The 2024 Formula 1 grid remains unchanged from the one that ended 2023, but the stock of some of the drivers on it has changed massively over the past 12 months.
One rookie exceeded all expectations while another did only just enough to earn a second season. There were surprises among the experienced drivers too.
So how does that tip the balance of quality across the 10 driver line-ups in F1?
We asked our writers to rank the 2024 F1 driver line-ups from worst to best, based entirely on driver ability and with the team pecking order and car performance completely discounted.
We then applied the F1 points system to those rankings to create our definitive verdict on who has the strongest – and weakest – driver roster going into 2024. We've also included a note on how their ranking this year compares to their placement last year.
10 Stake F1 (Down 2)
Valtteri Bottas + Zhou Guanyu
Best ranking: 7th (Mark Hughes and Gary Anderson)
Worst ranking: 10th (Ben Anderson, Jonny Reynolds, Edd Straw and Josh Suttill)
The Valtteri Bottas/Zhou Guanyu partnership is entering its third season in 2024 at the newly-renamed Stake team but it has slipped from the number eight position it held for two consecutive years to the very bottom of the pile in our rankings.
Jonny Reynolds was one of four writers to place it last, labelling it F1's "least inspiring combination".
Edd Straw too placed them last: "Bottas is excellent on his day, but has his off weekends, while Zhou is dependable but lacks an edge of pace. That makes this a decent enough, but erratic, line-up."
Ben Anderson feels Bottas has become "maybe a bit too comfortable" and would benefit from a stronger team-mate while Josh Suttill called Bottas "frustratingly inconsistent, still weak in wheel-to-wheel combat and outshone far too often by Alex Albon in F1's current Class C fight".
Matt Beer added: "Post-Mercedes Bottas's life feels more like a drift into mediocrity rather a heroic underdog renaissance. And that's a real shame." Jack Benyon felt Bottas "hasn't done much to show Mercedes was wrong to get rid of him or that he didn't deserve to lose that seat".
Scott Mitchell-Malm placed them ninth, believing Bottas to still be a "strong leading midfield driver" but expressing frustration that Zhou Guanyu hasn't made the necessary step forward.
The line-up received better praise from Gary Anderson and Mark Hughes, who both placed it seventh.
"Bottas is good, not a megastar but at a high level and Zhou can compete with him," Hughes summarised.
9 Williams (Up 1)
Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant
Best ranking: 7th (Edd Straw)
Worst ranking: 10th (Jack Benyon, Scott Mitchell-Malm and Gary Anderson)
Our writers were united in their underlying views of Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant even if the rankings differed from seventh to 10th.
There was plenty of praise for Albon. Mitchell-Malm called him a "top 10 driver" while Beer says "this line-up is elevated from the bottom by the absolute quality of Albon's best drives".
For Reynolds, "Albon's presence lifts Williams's line-up above Haas and Sauber's in my mind" but it was Sargeant's presence that prompted Benyon to rank Sauber higher.
"Sargeant hasn't done enough to show he deserves to be in F1, so he'll need a big 2024, with at least two very fast young drivers coming from F2 in 2025," Benyon added.
Beer labelled Sargeant "a placeholder for now" while Mitchell-Malm thinks he "still has an awful lot to prove in 2024". He was the reason Ben Anderson placed Williams no higher than ninth -"Albon solo belongs in the top 6-10 easily, but is dragged down massively by Sargeant, who simply doesn’t yet look convincing to me at F1 level".
Gary Anderson was unconvinced Sargeant would be able to turn things around: "Sargeant was the only driver in 2023 to go down 22-0 on qualifying to his team-mate. I don’t think 2024 will be much different."
Suttill compounded the criticism, calling Sargeant "the least convincing driver on the grid, who will have far more rivals for his seat this time next year than he mercifully did this year".
8 Haas (Down 1)
Kevin Magnussen + Nico Hulkenberg
Best ranking: 4th (Gary Anderson)
Worst ranking: 10th (Matt Beer and Mark Hughes)
Our writers were fairly split on where to place Haas's line-up with Gary Anderson being the most positive about Nico Hulkenberg/Kevin Magnussen.
"Both have shown a real turn of speed on occasion," Anderson explained.
"They are both at the same point in their career. Both know what it is like to be out of F1 for a season and get a second chance so working together is no drama.
"As with most other pairings, both will benefit from better equipment."
At the other end of scale, two writers - Beer and Hughes - placed Haas last.
"These dogged veterans have their moments, but you couldn't blame them if their motivation wasn't at its highest given the nature of Haas's problems," Beer remarked.
"Fighting a constant rearguard action can't be fun. They're still probably getting more out of the situation (and causing less damage) than the average rookie would. But if the right rookie was available, that rookie would probably be an upgrade."
Hughes said both were "decent drivers but both have key limitations".
Reynolds placed them ninth and wasn't too enthusiastic: "Both capable but meh! Hard to get too excited about this combination."
But Benyon at least believes Hulkenberg has shown he deserved his full-time comeback and has shown little signs of deterioration.
"At times - and this might just be his laidback demeanour - Magnussen just looks happy to be there as opposed to someone desperately trying to prove something or painstakingly improve the car," he added. "That's a bit disappointing."
"A strong pairing in need of a better car" is Ben Anderson's verdict on Haas's line-up.
"Hulkenberg has been fantastic since making his full-time return to F1, and is about as quick as Ricciardo when Daniel is at his best. Magnussen I feel is a slight step behind but not too far off."
Mitchell-Malm summed Hulkenberg/Magnussen as "solid, dependable and capable of the odd heroic but not setting the world alight over a season" while Straw concluded that "two of F1’s experienced pros combine to make a line-up with good potential but Magnussen’s struggles with the turn-in characteristics in 2023 masked that".
Straw's confident that in a better car, with both on song, this is a better line-up than perhaps 2023 showed.
7 AlphaTauri (Up 2)
Yuki Tsunoda and Daniel Ricciardo
Best ranking: 6th (Matt Beer, Scott Mitchell-Malm and Gary Anderson)
Worst ranking: 9th (Mark Hughes)
The only line-up to change since the beginning of the 2023 season, AlphaTauri (or whatever it will be called in 2024) has climbed our rankings thanks to the addition of a rejuvenated Daniel Ricciardo and the continued improvement of Yuki Tsunoda.
Mitchell-Malm was one of three writers to place the duo sixth: "Tsunoda made an excellent step last year. Ricciardo looks a bit more like his old self. Question marks over both but the potential is very high."
Beer explains his placing as one "based on faith in both Tsunoda and Ricciardo accessing their potential more regularly and reliably".
He says he'd "still love to see Tsunoda moderate himself into the great driver he is probably fast enough to be. Ricciardo hasn't done enough to make a case for getting back in a Red Bull Racing seat yet, but his Mexico performance proved there's still something special there to tap into".
Straw agreed that Mexico last year "showed the old magic is there" with the caveat that it "hasn't yet been consistently delivered", hence him ranking the line-up only eighth.
Hughes ranked them ninth with a clear logic: "I need to see more to know if Ricciardo is back to his best. If so, this is much higher."
Gary Anderson thinks Tsunoda "will have a tough time matching Ricciardo if - and it's a big if - he's back to his old self. However, I’m not expecting to see the old Ricciardo anytime soon so the start of the season will be Yuki’s big chance to stamp his authority on who leads the team".
Ben Anderson thinks Tsunoda has "taken a step forward since Ricciardo arrived" and believes "Ricciardo’s not yet the force he once was but looking much better than he did at McLaren".
Suttill reckons this line-up could overhaul Alpine's in quality terms with a strong opening half of the year for both drivers. He expects "2024 to be make or break for Tsunoda justifying his continuing existence in F1 beyond the end of Red Bull's Honda deal"
As for Ricciardo, Suttill wonders "am I getting too far ahead of myself if I start thinking where a Verstappen/Ricciardo Red Bull line-up would place on this list?"
6 Aston Martin (No change)
Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll
Best ranking: 5th (Matt Beer, Jonny Reynolds, Edd Straw and Josh Suttill)
Worst ranking: 8th (Gary Anderson)
"Fernando Alonso's such an elite driver he still drags this line-up above Alpine's in my estimation despite Lance Stroll being one of the weakest three drivers on the grid," says Suttill, who placed Aston Martin fifth.
So too did Mitchell-Malm ("Alonso is a world-class operator") and Beer who says "it feels like every year offers more evidence of how astonishingly good Alonso still is, and 2023 was the best season of his F1 comeback so far".
Both Benyon ("I'm still waiting for Alonso's powers to wane but every year he bounces back and impresses us in new ways") and Suttill (he's got another three years in him at least hasn't he?) were impressed with Alonso's longevity.
Ben Anderson called Alonso "one of the very best out there" and put the onus on Stroll to improve this line-up's ranking next year.
"If Stroll can more consistently access the sort of form he showed in the final three races of 2023 then this line-up could easily make the top five."
That was a thought echoed by Reynolds, who said an improved Stroll leaves a line-up with "more upside than Alpine's".
Straw felt Stroll cost Aston Martin fourth place in the constructors' championship to McLaren last year but agreed that he showed plenty of potential for improvement.
Though he acknowledged Alonso is a highly effective "animal" who drags everything out of the car, Stroll prompted Gary Anderson to place them down in eighth place.
5 Alpine (No change)
Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon
Best ranking: 5th (Ben Anderson, Mark Hughes, Jack Benyon, Gary Anderson and Scott Mitchell-Malm)
Worst ranking: 7th (Matt Beer)
There's a common theme among our contributors that Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon are evenly matched but as Straw puts it this combination "lacks a consistent cutting-edge".
Mitchell-Malm said it's "a driver pairing perfect for the fifth or sixth best team in F1, albeit with the same potential for some excellent peaks" while Suttill called it "a well-balanced midfield line-up that Alpine would have traded for another year with Alonso in a heartbeat".
Beer was the most sceptical, placing it seventh and finding it "hard to be confident they're getting the most out of the Alpine".
Ben Anderson was slightly more positive ("the best line-up outside of the top teams") as was Benyon ("they worked together better than I was expecting in 2023 - even if it wasn't all plain sailing - which shows they can work for the good of the team, too").
Reynolds summed up a slight feeling of ambivalence towards this pairing: "I don't think either is elite, but as a pairing, they are quick and dependable".
4 Red Bull (Down 1)
Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez
Best ranking: 1st (Jack Benyon)
Worst ranking: 9th (Gary Anderson)
The world championship-winning line-up doesn't top our overall ranking with Red Bull's duo placing no higher than fourth in all but one of the nine individual rankings.
That exception was Benyon who placed Max Verstappen/Sergio Perez as the #1 line-up on the grid - and he's fully aware that he's made a contentious choice.
"I know I'll get a few head scratches for this, but the biggest factor in Perez not holding his own in this driver line-up is a proven strategy of developing the car towards and prioritising Verstappen's traits," Benyon explained.
"Perez certainly is a worse number two than at least Mercedes and Ferrari has, but ultimately Verstappen is so good that he provides the buoyancy to raise this line-up to the top for me. He's so clearly a level above the opposition at the moment, I'd take him even with the ballast of Perez over the other line-ups."
Gary Anderson took the diametrically opposing view, placing them ninth due to Perez's continual deficit.
"I don’t think there is another driver on the grid that could match Verstappen in a car that is to his liking," Anderson said.
"In another car that was to the other driver's liking then perhaps there are a few including Perez. But for now Red Bull will follow the direction that Verstappen has requested over the last few seasons.
"So basically it's up to Perez to raise his game and adapt. 2024 is a true sink-or-swim season."
The other seven contributors elected to position them fourth. Mitchell-Malm called Verstappen "a stunningly good number one" but said "it's about time Perez accepts all he can be is a decent number two".
Beer believes Verstappen is "carrying the team" and thinks Perez "would probably be looking far more impressive in an upper midfield team, leading it to against-the-odds podiums, than he does floundering behind Verstappen".
Ben Anderson agreed that "Verstappen is doing most of the heavy lifting here, like Alonso. In fact, based on Verstappen’s 2023 solo performance, you could declare this the best line-up on the grid simply by eliminating Perez!"
It was Straw who perhaps summed up the views of the majority best however: "For all Verstappen’s undoubted brilliance, the one thing he can’t do is drive both cars, which combined with Perez’s struggles dents the Red Bull line-up’s potency."
3 McLaren (Up 1)
Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri
Best ranking: 1st (Ben Anderson and Gary Anderson)
Worst ranking: 4th (Jack Benyon)
McLaren gaining one place in our rankings over 2023 is down to Oscar Piastri's sensational F1 rookie season as well as Lando Norris's continuing development.
It was even enough for Ben Anderson and Gary Anderson to place them first.
"Lando has the experience and Oscar has the hunger of youth, so they will drive each other to new heights in 2024," Gary Anderson said.
"Lando needs to drive within the equipment he has, if he does this he will make fewer mistakes. After all, you can’t make up for all of the deficit in your equipment. For Piastri it’s his second year so he is not the new boy in town anymore, but I do think he is an exceptional talent with still a lot of potential for improvement."
Ben Anderson added: "Yeah, I agree with Lando - McLaren’s driver line-up is the strongest on the current grid. Piastri looks to be a potentially quite special driver, is already giving Norris a hard time and is only going to get better."
Mitchell-Malm felt this line-up was "the fastest combination on outright pace but Norris has some qualifying errors to eliminate and Piastri needs to make a step in races".
Suttill concurred, arguing it was Piastri's racecraft weakness that prevented this line-up from surpassing Mercedes and Ferrari.
"Having said that, I wouldn't be surprised if McLaren tops our 2025 ranking. By then Norris and Piastri will have taken another step," he concluded.
And almost in unison, Beer said similar: "In pure potential terms, you could make a solid argument for this being the best line-up on the grid. Norris is a bit too prone to letting opportunities slip, though, and the rookie rough edges Piastri still has were very, very obvious on race days."
2 Ferrari (No change)
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz
Best ranking: 1st (Matt Beer and Edd Straw)
Worst ranking: 3rd (Jack Benyon and Scott Mitchell-Malm)
Two of the nine contributors placed Ferrari in first place but it's not enough to avoid a third successive runner-up spot for this line-up that topped our ranking in 2021.
Beer awarded it first place: "Though they don't seem to often peak at the same time (is it actually possible to make a car/set-up that suits them both?), Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz offered more evidence than ever in 2023 of how outstanding their peaks can be.
"Leclerc's tenacious Las Vegas heroics were the drive of the year. They desperately deserve a title-calibre car."
Straw had plenty of praise, calling Leclerc/Sainz "the most exquisitely-balanced driver line-up in terms of complementary skills on the grid. In a championship fight, it’s a powerful weapon given that when things are working as they should Leclerc is the faster of the two but with Sainz very close to his level."
Mitchell-Malm agreed it was "the most complementary" pair of drivers but felt Mercedes and McLaren had the greater potential.
Benyon too felt he had to place Ferrari third, albeit "a very close third", feeling "Ferrari's inconsistency has masked some of the talent on show here, just look at Leclerc's unfair pole conversion rate as an example".
Ben Anderson labelled it "the first of the top line-ups with a clear number one/number two dynamic emerging. Sainz is doing a fine job, but Leclerc at his best has a couple of tenths on him".
Suttill called Leclerc "F1's best qualifier" and said it was "a real toss-up between Mercedes and Ferrari" for his first-place choice.
While there was little separating the Ferrari pair points-wise in 2023, Gary Anderson expects it will be Leclerc who shines brightest in 2024.
"If the equipment is better suited to both drivers then I think Leclerc has more capacity to take more from it. And in reality, he is the star driver so the team will always lean in his direction."
1 Mercedes (no change)
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell
Best ranking: 1st (Mark Hughes, Jonny Reynolds, Scott Mitchell-Malm and Josh Suttill)
Worst ranking: 3rd (Gary Anderson)
The Mercedes duo hang onto their #1 spot in our rankings for a third year in a row but with a reduced advantage.
That's in part due to an inconsistent 2023 season where both Lewis Hamilton and particularly George Russell had weekends where they were adrift of their team-mate.
"Actually it’s very difficult to assess these two, because of the lack of consistency from their equipment," Gary Anderson, who placed them third, summarised. "When Hamilton has a car that gives him what he wants then he is going to be difficult to beat while Russell is happier with a less-than-perfect car."
Beer, Straw, Benyon and Ben Anderson all dropped Mercedes from first to second in their rankings compared to 2023.
"Last season created quite a few question marks about both Mercedes drivers," Beer explained.
"Not enough to knock them particularly far down this list for me, though. Not when the evidence from earlier in their careers so overwhelmingly suggests that Russell is a potential champion and Hamilton still has more title fights in him."
Ben Anderson gave the nod to McLaren this year but believes both Mercedes drivers still have great potential despite errors last year.
"Hamilton was below his best through the final races of 2023, but the real him is still lurking in there somewhere - and Russell is occasionally error-prone but basically as fast as Lewis over one lap," he said.
However, four of the nine contributors still believe Mercedes to be the best F1 line-up.
"Take every driver at their peak and this should still be the superior pairing. The question is whether they can be less erratic than last year," Mitchell-Malm said, while Suttill said: "This is the only line-up in which both drivers could challenge for and win an F1 title with the right car and without a change in team-mate.
Reynolds says Hamilton makes the difference for him versus Ferrari: "Hamilton's presence puts Mercedes over Ferrari for the best line-up in F1 - but it's close!"