7: ADRIAN SUTIL
This was unquestionably Sutil's finest season in Formula 1, and in some ways his most challenging as he had to raise his game to take on rookie teammate Paul di Resta. Had he performed as he did in the second half of the year throughout, he'd have been several places higher in this list, but it was an uneven season for the German.
After scoring a couple of points in the first race of the season in Melbourne and then seventh in Monaco after throwing away a potentially better result when he put his Force India into the wall on shot tires, his season began in earnest at the Nurburgring. With grip at a premium, he excelled in low grip conditions to put the car eighth on the grid while di Resta struggled. He converted that into an excellent sixth place.
There were further points finishes at Spa and Singapore, but his really strong run came in the final three races of the season, with ninth in India, eighth in Abu Dhabi and then a remarkable sixth place in Brazil that stands as one of the drives of the season. It's true that his best performances correlated with the realization that he was fighting for his future but that late run played a key role in Force India's successful year.
Sutil proved beyond question that he belongs in F1 and is a very reliable performer, even though question marks remain over his ability to drive a team's development.
HIGH POINT: Devastating form throughout the Brazil weekend.
LOW POINT: The China nightclub incident and its fallout.
6: PAUL DI RESTA
The end of the Scot's season was a little underwhelming with a run of tracks that he had never visited before, but despite this it was a mightily impressive rookie campaign. In this era of strictly limited testing, it's easy to underestimate just how difficult it is to come into F1 and look at home instantly, which is exactly what the shrewd di Resta did.
In the early races, he was able to assert himself over teammate Adrian Sutil and went on to turn in two of the most remarkable cameos of the season. He climbed to fifth in wet conditions in the first part of the race in Canada before his race fell apart after a clash with Nick Heidfeld. Then, at Silverstone, he turned in a stunning Q3 performance to line up sixth on the grid at his home grand prix. On both occasions, he outperformed the par of the car by a long way.
Remember, this is a guy who hadn't raced an open-wheeler since winning the F3 Euro Series in 2006, and yet looked completely at home. There were a few scrapes in the first half of the season – hitting Jaime Alguersuari in Monaco, then having the Canada mishap and clipping Sebastien Buemi at Silverstone – but that's to be expected in a rookie campaign.
The raw statistics show that Sutil had the edge 10-9 in qualifying and by 42 points to 27, but he's had five years to get to that level. There's a lot more to come from di Resta.
HIGH POINT: Stunning sixth place in qualifying at Silverstone.
LOW POINT: Driving into Alguersuari at the hairpin in Monaco.
5: NICO ROSBERG
When you think about Nico Rosberg's 2011 season, it feels strangely innocuous. Aside from his race-leading stints during the Belgian and Chinese grands prix, it has been very easy to ignore his exploits. But just because he's been a little off the radar doesn't mean that he's had anything other than a strong season.
Ten times he finished between fifth and seventh – which, considering the Mercedes was, on average, the fourth most competitive car on the grid, was a decent return. He continued to dominate teammate Michael Schumacher in qualifying, although it was often nip and tuck in the races. Partly it was because Schumacher's race pace was far stronger than his single-lap form, but it was also down to the fact that Rosberg regularly struggled to make his tires last as long. Several times, this allowed Schumacher to jump ahead of him in races.
Ultimately, he finished seventh in the drivers' championship in a car that had no business doing any better. On five occasions, he was the best finisher from outside the top three teams and he was consistency personified. Only twice did he fail to finish, in Australia and Italy, and both of those were the results of assaults from other drivers for which Rosberg was blameless.
Rosberg's season was not great, but he was quick, consistent and showed us yet again that we need to see him in a truly competitive car alongside a known-quantity driver to judge his ultimate potential.
HIGH POINT: Glorious spell in the lead in China.
LOW POINT: A pointless Malaysian Grand Prix, struggling for pace and battling tire degradation.