Another Max Verstappen/Red Bull victory in what turned out to be a wild Australian Grand Prix, but it was some of those at the head of the chasing pack who impressed Edd Straw most during the Melbourne weekend.
Since our launch in 2020, The Race has rated each driver’s performance out of 10. But for 2023, we have modified our system to a ranking-based one.
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.
This creates what might be called a ‘zero-sum’ ratings system whereby there is a finite amount of ‘credit’ to be awarded (the 20 ranking positions).
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 different significantly from the overall results.
Started: 2nd Finished: DNF
George Russell had every reason to feel frustrated by how fortune went against him. He outqualified Lewis Hamilton for the third time in 2023, carrying fractionally more wing, and continued to feel a little more confident in the Mercedes than his team-mate.
He made a better start than Verstappen and led the first stint, but while stopping under the safety car was the right call it was transformed into the wrong one by the red flag being thrown. That left him seventh at the restart.
But his race thereafter was shortlived with a fire originating in the power unit putting him out when he had climbed to fourth.
Verdict: Did everything he could and only bad luck denied him.
Started: 4th Finished: 3rd
The fact that it might have been possible to split the Mercedes in Q3 was the only tiny blemish on another strong weekend for Fernando Alonso.
For once, his attack-around-the-outside style on the first lap didn’t quite pay off, with a little wheelspin exiting Turn 2 meaning his hold on third place lasted about two seconds and also allowing Carlos Sainz to barrel past.
But Sainz’s strategic misfortune ensured Alonso got that position back, which combined with Russell’s retirement added up to a third consecutive podium finish – the first time he’s achieved that since 2013.
He felt he might have taken second at the final restart too, but for a clout from Sainz. But having dropped out of the points after the resulting spin he was relieved to be restored to third when the order was reset.
Verdict: Another good weekend’s work.
Started: 13th Finished: 6th
This was far closer to the Lando Norris/McLaren combination of 2022, with a strong, consistent, error-free performance through qualifying and the race that netted the best-possible result.
He made some important passes along the way despite the McLaren not being stunning in a straight line and even kept the charging Sergio Perez at arm’s length for longer than expected. Seventh-on-the-road became sixth when Sainz was penalised.
Verdict: Strong pace and good execution.
Started: 3rd Finished: 2nd
While still not completely at ease with the car, Hamilton was surprised by how strong the Mercedes was and even briefly thought a shot at pole position might be on the cards after topping the times early in Q3.
He ended up third and felt he’d left time on the table despite improving on his final run, lapping 0.136s slower than team-mate Russell ahead.
He didn’t put a foot wrong in the race, passing Verstappen at Turn 3 in a move the Red Bull driver complained about over the radio – but he never had much chance of keeping him behind. Hamilton eventually settled into second and kept the quicker Alonso at bay for the rest of the race.
Verdict: Bounced back with a good weekend.
Started: 1st Finished: 1st
It’s easy to overlook the central role Verstappen’s excellence played in ensuring Red Bull delivered on its potential in Australia.
The tyre behaviour and track surface made life difficult, but he still ensured he took pole position and ensured that dropping to third at the start didn’t cost him a shot at victory. Even in the best car, on that kind of weekend, it’s easy for things to get away from you.
But his off at Turn 13 after a lock-up on lap 47, albeit one that didn’t make any difference to his result, did blot Verstappen’s copybook. After all, there are times when an error that costs three or four seconds would be far more costly.
Verdict: Not an unblemished weekend.
Started: 10th Finished: 7th
Having made Q3 for the second time in three races, Hulkenberg didn’t make the best of it and ended up behind both Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly, who were beatable if the maximum potential of the car were extracted. But it was his Q2 lap that stood out.
In the race, he barely put a foot wrong and ran in the points throughout, ending up with seventh place having been as high as fourth when the late red flag was thrown.
A well-executed weekend and an error-free race (bar running wide in battle with Norris) ensured Hulkenberg made the most of the opportunity he was presented with, although he proved unable to keep Norris behind.
Verdict: Delivered exactly what Haas signed him for.
Started: 16th Finished: 8th
New home favourite Oscar Piastri had a frustrating qualifying during which he struggled with the balance of the car and ensuring the tyres were at their best. That led to a fairly consistent time loss to team-mate Norris through the lap and a disappointing Q1 elimination.
But Piastri produced a measured and impressive race, avoiding getting impatient when stuck behind Yuki Tsunoda and eventually working his way round him along the way. It was the kind of mature, in-control performance we’ve expected to see from Piastri since the start of the season.
Verdict: Impressively assured race after so-so qualifying.
Started: 6th Finished: 4th
Stroll got another step closer to Alonso in Australia. He ended up 0.169s slower than his team-mate, allowing Sainz to split the Aston Martin duo.
But after dropping to seventh on the first lap after a Turn 3 clash with Leclerc he had no chance to avoid, he drove a good, solid race to take fourth after Sainz’s penalty.
That said, the three places he gained were all down to circumstances out of his control, so it was more a race of keeping it clean and hitting his marks than an especially incisive one.
Verdict: Not at Alonso’s level, but not too far off.
Started: 17th Finished: 9th
A good balance in FP3 turned into a difficult car in qualifying, meaning Zhou Guanyu was eliminated in Q1. But crucially, he outpaced Alfa Romeo team-mate Valtteri Bottas for the second time in three races.
The early red flag was disastrous for Zhou’s strategy given Alfa Romeo had brought him in under the safety car. But he plugged away in the race and the long-term pressure he exerted on Kevin Magnussen eventually paid off when the Haas driver hit the wall. That gave him 10th, which became ninth when Sainz was penalised.
Verdict: Salvaged ninth on a poor weekend for Alfa Romeo.
Started: Pits Finished: 5th
Sergio Perez’s weekend was defined by his braking troubles on Saturday, which led to multiple offs including the one that brought qualifying to an end for him before he’d even set a time.
Perez was adamant there was an issue that rendered him “a passenger”, but Red Bull didn’t seem so sure. As team principal Christian Horner put it, there was “nothing abnormal” in terms of engine behaviour under braking in qualifying (although there had been in FP3) and changes to the brakes overnight were not done because of a specific problem.
But Perez performed well on Sunday, coming through to fifth despite the early red flag working against his strategy. He made short work of the lower order and salvaged a decent result.
Verdict: Recovered well but the team didn’t give him a free pass for troubles.
Started: 12th Finished: 10th
Bouncing sideways through the Turn 1 gravel after a spin in FP1 damaged the new-spec AlphaTauri floor, leaving Yuki Tsunoda on the old version for the rest of the weekend and without the improved low-speed performance it conferred.
Despite missing the estimated 0.15-0.2s performance gain of the floor and only having one push lap on his final Q2 run thanks to time lost to some poor parking on the weighbridge, Tsunoda outqualified team-mate Nyck Dd Vries by 0.236s.
The race was a long, hard one in which Tsunoda spent much of the time fighting a rearguard action. But it was enough to keep him in the midfield fight, which paid off when Magnussen and the Alpines crashed and Sainz was penalised, giving him a richly deserved point.
Verdict: Strong but Friday floor damage counts heavily against him given the consequences.
Started: 5th Finished: 12th
While Sainz had the edge on Leclerc and, at times, looked more comfortable with the behaviour of the car as the set-up evolved through the weekend, his qualifying wasn’t perfect and he had the pace to have been at least one place higher.
Despite the blow of the early red flag costing him having made a pitstop when the safety car was deployed, Sainz did a good job to climb efficiently from 11th to fourth. Then came his mistake at the final standing restart, clouting Alonso and earning him a five-second penalty that cost him eight places.
Verdict: The more convincing Ferrari driver, but far from perfect
Started: 11th Finished: 14th (DNF)
Esteban Ocon looked marginally the quicker Alpine driver until the crucial final Q2 lap. Ocon. He was on a lap that would have got him into Q3, albeit slower than Alpine team-mate Pierre Gasly, when he was “a little bit blinded by the traffic” as he went past Norris entering the final corner and lost a few tenths running wide. He took the blame for that misjudgement and was frustrated not to replicate the top-six form he’d shown in practice and Q1.
Despite running ninth when the first-lap safety car was deployed, Ocon was brought into the pits with the subsequent red flag complicating his race. But he’d battled up to 10th with some good passes along the way when the race was stopped a second time.
Alpine blamed both drivers for the collision, but Ocon did nothing wrong given he could hardly have lifted off to allow the cars behind to attack.
Verdict: Scrappy Q2 and bad luck meant the results didn’t do his pace justice.
Started: 8th Finished: DNF
This was a classic example of a superb weekend that crumbled to dust in an instant when Albon crashed out of sixth place at Turn 7 after six laps. He suggested that was down to taking Turn 5 a little quicker, using more exit kerb and spiking the tyre temperature, meaning the left-side grip was lower than expected. But that was only offered as an explanation within the context of “It’s my fault and I’m angry with myself”.
Prior to that, he seemed completely on top of the Williams FW45 throughout the weekend. His confidence when grip levels were “sketchy” early in multi-lap qualifying runs was key to building his pace and a superb eighth on the grid.
Verdict: Crash torpedoed a great performance.
Started: Pits Finished: 11th
Valtteri Bottas was baffled by his qualifying struggles, battling understeer and finding it impossible to explain the Alfa Romeo pace deficit. He lacked a little speed in the faster corners and lost out to Zhou as both fell in Q1.
His race diverged from Zhou at the first standing restart, where he was boxed in on the inside into the first corner and dropped to the back. From there, he was always half a step behind his team-mate and, unlike Zhou, couldn’t find his way past Tsunoda to grab a place that would have earned him the final point.
Verdict: Subdued weekend for driver and car.
Started: 7th Finished: DNF
Leclerc felt “I wasn’t driving well” in Q1 and Q2 and was still a little untidy in Q3. But he was more concerned about Ferrari’s strategic error, eschewing a prep lap on his final run for fear of rain and having Sainz in front of him through Turns 3-4.
His race ended in the gravel trap after contact with Stroll at Turn 3. Leclerc said he wasn’t even making a serious attack, but perhaps didn’t play the percentages in placing his car given it led to Stroll being squeezed between him and Alonso and inevitable contact.
Verdict: Blend of bad luck and underperformance.
Started: 9th Finished: 13th
Gasly’s still in the settling-in phase at Alpine but he all but secured the first big result of his time with the team with fifth place.
Unfortunately, a weekend during which he got gradually stronger didn’t have a happy ending when he went off through his own error at the final restart and then clashed with Ocon after rejoining. That put out both Alpines, with the only positive being that he avoided superlicence penalty points that would have triggered an unnecessary ban.
Verdict: A costly misjudgement meant an unhappy ending.
Started: 15th Finished: 15th
Nyck de Vries was again the second-best of the AlphaTauri drivers, although he didn’t deliver the pace he was capable of in Q1 after a mistake into the first corner on his final lap. Considering he had a floor-spec advantage, worth 0.15-0.2s, the 0.236s disadvantage was too big.
Given the pace of the AlphaTauri, there was little scope for making progress, especially with the strategy requiring a long stint on mediums that didn’t work out and forced him into a second stop for softs.
He had two incidents along the way. The first he contributed to, drifting wide into Ocon at the exit of Turn 3 and pitching himself into a spin.
The second was entirely Sargeant’s fault, the Williams rear-ending De Vries and leaving the AlphaTauri in the gravel at the final standing restart.
Verdict: Needed to outperform Tsunoda given spec advantage.
Started: 18th Finished: 16th
For the third weekend in succession, Sargeant showed potential Q2 pace but didn’t put it to use.
His final lap was set to put him through, but the rear stepped out at the penultimate corner and meant he missed the apex then picked up wheelspin at the exit. Even so, he was always giving away time to Albon primarily thanks to his disadvantage in the high-speed Turn 9/10 sweeper.
From a lowly starting position, he was always on a hiding to nothing, doubly so thanks to the timing of the red flag after his early stop to take mediums that ruined his strategy.
Unfortunately, it ended badly at the final standing restart when he locked the fronts thanks to the brakes and tyres not being up to temperature and rear-ended De Vries, putting both out.
Verdict: Another weekend of promise but rough edges.
Started: 14th Finished: DNF
Magnussen is making progress with the Haas and has found set-up tweaks taking the car more in Hulkenberg’s direction has helped him.
But that still didn’t translate into qualifying pace, although the seven-tenths gap was exaggerated by errors in the final sector.
He drove a battling race despite the first red flag not helping his strategy having made an early stop, and was trying to hang onto his position ahead of Zhou when he hit the wall exiting Turn 2 late on, causing the final red flag.
He offered no excuse for this, saying he just clipped the wall in what seemed to be a moment of inattentiveness while running 12th.
Verdict: Still a step behind Hulkenberg.