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Formula 1

Edd Straw's 2023 Qatar Grand Prix F1 driver rankings

by Edd Straw
9 min read

Formula 1's second visit to Qatar was no ordinary event - with tyre dramas, a new race winner, an intra-team clash, "brutal" climactic conditions to cope with plus the small matter of the 2023 champion being crowned.

And while some of those variables meant no driver had a perfect weekend, there were some absolute standout performances - plus two experienced drivers who will be far further down Edd Straw's Qatar Grand Prix driver rankings than is expected of them.

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: 2nd

Save for the fact track-limits violations cost him in qualifying, Piastri had an outstanding weekend. While there were still the small rookie rough edges, as you’d expect, what elevated it was the fact that while other Qatar newcomers struggled to get to grips with the car, he excelled. A calmly executed sprint victory in which he reclaimed the lead after being passed by soft-shod Russell then ensured he kept clear of Verstappen late on was the clearest evidence of that.

Verdict: Another big weekend in an increasingly impressive rookie campaign.

Started: 1st Finished: 1st

Sprint Saturday was imperfect by his standards, although finishing second from third on the grid and clinching the world championship was hardly bad. But Verstappen did his usual clinically brilliant job in the main event, again with a crushing advantage over his team-mate.

Verdict: Showed no signs of resting on his laurels.

Started: 9th Finished: 8th

Bottas is usually a fast starter on race weekends and turned that into a Q3 place on Friday. He followed that up with race performances on both Saturday and Sunday during which he didn’t put a foot wrong, which was rewarded with eighth place assisted by the safety car that played into his hands given the team always planned to make a very early pitstop.

Verdict: Perhaps Bottas’s strongest weekend of the season.

Started: 2nd Finished: 4th

Russell was the stronger Mercedes driver overall, executing both qualifying sessions more effectively than his team-mate and delivering the best possible results in the races given he couldn’t have done anything about preventing the first-corner clash in the grand prix that dropped him to near the back and left the podium out of reach. He executed both races well, particularly the recovery in the grand prix.

Verdict: An all-round effective weekend’s work.

Started: 5th Finished: 5th

Given the Ferrari was not only tricky to drive, but also lacking pace, Leclerc's performances in the grand prix itself and qualifying were about as good as they could have been. However, the sprint Saturday went less well, dropping from seventh on the road out of the points having picked up a five-second penalty for racking up four track limits violations in a 19-lap race that featured three safety cars.

Verdict: Only sprint untidiness counts against him.

Started: 10th Finished: 3rd

Norris was understandably disappointed with his weekend as despite an excellent race on Sunday, he underdelivered in both qualifying sessions and the sprint race. While the grand prix suggested he had better race pace than Piastri and he came away with third place in both races, he didn’t make the most of the machinery.

Verdict: Execution was patchy but salvaged two decent results.

Started: 8th Finished: 7th

Ocon was a couple of tenths slower than Gasly in Friday qualifying, although turned the tables in sprint qualifying. He was in the hunt for points in the sprint, although on softs he looked destined to miss out before clashing with Hulkenberg when he squeezed the Haas, unaware Perez had made it three wide. But he had a strong run to a best-possible seventh place in the grand prix despite throwing up relatively early in the race.

Verdict: An effective weekend’s work.

Started:4th Finished: 6th

Alonso qualified superbly on Friday, albeit failing to follow that up in the sprint shootout thanks to having his fifth-fastest laptime deleted because of track-limits violations. Using softs in the sprint meant he slid out of the points late on, but he ran third in the first part of the race before inevitably slipping behind Norris and, after an off, Russell and Leclerc.

Verdict: A couple of offs in the race marred what was still a decent weekend.

Started: 12th Finished: DNS

Sainz started the weekend running too low, putting him on the back foot and meaning a raised ride height for qualifying. Even so, he should have made Q3 but failed to do so thanks to an untidy lap, but had no chance to recover thanks to being unable to start the race due to the fuel system problem. However, he offset that with a strong performance throughout sprint Saturday.

Verdict: Strong Saturday but undone by poor Friday and lack of Sunday.

Started: 19th Finished: 9th

Zhou was on the back foot thanks to a difficult Friday on his first time at the Lusail circuit, compounded by qualifying last after his final lap was undone by traffic at the start of the lap. After a quiet sprint Saturday, Zhou drove a good race on a strategy that ideally needed a late safety car to make it work well but was promoted from 12th at the chequered flag to ninth by time penalties for Gasly, Stroll and Perez.

Verdict: While he owed his points partly to other’s getting penalised, he kept it clean in a well-executed race after a solid weekend.

Started: 7th Finished: 12th

Gasly was happy with the feel of the car and appeared to have the edge on team-mate Ocon, although struggling unexpectedly with sliding in sprint qualifying meant he was eliminated in SQ2 while his team-mate advanced. However, the races didn’t go as hoped for; opting for softs in the sprint meant he just missed out on points and a trio of five-second penalties for track-limits violations cost him in the grand prix, albeit with the caveat that an energy management issue cost him a little pace on his way to 10th on-the-road.

Verdict: Grand prix struggles hurt his ranking.

Started: 13th Finished: 13th

Albon struggled in the windier conditions, but the car came alive once they calmed down. That allowed him to take an unexpected seventh in the sprint. The grand prix started promisingly, running in the points in the first stint but slipping back after being undercut. He spent the rest of the race struggling for pace in the lower mid-pack, something that was compounded by heat exposure and a couple of track-limits penalties.

Verdict: Super sprint run was the high point of his weekend.

Started: 11th Finished: 15th

Tsunoda wasn’t happy with the feel of the AlphaTauri, so qualifying 11th represented an overachievement that inevitably couldn’t be sustained. He took a respectable 11th in the sprint despite starting 18th, but even with good tyre resources available in the grand prix and a solid foundation thanks to running ninth in the first stint he inevitably slid backwards as the AlphaTauri slipped to around its level.

Verdict: Flirtation with points was thanks to slight qualifying overachievement.

Started: 14th Finished: 16th

Hulkenberg was completely at home through the fast sweeps in Qatar, far more so than Magnussen, although didn’t get the best out of the car in what he called a “weird” Friday qualifying after reaching Q2. He flirted with points in the sprint before being eliminated when he was squeezed between Ocon and Perez, but his race hopes were ruined by a penalty when he inexplicably pulled into Sainz’s vacant grid box at the end of the formation lap.

Verdict: Weekend undone by Q2 struggle and bad parking.

Started: 3rd Finished: DNF

Hamilton’s underlying pace was strong, but he didn’t quite deliver that last edge in Friday qualifying then made errors in SQ2 that put him down the grid. After a strong sprint race, his misjudgement at the first corner in the grand prix that triggered the clash with Russell was something he could have easily avoided.

Verdict: First-corner clash sinks him in these rankings.

Started: 16th Finished: 15th

His lack of confidence in the car combined with the tricky, variable conditions made life difficult for Stroll, who was well off Alonso’s pace. “I can’t really lean on the car and drive it with confidence without dealing with snaps and understeer and a balance that I don’t enjoy driving,” was his summary of the car on a difficult weekend. He did make progress later in the weekend and finished ninth on-the-road before two track-limits penalties, the result of “passing out basically in the high-speed corners”, dropped him to 11th.

Verdict: Despite car struggles and poor pace, did make some progress.

Started: 15th Finished: DNF

While the races went wrong, in the sprint that was because of a mistake that spat him into the gravel and in the grand prix itself due to heat exhaustion having suffered with illness earlier in the week. He was happy with his underlying pace, keeping Albon honest in qualifying, so this was another weekend with signs of promise unfulfilled.

Verdict: Not quite the weekend he needed, but closer to it than it looked.

Started: 17th Finished: 17th

Having a single free practice session at a track he’d never driven at before, compounded by a lack of confidence in the car, led to Q1 elimination for Lawson. His sprint Saturday was a mixed bag, reaching SQ2 before spinning into the gravel on the first lap of the race, but while he made it to the end in the grand prix he was bitterly disappointed with what he saw as a wasted weekend.

Verdict: The low point of his stand-in stint.

Started: 18th Finished: 14th

Magnussen struggled to get to grips with the Lusail circuit with just one free practice session having never driven there before. Being on the back foot in both qualifying sessions effectively meant this was a weekend that never really got off the ground. “It took me too long to learn, I feel like I found it in the race,” he said on Sunday evening, by which time it was far to late to turn round an anonymous weekend.

Verdict: Never caught up after a slow start.

Started: pits Finished: 10th

Perez was never happy with the balance of the car, as proved by repeated track-limits violations in qualifying and racing conditions. Although he at least salvaged a point in the grand prix, he wasn’t anywhere near Verstappen's level, with his elimination by the Ocon/Hulkenberg squeeze in the sprint and starting the grand prix from the pits after a car rebuild the only mitigations.

Verdict: As Christian Horner said, “a horrible weekend”.

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