The 2023 Formula 1 season reached its summer break via another Max Verstappen victory. This time from sixth on the grid at the Belgian Grand Prix, Verstappen made light work of the only man who could beat him, team-mate Sergio Perez, and sailed onto Red Bull’s 13th consecutive grand prix win.
But was Verstappen the most impressive driver over the whole Spa event? Here’s where Edd Straw ranks the performances of each driver across the whole 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: 6th Finished: 1st
Not even a gearbox penalty that relegated him to sixth on the grid could cause Verstappen to break stride, although he did flirt with elimination in Q2 after ending up 10th before banging in a dominant pole position lap.
He executed both the sprint and the grand prix clinically despite having to make on-track passes in both and recovering from that alarming moment at Eau Rouge.
Verdict: Brilliant execution despite potential pitfalls.
Started: 1st Finished: 3rd
Charles Leclerc couldn’t have done any more when it came to the main event, taking his 20th F1 pole position (albeit thanks to Verstappen’s penalty) and racing to a strong third place while covering Lewis Hamilton all the way.
Saturday didn’t go quite so well, he had the pace for sprint pole but he lost three-and-a-half tenths of a second at slippery Rivage and then in the sprint race he lost ground in the pits and came home fifth.
Verdict: Save for small SQ3 error, an outstanding weekend.
Started: 3rd Finished: 4th
Hamilton was emphatically stronger than Mercedes team-mate George Russell in both qualifying sessions and took fourth in both races.
However his sprint result was turned into seventh place for a penalty that seemed incredibly harsh but that did reflect that he had slid into Perez. On Sunday, he tracked Leclerc but there was no way he was going to get ahead.
Verdict: Sprint collision was the only real negative.
Started: 5th Finished: DNF
Oscar Piastri’s performance on Sprint Saturday was exemplary, taking second both in qualifying and the race.
He also starred in the wet parts of Friday qualifying, although by his own admission left time on the table in Q3. But considering that was his first taste of Spa in an F1 car on slicks, that can be excused.
His grand prix was over immediately and perhaps there was a way to avoid his first-corner fate, but overall his speed this weekend was immensely impressive.
Verdict: Probably his most impressive weekend yet, pace-wise.
Started: 11th Finished: 10th
Sprint Saturday didn’t go well, primarily thanks to his SQ1 elimination after struggling badly for front grip, but not helped by a lock-up and off at the chicane at the restart that dropped him to last.
But his performances on Friday and Sunday were outstanding, taking an AlphaTauri that shouldn’t have quite been able to score points to 10th place and doing a superb job to hold Pierre Gasly’s Alpine at bay in the closing stages.
Verdict: Saturday struggles took the edge off an otherwise superb weekend.
Started: 2nd Finished: 2nd
There were a lot of positives about Perez’s weekend, in particular his return to second place behind Verstappen in the grand prix for the first time since Miami in May.
But the pace gap to Verstappen was significant and he missed an open goal for pole position in qualifying to Leclerc’s slower Ferrari.
He also made hard work of Saturday, even before his unfortunate retirement in the sprint race.
Verdict: Deficit to Verstappen was too big, but achieved the much-needed second place.
Started: 12th Finished: 11th
Gasly was the more impressive Alpine driver across the weekend, in particular with his outstanding performances on Saturday that culminated in a hard-won third place.
Friday qualifying was so-so given the set-up was focused on the dry but he would have scored points had he not got boxed in by the wounded Piastri on the opening lap and lost 2.5s in his first pitstop.
His passing move on Alex Albon through Fagnes was also a highlight.
Verdict: A quietly strong weekend.
Started: 7th Finished: 7th
Lando Norris’s weekend was one that swung back and forth.
His race exemplified that, with struggles in the first two stints compounded by being the only driver to try hards before his fortunes were transformed by a proactive leap to softs when the track was at its trickiest that allowed him to turn a race that was going nowhere into seventh.
His Q1 off, which caused floor damage, was a negative point but he had a solid Saturday.
Verdict: Solid results but was the second-best McLaren driver.
Started: 15th Finished: 14th
Save for his attacking first stint in the grand prix, climbing as high as seventh, Albon wasn’t able to be the points threat he’d hoped to be coming into the weekend.
The Williams struggled in the mixed conditions, hence the elimination in Q1, while the red flag came out in SQ2 before he could set a laptime.
Tyre degradation problems caused by a lack of grip and excess sliding proved insurmountable in the races, although he did well to take 12th in the sprint.
However once onto mediums, he was forced into pushing to attempt to maintain position on Sunday and then consequently got into tyre trouble and ended up being forced into a third stop.
Verdict: Contained by Williams’s tyre troubles.
Started: 8th Finished: 6th
Russell’s weekend was a story of strong race pace and dubious qualifying pace.
In the rain-affected qualifying sessions, he spoke of feeling on a “knife-edge” and having “no rhythm”, partly thanks to the bouncing he felt was the result of running a higher rear wing level compared to Mercedes team-mate Hamilton.
But in the races, he showed good pace, gaining four places in the sprint (three to on-track passes) and coming through to sixth in the grand prix.
Verdict: Slow in qualifying, fast in the races.
Started: 9th Finished: 5th
A rare crash eliminated Fernando Alonso from the sprint after losing it on the kerb at Pouhon, which followed a qualifying session ruined by a late red flag.
But the main parts of the weekend went better with a very well-executed race on Sunday producing the best-possible race result for an Aston Martin.
Verdict: Saturday shunt hurts his ranking.
Started: 4th Finished: DNF
As ever, Carlos Sainz was strong in the wet and only a tenth slower than Ferrari team-mate Leclerc in qualifying proper, but fractionally faster in the sprint shootout.
His grand prix was brief and he played his part in the collision with Piastri that ruined both their races, while his sprint race was undermined by time lost in his first-lap pitstop.
While he was second-best at Ferrari, it wasn’t by much.
Verdict: Quick, but doomed by Turn 1 in the grand prix.
Started: 13th Finished: 12th
On an anonymous weekend for Alfa Romeo, Valtteri Bottas rarely troubled the TV director, but he strung together an effective weekend in a car that didn’t have the pace to challenge for points.
Qualifying wasn’t optimised, but that was partly because he was the first to cross the line in improving conditions, but he was the stronger Alfa Romeo driver overall and generally put the car where it should have been.
Verdict: Low-key but effective.
Started: 16th Finished: 15th
Kevin Magnussen had a solid qualifying on Friday, although he felt he didn’t get the best out of the car, but picked up a five-place penalty for rather cack-handedly impeding Leclerc.
But ultimately the Haas once again worked the tyres too hard for him to be a points threat in the races.
Verdict: A solid weekend given the Haas’s limitations.
Started: 14th Finished: 8th
A front-wing damaging off in qualifying (followed by the Alpine team’s inability to produce a replacement to fit in time for him to return to the track) proved costly for Esteban Ocon, although he fought back through in the race to eighth.
He drove a good race to ninth on Saturday, but being the second-ranked Alpine driver cost him when it came to the early pitstop.
Verdict: Patchy but produced an excellent Sunday drive.
Started: 10th Finished: 10th
A crash in SQ2 after switching to slicks proved costly as it not only ruined Lance Stroll and his Aston Martin team-mate Alonso’s session (via the red flag), but also cost him the new-spec floor because of a lack of spares. But considering the conditions, it was excusable.
Otherwise, he was solid, albeit a step behind Alonso, and battled through well to take ninth on a tricky Sunday.
Verdict: Lacked Alonso’s edge.
Started: 19th Finished: 16th
Daniel Ricciardo’s weekend was the inverse of his AlphaTauri team-mate Tsunoda’s, with his best work done on Saturday as he fought for points in the sprint before inevitably losing places late on to Russell and Ocon that relegated him to 10th.
But his track-limits violation while on what was the ninth-fastest lap in Q1 proved enormously costly, leaving him on the back row and ensuring a long, hard race.
Verdict: A weekend of ups and downs.
Started: Pits Finished: 18th
Circumstances make it difficult to evaluate Nico Hulkenberg’s weekend fairly, although it was better than the fact he finished last in three of the key sessions and second-to-last in the other suggested.
A hydraulic problem ruined qualifying and the Haas team’s strategic mistiming wrecked sprint qualifying.
Last at the start of both races, the die was cast. Although he did have an off at Stavelot that cost him a couple of places in the sprint, he produced some decent pace in a car that again suffered too much tyre deg on Sunday, especially when the track was slightly damp.
Verdict: Not as terrible as results suggest.
Started: 17th Finished: 13th
This was one of those weekends where Zhou Guanyu didn’t quite have the pace to match Alfa Romeo team-mate Bottas across any of the sessions or races.
However, despite brake troubles he did put together a good drive on Sunday to take 13th, which wasn’t far off what the car was capable of.
Verdict: Tidy but unspectacular.
Started: 18th Finished: 17th
Logan Sargeant had a similar weekend to Williams team-mate Albon of struggling with tyre deg caused by too much sliding painful both in wet and dry conditions.
His FP1 off at Les Combes, clipping the wall, didn’t help and had a knock-on effect to qualifying, although his speeding penalty in the sprint appears to have been down to a setting problem rather than a driver error.
Like Albon, his high point was a strong first stint on softs in the race, albeit one that was extended too long, but thereafter the tyre deg problems and resulting three-stopper meant a disappointing result.
Verdict: Flashes of promise on a difficult weekend.