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Formula 1

Edd Straw's 2024 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix F1 driver rankings

by Edd Straw
9 min read

An ultra-close victory fight (in the end) at Formula 1’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, but whose performance was actually most impressive?

Edd Straw ranks the field’s Imola efforts from best to worst - with a star underdog nosing into the top five and a very big name very low down.

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

Red Bull was beatable in both qualifying and the race, but Max Verstappen’s tenacity and speed even when not comfortable with the car turned this into another dominant weekend on paper.

Verstappen’s delight both at taking pole and holding onto win on hard tyres that had dropped out of the temperature window and couldn’t be brought back late on tells you this wasn’t ‘just another Verstappen win’.

Verdict: Made the difference for Red Bull.

Started: 3rd Finished: 3rd

Third on the grid represented a slight overachievement for Charles Leclerc, albeit assisted by Oscar Piastri’s grid penalty.

The Ferrari was the third-best car at Imola and Leclerc consistently had the edge over team-mate Carlos Sainz, delivering a strong race drive to stay ahead of Piastri - save for the mistake that led to him taking to the grass at Variante Alta.

Verdict: Not much more he could have done.

Started: 2nd Finished: 2nd

While Lando Norris was shaded by team-mate Piastri in qualifying, and might have lost out by more, he led McLaren’s chase of Verstappen and did a good job to flirt with a challenge for the lead late on.

However, without McLaren’s poor traffic management in qualifying, Norris might well have ended the weekend as the team’s second-best driver - albeit by a slender margin.

Verdict: A good weekend, but Piastri shaded him on pace.

Started: 5th  Finished: 4th

Piastri can’t be held responsible for the impeding grid penalty he suffered (stewards blamed the late radio call for that) and had the edge on team-mate Norris in qualifying, albeit with a slender margin having lost over a tenth-and-a-half to a “scruffy” Rivazza 2.

His race was defined by track position, undercutting his way past Sainz but then getting stuck behind Leclerc.

With a front row start and without the compromise of pushing his hard Pirellis too much to pull off the undercut, he’d likely have been ahead of Norris and in the hunt for victory.

Verdict: Performance merited a better outcome.

Started: 10th Finished: 11th

Nico Hulkenberg again proved outstanding in qualifying by reaching Q3, albeit declaring himself “not entirely happy, only 97%” after not making the most of his one fresh-tyre lap in the final part of qualifying.

He ran eighth early on but was the obvious midfield cork in the bottle thanks to his qualifying overachievement, with the difference between a point and missing out not the inevitable loss of positions to the offset strategies of Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez but Haas allowing Yuki Tsunoda to make an undercut pass at the pitstops.

Verdict: Another strong weekend. 

Started: 7th Finished: 10th

Tsunoda was on song from the start of the weekend at a track he knows inside out. But despite his lofty qualifying position he did leave time on the table in Q3 and failed to match his Q2 pace.

RB’s start troubles meant he was shuffled back to ninth, but undercutting his way past Hulkenberg at the pitstops ensured he bagged a point given long-running Perez and Stroll overcut him by running long in the first stint.

Verdict: Another good weekend’s work.

Started: 6th  Finished: 7th

While George Russell was frustrated to finish behind Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton having headed him all weekend up to that point, the call by the team was logical given it ensured Perez wouldn’t get too close and netted an extra point for fastest lap.

While he lost ground to Hamilton before the pitstop, the six-lap tyre offset played a part in that and there’s every chance he could have finished ahead, but why take that risk from a team perspective?

Verdict: By a small margin, the stronger Mercedes driver.

Started: 4th  Finished: 5th

Sainz always seemed to be half-a-step behind team-mate Leclerc throughout the weekend, lapping a quarter-of-a-second behind in Q3.

However, he did point to an aerodynamic problem - unconnected to Ferrari’s upgrades - the team detected overnight as a concern.

Having run fourth initially he slid to fifth after being undercut by Piastri in what he called a “damage limitation race”.

Verdict: A par weekend.

Started: 18th Finished: 12th

Although Kevin Magnussen was set back by sitting out FP1 for Ollie Bearman and being robbed of his final Q1 lap by Piastri impeding him at Tamburello, he lacked Haas team-mate Hulkenberg’s edge of single-lap pace.

From an unpromising position, he executed his medium/hard one-stopper well - with the caveat that the pace on the hard tyre meant an earlier pitstop would have been preferable. He passed Daniel Ricciardo late on to take what was a good 12th place.

Verdict: A stealthily good weekend. 

Started: 8th Finished: 6th

Hamilton didn’t have Russell’s edge of pace in qualifying, by his own admission, but finished ahead of his Mercedes team-mate in the race despite a brief excursion.

After jumping Tsunoda at the start, a combination of running six laps longer before his pitstop and Russell making a second stop to insure against tyre troubles that might have allowed Perez to catch up and bag Mercedes the extra point for fastest lap allowed him to finish sixth.

Verdict: A decent weekend but Russell had pace edge.

Started: 14th Finished: DNF

Despite losing track time in FP1, Alex Albon was happy with the Williams heading into qualifying only to be thrown off by the change in conditions and grip. That meant it was a battle to escape Q1.

He did so but only Pierre Gasly’s mistake saved him from last in Q2 given the pace of the Williams.

After running 14th in the first stint, the failure to attach the front-right wheel properly ruined Albon’s race and he used what followed as a test session before the car was withdrawn late on.

Verdict: Quick but unlucky on Sunday.

Started: 13th Finished: 9th

While there was likely time left on the table in qualifying, the Aston Martin could only have scraped into Q3 at best so 13th wasn't anywhere near as disappointing as it usually would be for an Aston Martin driver.

Stroll then delivered the kind of race he often does, on an inverse strategy with a longer first run that turned 13th into 9th on a weekend where he was tidier than team-mate Fernando Alonso.

Verdict: Efficient but not extraordinary.

Started: 16th Finished: 18th

Valtteri Bottas again had the stronger weekend of the Sauber drivers despite finishing behind Zhou. He had the edge in qualifying despite not making it to Q2, but having made his pitstop on lap eight Bottas’s tyres were gone in the closing stages.

On hards that went 54 laps, further than anyone else, he was powerless to avoid being passed by Esteban Ocon, Zhou Guanyu, Gasly and Logan Sargeant in quick succession.

Verdict: Performance merited a better result.

Started: 12th Finished: 14th

Considering the troubles Alpine had with ride, as well as a lack of straightline speed thanks to running a high wing level that yielded the best laptime but made things difficult in the race and inevitably meant he lost a couple of places on Sunday, this was a decent weekend for Ocon.

However, qualifying suggested team-mate Gasly was probably the quicker Alpine driver given he’d have been ahead had he not made an error on his final lap.

Verdict: Did what he could with a limited car.

Started: 9th Finished: 13th

Ricciardo was second-best RB driver and once he was shuffled back to 11th as both he and Tsunoda made poor starts, scoring points was always going to be tough.

Stroll inevitably got ahead with an overcut, but Ricciardo also lost 12th to Magnussen on the last lap - not that there was anything he could do to prevent the pass given the DRS-and-tyres advantage as Ricciardo struggled on ageing hards.

Verdict: Respectable, but lacking the old Ricciardo magic.

Started: 15th Finished: 16th

Gasly looked to be the faster Alpine driver in a car that he appears to have got more on top of than early in the season.

Unfortunately, he made a mistake by braking too late for Rivazza 1 on his final Q1 lap while going past Sainz - a mistake Gasly described as “pretty annoying”.

A proactive early pitstop that later turned into a two-stop strategy was defined by qualifying a couple of rows lower than he should have done.

Verdict: Q2 error undercut his genuine progress.

Started: 11th Finished: 8th

As Red Bull struggled, so Perez slid down the order. His FP3 crash at Variante Alta and the trip through the gravel at Rivazza 1 during the first stint of the race spoke of a driver struggling, as did his elimination in Q2 after a tricky qualifying session that started to get away from him when he had to use two sets of softs in Q1.

The race was fine, executing his inverted strategy adequately despite his brief off, and he salvaged eighth place.

Verdict: Well below the standards he’s set in 2024.

Started: 17th Finished: 15th

Zhou was his customary couple of tenths off team-mate Bottas in qualifying, with the main difference between the pair the speed Bottas could carry through and out of Variante Alta. But as the Sauber was the slowest car at Imola in qualifying trim, a Q1 exit was always likely. 

Having run 18th initially and opted to run long, Zhou gained a few places in the race at least.

Verdict: Solid but unspectacular.

Started: 20th (pits)  Finished: 18th

Alonso’s weekend was undone by “one of those days that everything went wrong” on Saturday.

He crashed in FP3, then was unable to start a final qualifying lap that should have got him into Q2 having aborted the previous one because of fuel concerns.

From the back, he made almost no progress save for undercutting his way past Sargeant.

Verdict: A terrible weekend by his standards.

Started: 20th Finished: 19th

Sergeant once again flattered to deceive as the very respectable 0.207s deficit to Albon in Q1 in a car lacking the new, lighter Williams floor proved an illusion that was deleted for a track limits offence. So too was his first-run time, leaving him last and without a time in qualifying.

“It’s been a grind”, was his verdict after qualifying, and the same could be said for the race.

Verdict: Moments of promise, but again unfulfilled.

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