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Formula 1

Edd Straw's 2024 F1 Chinese Grand Prix driver rankings

by Edd Straw
10 min read

Formula 1's Chinese Grand Prix had a clear winner, a surprise second-place finisher and a mixed bag of standout and forgettable weekend drives behind.

Here's how Edd Straw rates the performances of the field during the Chinese GP weekend:

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

With the exception of sprint qualifying, where he ended up ‘only’ fourth after struggling for grip given the difficulties firing up the tyres, Verstappen was imperious.

He breezed to victory in both races with his usual controlled speed, having never looked in any danger of missing out on pole position for the grand prix.

He makes it look easier than it really is, even with a great car.

Verdict: Seemingly effortless dominance.

Started: 6th Finished: 4th

While this wasn’t a straightforward weekend for the team, Leclerc was able to be on the same level as Sainz in qualifying, not always a given this season, taking a brace of fourth places – aided by the safety car assisting his one-stop attempt.

Considering the Ferrari was the third-best car and the weakest it has been this season, that was a decent return – although he was fortunate to get away with his spin in the wet sprint qualifying session.

Verdict: A good weekend, sprint qualifying off aside. 

Started: 4th Finished: 2nd

Norris’s sprint qualifying pole position was a mighty performance, although his misjudgment as he tried to reclaim the lead from the fast-starting Hamilton meant he hung himself out to dry.

But while he perhaps could have beaten Alonso in qualifying, he drove an intelligent race, capitalising on the safety car to jump Perez for second and doing a superb job to stay out of reach.

Verdict: Sprint start misjudgment the only negative.

Started: 7th Finished: 5th

Both Ferrari drivers were contained by the limitations of the Ferrari. But while Sainz ended up behind Leclerc in both races and main qualifying, the latter after getting away with hitting the wall after spinning exiting the last corner in Q2, there was very little to choose between the two.

Sainz was set to finish ahead of Leclerc in the sprint until he sustained damage in his wheel-banging battle with Alonso that preceded his forcing his team-mate wide at the hairpin.

“Crazy understeer” and strategic misfortune made the grand prix difficult, as did getting forced wide by Leclerc at the start. 

Verdict: Little to choose between the Ferrari drivers.

Started: 9th Finished: 10th

A major set-up misstep made life difficult for Hulkenberg in the sprint, the German qualifying 13th and slipping backwards while suffering from significant tyre degradation.

But once into the ‘serious’ stuff, Hulkenberg was outstanding, reaching Q3 and then prevailing in the hotly-contested battle for the final point.

Verdict: Sprint set-up error initially hid speed.

Started: 8th Finished: 6th

Aside from sprint qualifying, in which he lost tyre temperature queueing in the pits and struggled to get the Pirellis working, this was a strong weekend for Russell.

Qualifying eighth and finishing sixth was probably about as good as it was going to get for the machinery and he executed a good, relatively straightforward race.

Verdict: Sprint qualifying the only negative.

Started: 15th Finished: 13th

Gasly turned being saddled with the old-specification Alpine and being compromised by an ERS insulation problem in FP1 into his best weekend of the season in terms of his own performance. He even outqualified Ocon for the sprint.

Despite a wide moment while battling with Albon and a problem with the right-rear change in the pitstop that cost around 17 seconds, in the grand prix he banked a 13th place that was solid considering the machinery.

Verdict: His strongest weekend yet.

Started: 13th Finished: 11th

Ocon benefitted from the Alpine floor upgrade and the new chassis that shaved a couple more kilos off the weight of the car.

While he was outqualified by Gasly for the sprint, he made up for it in the short race itself, then produced a strong performance in qualifying for the grand prix that set him up for a season-best 11th place.

Verdict: Continued his good personal start to season.

Started: 18th Finished: 9th

The sprint should have provided the ideal foundation for Hamilton, as he qualified and finished second, having led the early stages.

However, set-up changes and a mistake at Turn 14 caused by the tailwind in what he said “wasn’t my best qualifying” put him well down the grid for the grand prix.

Despite experiencing chronic understeer, he battled away and was rewarded with a couple of points.

Verdict: A weekend of two halves. 

Started: 14th Finished: 12th

Although the sprint part of the weekend was unremarkable, Albon dragged what he could from the tricky Williams in grand prix qualifying – albeit he probably could have picked off Ocon given the small gap – and in the race.

That’s despite a car that struggled with deg, particularly in the final stint.

Verdict: Did what he could.

Started: 3rd Finished: 7th

Alonso showed his usual knack for getting somewhere close to the potential of the car with two strong qualifying performances, running near the front in the sprint before getting over-ambitious in his battle with Sainz and suffering a puncture when he attempted to re-pass his compatriot.

His grand prix was compromised by the combination of having just one set of hards and the safety car appearing, although he did a good job to take seventh and fastest lap in a race where, realistically, sixth was probably the best he could have done. 

Verdict: Sprint misjudgment the one negative.

Started: 2nd Finished: 3rd

Perez played the solid support act to Verstappen, although had the car to make it a one-two for Red Bull in both races. That he failed to do so in the grand prix was primarily down to the timing of the safety car that allowed Norris to jump ahead – albeit it’s difficult to imagine Verstappen failing to finish second in those circumstances.

And in the sprint he couldn’t make as incisive progress as his team-mate did and had to capitalise on the squabbles ahead to grab third place.

Verdict: Solid but unspectacular.

Started: 10th Finished: DNF

Bottas continued his strong start to the season in terms of pace with a brace of top-10 qualifying performances.

Unfortunately the races didn’t go to plan as he sustained front-wing endplate damage in a brush with Zhou on the first lap of the sprint thanks to getting into an awkward position. He then retired while in the mix for what was ultimately the final point.

Verdict: Fast but unfortunate.

Started: 12th Finished: DNF

The big picture was positive for Ricciardo, who outperformed Tsunoda across the weekend and felt that the brand-new chassis may have been the reason for his upturn in form. That translated into a strong performance across the sprint, finishing 11th.

Things unravelled in the grand prix, starting with a so-so first lap and ending with the race-ending clout from Stroll, but that didn’t undermine the progress made.

What did sour the weekend somewhat was the needless penalty - which due to his retirement becomes a grid drop for Miami - for re-overtaking Hulkenberg under the safety car.

Verdict: A step forward after his tricky start.

Started: 5th Finished: 8th

While Piastri was the second-best McLaren driver in China, it wasn’t by anything like as big a margin as the results suggested.

His sprint qualifying was compromised by the car jumping into neutral on the run out of the hairpin on his fastest lap, but in qualifying proper he was just a tenth behind Norris.

He struggled a little in the first stint, running behind Norris but slipping back. He was then hobbled for the second half of the race after sustaining damage when Ricciardo was punted into him by Stroll - but he deserves credit for keeping ahead of Hamilton.

Verdict: Not quite at Norris’s level.

Started: 16th Finished: 14th

Zhou carried the enormous weight of expectation in his home grand prix weekend and acquitted himself well, albeit without showing Bottas's edge of pace.

He joined his team-mate in SQ3, but couldn’t repeat that in the main qualifying session after a big lock-up at the hairpin that led to his Q1 elimination.

He showed decent pace at times in the race, in the first stint as well as once he put on the softs, but couldn’t climb into serious points contention.  

Verdict: A decent weekend under pressure.

Started: 17th Finished: 16th

Magnussen’s weekend was the inverse of Hulkenberg’s, producing his best work in the sprint and finishing 10th from 12th on the grid.

He was unlucky in qualifying proper as he was sent out too late to complete his outlap before the chequered flag, which led to his elimination in Q1.

But the collision with Tsunoda was avoidable, hence the penalty that ensured his hopes of points were extinguished.

Verdict: Pace was decent, but undermined by Tsunoda clash. 

Started: 20th (pits) Finished: 17th

The sprint part of the weekend was tricky, but Sargeant wasn’t far behind Albon across the short race and its qualifying session. However, he struggled with what he called a “disconnected” car that proved lairy over the bumps in fast corners and spun on his second Q1 run.

That meant a back-of-the-grid start, which became a pitlane start after parc ferme changes, but in the race he was a step behind Albon on pace on the hard Pirellis in particular. 

Verdict: Ultimately not at Albon’s level.

Started: 19th Finished: DNF

Tsunoda never really got into the swing of things on his first visit to China, starting off on the back foot thanks to focusing on running hards in FP1 then suffering from set-up troubles and battling a lack of grip.

In both qualifying sessions, he was well off Ricciardo’s pace - by half-a-second on Friday and three-tenths on Sunday – which meant in both races he was buried down the order before his weekend was brought to a premature end by the hit from Magnussen.

Verdict: A sharp downturn in his strong early-season form. 

Started: 11th Finished: 15th

The sprint was a wash for Stroll, who was eliminated in SQ1 after lapping half a second slower than Alonso and had a fun, but fruitless, race to 14th – losing a place to Ocon at the hairpin on the last lap.

He then failed to make Q3, albeit only lapping 0.186s slower than Alonso, but he was on course for a solid points finish when he inattentively bulldozed the back of Ricciardo at the hairpin – something that he took no responsibility for.

Verdict: Solid pace undermined by big blunder.

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