Formula 1’s 2023 Spanish Grand Prix was dominated by one driver but there were plenty of other gutsy drives throughout the field.
But who impressed the most? Edd Straw gives his verdict as he ranks the drivers’ performances across the weekend 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
Sometimes a great driver in the leading car can be so on top of things that it looks effortless. That was the zone Max Verstappen was in throughout the weekend, with Sergio Perez’s struggles a counterpoint underlining how even in a Red Bull things aren’t always straightforward.
He never looked anything other than a dead cert for pole position, which he secured in the first part of Q3. Verstappen would have been even further ahead than his eventual 0.462s margin had he not aborted his quicker final-run lap because it was unnecessary.
In the race, it was simply about managing the tyres and gradually building up a healthy advantage, which he did effectively having held onto the lead at the start despite starting on mediums with soft runners behind.
Verdict: Crushingly dominant.
Started: 13th Finished: 9th
There was a lot to like about Zhou Guanyu’s weekend. Although he thought a Q3 place was on, he couldn’t quite make it but felt his Q2 lap was about as good as it was going to get. The Alfa Romeo team agreed.
He gained four places to run ninth on an excellent first lap. He went on to finish there in what was not an easy race to execute, particularly around the pitstops where at times he had to play it cautiously early in stints in the knowledge positions would come back to him, something compounded by a couple of slightly slow stops.
This culminated in a battle with Yuki Tsunoda that he lost on track, but he could afford to finish behind given the AlphaTauri driver’s penalty.
That was rooted in Zhou’s good understanding of the overtaking guidelines used by stewards when he was forced off-track.
Verdict: Probably his most impressive F1 weekend.
Started: 2nd Finished: 5th
Carlos Sainz did a superb job in Q3 to put the Ferrari second on the grid and always knew he was up against it to stay there. However, the extent of the car’s tyre troubles in the race did come as a surprise as he faded to fifth on a two-stopper.
This was a race solely focused on tyre management and working to stint-length targets that, in some cases, weren’t achievable so it’s difficult to see how he could have kept the Mercedes drivers and Perez behind given the lack of race pace thanks to the tyre degradation.
Verdict: Achieved the best result possible in qualifying and the race.
Started: 4th Finished: 2nd
Lewis Hamilton’s weekend got progressively better. It started with a difficult Friday, at the end of which he admitted he might not even make it to Q3.
He then not only made Q3 having switched to the higher-downforce rear wing George Russell ran on Friday, but was also in the hunt for a front row position on Saturday as the only other driver aside from Verstappen to have two new sets of softs left for the top-10 shootout.
Unfortunately, the final Q3 lap wasn’t what it should have been.
Then came Sunday with a well-executed drive to second place, picking off Lance Stroll and Sainz in the opening stint and never looking like relinquishing second.
Verdict: Other than slight Q3 underachievement, a well-put-together weekend.
Started: 6th Finished: 8th
Esteban Ocon’s underlying pace looked strong, possibly slightly better than Alpine team-mate Pierre Gasly’s even though it is difficult to be conclusive. However poor tyre prep for his final Q3 run meant he was down in seventh when at least a third-row place was on.
A good first lap, and Gasly’s penalty, meant he finished the first lap fifth. But he was always destined to slip behind Perez, Russell and Fernando Alonso – despite Ocon’s dramatic defence – during what was a well-managed race.
Verdict: Slightly underachieved in qualifying, but it didn’t impact race result.
Started: 12th Finished: 3rd
Russell had a terrible day on Saturday, being eliminated in Q2 and clashing with Hamilton when he inadvertently moved over on his team-mate as they both attempted to start a lap at the end of the session.
That was more down to miscommunication than misadventure, with the big problems his struggles with tyres and, thanks to a set-up misstep, bouncing in the fast corners.
A great start and further gains at Turn 1 thanks to a sharp, but legal, use of the escape road allowed him to jump to seventh. That became sixth when he overtook Alonso and then Ocon in the early laps.
The pace – and tyre management – of the Mercedes meant he was able to get ahead of Sainz and Stroll to take third place.
Verdict: Recovered superbly after a problematic qualifying session.
Started: 7th Finished: 15th
In a race defined by thermal degradation, it was perhaps no surprise to see Nico Hulkenberg at the mercy of the capricious characteristics of the Haas.
In qualifying, he starred with his single out-of-phase lap in Q3 enough for eighth. He held the position at the start as well.
From there, things got tougher. The tyre degradation set in quickly and, along with his team-mate Kevin Magnussen, he was one of only two drivers to have to do a genuine three-stopper.
Inevitably, that meant he inexorably slipped back – doing what he could to stem the losses but powerless to change his fate.
Verdict: Drove well in a car that gave him no chance on Sunday.
Started: 5th Finished: 6th
After getting lost with the set-up on Friday, Stroll was content with what he called a “more conventional” approach in qualifying. While he outqualified Alonso for the first time, he was quick to point out this was the result of Alonso carrying floor damage.
He ran third early on after a superb pass on Hamilton at Turn 5 on the first lap but the Aston Martin didn’t have the pace to stay there. Inevitably, he was shuffled back to sixth behind the Mercedes drivers and the recovering Perez.
That might have become seventh, but for Alonso holding station in the closing laps.
Verdict: A decent weekend, although beating Alonso was circumstantial rather than based on pace.
Started: 11th Finished: 4th
While his team-mate was serene, Perez was never completely at ease with the Red Bull. He referred to “trying to modify my driving style quite a bit this weekend and as soon as we had some variable conditions it put us on the backfoot”.
The upshot was he didn’t look confident in qualifying and, after just avoiding elimination in Q1, he was knocked out in Q2 after a spin into the gravel at Turn 5 on his final run.
While many tipped him to charge for second, Perez ‘only’ made it to fourth place with a well-executed drive that started with a long opening stint on mediums. But that was one place better than Red Bull’s prediction thanks to the slower-than-expected pace from Ferrari.
Verdict: Solid recovery after another terrible Saturday.
Started: 3rd Finished: 17th
While Lando Norris’s Q3 pace seemingly came from nowhere thanks to a combination of nailing his lap, the McLaren coming alive in cooler conditions, good tyre prep and others underachieving, there were hints of it on Friday judging by his sector times.
The race was always going to be a rearguard action, but it lasted only until Turn 2 when Norris was caught out by Hamilton checking up. The resulting contact damaged Norris’s front wing and sent him to the pits.
There was no way back from there given, as Norris put it, “the pace was as expected today, which was bad”.
Verdict: Great in qualifying but hastened his fall in the race with Turn 2 clash.
Started: 15th Finished: 12th
This was a weekend that largely went very well for Tsunoda, with two moments costing him dearly.
The first came on his final Q2 lap, which was fast enough to put him 11th. A tiny snap late in Turn 5 sent him just over the white line at the exit, leading to that being deleted and leaving him 15th.
A good first stint and relatively early stop ensured he was in points contention. Crucially, he got ahead of Zhou at this point in what was to be a race-defining battle.
He held off Zhou to the end, but was relegated from ninth on the road to 12th by a five-second penalty for forcing the Alfa Romeo driver off the track. Tsunoda felt the penalty was unfair and that Zhou had exaggerated what happened, although by the letter of the law – or rather the guidelines – it was appropriately applied.
Verdict: A couple of tiny misjudgements undermined a superb weekend.
Started: 18th Finished: 16th
Alex Albon’s weekend turned on his spin into the gravel at Turn 5 in the tricky conditions that caught several drivers out in the moments before the red flag. Although he recovered to the pits, the resulting floor damage meant he had no hope of making Q2.
He described the race as “pretty easy, honestly, just chilling around, saving tyres all the time”. It was a fair summary and given the Williams was at its least competitive of 2023, to finish ahead of three albeit troubled cars and his team-mate Logan Sargeant was about as good as it was going to get.
Verdict: Qualifying error counts against him, but his race drive was effective in unpromising circumstances.
Started: 10th Finished: 10th
Gasly was delighted with the progress he and Alpine have made in recent weeks to further fine-tune their still-relatively-new relationship. The result was fourth in qualifying after a superb performance on his one set of softs in Q3.
The trouble was, two traffic violations – one that he could perhaps have avoided based on the information he was given, the other not – led to a brace of three-place grid penalties.
He then got squeezed wide out of Turn 2 while on the outside of a gaggle of cars. As he said, “by lap one, I’m 14th, 10 positions behind where we qualified and it changes your entire race”.
From there it was just about recovery, which he did deliver on reasonably well. He took 11th on the road, but picked up the final point when Tsunoda’s penalty was applied.
Verdict: A case of what might have been but for qualifying traffic problems and a bad first lap.
Started: 8th Finished: 7th
A rare Alonso error as he wound up to start his first Q1 lap, piling into the gravel at the final corner as the rain started left him with extensive floor damage. He did well to escape Q1, but gradually the team patched up the floor to halve the performance loss.
He felt qualifying as high as second was still on, but imprecision and a snap at Turn 10 on a lap he thought would have been in the 1m12.7s bracket – good enough for the front row – left him ninth fastest.
He started eighth due to Gasly’s penalty but didn’t make the expected progress thanks to Aston Martin’s subdued pace.
Contained by the tyre degradation, he executed the race well to ensure he finished ahead of the midfield runners and could have overtaken Stroll in the last stint, something he clearly decided against out of pragmatism and the fact that he couldn’t have climbed any further and this would have made no difference to the team’s overall result.
Verdict: Qualifying errors mean he plummets down the ranking.
Started: 14th Finished: 14th
Nyck de Vries felt he’d had his strongest F1 weekend yet up to qualifying, where he was twice caught out by the “invisible” damp patch at Turn 11. That led to two spins, two damaged sets of tyres and compromised his potential. “I’m not saying we should have been in Q3, but around top 12 would have been realistic,” he suggested.
He was shuffled back to 16th at the start after getting boxed in. That meant a difficult first stint in traffic that wiped out any chance of joining his AlphaTauri team-mate Tsunoda in points contention.
But overall, he produced a decent race, although ideally he should have been able to turn his pace advantage late on into beating Oscar Piastri, who finished just ahead.
Verdict: A better weekend than the on-paper results suggest.
Started: 9th Finished: 13th
Although Norris grabbed the headlines in Spain, it was easy to miss the fact Piastri was nip and tuck with him on laptime until an error in Turn 10 cost him nine tenths of a second. He was kicking himself for that mistake and understandably so given it had been a fast and impressive lap up to that point.
The lack of pace of the McLaren in the race meant he was always going to slip out of the points. He felt he had “a pretty poor first lap”, although that amounted only to a net loss of one position to 10th. But he was soon relegated to 12th by Perez and Tsunoda.
He later fell behind Gasly and Charles Leclerc, although Hulkenberg’s tyre struggles meant he at least beat the Haas, holding off De Vries in the closing stages to take 13th.
Verdict: Error cost him an eye-catching qualifying result, but points were not possible in the race.
Started: Pits Finished: 11th
Leclerc’s weekend was doomed in Q1, when unspecified car troubles made left-handers difficult. Given he qualified on the back row anyway, he changed the rear end before the race and committed to a pitlane start.
Last year, the Ferrari was quick enough to have salvaged points from there but that wasn’t the case this year with Leclerc coming through to 11th. It was heavy going with the difficult opening stint on hards meaning he couldn’t make the early progress needed to have made it into the top 10 by the end of the race. But he was close.
Verdict: Difficult to fairly evaluate given undiagnosed car troubles.
Started: 17th Finished: 18th
Magnussen was puzzled by the unexpected performance fluctuations throughout practice and qualifying and found himself on a downswing in Q1. That meant he was six-tenths slower than Hulkenberg and didn’t advance to Q2.
He climbed to 13th early on, but given the Haas’s tyre-chewing tendencies, there was no chance of him staying there. His race wasn’t dissimilar to Hulkenberg’s, albeit finishing just over 20 seconds behind.
Verdict: Couldn’t make the most of the single-lap pace, but he had no chance in the race.
Started: 16th Finished: 19th
This proved to be a weekend of futility for Valtteri Bottas, who was frustrated by his final out-lap in Q2 given he “had to stop for over 10 seconds after Turn 12” and lost optimum tyre temperature.
Running 19th and struggling, which the Alfa Romeo team suspected at this stage was down to being in traffic, he was called in for an aggressively early pitstop. However, once in clear air, it became clear he had a serious pace problem that hampered him for the rest of the race.
After getting out of the car, Bottas was baffled and certain there was a problem. The team later discovered floor damage sustained on the first lap through no obvious fault of Bottas.
Verdict: Things went against him in qualifying and the race and contained his performance.
Started: Pits Finished: 20th
A solid Friday turned into a bad Saturday, losing it in the final corner in FP3 as the rain came and ploughing through the gravel into the wall. That led to a lengthy repair job and a late start to Q1, with tyre preparation struggles and the chance to do just one run inevitably adding up to last in qualifying.
For 47 laps of the race, he had a similar pace to Albon, but he then suffered an alarming drop-off 10 laps into his final stint on hards, losing over a second a lap on average to Albon (who was on mediums) and finishing 24s behind his team-mate.
Verdict: FP3 crash and late-race slump torpedoes his ranking.