In the first of a series of articles welcoming in the new year the regular contributors to theCheckeredFlag.co.uk choose the drivers from around the world of motorsport who, for them, have stood out in the most recent 12 months. Selections include the man who was almost F1 champion, a pair of new FIA world champions and a driver described as the best product yet from the Playstation Nissan GT Academy.
Peter Allen – Fernando Alonso
Who else? His Ferrari should never have been in contention to win the title, but thanks to some heroic performances – most notably his victory in Valencia – he was looking unstoppable mid-season. Even as Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel got back to their dominant best as the season neared its end, Alonso was regularly dragging his car onto the podium so that come Brazil he was in a position to capitalise when Vettel hit trouble. It wasn’t to be, but while Vettel and Red Bull were deserving champions, Alonso was by far the most impressive driver over the year. As TCF’s resident junior single-seater expert, a mention to Antonio Felix da Costa too for winning in everything he raced in the latter half of the season.
Read the race report from Alonso’s European Grand Prix win – HERE
David Bean – Lewis Hamilton
If someone could be bothered to sit down and do the maths, you could make a decent case for Hamilton becoming champion this year. He would have won the race in Barcelona, had it not been for McLaren’s inability to put enough fuel in his car for qualifying, and his car failed while he was leading in both Singapore and Abu Dhabi. Coupled with a few more occasions of lost points – the Valencia crash with Maldonado, and dodgy pit stops – and factoring in the points that Vettel, Alonso and Räikkönen gained from his misfortunes, and I am sure he would have taken the F1 title in 2012. Some would argue that it is the driver and the team that win the championship together, but this category is about the driver only. So there!
James Broomhead – Andre Lotterer
2012 only confirmed what I think 2011 started to show – that the power is shifting in the Audi Motorsport LMP1 teams away from the likes of Allan NcNish, Tom Kristensen and the now retired Dindo Capello and towards the combination of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler that only a few years ago was considered the third crew in Audi’s Le Mans plans. Highlighting one man from a three handed crew is difficult, perhaps even unfair, but Lotterer has become the figurehead for the now double Le Mans champions, so often seeming to be leading the team from – and to – the front in a year when they won not only at Le Mans, but overall in the World Endurance Championship with victory at Silverstone and Bahrain as well as in France. It’s been said elsewhere with increasing conviction but if fate (and the relative speeds of Audi and their rivals) is kind to him then future generations will be mentioning Lotterer in the company of Bell, Dalmas and that bloke Kristensen.
Read the report from Lotterer’s second 24 Hours of Le Mans victory – HERE
Andy Champness – Jamie Whincup
After an impressive ten race wins in 2011, Whincup didn’t ease up this year, bettering his record to 12 on the way to a second back-to-back V8 Supercars Championship. His fourth title puts him alongside some of the greats of Australian touring car history – Bob Jane, Allan Moffat and Jim Richards – and leaves him just one behind the record five titles won by Ian Geoghegan, Dick Johnson and Mark Skaife. Despite the numbers, Whincup certainly didn’t have it all his own way. 2012 was amongst the hardest-fought of them all, with Ford Performance Racing’s Mark Winterbottom and Will Davison mounting strong challenges during the first half of the season. However, Whincup is a model of consistency, a demon driver who rarely puts a foot wrong. With seven pole positions and an incredible 24 podium finishes, Whincup has defied his critics and rightly earned his place in the history books.
Alex Goldschmidt – Fernando Alonso
Out of all the highly competitive and skilled drivers in F1, Fernando stood out by a clear mile above all the rest, as he clearly showed how he has matured as a seasoned veteran of the sport, and become the real driving force behind the unbelievable turnaround of Ferrari. This was even though pre-season testing in Jerez for Maranello was completely abysmal, to say the very least. But he clearly was the man for the job, as he dragged the F2012 kicking and screaming around all 20 circuits to come within 3 points of the now youngest triple world champion in history, Sebastian Vettel, at Interlagos. An incredible achievement by a modern racing great, that no one could have believed just 9 months ago.
Chris Gurton – Jann Mardenborough
There have been many great drivers I have seen this year, but for me there has been one that really Stands out. As a winner of the Playstation GT academy that has already produced great race winning drivers, Jann Mardenborough has produced great things this year in the British GT championship. Forming a formidable partnership with team mate Alex Buncombe in the Nissan GT-R, Jann could have been crowned British GT champion along with his highly experienced compatriot in just his first full season of racing had it not been for a mechanical failure half way through the final race of the season from a position that would have secured them the title. Buncombe, who can race competitively in any car you give him, himself was a close call for this nomination thanks to his superb opening stints. One such superb start saw Buncombe climb the field and take the race lead within two laps of the start at Brands Hatch where he continued to build a solid lead. A safety car cut the lead but was the right time to hand over to Jann, who’s mature drive kept him ahead of the pack now boasting the more experienced racing drivers behind him. The likes of Oliver Bryant in the Ecurie Ecosse BMW and Jonny Adam in the Beechdean Aston Martin chipped away at the lead lap after lap. A lesser driver would have crumbled under the pressure as heading into the last lap, Adam was just behind the Nissan and looking likely to snatch victory. Mardenborough kept a cool head to show maturity beyond his years and experience to take the win by just seven thousandths of a second, the closest margin in British GT history. And all this exactly a year after he was crowned the GT Academy winner.
Read the race report from the British GT Brands Hatch race – HERE
Scott Mitchell – Fernando Alonso
Sometimes the champion is not the most deserving. Alonso’s achievements in 2012, three Grand Prix wins, two poles, and taking the championship down to the final race, would be impressive most seasons. That he did so in a car which began the season outside the top ten and was rarely one of the top three cars makes the feat near superhuman. His drive to victory in Valencia stands as one of the best of the season and overall the Spaniard was as faultless as anyone can hope to be.
Read the race report from Alonso’s first win of the season – in Malaysia – HERE
James Newbold – Fernando Alonso
I defy anyone to look beyond Fernando Alonso for the driver of the year. Sure Jamie Whincup utterly crushed the competition in V8 Supercars, and Bruno Spengler was the object professional in BMW’s ultimately successful return to the DTM, but for Alonso to have taken the title down to the wire given the inferiority of his equipment compared to Sebastian Vettel is simply staggering. Alonso’s ability to drag every last once of performance from the equipment at his disposal is worthy of the highest respect.
Simon Paice – Scott Malvern
After dominating Formula Ford in 2011, there were high hopes for Scott Malvern as he stepped into Formula Renault BARC this season and the 23-year-old duly delivered, overcoming the odds to win the single-seater title. It shouldn’t be underestimated just how impressive it has been for Scott to win BARC first time out, especially with the championship having its most popular season in recent memory, with capacity grids packed with quality drivers. Malvern wasn’t in the best position to win either, he had to deal with a new car (the first time he’d competed in ‘slicks and wings’), new tracks and a mid-season change of teams, both outfits he ran with being inexperienced in the category. Despite all this, he managed to overcome third year driver Josh Webster and hotly-rated Seb Morris, running with powerhouse teams MGR and Fortec respectively, to secure the title. This guy has real talent and is one to watch over the next few years.
Read the review of Malvern’s victorious season – HERE
James Singleton – Rob Huff
After coming so close to winning the WTCC title in the past couple of years, he duly delivered in Chevrolet’s last season. Sure, he was helped by his team mates Muller and Menu running into each other at times, but that should not take anything away from Huff’s performance this year. It was great to see another British driver winning the WTCC championship and richly deserved it for, if nothing else, being a great all-round bloke. We can only hope that the result will help him find a drive next year, given Chevrolet’s withdrawal from the championship. But whatever happens, he now has his place in motorsport history as claiming Chevrolet’s last ever world championship in the WTCC.
Louis Suddaby – Marc Marquez
This kid has everything. Blisteringly quick, always up for a scrap and as ruthless as they come, sometimes too much so. The Moto2 championship seemed to have his name on it right from the start of the season and he went on to dominate, even winning the final race in Valencia from the back of a 33 bike grid. The scary thing is though, he’s only just getting started. MotoGP fans will see a lot of him in the years ahead and don’t be surprised if he’s a title contender immediately, in fact I’ll be surprised if he isn’t.
Mike Trusler – Fernando Alonso
It’s tough to pick from the numerous race series that take place around the world, but my pick is Fernando Alonso. He may not have won his third Formula One World Championship, but he came mighty close in a car that for most of the season was massively inferior to that of the Red Bulls and even the McLaren. Had it not been for the misfortune of being caught in the carnage at turn one at Spa, he may well have been Champion. If’s, but’s and maybe’s aside, he once again demonstrated his skills throughout the season. His prowess in the wet, his natural speed in the dry and the ability to put a car in places it has no merit to be means Alonso tops my list. Honorable mentions go to Sebastian Vettel, Gordon Shedden and Robin Frijns.
Those are our choices. Agree? Disagree? Let us know with your own picks for this year’s best driver.
Tomorrow the TCF Team explain their selections for the best team of the 2012 season.
Lead photo credits: Photo Credit: (top to bottom, left to right) Chris Gurton Photography; motogp.com; Team Vodafone; Chris Gurton Photography; Paul Gilham/Getty Images; Chris Gurton Photography; Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR; Chris Gurton Photography; Chris Gurton Photography; Chris Gurton Photography; Citroen Racing Media; Jakob Ebrey Photography)