2023 mid-season F1 driver rankings part 2: 16-13

2023 F1 season

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In the second part of RaceFans’ mid-season driver rankings running all this week, it’s time to look at the drivers who have not been the most disappointing performers of the season so far, but have still not been as impressive as the majority of their peers.

16 – Kevin Magnussen – Haas

Kevin Magnussen

GP start419 (x3)
GP finish10 (x2)19

When Kevin Magnussen was brought back suddenly and offered a second lease of life in Formula 1 early last season, he came back with a bang and made his young team mate Mick Schumacher look second-rate over their year together. In 2023, the return of veteran Nico Hulkenberg was always going to be a bigger challenge for Magnussen – and so far, he is coming off second best.

Sitting in just 18th place in the drivers’ championship on only two points, Magnussen is conspicuously behind Hulkenberg in the standings. However, both Haas drivers have recorded just two top ten finishes each in the first 12 rounds – reflecting the challenges that the pair have faced during races. The VF-23 suffers from severe tyre degradation compared to its rivals which results in the Haas drivers regularly dropping down the order whenever they qualify in a decent position.

But even with that difficulty, Magnussen has clearly not done as good a job as Hulkenberg despite being with the team for a full season before Hulkenberg joined them. Magnussen has only beaten his team mate three times in qualifying so far this season. While Hulkenberg has only been knocked out of Q1 three times and reached Q3 as often as Sergio Perez, Magnussen has been eliminated at the first hurdle seven times and reached the top ten only once.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Red Bull Ring, 2023
Magnussen has been upstaged by team mate Hulkenberg
And during race days, Magnussen hasn’t exactly set the track alight. His Sunday in Jeddah was easily the most impressive as he muscled past Yuki Tsunoda in the final laps to snatch the final point, but that was probably the highlight of the season so far. He was far off the level of his team mate in Melbourne and retired when he appeared to just drive into the wall late in the race.

But while Melbourne was the only time in the opening five rounds where he failed to finish ahead of his team mate, he could not say the same for the vast majority of rounds that followed. Magnussen was behind his team mate in Monaco, Spain, Canada and Hungary – the latter of which was another bad weekend where he failed to follow Hulkenberg out of Q1 and was running last in the race until Logan Sargeant spun with a handful of laps remaining.

Aside from the low points, Magnussen has simply not been all that impressive. He will be eager to make sure he changes the narrative over the second half of the season.

15 – Yuki Tsunoda – AlphaTauri

Yuki Tsunoda

GP start819
GP finish10 (x3)19

Yuki Tsunoda’s third season in Formula 1 has, on paper been his most impressive so far. While the AlphaTauri is clearly one of the slowest cars in the field, Tsunoda was the only one of the team’s drivers to score points in the first half of 2023 – doing so on three occasions.

It could easily have been more, though, as he finished just outside of the points in 11th place in three of the first five rounds, finishing tenth in the other two. It was undoubtedly the best start to a season that Tsunoda has enjoyed in his three seasons in the sport.

Helpfully for his own standing, Tsunoda was easily the better performer out of him and rookie team mate Nyck de Vries. In the ten rounds they competed together, Tsunoda got the better of De Vries eight out of ten times in qualifying, reaching Q3 in both Baku and Monaco. There were also only two occasions when Tsunoda failed to reach the finish line on Sunday ahead of De Vries, in Monaco – after running off track at Mirabeau in the wet – and at the Red Bull Ring.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Red Bull Ring, 2023
Tsunoda had nine track limits strikes in Austria
He probably should have scored two more points in Spain but was hit with what he called a “very harsh” penalty for forcing Zhou off the track in the final laps which dropped him from ninth to 12th. But his weekend in Austria was easily Tsunoda’s worst of the year so far. He was knocked out of Q1, then lost his best time in sprint qualifying due to track limits. Then in the grand prix, he damaged his front wing at turn one in a move that looked like a typical divebomb in an open lobby race online and then earned 20 seconds of time penalties for nine track limits infringements.

But what was perhaps more striking was Hungary, where he was out performed by Daniel Ricciardo over the weekend despite the returning veteran never driving the team’s car before Friday practice. In his third year in Red Bull’s junior team, how Tsunoda fares against Ricciardo in the last ten rounds is likely going to determine his future in Formula 1.

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14 – Carlos Sainz Jnr – Ferrari

Carlos Sainz Jnr

GP start211 (x2)
GP finish412

The fact that a Ferrari driver can be so far outside of the top ten rankings at the mid-season stage suggests two things. First, that Carlos Sainz Jnr has underperformed over the course of the first half of the year and, secondly, that the quality of the field is so strong this season that even being merely ‘decent enough’ will leave you looking outclassed by the majority of your peers.

Perhaps the most telling statistic about Sainz’s season so far is that while he sits in seventh place in the drivers’ championship, just seven points behind both George Russell and his Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc, Sainz is one of only two drivers in the top ten positions in the championship not to have finished on the podium so far in 2023. In fact, Sainz has only finished as high as fourth once in the opening 12 rounds, that being the opening race in Bahrain – which even then was mainly down to Leclerc breaking down from third place.

It’s not accurate to say Sainz has been bad this season or had any especially poor weekends. However, it is fair to say that he hasn’t exactly stood out on many occasions throughout the first half of the year. His home grand prix in Spain was his best weekend as he secured his only front row start of the season and while he dropped to fifth in the race, that reflected more on the superior race pace of the Red Bulls and Mercedes than it did his own performance.

Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023
Sainz’s best finish remains fourth from Bahrain
It’s also true that the performance level of the top four teams behind Red Bull has varied wildly in 2023. But whenever Ferrari have been at their strongest in the first half of the season – such as Baku, Montreal and the Red Bull Ring – it’s been Leclerc who has made the most of the car each and every time. He admitted he just didn’t have the pace of Leclerc in Baku, who locked out pole for the sprint race and the grand prix, and in Montreal he crashed in practice, lost three places on the grid after blatantly impeding Pierre Gasly in qualifying and then followed behind his team mate in the race.

Sainz will know he’s capable of better than what he’s shown through the first half of the season. The question is, will he find a way to improve?

13 – Zhou Guanyu – Alfa Romeo

Zhou Guanyu

GP start520
GP finish9 (x2)16 (x4)

Retrospectively, the struggles that two of this year’s three rookies – Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant – have endured over the opening half of the season makes Zhou’s rookie campaign of last year look all the more solid by comparison. However, Zhou Guanyu is no longer a rookie and would have been expected to step up in his second season – something, arguably, he has pretty much achieved.

Although Alfa Romeo’s drop in performance compared to the first half of 2022 has drastically reduced the opportunities for Zhou to make big splashes over the course of the season, the second-year driver has been much more equal in performance to team mate Valtteri Bottas over the opening 12 rounds of 2023 compared to last year. Although he is losing the qualifying battle by eight-to-four, Zhou finishes ahead of his far more experienced team mate just over a third of the time on Sundays – an improvement over last year.

More crucially, Zhou has the same number of points finishes – two – as Bottas has achieved in the same timeframe, contributing four of his team’s nine points in the constructors’ championship after top ten finishes in both Melbourne and Barcelona. He likely could have had another top ten in Jeddah had he not suffered slow pit stops and lost out with an inconvenient Safety Car. He was on very good form in Spain as he out-qualified Bottas, gained four places with an excellent start and eventually finished ninth after being promoted one position for being ‘forced off’ by Tsunoda as they battled in the final laps.

Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo, Monaco, 2023
Zhou is matching his team mate more regularly in 2023
His only real bad weekend came in Canada – the scene of the best finish of his career for far from 2022. He was slower than Bottas in ever session in Montreal and was eliminated slowest from Q1 and while he benefitted from the Safety Car timing in the race to gain four places, he was unable to make the most of it and finished six places behind his team mate.

But other than that, Zhou’s performances could be characterised largely as ‘fine’. He did brilliantly in Hungary when the Alfa Romeo hit the sweet spot in qualifying to take his highest grid position of his career, but then his race fell apart at the start. While his poor getaway was down to a very peculiar car fault, he had no excuse for rear-ending Ricciardo at turn one and taking out the two Alpines as a result. A rare mistake from the typically reliable Zhou.

While he continues to enjoy a very strong relationship with his team mate Bottas, Zhou’s performance over the second half of the season could have a major impact on how both he and is team mate are perceived in the paddock – both by their own team as well as by their rivals.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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37 comments on “2023 mid-season F1 driver rankings part 2: 16-13”

  1. I don’t like Sainz very much but putting him 14th is beyond ridiculous. He rarely ever has the highs of the top drivers but he has been very consistent this season in terms of scoring good points in a car that’s been 3rd/4th best on average.
    If he’s 14th, then it wouldn’t make sense for Leclerc to be in the top 10 as well, which is unfair to both drivers.

    I can’t believe Zhou is ahead of Sainz…

    1. Yeah, not sure I am really on board with this ranking either. But then, it’s an opinion that can be discussed, so sure, why not.

    2. On what world is Zhou ahead of Sainz in terms of capability…?

      Sweet Racefans, they have to get that click/ragebait in the articles one way or another don’t they, and what better way to do it than lick the appropriate boots at the same time.

      Two birds, with but one stone!

      1. On what world is Zhou ahead of Sainz in terms of capability

        This is a half year performance

        ranking, rather than capabilities.

        If you disagree (we probably all do, one way or the other) it’s worthwhile to review the individual race performance ratings by @WillWood and see if that changes the ranking (average rating over 12 races) so far this season.
        I disagreed with the 9 for Ocon in Monaco; and only this score got him an average rating (and thus ranking) above Hulkenberg, Gasly, and Bottas. And Sainz Jr and Tsunoda were not far behind (3 rating points over 12 races).

        1. with proper formatting above comment would look like this:

          On what world is Zhou ahead of Sainz in terms of capability

          This is a half year performance ranking, rather than capabilities.

          If you disagree (we probably all do, one way or the other) it’s worthwhile to review the individual race performance ratings by @WillWood and see if that changes the ranking (average rating over 12 races) so far this season.
          I disagreed with the 9 for Ocon in Monaco; and only this score got him an average rating (and thus ranking) above Hulkenberg, Gasly, and Bottas. And Sainz Jr and Tsunoda were not far behind (3 rating points over 12 races).

    3. Indeed, looks like a click bait ranking.
      Verstappen is probably 11 in this reversed ranking.

      1. @osnola I find the comments over the past 18 months or so more interesting and generally more informative than the articles.

  2. Well, I do agree with this low rating for Sainz.. but Tsunoda 15th is completely unexpected. He destroyed de Vries, scored 3 points in a dog car, should have been P9 in Spain had he not been harshly penalized, finished three times in P11… I mean, I know it’s strange to compare drivers from different teams, but he is tied 6-6 with Alex Albon in qualifying, and I think we all agree the Williams is a faster car in single lap and Alex is doing a hell of a job. And he is also close in inter-team battles with Bottas (putting him at least 12th is surprising, his season is disappoiting) and Zhou, with a better machinery.

    IDK, maybe Yuki is a bit underrated in this one, after solid efforts in Sakhir, Baku and Spa recently.

    1. Yuki’s performance this season is underrated (not just in this ranking). He had some stellar races (Monaco was great) where he didn’t end up with much deserved points. I guess he was a bit rattled by the arrival of Ricciardo (or all the noise) in Hungary but pulled himself together at Spa and made it very clear it’s not set in stone that Ricciardo will be the faster of the two. I would have put Yuki before Bottas and Zhou in this ranking.

    2. The problem is that I could make the argument the other way. The car might not be as bad as we think it is. Our only measure is the performances of De Vries, which are downright terrible, and Tsunoda himself, who up until this season wasn’t all that great. So what if the car looks worse because of who was driving it?

      As for Spa, it’s easy to forget that Daniel was compromised for a track limit error in qualifying, which I don’t fault any driver for, everyone can get a snap of oversteer by only the slightest of margins, it happens. What’s more is that showed in the sprint he more than had the pace to be ahead of Tsunoda. Again, while being rusty and coming into the car mid-season it reflects poorly on Yuki. Yes, he had some okay performances around P10 throughout the early season, but is that really much different from his performances last year? It’s just that his measuring stick changed from Gasly to De Vries, and he obviously looks better in comparison to De Vries than he does to Gasly.

      Now am I saying he’s performing terribly? No, he’s fine. And I’d say the same for all these four drivers. They’re all fine, but in the current field I think there’s a lot of competition for the 6 to 16 position in these rankings and I wouldn’t nescessarily put Yuki over those yet unnamed.

      1. @sjaakfoo This will probably always be a mystery to those on the outside. As you note, Tsunoda was hardly impressive in 2021 and 2022. If he can finish 10th now, is it a good result? Or would Gasly have finished 6th? If Ricciardo eventually takes an 8th place with Tsunoda in 12th, does that mean Tsunoda hasn’t improved, or that Ricciardo is now no better than Gasly, or that he’s still as poor as he was at McLaren but Tsunoda is even worse? It’s pretty much impossible to really tell, especially because the team will not say anything about it (having little agency of their own, and being beholden to people who have a stake in how both Tsunoda and Ricciardo are perceived).

        In his book, Ross Brawn describes how he was left frustrated and puzzled by the comments Alesi and Berger made about the Benetton B196. In his view, it was every bit as good as the championship winning B195. But both Alesi and Berger had a whole list of complaints about its behaviour, its characteristics, etc. Now to their credit, they did take 10 podiums second only to the dominant Williams, but we’ll never know what Schumacher could have done with that car had he not switched to Ferrari.

        1. It’s interesting to bring up the 1996 benetton, it was clearly a better car than ferrari that year and I think schumacher could’ve won some races with it, but wouldn’t have been a championship contender, however as schumacher brought key personnel with him to ferrari, had he not left, it’s very possible the car would’ve been even more competitive, and on top of that schumacher was a far better driver than alesi and berger, so maybe with everything put together it could’ve still been fighting the williams.

        2. Exactly. You can never know how good you are going against a rookie like Dev or Sar. Mick looked really good vs Maz.

      2. Well that’s the fun thing about these rankings and judging the performance of drivers in general – in most cases it’s really hard to draw conclusions (bar someone who is clearly out of his depth like Mazepin) because you really only have the inter team battles as a yard stick and the people who can really judge the performance of a driver is the team. So maybe you are right and the De Vries was really not up to it and Yuki is just having an okay season so far. I believe otherwise, but the second half of the season will tell that story! Looking forward to it!

  3. Getting puzzelde by the rankings. And putting the kettle on for a cuppa. To watch the comments rolling in. I really like the rankings though it’s always fun to see other perspectives.

  4. Sainz and Leclerc are the closest team mates on pure average pace. How is he 14th?
    Tsunoda is in his best season yet and putting that car where it doesn’t belong – like Albon, like Hulkenburg. 15th?

    Where is Bottas? Where is Russell? Both Alpines getting away very well as well…

    Honestly, what are we doing? Race ranking or ping pong?

    1. Also a bit funny that if Tsunoda is having his “best season yet” in a dog of a car, shouldn’t that also somewhat influence our view of De Vries having done a horrible job as really a rookie with a dog of a car? And Sainz this far back? Is he rated only in relation to Perez? And then still, did Perez who beat Verstappen a few times this year really be that far back?

      To me the ratings feel about as solid as the weekly evaluation of the weekend per driver. I guess it’s fun being surprised and kept wondering?

      1. @bascb I called for a re-evaulation of De Vries in the other article. I think most of the paddock realises that De Vries, whilst hardly stellar, was barely underperforming the car, especially for a rookie. Sure, he was probably 18th or 19th worst (after Stroll and Sargeant), but in this field, that’s okay.

    2. Yeah. I was going to sit back and relax to read all the list from the oldest piece and lost my interest after the first two. Too many jokes.

  5. Just because Sainz is slightly slower than Leclerc is no good reason to put him behind everyone who is slightly faster than their respective teammates. At least with Pérez there is the obvious qualifying problems one can point to. But Sainz?

  6. Yuki is like 6th best driver this year (behind Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc, Norris, and Alonso), pretty much on pair with Alex Albon, but yet he’s ranked behind one of the worst drivers this year like Carlos Sainz.

    Sainz is usually off the pace, significantly slower than Leclerc, making too much mistakes – which should be unacceptable on the level of Ferrari. I can recall only 1 (one) clean weekend from Carlos, when he really did the best he could, and brought best possible result – in Spain. Apart from that, he’s constantly losing points which were possible.

  7. I hope Max isn’t rated #1 just to see more crazy comments! Very enjoyable!

    1. Imagine Lewis on #1 ;-)

      1. Will be Charles ofcourse! :)

  8. I’m also slightly baffled by the specific order, but to be fair to Yuki, he only lost out in Monaco because of something out of his control, unlike in Austria.
    Btw, I recall his off happened at St. Devote rather than Mirabeau, but secondary for overall judgment.

  9. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
    15th August 2023, 10:13

    Are these based on the average race weekend ratings like last year? Obviously the Sainz place is a bit silly but it’s crazy to think when at Mclaren he was rated 3rd/4th best on the grid for a couple of seasons running on this site (I think). Crazy how quick things can change in the wrong team/car.

    1. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      15th August 2023, 10:18

      I checked, they are in order of the average results post Belgium weekend ratings.

      1. It’s a bit sad imo, because that way we can already know where each driver will be, instead of having to think about how a driver performed.

    2. In my opinion the weekend ratings of Sainz are often based on the expected resulrs of a Ferrari rather than the realistic results of this Ferrari.

      I think it is unlikely that Zhou would have outperformed Sainz in the same car this season.

      In defense of the authors. It is hard to compare decent drivers in different cars.

  10. Yuki ands Sainz being done dirty here – The Ferrari has rarely been the 2nd fastest car (early season it was Alonso, then the Mercedes, then the McLaren), yet Sainz is in the same points ballpark as Russell and Leclerc (Russell being miles off Hamilton’s tally, yet rated higher?).

    Yuki has more points finishes than either of the Alpha or HAAS drivers, as well as more 11th places than any of those AND Albon, and made his team mate look so bad he was sacked…. yet 15th?

    If you want a fair and accurate ranking, go watch Matt and Tommy’s.

  11. Ridiculous to see Tsunoda and Sainz ranked below Zhou and Bottas, pleased however to see almost everyone in the comments defend them.

  12. Coventry Climax
    15th August 2023, 15:24

    I’ve heard it said a couple of times now, that we have a (particularly) strong driver field this year.
    When I classify drivers as either B(backmarker), M (Midfielder) or T (Top contender), leave out the ones that did just one race, and count how many of each were present over the years 2015 to now, there’s nothing much to actually backup saying that.

    I’m sure people will categorize different drivers differently. It would maybe be interesting to use the Racefans driver season evaluations for this, but I can’t find that for all the years I need or I have no access to it. And on the other hand, people also frequently disagree with that, so maybe doesn’t matter much.
    Sure, in my ‘system’, some drivers changed rating over the years, as they near the end of their careers for example, like Massa, Button, Räikkönen and Vettel. Ricciardo also changed rating, and I’m sure some will disagree.

    If the field is closer, but it is not due to the average driver level, then there must be another reason.
    I feel it has to do with the rules trying to get the cars more equal, and for a couple of years already. Sure, there’s Red Bull as an exception, but the exception doesn’t necessarily make the rule wrong. On the other hand of the spectrum, we’ve seen teams like Williams and McLaren bounce back from being backmarkers, and teams such as Aston Martin make relatively big strides. That all is not due to their drivers, and certainly not to the drivers only.

  13. For sure Sainz has been a bit disappointing so far this year but there are still a few drivers not cited yet I’d put below him.

  14. I would’ve expected magnussen, tsunoda, zhou and bottas in here, with various possible orders, very surprised to see sainz, as he didn’t really have perez’s lows and while he was generally lower than leclerc, there’s also been races where leclerc made mistakes and sainz brought the points home, I would’ve had him inside the top 10

    1. slower than leclerc*

  15. Sainz is too low. He’s not a great driver but he rarely disappoints on being average either. 4th to 8th place, that’s his zone and he’s rarely not there.
    The all great Leclerc is just a few points ahead of him, so unless Leclerc is also out of the top 10, this doesn’t make any sense.

    1. Exactly, and given that Pérez qualifying woes have been counted against him particularly harshly (and justifiably so), it’s worth mentioning that Sainz has the 2nd best average qualifying position of them all, second only to the dominant Verstappen. He was in Q3 11/12 times, and lines up 11th in Hungary where he was arguably a victim of the tyre rules then in effect, as they were particularly troublesome on the Ferrari (although Leclerc did better).

      Is that in part because some others have registered some deep lows? Sure. But not having deep lows is a quality in and of itself. As is often said: you want to maximize the bad weekends, and Sainz is doing pretty good.

      His races haven’t been particularly impressive. But then again, that’s true for many people. The average finishing positions line up as Red Bull 1st/2nd, Mercedes 3rd/5th, and Ferrari 6th/7th. Alonso is in between there in 4th (for now). It’s about what you’d expect from the 3rd/4th best car on the grid.

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