Ranking a decade of F1 racing
Updated: Oct 30, 2021
As we close another decade in Formula One I thought it’d be a great exercise to go over some of the best moments of the decade by ranking each of the ten season against each other.
It sounds easy, but it turns out this was actually a pretty tricky task given many of the seasons were more ‘meh’ than they were ‘wow’.
So how do they all end up? Let’s take a look.
By far the easiest choice to put at the bottom, the 2015 season was perhaps peak Mercedes dominance and peak snoozefest when it came to non-Mercedes fans interest. One of only two seasons to feature only three different winners, it was perhaps made even more boring given the fight between the two Mercedes drivers wasn’t on the same level as the previous season and Lewis Hamilton wrapped up the title with three races to spare.
A positive note was seeing Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari return to the winners rostrum, and the German very nearly took second place to Hamilton as Nico Rosberg struggled after the midseason break before ultimately finding his form to win the final three races. Overall it was the most forgettable season of the decade.
Coming off the back of a brilliant 2010, everyone was excited heading into 2011. That pretty much all went out the window in the very first race, as Sebastian Vettel dominated perhaps the most boring Australian Grand Prix on record and set up what would be a dominant season for the newly crowned world champion. Vettel took 12 wins across the year while teammate Mark Webber couldn’t even manage one, with Vettel’s nearest competitor being Jenson Button from McLaren, who nonetheless finished a distant 122 points behind the German. There were very few highlights across the season, and it’s one that can easily be forgotten.
Oh, the promise this season had. So much potential. Coming off the back of two seasons during which Ferrari came so close to finally breaking the dominance of Mercedes, it seemed as though we were in for a genuine battle between the Scuderia and the Silver Arrows. However, the season was over just eight races in, with Mercedes setting a new record for early-season dominance to put a firm stranglehold on the season.
This in itself could’ve been promising, with Valtteri Bottas holding an early lead in the championship and seemingly putting it up to Hamilton in what was set to be an exciting internal battle in a similar vein to the mid-decade fight between Nico Rosberg and Hamilton. But nope. Bottas soon faded away and we spent the rest of the season just waiting for Hamilton to inevitably win his sixth championship.
There were a couple of highlights of course, with some great driving from young guns Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc as well as one of the best races of the decade in the German Grand Prix. But other than that it was a fizzer of a way to end the decade.
It was a season of two halves. The opening ten rounds were fascinating to watch, with five different winners across those races. Vettel once again looked likely to come out on top, but after that race in Malaysia, the infamous Red Bull Racing multi-21 team orders controversy, he had to fight his way back into the good books of many people and took his first ‘true’ win in the fourth race in Bahrain.
Up to that point we had seen not only three different drivers win a race – Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso – but three different teams, and things certainly were made only spicier when Mercedes joined in the party with Rosberg and Hamilton winning races in the pre-hybrid era.
However, all chances of a titanic battle for the championship soon evaporated after the mid-season break, with Vettel going on an incredible nine-race winning streak to close out the season and win his fourth consecutive championship. Say what you will about Vettel, but this was him in absolute peak form and showcased just how dominant he can be on his day. That in itself deserves a place a few notches up on this ranking.
A season that started off brilliantly and looked likely to really take on what we saw in 2017 and make it even better. Vettel won the opening two rounds for Ferrari and was followed by Daniel Ricciardo winning the third round for Red Bull Racing, for the first time since 2013 sending Mercedes home winless from the opening three rounds.
Things remained tight right up until the German Grand Prix, with both Hamilton and Vettel trading the lead in the championship. However it all seemed to go out the window for Vettel and Ferrari in Germany after Vettel crashed out while in the lead and Hamilton put in a barnstorming drive to win from the back of the grid. There was no turning back at that point at once again Hamilton romped to a championship in a very dull second half to the season and once again giving us a fairly dull season that had so much promise.
The 2016 season was the 2014 sequel we’d all wanted a year earlier. Ignoring the fact Mercedes romped home to win both championships once again, it was memorable for all the internal drama that was Rosberg versus Hamilton. This time around Rosberg took the spoils, claiming his only world championship in the final race of the season before surprising everyone by announcing his immediate retirement from the sport. It was a perfect way to cap off a career that is often overlooked by many Formula One fans and a perfect way to end a decent season and reasonable internal battle between the friends turned foes.
This was the first season of the turbo-hybrid era and turned out to be a pretty decent year based purely on the fact we saw the emergence of the Hamilton-Rosberg battle that dominated the mid-2010s. Ignoring the obvious fact that the cars sounded terrible and there was never any doubt a silver car was going to win the whole thing, and ignoring too the fact that only three drivers and two teams won races throughout the year, the drama and internal politics that emerged between Rosberg and Hamilton was actually incredible to watch.
The ‘dual in the desert’ in Bahrain was one of the best races of the season, and the back and forth between the two in the final races was great to watch. Hamilton claimed his second championship but we all knew Rosberg wouldn’t let him get off lightly moving forward.
We had Vettel versus Webber in the early part of the decade and Alonso versus Hamilton in 2007, but it was probably the first time since Senna versus Prost in the late 1980s that we had such a tense and dramatic intra-team feud that was exciting enough to tune in to ignore all the obvious bad stuff that came with the hybrid era.
With all this drama and excitement, however, it is important to note that this season sadly will be remembered for the loss of the incredibly talented Jules Bianchi. We later learnt Bianchi was very much on the path to becoming a Ferrari driver, adding even more tragedy to a young life cut terribly short.
Finally a real battle emerged. A vast array of aerodynamic changes brought about the fastest F1 cars we had ever seen to that point, and Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel proved to be genuine challengers to Hamilton and Mercedes. Hamilton had a new teammate in Bottas, and although he was never able to rise fully yo Rosberg levels of talent, he still proved a formidable teammate and competitor across the season. The 2017 season differs to 2018 as the battle actually remained close pretty much until Singapore, when a start line incident involving Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen hindered Vettel’s hope of a championship and was soon followed by a string of bad luck for Ferrari that finally handed Hamilton the edge he needed to secure his third championship.
When you have seven different drivers winning the opening seven rounds of the season, you know it’s going to be a memorable one. That tally would turn into eight by season’s end, and with 13 different drivers also scoring a podium. All in all, 2012 was a great year. Everything boiled down to the final race, with Fernando Alonso somehow turning his dog of a Ferrari into a championship-contending car and very nearly claimed a third world championship, but not enough to deny Vettel his third consecutive championship for Red Bull Racing.
It was an incredibly unpredictable season for most of it and only calmed down in the latter races. But any season that has Pastor Maldonado win a grand prix has to rank highly no matter what.
What an incredible season to start the decade and a clear choice for number one. Five different winners throughout the year across three different teams with four of those drivers in the championship hunt at the final race, a feat that had never been seen before and may not be seen again. We had the dominant Brawn from the season before bought by Mercedes and the return of Michael Schumacher to the sport, the return to form of Ferrari with Fernando Alonso joining the team, and reigning world champion Jenson Button proving many doubters wrong in his choice to move to McLaren.
It had it all, especially if you want to think about swings and roundabouts. No real driver emerged as the clear favourite to win the championship, with every single leader of the standings promptly dethroned after ascending to the top.
In the end it was Sebastian Vettel who came out ahead after an incredible final race in Abu Dhabi despite actually never having been in the lead of the championship all season. Many Australians will remember this season as perhaps the one that got away for Mark Webber, as the Aussie star looked likely to come out on top in the final races before ultimately crashing out of the Korean Grand Prix in torrential rain and never being able to recover. An incredible season that will be remembered for a long time and easily the best of the decade.
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here