7 MARK WEBBER
The Australian's performances were plunged into the shadows by Vettel's stunning late-season run, but this wasn't quite a repeat of 2011 for Webber. His problem is one of consistency. The high points are very high, but Webber tends to fluctuate wildly between the man who can dominate grands prix and one who can't live up to his often dominant teammate.
Early in the season, Webber did get the better of Vettel. While the German searched long and hard for a car that would allow him to aggressively – but controllably – rotate the rear on turn-in, Webber got the best out of the Red Bull more regularly. The result was two victories in the first half of the season.
His second Monaco Grand Prix win was the highlight. The Red Bull wasn't quite the best car on the streets of the principality that afternoon, and he drove in the knowledge that one mistake might allow one of the queue of cars behind him to leap ahead. But he was faultless.
Three races later, at Silverstone, he repeated the trick. This time, his win came after chasing down and passing Alonso with just four laps to go. At that point, he was the Spaniard's closest rival in the title race, just 13 points down. But from then on, pickings were relatively sparse as Vettel re-asserted himself as unquestioned team leader. So much so that Webber managed just two podiums in the final 11 races of the year.
Up until Suzuka, Webber still fancied his chances of getting in the championship fight. Then, Romain Grosjean tagged him at Turn 2 at Suzuka, effectively ending his push. Webber's reaction, to storm into Lotus hospitality to give the Frenchman a piece of his mind after the race, told you everything you needed to know about his view on the matter.
A week later, he had a shot at victory in Korea after taking pole position. But there, as has happened before, the nerves appeared to get the better of him as, according to those in the team, smooth operation of the clutch paddles eluded him at the start and he dropped behind Vettel off the line.
The bottom line is that, on average, Webber's season was good but nothing extraordinary. Perhaps the fact that he equaled the record for fourth places in a season with six – a record that he had set in 2011 – tells you everything you need to know. On his day, he can be mighty but over a season he is very good rather than great.
And that's exactly what Red Bull needs.
6 JENSON BUTTON
Button's season was bookended by wonderful victories in Australia and Brazil. But the 18 races between yielded a very mixed bag of highs and lows.
At his best, Button is a classical grand prix driver in the best possible sense – precise, ultra-consistent, clean but not a soft touch in battle and very quick. But at his worst, Button can work his way into a downward spiral while chasing a car that will give him what he wants. For his best is generally only accessible when the car is in his relatively tight performance window. That equated to a season in which he was unable to carry over the advantage he had over Hamilton in 2011, despite starting the year in the best possible way in Melbourne.
The trouble was that Button didn't get on at all with the tires. Even late in the season, he admitted that he was still baffled by the 2012 Pirellis, something that was at the root of a five-race stretch from Spain to Silverstone during which he struggled badly having become convinced that a system on the car was giving him the wrong feedback. That misstep, combined with some reliability problems at inopportune moments that made it difficult to get back on the right track, effectively put him out of title contention.
His re-emergence came at Hockenheim. A major update to the McLaren made the car far more to his liking and, had it been dry in qualifying, he'd have had a good chance of winning rather than taking second behind Alonso.
Two races later, at Spa, he was imperious and dominated from pole position. And while Hamilton doomed his weekend by switching back to the previous specification – and slower – rear wing, Button deserves credit for not making that same mistake.
Over the next seven races, Button was back to his usual solid level of performance. But at the Interlagos finale, he was able to push Hamilton in qualifying and outperformed him on slicks in damp conditions, conditions in which he excels. Had the safety car not robbed him and Nico Hulkenberg of a massive lead, there's no way that Button would have been behind Hamilton again. So it would be unfair to use the fact that it was only his teammate's clash with Hulkenberg that allowed him to get back in front as a criticism.
In terms of sheer pace, Button wasn't quite Hamilton's equal. But despite getting lost for a quarter of the season, his class showed through plenty of times in 2012.
Coming on Monday: the top 5