The start of a brand-new Formula 1 season marks the dawn of a new era of Edd Straw assessing the Formula 1 field.
Max Verstappen and Red Bull dominated the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix weekend but there were plenty of standout drivers throughout the field – and plenty who will be wanting to quickly forget that this weekend ever happened.
For the first time ever, Edd Straw ranks – instead of rates – all 20 drivers from best to worst based on their performance across the weekend.
How our new system works
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 or not 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 its foundations, 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’ (i.e. 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: 5th Finished: 3rd
Alonso had just one run in Q3, opting to run when the track was quieter between the first and second runs others did.
Despite setting a searing practice pace, the car wasn’t quite quick enough to beat the Red Bulls and Ferraris, but Alonso did a good job to slot in fifth.
And while he went into the race knowing the tyre management of the Aston Martin gave him a shot at beating the Ferraris, his task was made much more difficult by the Turn 4 clout from his team-mate on the opening lap.
But Alonso was his usual relentless self, involving himself in the most spectacular wheel-to-wheel racing of the grand prix, and was rewarded with a podium finish when Leclerc retired.
Verdict: Alonso at his swashbuckling best.
Started: 15th Finished: 10th
Unexpectedly produced a turn of speed that might have made him a Q3 threat but for part of the left-side front wing flap collapsing when the car rode a bump exiting Turn 2 on his one Q2 lap.
He executed the first stint of the race well to establish himself in 10th. From there, a combination of the good straightline speed of the Williams and his own precision despite compromising tyre management by having to push harder than was ideal at the start of stints paid dividends.
He kept Gasly at bay before losing the position shortly after the VSC that forced the group he headed into the pits, but Leclerc’s retirement ensured he was rewarded with a point.
Verdict: On the money on pace and racecraft.
Started: 1st Finished: 1st
Despite being shocked by a car that worked beautifully in testing proving more troublesome on the Bahrain race weekend, Verstappen did everything that could be asked of him. His advantage over Perez was relatively slender, 0.138s in qualifying, but he never looked in any difficulty in the race and took a comfortable victory.
Save for a few troubles with the rear brakes locking on downshifts, it was a serene afternoon for Verstappen with his task made more straightforward by the fact he and Red Bull ran a set-up that allowed him to run two stints on the softs.
Verdict: Utterly in command.
Started: 3rd Finished: DNF
Leclerc extracted the most from the Ferrari in qualifying and the race, putting it third on the grid with just one run in Q3 in order to save a fresh set of softs for the race start. That strategy paid off as he took second at the start.
The trouble was, while he was able to stay ahead of Perez in that first stint, he fell away from Verstappen at not far off seven tenths per lap on average, with Ferrari at a disadvantage in terms of tyre degradation.
But there was little he could do to stem those losses, or to hold the soft-shod Perez behind in the second stint. He was on his way to a best-possible third place when the Ferrari power unit let him down.
Verdict: Did everything he could.
Started: 8th Finished: 6th
Stroll was visibly hindered by the wrist injuries that caused noticeable discomfort and limited him in corners requiring significant lock.
Considering that and the absence of pre-season running, which wasn’t helped by an ignition problem that rendered the first half of FP1 a write-off, his performance was impressive. Yes, he was half a second slower than Alonso in qualifying, but only 16 seconds behind in the race.
The one negative was clouting Alonso at Turn 4 on the opening lap, rattling his wrists in the process, but fortunately not leaving either car with damage.
Sixth place would have been unthinkable in the aftermath of the accident two weeks ago given medical advice suggested he wouldn’t be fit for the race.
Verdict: Showed admirable grit and determination.
Started: 12th Finished: 8th
Bottas has identified being more attacking at the start as an important objective for this year and the four places he gained with a good launch and barrel up the inside at Turn 1 were key to his strong result.
It got him up to eighth place in the early laps, with the team quickly responding to the initial stoppers to cover undercut attacks and preserve his position. While Bottas inevitably lost a place to Stroll, he had the rest covered and despite the badly-timed VSC meaning he had to stay out while others pitted, he controlled the diminishing gap to Gasly well in the closing stages to close out eighth place.
Verdict: An excellent race drive after a decent Saturday.
Started: 14th Finished: 11th
Tsunoda put in a superb lap in Q1 to post the eighth-fastest time, having looked far more at ease with the limitations of the AlphaTauri than his team-mate. But in doing so he left himself with no fresh softs for Q2, meaning he was significantly slower in the second part of qualifying.
Without that limitation, he felt challenging for Q3 might have been possible.
Tsunoda passed Hulkenberg in the first stint and then made an early stop that allowed him to jump to 11th place. Unfortunately, AlphaTauri didn’t repeat the trick at the second stops and he was undercut by Gasly.
While he remained behind Gasly and Albon in the queue, it wasn’t quite enough for points. But considering the pace of the AlphaTauri, he did a great job to be one slightly late pitstop away from a point.
Verdict: Made the most of a limited car.
Started: 7th Finished: 5th
Having been downbeat about the chances of Mercedes being a serious threat through the build-up to qualifying, Hamilton was not surprised to be behind not only Ferrari and Red Bull, but also Alonso, in Q3.
He was also beaten by Russell, albeit by the slender margin of just under half a tenth, with the swing against him in Turn 13. He jumped two places on the first lap, getting ahead of Russell thanks to a marginally better start and then passing Alonso into Turn 4.
While he could maintain the advantage over Russell, Alonso was always likely to become a problem given the Aston Martin was, according to Hamilton, “in a different league performance-wise”. Hamilton put up a good defence, but inevitably slipped behind – yet was able to keep the pressure on Sainz for fourth in the closing stages despite never looking like being able to challenge for the position.
Verdict: Good but car-limited.
Started: 2nd Finished: 2nd
Like Verstappen, Perez found the Red Bull to be “quite a different car” compared to testing. But he adapted well and was never too far behind Verstappen and it was really only in Turns 13 and 14 that the qualifying battle swung away from him.
His race was complicated by the fact he was vulnerable to the extra grip Leclerc had with fresh softs off the line, meaning Perez slipped to third. But knowing he’d have an advantage in the second stint once Leclerc had switched to the hards, with Red Bull sticking with the softs, he was patient and even conceded a two-lap undercut advantage to Leclerc before the first stop.
In the second stint, he quickly made the most of the tyre advantage to dispatch the Ferrari and secure second.
Verdict: Not far off Verstappen.
Started: 11th Finished: 17th
Norris mitigated the limitations of the McLaren with a strong qualifying performance to take 11th, slotting in ahead of the Alfa Romeos thanks to his pace advantage in the middle sector.
That he was one of only three drivers (along with Leclerc and Hulkenberg) to put together his ideal best lap based on the three sector times across Q2/Q3 showed it was a good performance.
But while he felt it would have been possible to score points, running 10th for a few laps before being passed by Albon and Ocon, an air leak meant he had to pit six times for top-ups to keep the pneumatic system operating and that ruined his race.
A late stop for fresh rubber meant a tilt at the fastest lap and it was revealing that he got nowhere near it. A brief off-track moment at Turn 10 aside, he did what he could and felt he showed good pace at times.
Verdict: Excellent in qualifying, stymied in the race.
Started: 4th Finished: 4th
A step behind his team-mate all weekend, albeit not by as significant a margin as it appeared at times.
He was never as comfortable with the car as Leclerc, but it was only in the final part of the lap, where Leclerc’s knack for teasing the maximum from overheating rubber told, that the Q3 battle swung decisively away from him. That left Sainz 0.154s behind, albeit with the advantage of having had two runs in Q3.
In the race, the first stint was what made the difference with Sainz falling away from Leclerc and Perez at around three quarters of a second per lap, having started on used softs compared to his team-mate’s fresh set.
In the second stint, and before Leclerc’s retirement in the third stint, his pace was similar. But he found it impossible to keep Alonso behind, which was perhaps always a losing battle given how quickly he fell away from the Aston Martin.
Verdict: Second-best Ferrari but not by as big a margin as it seemed.
Started: 6th Finished: 7th
Had the edge over Hamilton in qualifying but was second-best of the Mercedes drivers in the race thanks to slipping behind due to a marginally worse start.
Russell felt he was quicker than Hamilton in the first stint, suffering a brief Turn 10 off while chasing him. But the real problem was Alonso, who got through at the end of the first stint and stayed ahead after their stops – Russell denied an undercut by a slow right-rear change.
Russell then kept Stroll at bay in the middle stint before falling to an undercut attack at the second stops, with the Aston Martin driver making the pass at Turn 4 on Russell’s outlap.
Verdict: Start and first stop turned team-mate battle in Hamilton’s favour.
Started: 16th Finished: 12th
Sargeant may not have followed in the footsteps of Tsunoda and Zhou in scoring points on his debut, but he made a fine initial impression. In qualifying, he set Q2 pace but had the misfortune to produce it just after Norris had posted an identical time, meaning he was eliminated in Q1 by the narrowest of margins. He also lapped just 0.191s slower than Albon.
His race was also a shadow of Albon’s, finishing just nine-and-a-half seconds behind and proving he could fight cleanly along the way.
Verdict: An assured, accomplished debut.
Started: 20th Finished: 9th
Qualifying didn’t go well for Gasly, who felt he hadn’t previously fully explored the balance of the Alpine when on the limit and was only 17th in Q1 even before his best laptime was deleted to drop him to the back.
He didn’t make much progress in the first stint, but he was the first to pit as part of an attacking strategy that paid off big-time by catapulting him into the battle for minor points.
Gasly undercut Tsunoda at the second round of stops to move up to 11th but was unable to do more than pressure Albon until Leclerc’s retirement. Not only did that promote Gasly to P10, but with that group all diving into the pits for fresh rubber, he was then able to pass Albon around the outside into Turn 1 after the restart.
He then used his fresh softs to slash the gap to Bottas ahead but ran out of laps.
Verdict: Accomplished race after messy qualifying.
Started: 10th Finished: 15th
Looked far more on top of the Haas in qualifying trim and did a superb job to make it to Q3, producing a strong lap but one that was only good enough for 10th on the grid.
Unfortunately, his race was effectively over before it started after clipping Ocon at Turn 4 on lap one. This cost performance, but the team gambled on deferring the nose change to avoid the time loss.
The ground Hulkenberg lost with the poor first lap and the subsequent loss of performance until the wing was changed ruined his race.
Verdict: Fast, but a tiny misjudgement on lap one ruined his race.
Started: 18th Finished: DNF
The gap of four and a half tenths to Norris didn’t do Piastri justice, with a snap in Turn 2 after having run slightly deep in the first corner responsible for much of that time difference.
While not quite as on top of the car as Norris was, which is to be expected for a rookie, his underlying pace and ability to extract it from the car was actually very respectable. But his race was ill-starred, Piastri running 16th in his first stint but soon retiring with an electrical problem.
Verdict: A better debut than the on-paper results suggests.
Started: 13th Finished: 16th
Zhou showed an impressive turn of speed and arguably should have outqualified Bottas but for a lock-up at Turn 10. The combination of that plus a start that turned into a wheelspinning mess that dropped him to 17th – as well as not taking an attacking early first stop – meant he was eliminated from the points hunt.
Effectively, he finished 12th as he was in the queue behind Albon and Tsunoda, but the team decided to bring him in for a late tyre change so he could grab the fastest lap off Gasly – a shrewd move as it denied (what Alfa hopes will be a direct rival) Alpine a point.
Verdict: Rough edges knocked the shine off a good start to the season.
Started: 17th Finished: 13th
Complained he hadn’t “found the groove” after struggling in qualifying and falling in Q1, having lapped almost seven tenths slower than Hulkenberg.
That left him out of position and the team opted to gamble by starting him on the hard Pirellis, which inevitably meant he simply had to ‘sit in’ in the early stages and hope the race came to him. While the way it played out didn’t do him any favours, he did at least show better-than-expected pace on his way to 13th behind Sargeant, having picked up a bonus place late on when Zhou pitted.
Verdict: Improved race pace couldn’t compensate for qualifying struggles.
Started: 19th Finished: 14th
De Vries never looked to have Tsunoda’s single-lap speed in an AlphaTauri he seemed less comfortable in, but a scrappy final Q1 lap exaggerated the gap and stretched the deficit to seven tenths.
After dropping to last at the start behind Gasly, he was never quite able to haul himself into points contention and was 14th behind Sargeant when the team decided to gamble by splitting strategies under the VSC and leaving him out.
That meant his pace tanked in the final stint on ageing rubber, which initially cost him two places before Zhou’s late pitstop to gun for fastest lap. However, his race pace before that when on even terms with Tsunoda was decent enough.
Verdict: A difficult first weekend as a full-time F1 driver.
Started: 9th Finished: DNF
Ocon looked the more comfortable of the Alpine drivers which allowed him to make it to Q3 with relative ease.
But his race started to go awry even before it began with imprecise grid-slot positioning meaning he was heading for a penalty. He ran 10th in that first stint before losing ground to attacking undercut from behind, but had already damaged his front wing.
He made a second stop soon after the first to change it, but he had to serve his five-second grid-slot penalty at that stop and the crew started working around 0.4s prematurely, meaning he got another penalty.
To cap all of that, he then got a pitlane speeding penalty, having been fractionally premature coming off the limiter.
It was perhaps no surprise that he retired while running off the back.
Verdict: Messy race after accomplished qualifying.