I hate pound-for-pound rankings. They’re such a double edged sword.

I’m definitely the kind of bloke who will sit in a pub with a friend (If I did pubs. Or friends for that matter.), and debate about ranking stuff till the cows come home. In school it was those ratings tables for girls and they had looks and their personalities on them, or ranking who Football’s Top 5 Strikers were. (Remember when Inter Milan’s Adriano looked like he was going to be the shit?)

Pound-For-Pound lists are the eventual outcome when nearly any sport. Like trying to compare Joe Montana, to Johnny Unitas, or Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson. It’s still happening now in Combat Sports. In Boxing, it’s a little more clear cut, It’s Floyd Mayweather then everyone else. In MMA, things have gotten more interesting now Anderson Silva’s “lost” his last two fights; and Georges St-Pierre’s recent retirement. Jon Jones? Renan Barao? Jose Aldo? Interesting eh?

“Or maybe these three?”

As long as I’ve been on YouTube, people have always asked me the similar sort of question: “Dre! If you put everyone in the same car, who would win?”, or “Who’s the best driver?!”, and I always the same answer…

…How the heck am I supposed to know?!

Look folks, let’s be real here, there isn’t really a scientific way of saying who the best Formula 1 driver is, until the sport adopts the same format as GP2, with everyone rocking the same chassis and suppliers. But that’ll never happen because those sponsorship and exclusivity deals are larger than the levels of incompetence the BBC F1 Directors have.

So the best we can do, as with the pub situation, would be to y’know, use some facts, interpret them how you like, then speculate a little bit. So, let’s weigh up the pros and cons, and try to dig a little deeper and weigh up the contenders as we enter into the “Pound-For-Pound” King of Formula 1…

Sebastian Vettel, The Statistical Monster: 4-time World Champion (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)

+ Pros: Leads current field in Career Wins (39), Pole Positions (45) and World Championships (4, consecutively), Most successful driver since Schumacher, has ruthless streak
Cons: Has achieved most of his success in the strongest car, hasn’t won from lower than 3rd, Unpopular to many, has ruthless streak

The reigning Champion. The man that has done more to polarize Formula 1 fans since Schumacher’s retirement. (The 1st one.) Sebastian Vettel is similar to Schumacher in the sense of turning a midfield team into something special, and to many, the legacy of his career so far, that’s come as a blessing and a curse. Yes, he’s won 4 Championships, 2 in dominant fashion. (The odd years) But as a result, many have questioned his success, giving more of the credit to Adrian Newey and his team of engineers, than the man himself.

"Is this the microcosm for Sebastian's success?"

“Is this the microcosm for Sebastian’s success?”

You can see why. Especially when it’s Adrian Newey, a man who’s designed, at time of writing, 10 Championship winning cars, in multiple “eras” of the sport. The fact he’s a front running kind of driver doesn’t help either. To me, many a fan likes to see their drivers EARN their win, rather than constantly lead from the front and pull away. But that’s the luxury of being an elite qualifier for you. He’s just never really had to consistently fight from outside the first two rows. But when he’s had to, he can do it. The last two races of the 2012 are arguably the best of his career, Abu Dhabi and Brazil.

His popularity won’t win him any favours either, with Multi 21 and his rather introverted character. He’s never going to be the guy the casual fan will root for.

Ultimately, how you assess Sebastian Vettel, to me, will come down to how much credit you want to give him, as opposed to the car he’s been blessed with him. Does he have to leave and win elsewhere to truly get the credit be accepted as an all-time great? How much do you look beyond the incredible numbers?

Fernando Alonso, The People’s Champion: (2-time World Champion, 2005 and 2006)

+ Pros: Double World Champion, most consistent time as an “Elite” driver, 3-time runner-up, has actively tried to win with multiple teams, All-Time Points Leader (1,606) Massive fanbase
– Cons: Slightly weaker at qualifying than others, easily frustrated

“Alonso after Valencia 2012, after starting 11th on the grid…”

Arguably the most popular man in the field, The People’s Champion. Why? Because Fernando Alonso already proved his greatness early in his career. Former youngest race winner in 2003, then youngest ever World Champion in 2005 and 2006, stopping the dominant run of Schumacher.

And what’s made Fernando Alonso so great in more recent years, has been his ability to win with any team he’s gone too, and his ability to extract the absolute maximum out of a team which even he knows, isn’t the strongest in the field. 2012 was one of the greatest seasons of all time, due to Alonso scoring an incredible 260+ points in the 2nd-3rd best car in the field, taking (then) Double World Champion Sebastian Vettel, to the absolute limit.

It’s moments like this, which get people on his side. He’s a scrapper, an underdog, the guy who appears that he has to work so much harder to get any form of success. Compare that to Vettel, who you could say, has had an easier ride having been with a faster car for almost the entirety of their rivalry since 2010. The fact the Ferrari he’s been with for 4 years now, has never shown “Ultimate” pace against rival cars when qualifying, is an example of this. Because quali hasn’t really been Alonso’s strong suit since his 1st Renault days, he’s often had to fight through tough opposition to get his results.

“The special 1571 helmet, after becoming F1’s all-time leading points scorer”

As a result, many (me included), think he has the best “race craft” of any current driver on the GRID today. Excellent in the wet too.

He’s made it quite clear, he thinks Sebastian needs to emulate him, and join a weaker team to define his legacy. Now, I don’t think he has to do that, but in Seb’s case, it would certainly silence a LOT of his remaining doubters. Fernando doesn’t have the incredible career numbers that Seb has achieved in just 7 seasons, but he does have the universal admiration and respect of the paddock and the fans, and for good reason too. You could argue, if it wasn’t for Seb, Fernando could have had 4 or 5 Championships right now, and we’d be putting him up there with some of the greatest this sport’s ever seen. To me, he already is.

Lewis Hamilton, The Natural Talent: 2008 World Champion

+ Pros: Supremely talented, Elite Qualifier, Always near the top, incredible passer
– Cons: Bad luck, questionable temperament and attitude, Unpredictable

You know quite know what you’re going to get with Lewis Hamilton. As a natrual talent, he’s as gifted as anyone I’ve ever seen enter Formula 1. He was plugged in from 2007 and was winning races half a season later. Yes, he was blessed with joining the strongest team right off the bat, but it’s one thing to get a great seat, it’s another to fully utilize it. Don’t forget, he beat Fernando Alonso AS A ROOKIE back in 2007.

And while he had his moment of glory in 2008, narrowly winning the World Title against Felipe Massa by a single point, since then, Lewis’ has not consistently found that same level of success. Not entirely his own fault. McLaren’s form has always been…ropey at best, and 2011 was in general a bad year for his bitter feud with Felipe over the course of that season, going personal and the two getting involved in several confrontations on track.

2012 was a year he could have been a contender had it not been for some awful luck. He had 75 points taken off of him from race winning positions (Mechanical failures in Singapore and Abu Dhabi, crashed out in Brazil), where McLaren definitely had the fastest package but their reliability ultimately killed any chance of a major title.

However, with his move to Mercedes and another 4th in the Driver’s Championship, it proved that Hamilton still has the ability to hang with the very best, by being able to carry that form to a different team, and breaking out of his McLaren comfort zone. He’s still one of the best qualifiers the sport has ever seen (31, 7th all-time), and he’s one of the very few drivers you can truly say, that has a chance of winning any given race.

The issue with him, is the lack of consistency around him. Maybe it’s his off-track excursions that hold him back? Maybe it’s just the fact that the F1 field is as loaded for talent, as it has ever been. He’s not made the Top 3 of a WDC since 2008, his title year. That’s not right for a man of his talent, and you have to wonder what it’ll take for him to get back up there over a 20 race season. With Mercedes looking stronger than ever, maybe now is the chance Lewis has to get back to the top. He’s 29 and about to enter his 8th season, he’s running out of excuses.

Kimi Raikkonen, Mr Consistency: 2007 World Champion

+ Pros: Incredible consistency and race pace, raw ability off the charts
– Cons: Renegade nature, again, not the best Qualifier

Kimi Raikonnen is a stud, and another one of that amazing Rookie class of 2001. His return to the sport in 2012 was proof of that. Many forget that alongside his World Championship in 2007, he’s also a two-time runner up, especially in 2003, where he was 2 points shy of shutting down Michael Schumacher’s grip of terror on the sport. Overall, 5 times he’s finished in the Top 3.

“Kimi’s first win for Lotus, Abu Dhabi 2012”

And I’ve never seen a Formula 1 driver leave the sport, then come back two years later and showed all of the same skill he had once had before he left. His 2012 Lotus season was a testament to this, taking a Lotus car and team still struggling with the effects of crash gate in 2008, to 4th in the Constructors, and Kimi himself to an unprecedented 3rd individually.

It was a shame he couldn’t replicate that in 2013, but he had a chance of doing so, if it weren’t for his highly documented falling out with the team. To be fair, if a team owed you $15m, wouldn’t you be mad? Even in his 11th season, Kimi is still one of the best, and his style of conserving the tyres as well as being remarkably consistent on the road is incredibly valuable for the way Formula 1 is calibrated now, where consistency and tyre conservation is pretty much paramount.

“Will the dream team of Ferrari co-exist?”

Again, like Fernando, he’s a guy that could help himself by getting himself further up the grid, like his partner Romain Grosjean was doing this past season, and with just 16 poles, he has the least of any of the Elite 4, but even so, he’s still one of the very best in the field, and now he’s back with Ferrari, he has a chance of bringing home another Championship for himself, and a title Ferrari so desperately crave.

How would you rank Formula 1’s Elite 4? Does other guys like Jenson Button or Nico Rosberg get in the way? Let me know.