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Formula 1

Edd Straw's 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix F1 driver rankings

by Edd Straw
9 min read

The 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix might not go down as a Formula 1 classic but it proved an entertaining enough race to end the season on.

Considering Friday running was severely disrupted too there were enough hurdles for drivers to trip up over throughout the weekend - or to clear and ensure they ended the season on the high.

There were certainly a handful who did exactly that, with some standout performances to judge in Edd Straw's final F1 driver ranking of the year.

How do the rankings work? The 20 drivers will be ranked in order of performance from best to worst on each grand prix weekend. This will be based on the full range of criteria, ranging from pace and racecraft to consistency and whether they made key mistakes. How close each driver got to delivering on the maximum performance potential of the car will be an essential consideration.

It’s important to note both that this reflects performance across the entire weekend, cognisant of the fact that qualifying is effectively ‘lap 0’ of the race and key to laying the foundations to the race, and that it is not a ranking of the all-round qualities of each driver. It’s simply about how they performed on a given weekend. Therefore, the ranking will fluctuate significantly from weekend to weekend.

And with each of the 10 cars fundamentally having different performance potential and ‘luck’ (ie factors outside of a driver’s control) contributing to the way the weekend plays out, this ranking will also differ significantly from the overall results.

Started: 1st Finished: 1st

Having sat out FP1 then struggled in practice, Verstappen wasn’t confident heading into qualifying but promptly breezed to pole position as the only driver to be able to run two fresh sets of soft rubber in both Q2 and Q3.

His first Q3 lap was good enough for pole position, with his second fractionally slower, and from there he controlled the race with consummate ease.

Verdict: Another Verstappen masterclass.

Started: 6th Finished: 8th

Once he’d adapted to the AlphaTauri floor upgraded and had a little more rear stability engineered in, Tsunoda was outstanding.

Going long on mediums (longer than the others who started on the same compound) allowed him to complete a one-stop race. Although that potentially cost him one position to Fernando Alonso, who passed him late on, the car didn’t have quite the speed to get the sixth place AlphaTauri needed for seventh in the championship.

Verdict: Finished the season on a high.

Started: 2nd Finished: 2nd

Leclerc signed off with another excellent weekend, taking the best possible result in qualifying and the race and even very briefly giving Verstappen something to think about early on.

That performance nearly allowed Ferrari to nick second in the constructors’ championship, and would have done had Carlos Sainz been able to back him up.

Verdict: Another best-possible weekend.

Started: 4th Finished: 3rd

Despite being ill, Russell produced a strong qualifying performance and was more confident in the Mercedes than Lewis Hamilton.

He then converted that into third in the race, jumping Lando Norris at the first round of pitstops then ensuring he finished close enough to Sergio Perez to gain a position after finishing fourth on the road, despite Leclerc’s effort to assist the Red Bull driver.

Verdict: Finished with a flourish.

Started: 7th Finished: 7th

Alonso described seventh in qualifying as “the best result we were hoping for” having flirted with elimination in Q2.

He consolidated that position in the race, picking off one-stopping Tsunoda later on and keeping the hobble Hamilton at bay despite his complaints about top-speed, which led to the ‘strategic’ lift on the straight.

Verdict: Seventh was probably Aston Martin’s ceiling.

Started: 3rd Finished: 6th

Piastri did a better job than Norris in Q3, although his underlying pace looked slightly slower. That was borne out in the race as Norris passed him in the first stint. However, given the pace of the McLaren and the tyre behaviour, that was a decent result.

Verdict: A decent end to an impressive rookie campaign.

Started: 5th Finished: 5th

Norris was furious with the Turn 13 slide that cost him a likely second on the grid - but almost certainly not pole position - and slated himself for qualifying errors again after the session. However, come the race he jumped to fourth at the start, which became third when he eased past Piastri. He slid back to fifth by the end, losing a place to Russell at the first pitstops (which was down in part to the McLaren’s relative lack of pace and tyre troubles but more obviously to a slow stop) and then Perez after their clash.

Verdict: Underachieved in qualifying but strong in the race.

Started: 10th Finished: 13th

Putting the Alpine into Q3 was a decent effort by Gasly, although his final qualifying lap was a disappointment as he struggled to get the tyres into the window and almost half-a-second slower than his Q2 pace, suggesting he could potentially have been in the mix for a much higher grid position.

However, the Alpine’s race pace showed it was a marginal points car at best, although the hit from Hamilton, and the strategy that cost him a place to team-mate Esteban Ocon at the first stops, meant a top 10 wasn’t possible.

Verdict: A decent weekend, but Q3 could have been better.

Started: 13th Finished: 10th

After a so-so qualifying, missing out on Q3 by a tenth-and-a-half, Stroll started on hards but managed to have a race “on the front foot” despite graining troubles on the mediums.

He didn’t get the well-timed safety car he hoped for to be able to get a boost up the order, although he did produce a well-executed race performance to beat Daniel Ricciardo to the final point.

Verdict: So-so qualifying but a good race.

Started: 14th Finished: 14th

Williams reckoned Albon had a shot of reaching Q3 had he produced a perfect lap, but on his one set of fresh softs in Q2 he struggled with tyre overheating and a mis-shift in the hairpin thanks to rear locking. That meant he went slower in Q2 than he had he Q1.

Wheelspin at the start eliminated any realistic hope of points, although he drove a decent race in particular once the wind dropped.

Verdict: A decent weekend in a limited car.

Started: 12th Finished: 12th

Ocon was struggling with the after-effects of a late-season fever heading into the weekend, although starting and finishing 12th felt about par for the pace of the Alpine on a one-stopper.

That said, he felt he had the pace to join Gasly in Q3 but for his sole Q2 lap on fresh tyres being a little short of what was possible.

Verdict: A solid showing in so-so car.

Started: 9th Finished: 4th

The deficit to Verstappen was exaggerated by Perez having his final Q3 laptime deleted, costing him sixth on the grid - and that lap he described as being “not very” clean.

He recovered from ninth to finish second on-the-road after being let past by Leclerc for tactical reasons, but that was fourth in the final classification thanks to the harsh five-second penalty for causing a collision with Norris.

Verdict: Another weekend of not extracting the most from the car.

Started: 11th Finished: 9th

Lacking confidence visibly at Turn 1 and the last corner explained most of the three-and-a-half tenths difference to Russell. The race was a difficult one given Hamilton sustained a little damage when he was caught out by Gasly’s lock-up and tapped the rear of the Alpine, compromising his brake cooling, although he came close to nabbing eighth on the last lap from Tsunoda.

Verdict: A lacklustre but welcome final competitive outing in the W14.

Started: 8th Finished: 15th

Hulkenberg put the old-spec Haas into Q3, but eighth on the grid soon turned into 13th thanks to a little wheelspin at the start of a tricky first lap.

As expected, the race pace wasn’t there to threaten for points even though the Haas's tyre degradation wasn’t dramatically worse than the rest, meaning 15th between the two Williams cars was about par.

Verdict: Rapid in qualifying, but couldn’t do more in the race.

Started: 15th Finished: 11th

Ricciardo chased more front end in the upgraded AlphaTauri but never got the car to his liking and was puzzled by the lack of grip in qualifying. Although he reached Q2, he could do no better than 15th.

An early pitstop forced by a tear-off getting caught in a duct compromised his strategy, but he made the most of clear air in the second stint to haul himself back into the points mix - a decent final stint featured a climb from 18th to 11th - albeit he was assisted by others stoping.

Verdict: Not at Tsunoda’s level.

Started: 18th Finished: 19th

Bottas felt the Alfa Romeo had the pace for Q2 heading into qualifying, but struggled for grip in the cooler track conditions and felt there wasn’t enough speed in the car and missed out by three-and-a-half tenths.

He was on a hiding to nothing on a one-stopper starting on hards, struggling with both the tyre degradation and consistency of performance.

Verdict: Was the stronger Alfa Romeo driver.

Started: 20th Finished: 16th

Sargeant had the speed to join Albon in Q2, but both his Q1 laps were ruined by exceeding track limits at Turn 1. He accepted these were his mistakes, but complained of the lack of feeling for the limit at the corner exit that “forces us to underdrive, it’s hard to do on a qualifying lap”.

Sargeant felt he had to be conservative at the start thanks to Albon’s wheelspin and was happy with his race performance, particularly holding up Ricciardo’s points charge, on a sub-optimal strategy.

Verdict: Qualifying track limits hurt his ranking on a solid weekend.

Started: 19th Finished: 17th

Zhou was 0.371s slower than Alfa Romeo team-mate Bottas in Q1, a gap exaggerated by a poor second lap on which he made “a mistake in Turn 6, locked up both axles, and after that it was very difficult to recover”.

Given the pace of the Alfa Romeo in the race, he was able to make little progress on the orthodox strategy, although he did jump one-stopping Bottas.

Verdict: An average weekend in an average car.

Started: 16th Finished: 18th

Sainz’s season ended with a whimper as he never recovered from managing just four laps in FP2 after he went spinning into the barrier at Turn 3 eight minutes in when the car bottomed out.

Traffic magnified his struggles and led to his Q1 elimination thanks to only making a slender improvement on his second run.

Progress was slow in his first stint and on a two-stopper once the intended one-stopper proved impossible there was no alternative but to hope to fluke a safety car that never came.

Verdict: Finished on a low.

Started: 17th Finished: 20th

Magnussen’s difficult season ended with a whimper as, driving the new-spec Haas, he never looked like a candidate to escape from Q2.

Given the tyre-degradation challenges in the race, there was no chance of making much progress, but an early stop on lap five after an attacking first stint yielded little in the way of gains and meant he needed incidents and safety cars to do better than last.

Verdict: On a hiding to nothing.

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