Red Bull’s first troubled weekend of the 2023 Formula 1 season opened the door for a host of other drivers to star at the Singapore Grand Prix.
Which of them impressed most, who wasted their chance and how did the Red Bull drivers handle adversity?
Edd Straw gives his verdict as he ranks all 20 F1 drivers’ Singapore GP performances from best to worst.
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: 1st Finished: 1st
This was a first-class weekend from Sainz. As has been the pattern since the August break, he hit the ground running from the start of practice and produced a superb performance in qualifying to take pole position by a slender margin.
He then controlled the race beautifully, with his decision to let Lando Norris into DRS range late on as a defensive tactics masterstroke that underlines why he’s one of the sharpest drivers in F1.
Verdict: In control all weekend.
Started: 4th Finished: 2nd
Only Norris had the major McLaren upgrade package, reckoned to be worth three-to-four tenths of a second.
He ensured McLaren’s faith was well placed with a superb performance both in qualifying and the race. He maximised the results throughout, with his precision in the closing stages making the difference between second and a possible fourth place.
Verdict: Couldn’t have done more.
Started: 8th Finished: DNF
Ocon surprised himself by making it to a Q3 that appeared to be about as good as it was going to get for an Alpine.
He settled into seventh early on and didn’t put a foot wrong in his truncated grand prix, passing Fernando Alonso shortly before a gearbox problem put him out of a race in which he would certainly have finished ahead of team-mate Pierre Gasly – who took sixth.
Verdict: Cruelly denied a great result.
Started: 3rd Finished: 4th
A deficit of 0.079s to Ferrari team-mate Sainz in qualifying, likely thanks to not being quite as on top of the tyre management over the lap given the final corners made the difference, proved decisive in turning a potential victory shot for Leclerc into fourth place.
Having jumped George Russell for second after starting on softs at the start, he was cast in the role of support act.
His race was compromised by time lost in the crowded pitlane when he stopped under the safety car, although he compounded that by losing another place to Lewis Hamilton on the restart lap as he struggled to get his hard tyres up to temperature. That, combined with needing to manage power unit temperatures, meant the die was cast.
Verdict: Slender deficit to Sainz made all the difference.
Started: 11th Finished: 5th
Verstappen found himself in unfamiliar territory given Red Bull not only lacked pace, but had a troublesome car that was difficult to drive, in particular in qualifying after changes since FP3.
He failed to get the “undriveable” car into Q3 and his usual margin to team-mate Sergio Perez was cut to a tenth-and-a-half.
He produced a strong race drive after starting on hards and climbing to eighth before the safety car, but its timing was bad for Red Bull and, realistically, fifth was as good a result as was possible from there.
Verdict: Salvaged probably the best-possible result.
Started: 17th Finished: 7th
As Piastri was driving the old-specification McLaren, his performance can’t be compared with Norris.
He had the pace to have qualified more strongly, but Lance Stroll’s Q1 shunt ruined a final lap that should have put him in Q2 despite time left on the table in the first two sectors.
Turning 14th early on into seventh was the result of a strong race drive and making gains when others hit trouble.
Verdict: Strong performance in compromised circumstances.
Started: 5th Finished: 3rd
Hamilton struggled to get comfortable with the Mercedes during practice and qualified just over four tenths slower than Russell, with much of the time loss in the middle sector.
His race performance was stronger, particularly after the second pitstop where he brought in his fresh mediums better than Russell and appeared to be the quicker Mercedes driver in the closing stages only to be bottled up behind Norris and his team-mate.
Verdict: Qualifying struggles dent his ranking.
Started: 10th Finished: 9th
Lawson took a cautious approach early on as he felt his way into the Marina Bay circuit then turned on the pace when it counted to make Q3 for the first time.
While it should be noted he never produced a lap as fast as AlphaTauri team-mate Yuki Tsunoda’s Q1 effort, that was still an impressive performance.
He drove an error-free race, losing a place to Piastri in the first pitstops and did a good job to avoid falling back after staying out on hards under the VSC.
Verdict: Still pace to come, but put together a strong weekend.
Started: 14th Finished: 11th
On a weekend where Williams struggled and Albon said he “didn’t feel like I caught up properly” after a battery problem restricted his running on Friday, he somehow managed to come close to points.
Only Perez’s late divebomb booted him from 10th place, and that came at a point where he was menacing Lawson.
Verdict: Almost defied setbacks and lack of pace to take points.
Started: 12th Finished: 6th
Gasly struggled to get on top of the upgraded Alpine as quickly as team-mate Ocon, so although he felt he was getting somewhere with changes made for qualifying it was a little too late.
That meant he was still a step behind Ocon, with the 0.185s deficit enough to leave him on the wrong side of the Q2 cut-off.
His race was a strong and clean one, gaining six places, including one to Russell’s late crash.
Verdict: Effective despite not being at Ocon’s level.
Started: 6th Finished: 10th
After months of struggles, Magnussen returned to form in qualifying at a track with short-duration corners that mitigated his difficulties with the Haas.
That allowed him to qualify superbly then convert that into his first points finish since Miami in early May.
Unfortunately, a Turn 1 off cost him, although he was able to recover from that with a switch to softs under the VSC that allowed him to have an attacking final stint, climbing from 14th to 10th in the last five laps.
Verdict: Quick, but fortunate the VSC offered him a second chance.
Started: 13th Finished: 8th
Perez had similar struggles to Verstappen but could at least take some solace from being closer to his Red Bull team-mate in qualifying than usual.
Perez didn’t make up any ground in the first part of the race, holding 13th after surviving a first-lap clash with Tsunoda, and with the safety-car timing bad news for his strategy it was hard work battling up to eighth.
He was fortunate to get away with his late divebomb on Albon, which earned him a five-second penalty that didn’t impact his result.
Verdict: A reasonable weekend in tricky circumstances.
Started: 9th Finished: 13th
Lacked his Haas team-mate Magnussen’s edge of pace, which was against the run of play for 2023.
That disadvantage made all the difference as despite running directly behind Magnussen in the first stint, he emerged five places behind having been the second car in a double stack.
He briefly returned to the points by staying out under the VSC, but inevitably faded on old hard tyres.
Verdict: Was the second-best Haas driver.
Started: 16th Finished: DNF
Bottas was confident after Friday’s running, but compromises had to be made to ensure the plank didn’t suffer excess wear and made life difficult thereafter.
He couldn’t quite make it into Q2 and, without set-up changes for the race, opted to start on hards and run long.
Like for the Red Bulls, the first safety car played against that strategy before his race was curtailed by a gearbox problem.
Verdict: The stronger Alfa Romeo driver.
Started: Pits Finished: 12th
Both Alfa Romeos were troubled by set-up struggles, which forced a switch to a higher ride-height than anticipated.
Zhou couldn’t match team-mate Bottas in qualifying, but that arguably helped him as it meant he was the driver Alfa Romeo chose to start from the pits in order to make more set-up changes.
Zhou, who started on softs but pitted after two laps, produced a strong race drive and finished on the periphery of the points having gambled on staying out on hards under the VSC.
Verdict: Did what he could in the race to salvage a reasonable result.
Started: 2nd Finished: 16th
Russell described his last-lap crash as having “put a shadow on the whole weekend”, and it does the same thing to what would have been an otherwise high ranking.
Outstanding in qualifying, in which he was well “connected” to the car, as Hamilton put it, he clearly saw this as a winnable race but the moment he couldn’t quite pull off a pass when he caught Norris late on that slipped away.
Clouting the wall on the last lap was a painful, and costly, mistake.
Verdict: A moment of imprecision ruined his weekend.
Started: 15th Finished: DNF
This was a weekend of what might have been for Tsunoda, who showed his speed by topping Q1 with a laptime just over a tenth-and-a-half quicker than what team-mate Lawson later managed after making Q3.
However, being impeded by Verstappen on his first Q2 run then an error at Turn 14 on his second meant Tsunoda was nowhere in qualifying. His race came to an end after contact with Perez on lap one that could have been avoided.
Verdict: Fast but unfulfilled, with his Q2 error the turning point.
Started: 7th Finished: 15th
Alonso’s first blank of the season was the consequence of an uncharacteristically difficult weekend.
He underachieved in qualifying and should at least have beaten Magnussen, then made several mistakes in the race, notably running wide in the pit entry and earning a penalty.
While there were factors against him, including a disastrous pitstop and a tricky car, he fell well short of his usual excellence.
Verdict: Comfortably Alonso’s worst weekend of the season.
Started: 18th Finished: 14th
This was another weekend of disjointed promise and ultimate disappointment for Sargeant, who put in a “semi-decent” lap on Friday, struggled in qualifying with rear brake locking that caused rejected downshifts and cost him a big chunk of the deficit to Williams team-mate Albon then hit the wall during the race.
But he also showed good speed at times and, error aside, was satisfied with his race pace.
Verdict: Better than he looked, still not as good as he needs to be.
Started: DNS Finished: DNS
Stroll always looked a step behind Aston Martin team-mate Alonso, but the way Q1 played out compounded that.
He was impeded on his first run, and then after a delay for the weighbridge, the end of his prep lap was compromised by the absurd traffic.
He needed something special in the last sector to have any chance of making Q2, but ran wide in the penultimate corner and the car bottomed out, sending him into the wall.
Thanks to the effects of that hit and the car damage, he did not race by what was characterised as a mutual decision.
Verdict: Qualifying shunt ruined his weekend.