After 22 races, the 2023 Formula 1 season came to a close last week with a record-extending 19th win this season for Max Verstappen. With Red Bull producing an (almost) unbeatable car, 2023 has not exactly been a classic in Formula 1 terms, yet looking beyond the very front of the grid, there have been many interesting narratives to follow, including the rise and fall of Aston Martin, and subsequent rise of McLaren.
With the 2023 season now in the books, and almost everyone hoping for a closer championship battle in 2024, which drivers stood out this year? Who desperately needs to improve before the F1 circus returns in Bahrain next March? I have ranked every driver based on their performance throughout the season – hopefully a few of which will be controversial enough to elicit some debate that can liven up what may be a dull few months without F1 to fill our weekends!
1st: Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
There could not be any other choice for top position than three-time World Champion Max Verstappen, who has arguably had the greatest season of any Formula 1 driver in history. He broke records for most wins, points, podiums, laps led, consecutive wins and hat-tricks in a single season, and scored enough points to win the Constructors’ Championship all on his own. He has been genuinely faultless, and it remains hard to see anyone who could beat him in the near future.
VERDICT: It seems the record books will be his only rival for a few more seasons to come.
2nd: Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
In spite of some the most atrocious luck in modern Formula 1, becoming the first driver ever to suffer a DNF, DNS and DSQ in the same season, as well as having a car that was built against his driving style, Leclerc’s prodigal talent has shone through. The final seven races saw an exceptional run of form, outqualifying his teammate 7-0, taking three poles and finishing on the podium three times. Leclerc remains the best driver over one lap, with five poles this season despite the might of Red Bull, and his race pace has become quietly underrated; Baku, Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi showcased how well he can manage his tyres and read races.
VERDICT: If Ferrari can continue the strong development path that aided Leclerc’s stellar late-season form in 2024, Leclerc may be F1’s best bet of a rival to Verstappen next year.
3rd: Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
I must confess to being somewhat sceptical when Alonso announced his move to Aston Martin last season, but at the start of 2023, it seemed I had been wrong. The 42-year-old Spaniard was driving as well as he was when he won his two world titles 16 years ago, and took five podiums in the opening six races. Alas, Aston Martin’s mid-season development fell off, and a promised 33rd win never materialised, although came excruciatingly close in Monaco.
VERDICT: Alonso has reminded F1’s young blood that this older statesman still has some fire left in his belly, but time is running out for another championship run.
4th: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Mercedes’ 2022 blip has unfortunately evolved into a longer period of regression, and Hamilton’s record-breaking eighth title looks further away than ever, but the 38-year-old is still showing the consistency and race pace that saw him dominate the second half of the 2010s. There have been errors – a clumsy Qatar Lap 1 saw him commit the cardinal sin of taking your teammate out, and he doesn’t have the raw qualifying speed that he used to, epitomised by his failure to reach Q3 in the final two races of the season. However, peaks like pole in Hungary stand out far more than these errors.
VERDICT: Hamilton has showed teammate George Russell that he still rules the roost at Mercedes; much like Leclerc, it is down to the team to deliver him the machinery to fight for wins and titles.
5th: Lando Norris (McLaren)
When McLaren turned up to Bahrain with the slowest car on the grid, this looked to be a season of pain for Lando Norris. However, he has ended the season with seven podiums after McLaren turned around their fortunes in Austria with an upgraded car. There were some major highlights, including taking the lead on Lap 1 in Silverstone, and Norris has continued to prove his reputation as McLaren’s next world champion. However, as he has adjusted to being in a car that can challenge for wins, errors have crept in, particularly in qualifying, and consequently he still awaits that first win.
VERDICT: A topsy-turvy year that will hopefully give Norris the experience he needs to become a consistent challenger for wins and perhaps even a title.
6th: Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
After a turbulent entry into Formula 1, with that now-infamous tweet refuting Alpine’s announcement and Piastri ultimately ending up McLaren, expectations were high for the 2021 F2 champion. However, two podiums and a sprint race win in Qatar exceeds even the most optimistic pre-season predictions for this young Aussie prodigy. He has kept teammate Norris honest, and is the first rookie to stand on an F1 podium since 2014. If he can improve his race pace and tyre management, which were lacking too often, he will be a future world champion.
VERDICT: Improved race pace will come with experience; for now, he has shown he has the potential, and ability to deliver in a top car.
7th: Pierre Gasly (Alpine)
Gasly and Alpine are such a natural fit, it seems unbelievable that this was the Frenchman’s first season at the team, and only by pure chance after the Alonso-Piastri fiasco in summer 2022. He won the qualifying head-to-head with his teammate convincingly (14-8) and beat him in the championship, despite some questionable strategies for Gasly. A podium in a rain affected Zandvoort race was not only a surprise, but a deserved testament to his wet weather skills.
VERDICT: Gasly seems at home in Alpine, and has proven himself against a top-level teammate; a fair way off the top teams, but an underrated star of 2023.
8th: Alex Albon (Williams)
Both Williams and Albon have risen from their respective struggles in 2020 to start climbing back up the F1 grid. Incredibly, Albon scored 96 per cent of Williams’ points this year, almost single-handedly taking them to P7 in the championship, and is the first driver since Verstappen in 2020 to whitewash his teammate in the qualifying head-to-head (22-0). There were some memorable highs, including a P4 in quali in Zandvoort, and two top-seven finishes in Canada and Monza, the former in spectacular fashion as he defended against a train of faster cars.
VERDICT: Hard to judge Williams’ true pace due to his teammate’s underperformance, but Albon almost always seemed to get the most out of his machinery.
9th: Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
Formula 1’s only non-Red Bull winner of 2023, an accolade some may see as deserving of higher on this list. There is no doubt that Sainz had some strong races, notably his Singapore win and Monza podium, but there were also too many duds, and he was quite frequently outclassed by his teammate. As much as the images of his masterclass under the Singapore night sky will live in the memory, so too will his litany of errors, including crashing twice in Monaco, colliding with Piastri in Belgium & Alonso in Australia, and a disastrous Abu Dhabi weekend that cost Ferrari P2 in the championship.
VERDICT: A few exceptional races cannot carry an entire season; if his 2024 begins as his 2023 ended, he will be rapidly usurped by Leclerc in Ferrari.
10th: Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
Although the predicted intra-team rivalry between Ocon and fellow Frenchman Gasly did not manifest beyond a clumsy collision in Australia, Ocon was surprisingly beaten by his teammate in 2023. It was, however, a very close battle, and Ocon has quietly put together a consistent season, finishing in the points 12 times. There were some big results too; he converted P3 on the grid to a podium in Monaco, and came from 16th to finish fourth in Las Vegas.
VERDICT: Often looked to be the second-best driver in Alpine, but only by fine margins in a team that has often been stuck in no man’s land in 2023, unable to contend but not a backmarker.
11th: George Russell (Mercedes)
Off the back of 2022, when he shockingly beat his seven-time world champion teammate in the standings in his first season at Mercedes, George Russell would have been expecting big things. However, his 2023 ends with just two podium appearances, outscored by Hamilton by 59 points. Russell has really struggled since Mercedes finally did away with their ‘no sidepods’ concept in Monaco, and can’t quite shake the mistakes, such as a last-lap crash from P2 in Singapore. Strong races in Qatar and Abu Dhabi shows he still has plenty of talent, however.
VERDICT: Put in his place by his teammate this year after a strong début season at Mercedes; he hasn’t yet proven his right to be Hamilton’s successor.
12th: Nico Hülkenberg (Haas)
You have to feel for both Haas drivers this season, who have been given a car and a team that doesn’t exactly offer many opportunities for top results. Nonetheless, when Hülkenberg has had a chance, he has taken it – he came excruciatingly close to a début podium in Australia (if the red flags had played out differently), which ended up as P7, and finished sixth in the Austria sprint race. In particular, his qualifying pace deserves plaudits, reaching Q3 eight times and even qualifying on the front row in Canada.
VERDICT: There is very little a driver can do in a car and team like Haas, but Hülkenberg took every chance he got, and fully deserves his seat.
13th: Daniel Ricciardo (AlphaTauri)
It’s hard to review Ricciardo’s season. After six months on the sidelines, he hopped into the AlphaTauri to replace Nyck De Vries (remember him?) in Hungary, but after just two races found himself sidelined for another five races with a broken wrist. It therefore seems unfair to rate him, given he’s had very little time to adjust to the car and recover from a severe injury, but a classy weekend in Mexico in which he started fourth and finished seventh was a sign to Red Bull in case Pérez’s underperformance continues in 2024.
VERDICT: Difficult to fairly judge his performance over the season, but he is staking out a claim for the second Red Bull seat; don’t be surprised if there’s a mid-season swap between the two Red Bull teams.
14th: Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
After a first two seasons in Formula 1 that were blighted by crashes and mistakes, Tsunoda looked to finally string together some sort of consistency in 2023. The AlphaTauri car was by far the slowest in the first half of the season, but he was always in, or on the fringes of, the points. There was a bit of a mid-season drop in form, but he rounded off 2023 with an eighth place from sixth on the grid in Abu Dhabi.
VERDICT: He is slowly evolving into a respectable, consistent driver, but have Red Bull already made their mind up on Pérez’s replacement with Ricciardo, and if so, is there any reason to keep Tsunoda around?
15th: Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
It feels like we’ve seen more of Bottas’ naked butt cheeks than him actually driving on track in 2023. Bottas has had some performances of note this season, including kicking off the season with eighth in Bahrain, which he later repeated in Qatar. However, he has remained somewhat anonymous on the race track, despite firmly beating his teammate in the driver head-to-head, and proving he still has a few years left of driving in him.
VERDICT: No longer at the front of the grid, but still quietly consistent, albeit lacking in raw pace.
16th: Sergio Pérez (Red Bull)
Whilst his teammate soared to world domination, the second Red Bull driver has had a turbulent season. He was riding on a wave of form post-Azerbaijan, some even proclaiming he could challenge for the title. What followed, however, was a frankly embarrassing drop-off in form; he missed out on Q3 nine times (including for five races in a row), and since the summer break has only stood on the podium twice, in possibly the most dominant car in modern F1 history. And this is without even mentioning the run of races from Singapore in which he crashed four times in three weekends.
VERDICT: He has been lucky to hold on to his seat until the end of 2023; although he ended up second in the championship, that is the bare minimum in a car as dominant as the RB-19.
17th: Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
Rating the drivers in backmarker cars such as Haas is a challenge, but Magnussen didn’t exactly set the world alight in 2023, and lacked the top-tier performances of his teammate. There were a handful of highlights – an impressive Singapore weekend, in which he qualified sixth and finished tenth, and qualifying fourth in Miami. However, he has also suffered from many errors, and much like Bottas, a very anonymous season.
VERDICT: Outclassed by teammate Nico Hülkenberg, especially considering Nico had not raced in Formula 1 full-time for three years before 2023.
18th: Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)
I am genuinely shocked Zhou is holding on to his seat for 2024. He has not been atrocious, but his performances can barely be described as mediocre. Zhou messed up his one opportunity to achieve a big result, with a poor start in Hungary after qualifying fifth causing him to crash into Ricciardo at turn 1. He will get a chance to become the first Chinese F1 driver to race on Chinese soil in April, but two seasons in the sport haven’t exactly seen any thrills from Zhou.
VERDICT: With newly crowned Formula 2 champion and Sauber junior Théo Pourchaire waiting in the wings, it’s a surprise that Alfa Romeo haven’t swapped Zhou out.
19th: Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
It’s testament to Stroll’s season that his best results came when he was racing with broken wrists. A pre-season injury put the Canadian’s entire season in doubt, but he miraculously made the start in Bahrain, and impressed with a P6 finish. It was downhill from there, however, as whilst his teammate took consecutive podiums, Stroll struggled on the fringes of the points. A litany of crashes, including in Singapore and Monaco, as well as a lack of pace, will have frustrated his Aston Martin team.
VERDICT: Outscored by 132 points, and outqualified 19-3 – even with a teammate of Alonso’s calibre, that is not good enough, and Stroll hurt his team’s championship position with a strong car this year.
20th: Logan Sargeant (Williams)
At the time of writing, Sargeant remains unconfirmed for the 2024 season, with James Vowles putting some doubt in the paddock’s minds about Sargeant’s future in the sport with his comments after Abu Dhabi. Although he became the first American to score a point in F1 since 1993, Sargeant almost always seemed far off his teammate’s pace, and too often found himself in the wall. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him out of the sport by the time we start 2024.
VERDICT: Being a rookie in F1 is not an easy business, but Piastri and Liam Lawson showed what you should do; Sargeant has been an exercise in what not to do as an F1 rookie.