Red Bull once again set a remarkable pace to dominate the second round of the 2023 Formula 1 season, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
But just as was the case in Bahrain a fortnight earlier, there were standout drives that garnered less attention further down the field (and two drivers in particular who’ll have been looking for the first plane out of Jeddah after races with no redeeming qualities).
Here, for a second weekend, Edd Straw ranks (rather than rates) all 20 F1 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’ (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: 1st Finished: 1st
Without Verstappen’s driveshaft failure, Perez’s race would likely have had a clear run to second place behind his team-mate given the single-lap pace difference between the two.
But what really impressed about Perez’s performance is once the opportunity was presented to him, he delivered not only by taking only his second F1 pole position but also controlling the race.
That, notably Perez’s excellent safety-car restart and matching Verstappen in the final part of the race, elevates the ranking of his weekend even though he was only the second-fastest Red Bull driver.
Verdict: Seized his opportunity with both hands.
Started: 15th Finished: 2nd
There’s no doubt that but for the driveshaft failure suffered before setting a serious laptime in Q2, Verstappen would have been comfortably on pole and won the race.
His recovery from 15th on the grid was executed in an intelligent, measured way but it was the deployment of the safety car that allowed him to get in touch with Perez. And despite his best efforts, even with car concerns, he wasn’t able to close the gap and had to settle for second.
Verdict: Saturday circumstances denied likely triumph.
Started: 12th Finished: 7th
Leclerc’s qualifying performance was outstanding, getting a Ferrari closer to the pace than looked likely (with the caveat that it was Perez he was chasing).
With a 10-place grid penalty for taking a third control electronics, Leclerc made good progress early on but pitting just before the safety car denied him the kind of lift Verstappen got.
That left him behind Sainz and, while he was quicker, the team didn’t intervene. As with his team-mate, tyre degradation troubles meant it was a tough race and he dropped back from Sainz after a period pressuring him thanks to the toll taken by sitting in dirty air, but he would have had a better result had he started from the front row.
Verdict: Rapid but unfortunate.
Started: 3rd Finished: 4th
Russell revelled in being the Mercedes focal point given he appeared more comfortable with the unstable rear end of the W14. That allowed him to outpace Hamilton by three and a half tenths and earn himself a place on the second row.
He had a straightforward race, initially running third but then inevitably falling behind the recovering Verstappen.
Couldn’t have done much more with the machinery.
Started: 2nd Finished: 3rd
Alonso was on fine form in Saudi Arabia, although things did get a little untidy in Q3 – in which he failed to improve his pace and didn’t maximise the car. But that was still enough to earn him a front-row start. Unfortunately, his brief race-leading cameo was undermined by having parked to the left of his grid slot, earning him a penalty.
The deployment of the safety car ensured that penalty didn’t cost him a place, although he was powerless to keep Verstappen at bay on his way to a third place that he was temporarily denied of by the stewards.
Verdict: Rough edges in qualifying and the race took the shine off his performance.
Started: 6th Finished: 8th
Ocon was a little more comfortable with a car he described as “floating in high-speed” than team-mate Gasly and produced a superb qualifying performance. He credited disconnecting his brain for this, surviving two brushes with the wall on his way to the seventh-fastest time.
Like his team-mate, he pitted before the safety car was deployed but it made little difference to his result as, despite running sixth early on, he inevitably slipped behind the quicker cars of Hamilton, Verstappen and Leclerc.
Verdict: Maximised the qualifying and race result.
Started: 8th Finished: 15th
Piastri was mightily impressive in qualifying and looked to have the pace to give Norris a run for his money had it been a straight fight in Q1.
But Piastri’s race was ruined by contact with Gasly exiting Turn 1 that led to front wing damage and forced him into the pits immediately.
He fitted hards and ran all the way to the end, passing both Norris and Sargeant late on to take a 15th place that was far better than it looked on paper.
Verdict: Caught the eye with prodigious speed.
Started: 4th Finished: 6th
Sainz was half a second off Leclerc in Q3 and didn’t appear as comfortable with the car on the limit. That said, the half-second deficit exaggerated the gap between the pair.
Sainz ran fifth early on and overcut Stroll at the pitstops, but this strategy meant he suffered when the safety car was deployed. He subsequently lost places to Verstappen and Hamilton, finishing sixth ahead of Leclerc.
Verdict: Beating Leclerc was down to circumstances rather than speed.
Started: 5th Finished: DNF
There was a point where it seemed Stroll might threaten Alonso’s qualifying pace, with just under seven hundredths separating their theoretical ideal laps.
He held fourth in the first stint, having jumped Sainz, but after an early stop was vulnerable to the overcut and slipped back behind.
Unfortunately, an ERS problem soon put him out of the race.
Verdict: Fast in flashes and deserved a decent result.
Started: 16th Finished: 11th
Tsunoda had the edge on De Vries on pace, although the eventual margin of three tenths in Q1 slightly flattered him. Despite AlphaTauri’s struggles, Tsunoda gained a couple of places on the first lap and was able to dive into the pits when the safety car was deployed, which meant he took the restart eighth.
He never had a chance of holding off the Alpines, but did a great job to keep Magnussen at bay until the Haas driver thrust past him five laps from home.
Verdict: Performed well in limited machinery and so nearly hung on for a point.
Started: 7th Finished: 5th
Hamilton complained of feeling disconnected with the car after setting only the eighth-fastest time in qualifying. His time loss to Russell, which was over three tenths, was mainly at the start of the lap where he lacked the confidence in the rear to attack.
But in race conditions he was stronger. He started on hards, pitting for mediums when the safety car was deployed and using his tyre advantage to jump Sainz to make sure he salvaged a solid result.
Verdict: Lacking confidence in the car.
Started: 11th Finished: 13th
Zhou did what he had threatened to do in Bahrain by outqualifying team-mate Bottas. He converted that into running in the points early on until an early switch to hard Pirellis sent him on a pathway to a more lowly position.
He struggled on the hards and pitted again for new mediums when the safety car was deployed. Zhou climbed from 17th to 13th by the finish in a race in which he spent too much time caught up with Haas, AlphaTauri and Williams drivers.
Verdict: Was Alfa Romeo’s spearhead for a weekend.
Started: 13th Finished: 10th
Magnussen’s struggles from Bahrain continued on Friday in Jeddah, but things turned round for qualifying. Unfortunately, a downshift problem and braking troubles contained his pace and he ended up just over half a tenth slower than Hulkenberg.
But a good move around the outside of his team-mate at the approach to Turn 22 set the tone for an attacking race that culminated in passing Tsunoda for the final point.
Verdict: Finally on top of the car.
Started: 9th Finished: 9th
Full of optimism after the car felt the best it has been, but struggled for grip and sliding in qualifying. That left him almost three tenths slower than his team-mate.
Gasly then survived a scrape with Piastri at the start when he left the McLaren driver little room at the exit of Turn 2, briefly running eighth before inevitably slipping behind Leclerc and Verstappen.
That put him 10th and he effectively held station, picking up a place thanks to Stroll’s retirement – although he did have to overtake Tsunoda after the safety-car intervention, having made his stop under green-flag conditions.
Verdict: Solid but unable to match Ocon’s live-wire pace.
Started: 10th Finished: 12th
Hulkenberg had a slender advantage over Magnussen in qualifying. But while trying to find a way past Zhou, Hulkenberg was passed by Magnussen into Turn 22 on the first lap. He later redressed that situation by passing Magnussen back, albeit ultimately losing that battle to his team-mate’s first-stop undercut.
Having stopped relatively early to fit hards, Hulkenberg used the DRS to pass Zhou but took the restart 13th thanks to rivals benefitting from the safety car timing. He followed Magnussen, and latterly Tsunoda, to the end.
Verdict: First-lap losses cost a points finish.
Started: 17th Finished: DNF
Albon was confident after FP3 but puzzled after Q1 when he found the car to be snappy and lacking in rear grip. That meant he wasn’t able to hook up a lap good enough for Q2, even though the pace was in the car.
The deployment of the safety car allowed him to gain two places to run 12th, but wheelspin at the restart allowed Hulkenberg to squeeze around the outside of him heading into Turn 1. Brake problems then ended his race.
Verdict: Untidy at key moments.
Started: 20th Finished: 16th
Sargeant’s pace in Jeddah was impressive, potentially even Albon-beating but for qualifying unravelling the moment he drifted beyond track limits on the blast to the line at the end of his first Q1 lap. That cost him a lap good enough for Q2, with mistakes on his subsequent two runs preventing him from setting a serious time.
He produced another combative first-lap, including a good pass on De Vries at Turn 13, but was ultimately stuck in the lower-midfield. He finished 16th after being passed by Piastri at Turn 1 on the last lap, but just held off Norris on the dash to the line.
Verdict: Impressive pace didn’t coalesce into results.
Started: 18th Finished: 14th
De Vries recovered from losing FP3 to a power unit change and a spin on his first flier in Q1. But the failure to fully charge the battery before his final lap cost him a couple of tenths, which accounted for two-thirds of the gap to Tsunoda.
He was frustrated not to make more progress in the race, particularly given Sargeant dived past him on the first lap, and complained of losing momentum both at the start and restart. A safety car pitstop elevated him to 14th, which is where he finished despite being passed by Zhou, having picked up a place when Albon retired.
Verdict: A step forward from Bahrain.
Started: 14th Finished: 18th
Bottas lacked the edge of pace Zhou could deliver and was unable to offer a clear explanation for why in qualifying. But his poor race appeared to be the consequence of underfloor damage sustained on the first lap, which soon cast him to the back of the field on a Sunday when he had no chance to show his speed.
Verdict: Unlucky on Sunday, not quick enough on Saturday.
Started: 19th Finished: 17th
This stands as one of the worst weekends Norris has endured in five seasons in F1. Already under pressure from Piastri, he made an inexcusable mistake by glancing the inside wall. That gave him damage that put him out of the rest of qualifying.
But in the race, he was unlucky as debris from his team-mate’s brush with Gasly on the opening lap did enough damage to require Norris to pit for a new nose at the end of the second lap.
That was effectively his race run, as he switched to hards, then jumped back to mediums under the safety car for a lengthy final stint.
Verdict: A weekend to forget.