1 January 1901
Crash.net Top Ten F1 Drivers of 2008 (1st-5th).
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, with below positions one to five.
5. Sebastian Vettel
The man who has been tipped in some quarters to become 'the next Michael Schumacher' – a tag he has modestly shunned – began the 2008 Formula 1 campaign in torrid fashion, failing to go beyond even the opening lap in three of the first four grands prix. Though not all of the retirements were of his own making – suffering an engine failure in Bahrain – the young German did not actually see a chequered flag until Turkey in May…and even then it was in a lowly 17th and last position.
Then, however, came Monaco, the arrival of Scuderia Toro Rosso's new STR3 – and a dramatic turnaround. From the very back row of the grid, Vettel kept his head on race day around the narrow, tortuous streets of the Principality and produced a fast, composed and error-free performance to move his way up into fifth spot at the close, registering the small Faenza-based outfit's first points of the season in the process.
Out of the remaining twelve grands prix, only four times did the man from Heppenheim fail to score, and in the last seven races he was never outside the top ten on the starting grid. Such was his form, indeed, that Vettel leapfrogged Williams' Nico Rosberg, Red Bull Racing's Mark Webber and the Toyota duo of Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli to steal eighth position in the drivers' standings at the close.
The undisputed highlight of the former F3 Euroseries runner-up's season, though, was his sensational breakthrough victory in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, as he added to his record of being F1's youngest-ever points-scorer – by dint of his eighth place on his debut for BMW-Sauber in the 2007 US Grand Prix in place of the convalescing Robert Kubica – with that of youngest pole position-holder too and youngest race-winner, at just 21 years and 74 days of age when he crossed the finish line. Never putting a wheel out of place in trying conditions, it was a magnificent showing – and one that confirmed Sebastian Vettel not so much as a star of the future, but indeed a world champion in-waiting.
4. Felipe Massa
Felipe Massa came of age during the 2008 F1 campaign, there is absolutely no doubt about that. The driver who some had suggested would not be able to handle the absence of traction control and other such gizmos – predicting a return to the Brazilian's former wild days with Sauber – not only rapidly got a grip on the new regulations, but in fact did so rather better than defending world champion Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, who he dominated practically year-long.
Massa's 2008 form, indeed, was as impressive as the Finn's was desultory, as he overcame a jittery start – spinning and subsequently colliding with David Coulthard in the curtain-raiser Down Under in Melbourne and spinning again as he vainly attempted to keep pace with Raikkonen in Malaysia – to establish himself as the clear number one at Maranello, confounding all of his critics with some panache.
As Raikkonen's star waned, so Massa's rose, with unrivalled triumphs in his traditional stomping grounds of Bahrain and Turkey and the runner-up spot in the Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona kicking his title challenge into gear. There would be four further victories over the balance of the campaign, and though two of them were inherited – that at Magny-Cours from Raikkonen's exhaust problem and that at Spa-Francorchamps following Lewis Hamilton's controversial post-race penalty – equally the São Paulista was cruelly deprived of successes that should rightfully have been his almost within sight of the chequered flag in Hungary and as a result of Ferrari's pit-stop calamity in Singapore.
There were blips, such as his five spins in the rain at Silverstone and collisions with both Hamilton and Sébastien Bourdais in Japan, but through it all Massa never let his focus sway, and he entered the final race of the season in front of his adoring home fans at Interlagos still in with an – albeit slim – chance of lifting the laurels. Doing all he could possibly do, the 27-year-old's superb win was arguably the finest of his grand prix career, but with Hamilton sneaking in fifth it fell agonisingly just short. The bridesmaid he may have been in 2008, but the Felipe Massa that heads into 2009 is a new man – and one who knows he possesses all the necessary credentials to lift international motorsport's ultimate prize.
3. Robert Kubica
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