10. Nico Rosberg
Nico Rosberg at Silverstone © LAT
With Kazuki Nakajima in the other car, this wasn't satisfactorily answered and Williams, fairly typically, was beginning to have doubts. It was certainly less than impressed in Malaysia when, after leading the first stint, Nico lost eight seconds to Button in one wet lap. Partly this was because Jenson was so far ahead that he missed the worst of the rain. But not all of it. He would have been second in Singapore but for a careless error as he left the pitlane.
The team let him down at least as often though. His fourth place in Hungary, for example, could have been third or even second were it not for a stuck fuel hose. We should get a more definitive reading on his level in new surroundings in 2010.
9. Rubens Barrichello
Rubens Barrichello at Monza © LAT
Yet again, he was more than a number two but not quite a number one; taking only Barrichello's performances, the Brawn would have looked a competitive rather than dominant in the season's first half. Even when he did out-qualify his team-mate, he was more often than not behind him in the race and in Brazil, fighting for the world championship from pole, he faded dramatically. It wasn't the first time during the season he had mysteriously dropped off the pace.
He showed great spirit in fighting back after seven straight defeats by Button and in that brief three-race sequence, when he produced his best drives, it looked like he might maintain that momentum before it then tailed off again. That said, the team valued his technical feedback highly.
8. Kimi Raikkonen
Kimi Raikkonen at Spa © LAT
In the nine races he was paired with Massa this year, his qualifying was slightly superior but too often his races passed by in an underwhelming fuzz while Massa got his head down and pulled results from the reluctant car. Immediately upon Massa's absence, he began an impressive run of podiums, including the Spa victory, but these were at tracks to which the car was well-suited and it led to the inevitable question of just where Massa might have been in these races.
Being paid off a year short of his full contract was an ignominious end to Kimi's Ferrari career and despite the spin put on it, the fact remains that his performances too often fell short.
7. Felipe Massa
Felipe Massa at the Nurburgring © LAT
His middle stint at Monaco stands comparison with any done by Michael Schumacher in its fantastic relentlessness and it was only the unfortunate timing of traffic that prevented him from beating Raikkonen for third and, quite possibly, Barrichello for second. Fastest lap and fourth was scant reward.
His drive two weeks earlier in Barcelona should have also yielded a podium, but was thwarted by a false fuel reading. In Germany he made a difficult heavy first-stint strategy work brilliantly to take third. He drove fast and faultless races in Turkey and Silverstone to bring results that flattered the car. What a pity he wasn't around to take advantage of the car's improved performance at the two low downforce tracks of Spa and Monza.
6. Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso at Singapore © LAT
He was perhaps a little too comfortable in a Renault team that regarded him with awe and with inexperienced team-mates who were not in his league. Even within the limitations of his car there were few of the characteristic relentless Alonso stints. His Singapore drive was one such, but it only served to emphasise that we'd seen the real Alonso so rarely prior to this race.
His drives to fifth in Australia and Spain were about the only other times such tenacity was on display, though his fiery taste for battle was evident in Spain when he went wheel-to-wheel with Mark Webber at a safety-car restart.
5. Robert Kubica
Robert Kubica at Valencia © LAT
He made a brief but sensational appearance at Monza, not only rescuing a seventh-gear moment on the grass, where Vettel had put him, but making the pass too. Nick Heidfeld was of a high enough standard that Kubica wasn't always the team's cutting edge, and the current generation of control tyres have neutralised his ability to carry huge speed into medium and slow-speed corners, but the peaks of his season were those of a very special talent and there is not a single one of his opponents who doesn't recognise his level. He is the one they all worry about getting in a competitive car.
4. Mark Webber
Mark Webber at Interlagos © LAT
The banishing of grooved tyres took away his ability over rivals to better feel their very tricky limit, particularly under braking. The performance of the slicks was generally more accessible. This and Vettel's arrival meant he was regularly out-qualified by a team-mate for the first time, but he made amends with races such as Barcelona, where a quite amazing middle stint allowed him to beat Vettel, and he did the same in Turkey.
But his day of days came at the Nurburgring, where his breakthrough win was based on a wet qualifying superiority that was astounding.
3. Sebastian Vettel
Sebastian Vettel at Suzuka © LAT
But he won four times, usually out-qualified Webber, sometimes by a margin that had Mark shaking his head, and his pressure series of one-run-only qualifying laps in China and Japan were sensational, and the basis for victories the following day. It's easy to forget how little experience he has, such are the heights he attains, and as such it can be expected that he will progress beyond this level in years to come.
Beneath the smiling, joking demeanour is a huge intelligence allied to a savagely competitive instinct and a big talent. He has convinced the remaining doubters of his true status
2. Jenson Button
Jenson Button at Monaco © LAT
His silky style was devastatingly effective when the Brawn was at its best and several times he seemed to gain access to an elevated level of personal performance - witness his stunning pole lap of Monaco or his savagely relentless stint in Barcelona that overturned his team-mate's superior strategy. There were races in that first half-season - Bahrain and Barcelona - where the Red Bull was at least as fast. Button won those races only because he out-drove his team-mate and the Red Bull drivers.
But with a less competitive car and the prospect of a world title on the horizon, he dropped to a less consistently brilliant level. Furthermore, that minimum-input driving style worked against his overcoming the car's Achilles' heel of not being aggressive enough with its tyres.
1. Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton at the Hungaroring © LAT
There was nothing in the data, either the team's own or that from the various indicators of performance on track, that suggested it was in the same league as the Red Bull or - when it was working properly - the Brawn. Yet Hamilton won two races with it regardless and was only prevented from dominating a third (in Abu Dhabi where he had more than 0.5s on the field) by a brake material problem.
In the car's hopeless early-season form, Hamilton's qualifying speed was not notably better than team-mate Kovalainen's, as both could find its modest limits quite easily. Even so, he somehow contrived to get it up to fourth in Melbourne and Bahrain. The moment the car's performance window widened, Hamilton was consistently brilliant. There were also fewer mistakes than in 2007 and 2008, though Monza showed he was still capable of them
To continue reading this feature, subscribe to Autosport Plus today.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
- Your Autosport Plus subscription includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from a monthly or yearly membership.