10. Hayden Paddon
That this Kiwi came so close to winning the Production Car World Rally Championship in his first season at the highest level is testament to his prodigious talent and his massive commitment to every element of the sport.
Paddon worked harder than anybody in the Pirelli Star Driver programme. He lost a chunk of weight, learned to drive on asphalt, honed his already sharp skills on the dirt, showed the rest of the world the way to deal with the media and generally did a cracking job as an ambassador for Pirelli and the FIA. His season went south with a puncture in France, but he'd shown his mettle with some outrageously quick times earlier in the season.
The highlight was probably his P-WRC victory at home. That it never looked in doubt was further testament to the fact that New Zealand has a genuine contender for a world title, and there's not an oval ball in sight.
Beating former Formula 1 world champion Kimi Raikkonen in a last-stage scrap around the streets of Trier was the highlight of the year for the likeable Cumbrian. He never looked likely to trouble the highest fliers ahead, but he was generally the quickest of the next bunch, regularly beating his Stobart team-mates.
Consistency counted again for Wilson, who took points on all but two of the 13 rounds of the year, but brought his Focus RS WRC to the end of them all. Started well on plenty of events, only to suffer niggling problems with overheating brakes or an unexpected blip in the car's set-up just when he was beginning to settle in and set some times. Wilson's a confidence player who needs to find the way to drive around those kind of issues.
8. Ott Tanak
He doesn't say a lot. He never really smiles. He doesn't seem to know any good jokes and there's some questionable musical taste. He's his own man and he's got a bit to learn about driving on asphalt. But boy, can this fella drive a car on gravel.
He was awesome until he crashed on the final day in Turkey and even better until he binned it on Sunday in Portugal. And then it all came together in Finland, where he romped home under plenty of pressure from a Pirelli Star Driver team constantly reminding him that all the prizes were waiting at the finish. He did a similar job on Rally GB to turn in the kind of pacey yet controlled drive which had some spectacularly alluded him on the first two rounds of his PSD prize drive.
He was disappointing on the asphalt, but he can learn how to do that. What can't be taught is the kind of blistering speed he has in spades. He's a world champion in the making - and he'd even started smiling by the end of the season.
Crikey, what happened there then? Ford's super, superstar in 2009 was a beaten man a year down the line. There are loads of theories about what happened to Hirvonen this year, but the reality is that he was beaten soundly by Loeb and reasonably effectively by his team-mate Latvala.
Here's one of those theories: Hirvonen misses out by a single point in November, 2009, running Loeb closer than anybody; he then wins the Intercontinental Rally Challenge-opening Monte Carlo in January and WRC-opening Sweden in February, edging Loeb in a wonderful final-day fight in Karlstad. Suddenly, he's got it. This is the bit where it all comes a little easier. Except it didn't. His Focus couldn't cope with the C4 at altitude in Mexico and when he cut a right-hander over a crest a fraction too much in Jordan, mashing his suspension, his season turned. There were more problems to come: a car-full of dust in Turkey and a bizarre inability to engage in New Zealand and a woeful tyre choice leaving him miles away in Bulgaria.
And, just when it couldn't get any worse, the corner he knows and loves the best of the tens of thousands in the WRC, bit him at home. And bit him hard. When Hirvonen gets it wrong in Urria, you know it's not going to be his year. And it wasn't. Theories of him losing the plot after his massive Finland shunt are wide of the mark. As we've shown, he wasn't having his best season before that right-hander. Japan is a place Hirvonen loves and, for a while, it looked like it would provide the perfect tonic for his annus horribilis, until hydraulic failure ruled him out of the fight for the win. He's a great bloke who'd make a great champion, but he needs to find his form sharpish to avoid having a career defined by a 2009 near-miss.
6. Jari Ketomaa
Absolutely should have won this year's Super 2000 World Rally Championship. He dominated proceedings in New Zealand, Portugal and Japan and, had it not been for a sizeable shunt at home in Finland or another one at the end of the season in Wales, he would undoubtedly have worn the crown he so richly deserved.
Ketomaa's only potential vice is an absence of asphalt experience, but his second place in France showed he's no slouch when the gravel's not cannoning off the underside of the car. And when it comes to the loose, he has that second-nature ability to read what the car's doing.
In short, he's another fast Finn. In the halcyon days of the manufacturer-packed WRC, he would have been signed up for a factory car by now. If he turns all the potential he showed this year into prizes next year, he would make a compelling case for becoming one of the chosen ones.
5. Dani Sordo
Monstrously unspectacular year from the Spaniard. Looked good on the opening round. Fired-up by his own pre-season talk of taking the fight to his team-mate, Sordo was on fire in Sweden, to lead in the snow. Unfortunately, the combination of a high-speed spin and an overheating engine (courtesy of co-driver Marc Marti forgetting to remove the blanking plate over the air intake) meant he managed no better than fourth. Marti's card was marked after further problems in the right-hand seat and he would vacate for Diego Vallejo.
Sordo's big chance came at home: Loeb's title was sorted and there would be no intervention from the team if the two wanted to fight. This was his moment, and he fluffed it. Big time. Running fifth on the road on the gravel first day, Sordo should have taken 30 seconds out of his team-mate and then controlled that for the next two days on asphalt. Instead, Loeb pulled out all the stops on a damp and foggy opener and won the rally there and then.
Having been dropped from the Citroen works team in favour of Ogier for the gravel in the second half of the year, it came as no surprise that, after four winless years in the same car as Loeb, he received an email marked 'P45' from Versailles. Sordo remains one of the most decent blokes in the sport, but it's vital for his career progression that he stamps his authority all over the Mini team next season.
Whiling away time on the flight back from Japan, Ogier was number one in this list. In just his second season at the sport's highest level, he'd taken two wins, beaten Loeb on four consecutive gravel rallies and shown the kind of controlled aggression needed to dethrone his extraordinarily successful countryman.
Ogier had stunned on rallies he'd never been to before: taking second after a mistake three corners from the finish cost him victory in New Zealand and then winning in Japan. Both of these are super-technical rallies which are among the toughest to learn; Ogier opened his window and deposited perceived wisdom. Equally impressive was his effort in Finland, where he came within an ace of beating Latvala and only lost by 10 seconds. So, like I said, he could have been number one.
But then for the flip side. In France, it's reckoned he told Sordo he was ready to race for second, regardless of what had been discussed with Olivier Quesnel over lunch - and then promptly went off. He crashed again in Spain in what was always going to be a fruitless pursuit of Loeb and finally in Wales, the last left-hander in Radnor got the better of him and spat him into the weeds. Ogier will be a champion very, very soon, but not before he's tempered his desire to be fastest around every corner.
The best player-manager since Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool. Solberg balanced the books between events and a Citroen C4 WRC on them. Running as a private driver told at key moments when his first win since 2005 was in the offing. That's not a reflection on the state of the Citroen Racing-supplied machinery, which wasn't far away from Loeb's car, but a reflection on the cost implication of not being able to test every conceivable damper set-up or being forced to bear the financial burden of changing another set of brake discs.
After his second successive insane winter of tying up the deals to get to the start line, Solberg's head was understandably all over the place in Sweden - where he promptly crashed. But come round two in Mexico, he was bang on it to overturn a final-stage deficit of six tenths of a second to Ogier to clinch second place. Solberg would finish second four more times in a season which amply demonstrated his potential at the highest level. The 2003 champion also took a mid-season co-driver switch in his stride, when Phil Mills departed and Chris Patterson took over. Solberg's narrow second to Loeb in Wales summed up his season: close, but no cigar. He deserves more next year.
There's a strong argument for Latvala slotting into this top 10 considerably lower down if you take an objective look at the results - particularly the results in Mexico, Turkey and Portugal, where he went off the road. This year, however, Latvala came of age. Ford team principal Malcolm Wilson had removed the weight of expectation from the Finn's shoulders by making it quite clear he was Mikko Hirvonen's wingman for 2010. Once he'd settled into that role, his natural driving talent came to the fore.
He took an unexpected win in New Zealand, with a most mature drive to take the victory without winning a single stage. He then showed he still had the pace to match that new-found consistency by taking the fastest rally of them all: Finland. He could have added to his tally in Japan, until a driveshaft broke, or in Britain when he lost the lead with a puncture. France was another massively impressive outing from the Ford man, beating Loeb on four stages in the Frenchman's backyard. All round, this was a very different J-ML from the win-it-or-bin-it fella we've seen before. This Jari-Matti could well be a world champion in the next couple of seasons.
The numbers speak volumes: eight wins from 13 starts translated into a seventh title and 62nd world rally win. That's why Loeb's number one. It would have been churlish and simply contrary to put him anywhere else; he remains the best rally driver in the world.
There were wobbles, though. Time was when Loeb would make a couple of mistakes across the spread of a season, not any more. In New Zealand, he made three mistakes which cost him victory in Auckland. Equally, while making up for smacking a bridge on the opening day, Loeb turned in the most comprehensively stunning day's sport in the history of the WRC on day two. Having been almost two minutes down, he played himself into the lead battle, then dropped it again.
He deservedly took his title in front of an adoring, and enormous, home crown, fully justifying the Rally of France organiser's decision to move the event from Ajaccio to Alsace.
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David Evans is the rallies editor of Autosport and Motorsport News. A successful rally driving father ensured an early introduction to motorsport and, fascinated as he was by rallying, the fourth estate was of equal interest. Having read (or at least looked at the pictures) from the age of two, he joined <i>Motoring News</i> in 1996 and later moved to Autosport in 2002.@davidevansrally More features by David Evans