Karun Chandhok's top 10 Formula 1 drivers of the 2020 season
Let the debate begin: Sky Sports F1’s Karun Chandhok picks his top performers from an epic season of Formula 1 and counts them down, with explanations of his reasons behind their placings, from 10 to one...
Last Updated: 24/12/20 12:24pm
10) Valtteri Bottas
There's no doubting Valtteri's speed in qualifying, despite the fact he was outqualified by Lewis Hamilton 11-5 this season. It's the relentless pace on a Sunday while playing that balancing act of tyre management versus speed where he has just been unable to match Lewis. It is not easy to do of course, especially as Lewis has really mastered that.
Across the 16 races they did together, only at the opening round in Austria, Imola and Abu Dhabi did Bottas seem to genuinely beat Hamilton for pace on a Sunday, but it was the one race they did not do together which seemed to hurt Valtteri's reputation more than anything. From the moment he lost the start to George Russell in Bahrain, he never looked likely for one second to challenge his temporary team-mate and with every lap that passed, the shine started to come of Valtteri.
It will take a great deal of mental strength to bounce back from 2020 - maybe he can look to Pierre Gasly for inspiration.
9) Lando Norris
A solid second season for the popular young Brit. He's got plenty of speed and this year I thought he made a good step forward in terms of his race pace and tyre management. Ending the season on a high in Abu Dhabi with a superb qualifying and race will give him confidence into the winter.
There were still a few occasions in wheel-to-wheel battle where Lando looked a bit too polite and could have got his elbows out a bit more and especially on the opening lap, he has also not been as punchy as some others.
But on the whole, he has repaid McLaren's faith in hiring him last year and should work well with Daniel Ricciardo as they begin their new era with Mercedes power.
8) George Russell
One swallow does not a summer make so it would be wrong to rate George's season based on that one weekend in Bahrain. But there is no question that in terms of job auditions and first impressions, that was every bit as impressive as Max Verstappen's first race and win with Red Bull in Spain back in 2016.
George has revelled in the role of team leader at Williams but it was hard to really judge him against a rookie like Nicholas Latifi, which is why that weekend in Bahrain was important. It put into context that given the tools, he is fully capable of being at the sharp end and delivering a result.
His qualifying performances for Williams have been excellent this year although his starts, opening laps and tyre management have not always been as good. A quality young driver with a lot of self-confidence who deserves to be in a Mercedes very soon.
7) Carlos Sainz
There are very few drivers who are better on a Sunday than Carlos. He places the car very well on the opening lap to make up places, he reads a race well, understands the strategies at play and is incredibly consistent.
He has not been the luckiest driver over the past couple of seasons and it has put him further down the points table in the first half of the season but like Max, he has got that unique blend of youth and experience now. Dealing with the pressure of Ferrari up against a star like Charles Leclerc will be a fascinating story to watch.
6) Pierre Gasly
Watching Pierre win in Monza was probably my highlight of this season. He is a lovely guy who has shown incredible mental strength after bouncing back from a very difficult 2019 where not only did his career look in tatters but he also lost his best friend in Anthoine Hubert.
While Monza was obviously a one off, Pierre has well and truly beaten Daniil Kvyat and driven some great races, often with unconventional strategies, to rebuild his reputation. I cannot see him getting back to the main Red Bull team so I think he needs to use 2021 to build on the foundations of this year and launch himself into the driver market outside the Red Bull family.
5) Daniel Ricciardo
The cheerful Aussie rediscovered his form from the early Red Bull years this season. I do think the time alongside Max took some toll on Daniel, but he has raised his game and elevated himself into becoming a true team leader for Renault.
The qualifying performances were fantastic matched by some high-quality races.
Only a couple of drivers apart from Daniel can truly claim to have maximised the performance of their car so often this season. There are several people within Renault who wonder if he would have signed for McLaren if it was a normal year and are certainly sad to see him go. A true asset who has once again turned himself into an A-lister.
4) Sergio Perez
The fact Perez is fourth in the championship - seven places ahead of team-mate Lance Stroll - after missing two races says a lot about the consistent 'points hoover' that he is. In previous years, criticism of him being lazy and not a great qualifier hung around like a bad smell, but a look at his physical shape in 2020 and qualifying laps like Bahrain and Portugal this year tells you otherwise and that he has worked hard for his results.
A class act on a Sunday, with controlled aggression when overtaking means he delivers consistent points for a team with few errors. The win in Bahrain was one of the feel-good moments in a year where Checo got Covid-19, was dropped by the team for next year and spent months fighting for his career publicly but with dignity. I really hope we do not lose him from the sport.
3) Charles Leclerc
Absolutely underlined his star quality from 2019 and I believe drove even better in 2020. The qualifying lap at the Sakhir GP was one of the best of the season and his tyre management at Silverstone was exceptional. The fact he completely trounced Vettel this season shows why Ferrari were right to back Charles for their long-term future.
Three first-lap crashes in Austria, Sochi and Bahrain were red marks on an otherwise superb season, but that will get ironed out with experience. If and when Ferrari get back to challenging for victories, Leclerc certainly looks ready to deliver the consistent performances in the cockpit they would need to take the fight to Mercedes and Red Bull.
2) Max Verstappen
The Dutchman was the only real challenger to the Mercedes duo and on several occasions was close enough to be an annoyance and at least force them to think a bit about their strategic options.
The early win at Silverstone seemed to be a bit of a false dawn, and the Red Bull was never really a consistent challenger for victory in the dry apart from Abu Dhabi when the seemed to confuse everyone including themselves with being faster than the Mercs! He could and should have also won in Turkey but for the spin while trying to pass Perez.
Max's qualifying margin over Alex Albon was the largest gap between team-mates, illustrating his utter dominance within the team.
1) Lewis Hamilton
Qualifying at Spa. Fagnes chicane. Lewis comes through the fast right incredibly quickly and flicks it into the left. The rear of the car is beautifully balanced on the edge of adhesion. Breath-taking to watch. Something that sticks in my mind even now.
The world champion had an excellent season despite spending a lot of time and energy on larger societal issues outside the sport (rightly so in my view). Performances like the wet qualifying in Austria or the race in Turkey underline just why is the best driver of his generation. The only real errors this season were unusual ones where he passed the 'pit entry closed' sign in Monza and chose to do a practice start in an odd place in Sochi.
I think since 2018 there's a Prost-like approach to Lewis' racing where he makes sure he and the car are in the best shape for the race. Even if he does not get pole position or loses the lead at the start like in Portugal, he does not panic and methodically works his way back to the front. He continues to be the benchmark on the grid and ominously for the opposition, he has lost none of his motivation despite the years of success.