner-up spot to Kovalainen in Hungary, having once more had to withstand pressure from a visibly quicker Ferrari - that of Kimi Raikkonen this time - on his way to the chequered flag.

To end the season just six points and one spot shy of Trulli in the drivers' standings was a superb accomplishment, and one reached with the minimum of fuss in true Timo Glock style. Make no mistake; after one year spent in the wilderness across the Pond in Champ Car circles and two in GP2, the man from Lindenfels is back - and on the evidence of 2008, back to stay.

7. Mark Webber

For the first eight races of 2008, Webber seemed to have turned a corner. Habitually luckless - particularly on Sundays - the Aussie bucked the trend by finishing inside the points on six occasions, in the process almost single-handedly hauling Red Bull Racing up to fourth position in the constructors' standings.

Typically, one of the only two times on which he failed to make the top eight was in front of his adoring home fans Down Under in Melbourne, but no matter - it seemed as though the 32-year-old's fortunes had finally changed for the better. Even more encouragingly still, after taking the chequered flag sixth in Red Bull's traditional bogie country of France - where in three previous years of top flight competition the energy drinks-backed outfit had never scored - Webber then went and put his RB4 second on the grid alongside Kovalainen at Silverstone, thereby securing the Milton Keynes-based concern's maiden front row starting slot in 72 outings in the top flight.

Only a day later, however, it all began to unravel, and following his costly opening lap spin in torrential conditions in the British Grand Prix, the New South Wales native would trouble the scorers on just three more occasions before season's end - each of them a solitary eighth place - as RBR failed to keep development pace with its immediate rivals, and points opportunities became ever fewer and farther between.

So bad did things become, indeed, that in the final four grands prix the man from Queanbeyan failed to even make the top then on the grid at all, but it was testament to his enduring raw pace and commitment to the task that only twice did team-mate David Coulthard get the better of him on a Saturday afternoon year-long, and practically never on race day. Eleventh in the final drivers' championship may not have been what he had been hoping for back at the beginning of the campaign, but it was no reflection on the value of Webber's performance.

6. Jarno Trulli

Trulli headed into 2008 knowing he had a fast young team-mate to control in Glock, and many predicting that should the German rapidly seize the upper hand, the Italian's grand prix career could be at an end. Not only did the man from Pescara cope with the challenge laid down to him - he rose to it and, for the most part, emerged on top.

Renowned as a great qualifier, on only four occasions in 18 races did Trulli miss out on the top ten on the starting grid, and he out-pointed Glock on the starting grid 14 times to four. Of more significance, though, was the fact that the 34-year-old was invariably up at the sharp end on race day too - much like Webber, firmly putting to bed the theory that he is a better qualifier than racer with some stellar showings.

His performances in Malaysia, Bahrain, Valencia and Fuji were magnificent, and his podium at Magny-Cours - poignantly coming just days after former team principal Ove Andersson had tragically passed away, and banishing memories of the 2004 French Grand Prix, when he had let third place slip away to Rubens Barrichello in the very final corner - was just the tonic and lift for a team still in mourning. Drawing upon all of his guile and experience to hold off Kovalainen right the way to the flag, Trulli was peerless and produced a drive to match the very best of his nigh-on 200-race F1 career.

A man with a taste for fine wines and his own vineyard in his homeland to boot, this was a vintage season for Jarno Trulli, and like his produce, he is seeming to get even better with age. He may be one of F1's elder statesmen, but on current form the former Monaco Grand Prix winner will not be hanging up his helmet for some time yet.

The top five drivers will be revealed tomorrow (Christmas Eve).

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment