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Formula 1

Edd Straw's 2024 Japanese Grand Prix F1 driver rankings

by Edd Straw
10 min read

Few Formula 1 circuits test drivers as much as Suzuka, so inevitably there were some large discrepancies in the performances of some team-mates across the Japanese Grand Prix weekend.

Here's Edd Straw's take on who were the most (and least) impressive drivers at the fourth round of the 2024 F1 season:

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 it, 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: 5th Finished: 6th

Fernando Alonso characterised his weekend as one of the top five in his career. That might be a stretch given the sheer volume of great weekends he’s produced, but it’s certainly true he dragged everything out of the Aston Martin.

Along the way, he showed his usual relentlessness and also guile by allowing Oscar Piastri to get into DRS range late on to help him keep George Russell behind given the Mercedes driver was a potential threat.

Verdict: Couldn’t have done more.

Started: 1st Finished: 1st

Max Verstappen was pushed surprisingly hard in qualifying by Sergio Perez, taking pole position by just 0.066s, albeit by setting two laps good enough for pole.

But he was on another level on race pace, executing two good race starts to control the grand prix from start to finish despite concerns about the long-run speed after practice.

Verdict: Qualifying wasn’t perfect, but supreme in the race.

Started: 10th Finished: 10th

Again, Yuki Tsunoda got the RB into Q3 and proved to be the faster of the team’s drivers.

His race wasn’t straightforward as he was undercut by Valtteri Bottas at the first round of pitstops, then had to deal with some non-stopping traffic during his pursuit of the Sauber before jumping back ahead in the second round of pitstops.

Tsunoda later passed Nico Hulkenberg around the outside in the Esses, albeit with a big tyre advantage. He then subsequently ensured he kept well clear of the Haas drivers and Lance Stroll, who had a tyre advantage late on.

Verdict: King of the midfield.

Started: 3rd Finished: 5th

Lando Norris probably overachieved by putting the McLaren third on the grid, which meant he was always fighting a rearguard action in the race.

McLaren felt stopping him early to cover an undercut from Sainz was his best chance at a podium, leaving him with two hard stints.

But that also meant he was left with a 10-lap tyre disadvantage in the final stint, giving him no chance of keeping Sainz at bay.

But a brief excursion at Degner 2 aside, he executed the race well and couldn’t have done much about the Ferraris that jumped him.

Verdict: Made a fight of it with a faster Ferrari.

Started: 4th Finished: 3rd

Carlos Sainz had the better of Charles Leclerc across the weekend, which was built on being stronger in qualifying, as once again the challenge of extracting the most from the Pirellis over a single lap proved tricky.

The key to maximising his race result was getting ahead of Norris, which he did in the final stint with a 10-lap tyre advantage before breezing past the compliant Leclerc.

Verdict: Strong all-round weekend.

Started: 2nd Finished: 2nd

Last year at Suzuka, Perez was nowhere near Verstappen so to qualify just 0.066s slower is proof of the step he’s made this year.

His race pace wasn’t as close to Verstappen and he had a slightly more complicated Sunday as a result. Despite a wide moment at Degner 2, he drove a good race and comfortably saw off the threat of the alternate strategies behind to make sure of second.

Verdict: His strongest weekend of the year.

Started: 8th Finished: 4th

It was a game of two halves for Leclerc. He struggled to get the most out of the tyres in qualifying, burning two sets of softs in Q1 and ending up eighth in Q3 on his sole attempt.

While the deficit to Sainz was only a tenth, he was always a step behind.

But in the race, Leclerc rose to fourth after executing a one-stopper with a long first stint on mediums superbly - save for his brief off at the exit of Degner 2 before his pitstop.

Verdict: Iffy in qualifying, strong in the race.

Started: 12th Finished: 11th

Hulkenberg put together a strong weekend at Suzuka, overachieving by qualifying 12th and then running 10th at the red flag.

That should have set him up for points, but for a disastrous launch as Hulkenberg didn't drop the clutch correctly, leading to anti-stall kicking in.

From there, he recovered well after the team made a sharp decision to make a pitstop early.

Verdict: Restart launch the only blemish on a strong weekend.

Started: 13th Finished: 14th

While Bottas left a little on the table in Q2 and could have been a place or two higher on the grid, a Q3 place was probably just out of reach.

But a proactive race strategy from Sauber allowed him to make undercut gains, faring well in the traffic to build a slender advantage over Tsunoda - albeit without being able to overtake one-stopping Kevin Magnussen.

Unfortunately, taking on Haas and RB in a pitstop head-to-head at the second stops was never going to work and he emerged behind both after a five-second turnaround.

He then lost two more places to the tyre disadvantage to Stroll and Hulkenberg.

Verdict: Points flirtation undone by slow stops.

Started: 7th Finished: 9th

Lewis Hamilton was a lot more comfortable with the car in qualifying than he’d been in the first three races and felt it was in the “sweet spot”.

But he didn’t string it all together in Q3, which cost him a shot at fourth place.

Hamilton was less happy in the race, struggling with understeer in the long first stint after a restart brush with Leclerc and letting Russell through as a result.

That set him on course for ninth place on an aborted one-stop strategy.

Verdict: A mix of encouragement and frustration.

Started: 9th Finished: 7th

Russell looked a step behind Hamilton throughout qualifying, although he compounded that with a small error at the hairpin.

He was let past by his struggling team-mate in the first stint, before battling on despite having to abandon his one-stop strategy.

While he got a little overaggressive with Piastri late on with a lunge at the chicane that led to light contact, the pressure told when he forced a mistake from the McLaren at the end of the penultimate lap and grabbed seventh place.

Verdict: Lacked Hamilton’s qualifying pace, but raced well.

Started: 15th Finished: 15th

Esteban Ocon continues to make the best of a bad job in the difficult Alpine, reaching Q2 for the second consecutive race and justifiably celebrating like it was a victory.

But without the assistance of fresh-tyre grip, the Alpine’s true pace shone through and he was cast adrift of the midfield pack - only able to finish ahead of hobbled Gasly and delayed Sargeant.

Verdict: Doing a decent job in a hopeless situation.

Started: 6th Finished: 8th

Piastri always seemed to be half a step behind Norris, partly because of his struggles to maximise the Pirellis for a qualifying lap.

The deficit of almost three tenths made for a more complicated race, in which he inevitably slipped behind the faster Leclerc.

Late on, a small error at the chicane at the end of the penultimate lap ended his stout defence against Russell, costing him a position.

Verdict: Not the greatest of weekends, as he admitted.

Started: 18th Finished: 13th

Magnussen felt he “missed a beat” in the build-up to qualifying and wasn’t able to join Hulkenberg in Q2 as a result.

But he made a good fist of a one-stop strategy with a long stint on mediums, only to lose out to Tsunoda when he pitted thanks to a slow pitstop.

He then lost places to team-mate Hulkenberg and Stroll, who were both on fresher rubber.

Verdict: Solid but not at Hulkenberg’s level.

Started: 14th Finished: DNF

Alex Albon struggled for confidence with the rear end of the Williams and with sliding on the rough track surface that made life difficult for the tyres.

And while he left a little time on the table in qualifying with a spot of drifting out of Spoon Curve it didn’t dramatically change his grid spot.

His race ended approaching Turn 3 when Ricciardo moved over on him, sending both into the wall.

Verdict: An early end to a tricky weekend.

Started: 17th Finished: 16th

By his own admission, Pierre Gasly struggled to get the most out of the tyres in qualifying - seemingly due to the specific set-up - and ended up three tenths slower than Ocon after an untidy Q1 lap on which he hit overheating problems early on.

He made two excellent starts, but at the second the need to get past stuttering Hulkenberg led to him being caught between Ocon and Tsunoda, resulting in contact with his team-mate that led to floor damage.

That cost him around 33 points of downforce from the floor and condemned him to a futile race.

Verdict: Unfortunate race, but didn’t have Ocon’s qualifying pace.

Started: 16th Finished: 12th

Despite running the Aston Martin upgrade from Friday, with Alonso starting off on the old spec, Stroll had a lacklustre weekend.

He didn’t have an explanation for his Q1 exit after lapping almost eight tenths slower than his team-mate and, despite making some progress in the race with some overtaking moves and a bold switch to softs for a relatively long final stint, he couldn’t quite climb into the points.

Verdict: Floundered as Alonso flew.

Started: 11th Finished: DNF

While Daniel Ricciardo was disappointed not to make Q3, to be just half-a-tenth slower Tsunoda was a step forward and reflected what he felt was an improved set-up approach.

Unfortunately, Ricciardo couldn’t capitalise on that progress in the race, making a slow start then moving over on Albon approaching Turn 3 on the opening lap while he focused on Stroll to his left. That triggered a crash that caused the red flag.

Verdict: Improved pace but careless on lap one.

Started: 20th Finished: DNF

Zhou Guanyu came into the weekend on the back foot thanks to running Sauber's old-specification front wing.

But his weekend never really got going as he had no pace in qualifying after battling rear-locking, leaving him at the back of the grid.

His race was short-lived as he retired with a gearbox-related problem as a precaution early on.

Verdict: Struggled even before reliability problems hit.

Started: 19th Finished: 17th

Sargeant made a disastrous start in Suzuka by crashing at Turn 7 on his first flying lap of the weekend, describing it as “an awkward mistake” of car positioning rather than one resulting from pushing too hard.

But he recovered well, lapping 0.176s slower than Albon in Q1 despite running an older-specification front wing, then had a decent race until his good work was undone by an off at Degner 2 that condemned him to a distant last.

Verdict: Two incidents outweighed the good work.

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