2023 mid-season F1 driver rankings part 3: 12-9

2023 F1 season

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The third part of RaceFans’ mid-season driver rankings effectively acts as the ‘mid’ tier of the 20 drivers, covering those whose performances through the season to date have been impressive at times, but not as consistently as others.

12 – Valtteri Bottas – Alfa Romeo

Valtteri Bottas

GP start720
GP finish819

When you’ve spent the last five years of your career winning races and constructors’ championships with a team who enjoyed arguably the longest period of sustained dominance Formula 1 has ever seen, you arrive at a modest team like Alfa Romeo with big expectations about what you can do for them. And last year, Valtteri Bottas’s impact on his new team could be felt from his very first weekend in red and white, eventually leading them to a highly respectable sixth in the 2022 standings.

But in 2023, Alfa Romeo’s first half of the season played out much like the second half of last year’s. Points finishes have been rarer than a raw steak for both Bottas and younger team mate Zhou Guanyu, with the 11-year veteran taking points only twice in the opening 12 rounds. However, while every major metric suggests that Bottas remains the best performer in his team, it’s not as lopsided a battle as last year by any means.

The opening weekend in Bahrain saw Bottas and Alfa Romeo peak instantly. Only just out-qualifying his team mate and then jumping four places over a strong opening lap to sit in eighth. Over the rest of the race, Bottas held onto that position to secure four points as ‘best of the rest’ and it looked like another season of picking up points through the year was on the cards. However, it has not played out that way.

Bahrain was Bottas’s best result
He was out-performed across the weekend in Jeddah but picking up debris on the opening lap of the race did him no favours. He couldn’t follow Zhou into the points in Melbourne, but Bottas was even more underwhelming in Baku, where he struggled in the sprint race after gambling on soft tyres and then was the last driver running at the chequered flag on Sunday.

He bounced back in Miami with a solid performance while the car was unable to trouble the top ten, then he just missed out on a point in Monaco by finishing 11th after being one of the first drivers to switch to intermediates as the rain came. His poor performance in Spain was explained by suffering floor damage early on, but he secured his second top ten finish of the year at the next round in Canada, despite being beaten to the line by Lance Stroll.

The final three rounds of the first half of the season were solid enough, even if they didn’t stand out compared to others in the field. He was disqualified from qualifying after running out of fuel at Silverstone which left him at the back of the grid, but he started the race on hard tyres and made good use of them to climb to 13th by the finish. He backed up Zhou in qualifying at the Hungaroring to sit seventh on the grid but was bullied at the start and got stuck behind Alexander Albon in the final stint, then headed into the summer break as the better of the two Alfa Romeo drivers over the Belgium Grand Prix weekend.

With no major errors or exceptionally poor performances, Bottas has been decent enough so far in 2023. But the fact that his younger team mate is just one space behind him in the rankings suggests he might not be fully realising all of his potential.

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11 – Pierre Gasly – Alpine

Pierre Gasly

GP start520
GP finish718

After several seasons stuck at AlphaTauri, few would argue that Pierre Gasly had not earned a fresh start with another team higher up the order to compete for podiums and wins over the years to come. And so by joining Alpine at the start of this year, Gasly had an opportunity to establish himself outside of the Red Bull ecosystem for the first time.

However, it was never going to be an easy start for the 27-year-old. Not only because he was now alongside his historic nemesis Esteban Ocon but because he remained just one penalty point away from being the first driver to be banned from a race for exceeding the 12 penalty point limit over a 12-month period. But despite the pressure, Gasly kicked off life as an Alpine driver in solid style.

In Bahrain, he recovered from the back of the grid to rise up the order and eventually score two points in his first race with his new team, before emulating that result again at the second round in Jeddah, finishing just behind Ocon. While his Melbourne weekend will always be remembered for how it ended at that final restart, his performance up to that point was commendable. He was running as high as fifth until the crash and deserved what was likely to be his best result of the season.

Pierre Gasly, Alpine, Spa-Francorchamps, 2023
Third in the Spa-Francorchamps sprint race was Gasly’s highlight
More disappointment followed at the next round in Baku, where he started Friday by catching fire in practice, then crashed out of Q1. He was knocked out down in 19th in sprint qualifying, then finished well outside the points in the grand prix. But from then on, things picked up for Gasly with four top-ten finishes over the next five race weekends, including his best performance of the first half of the year in Miami where he qualified fifth and finished eighth ahead of his team mate after a solid drive in the race. The next round featured his season-best of seventh in Monaco, although he was overshadowed by his team mate’s brilliant podium.

Gasly continued to pick up points, even if he took 15 seconds’ worth of track limits penalties in Austria. There was frustration again in Silverstone and at the Hungaroring where he was taken out of both races by errors of others but he headed into the summer break in style by out-performing Ocon in Friday’s qualifying and Saturday’s sprint sessions, taking a third place finish in the sprint race after being one of the first to pit for intermediates. In the grand prix, more bad luck left him stuck behind a damaged Oscar Piastri at the start and cost him multiple places, finishing just outside of the points in 11th.

Although he is currently 13 points behind his team mate in the championship, Gasly has been closer to his team mate than the standings suggest. With a little less misfortune, he could end up closing that gap over the second half of the season.

10 – Nico Hulkenberg – Haas

Nico Hulkenberg

GP start520 (x2)
GP finish718

With three rookies joining the 2023 grid, Nico Hulkenberg’s return to the world championship as a full-time driver for the first time since 2019 singled him out as a fascinating case study among the four additions to the field this season.

Given that Haas had chosen not to continue with the young Mick Schumacher and bring in a driver in their mid-30s to replace him, there was a fair degree of expectation on Hulkenberg to prove his new team right. But he didn’t get off to the best start of the season in Bahrain when, despite reaching Q3 at the first attempt to qualify tenth on the grid, he bumped into Ocon on the opening lap and then finished behind his team mate Kevin Magnussen in 15th after being handed 15s in time penalties for exceeding track limits no less than five times.

But despite that rocky return to racing, he quickly silenced his team’s critics with a solid 12th place in Jeddah before an excellent performance in Melbourne saw him take six points for seventh place after running there for the majority of the race – and he was only a red flag call away from securing a top-four result through the chaos of the finish.

Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, Albert Park, 2023
Hulkenberg had a strong weekend in Melbourne
Miami was not a good weekend as he crashed in first practice at a new track, then finished a lowly 15th as Magnussen took a point. And in Monaco, a silly divebomb on Logan Sargeant on the opening lap rightfully earned him a puncture and a penalty. But from Barcelona onwards, Hulkenberg found real form.

Even though he continuously had to battle with his car eating its tyres in races, Hulkenberg began to regularly out-perform his team mate. He drove exceptionally in qualifying in Montreal to secure a front row start, except he was dropped to fifth for driving too fast under red flags. Sadly in the race, tyre wear was again a problem. However, he suffered the most from a badly timed Safety Car period. Austria was a definite highlight as he secured eighth on the grid in Friday qualifying, then a very strong second row start for the sprint race to run second for half of the 24 laps ahead of Sergio Perez. Frustratingly on Sunday, his car let him down after just 12 laps.

While luck wasn’t on his side in the rounds leading to the break, he continued to be the better of the two Haas drivers. Front wing damage from contact with Perez compromised him at Silverstone but he still rose to 13th, while a 14th place finish at the Hungaroring was probably better than he would have expected. Sadly in Spa, nothing went his way, but that was in spite of him rather than because of him.

Rejoining the grid after so long away, it was easy to be cynical about Hulkenberg’s merits as a driver. But on the basis of what he has shown so far, he’s almost certain to be staying around beyond 2023.

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9 – Esteban Ocon – Alpine

Esteban Ocon

GP start319
GP finish315

Ocon headed into his first season at Alpine without a vastly more experienced team mate for the first time in 2023, knowing that as a driver entering year four at Enstone, he would be expected to be the driver to spearhead his team’s charge. While he sits above new team mate Gasly in the standings after some very strong performances, he has not been without his faults over the first half of the year.

It was not the best start to the championship – quite literally speaking – in Bahrain. Despite reaching Q3 at the first attempt, he was penalised for an incorrect starting position on the grid, then hit by a second penalty for a team procedural error, then a third for speeding in the pit lane before retiring. However, he bounced back with a strong weekend in Jeddah, starting on the third row of the grid and showing solid race pace to finish eighth. He should have followed that up with more points in Melbourne, but a clash with his team mate in which he was not at fault put paid to that.

Nothing went right for Ocon in Baku but there was virtually nothing he could do about any of it. But at least he could add two more points in Miami. However, his Monaco Grand Prix weekend was outstanding. Ocon almost took a stunning pole position and ended up lining up third on the grid, then absorbed pressure across the race and kept cool when the rain came to secure a brilliant podium in third what will likely remain one of the best performances of the entire season.

A podium for Ocon in Monaco was exceptional
A pair of eighth places followed in Spain and Canada before his weakest performance of the first half of the season came at the Red Bull Ring. He did a decent enough job in the sprint sessions on Saturday, but lost his best time in Friday qualifying for track limits before earning ten track limits strikes in the grand prix – setting a new record for receiving five penalties in the same race, even if one of them was for an unsafe release.

Disappointment followed with back-to-back retirements at Silverstone and the Hungaroring, but neither was his fault. However, he added four more points to his tally at Spa to head into the summer break tenth in the standings, but only after running into the barriers in qualifying and rising from 14th to eighth in the grand prix.

As Alpine head into a period of transition over the summer, they need Ocon to be at his best more than ever before. But he has shown that if Alpine can give him the car, he can deliver the points.

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Author information

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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28 comments on “2023 mid-season F1 driver rankings part 3: 12-9”

  1. I was pretty critical of Hulkenberg before the season but he’s done a pretty good job.

  2. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    16th August 2023, 8:24

    I’ve decided to copy what I wrote about Bottas’s season in the from the page with him vs zhou.

    Even this article here has missed out 2 races where Bottas had significent damage resulting in his poor pace. That being Baku and Austria.

    Being realistic here, there has only been 1 race this year where bottas hasn’t had damage where he didn’t beat Zhou on track to the end of the race, and that was Australia. Being just one place apart just because of the points doesn’t really factor in the advantage Bottas has had over zhou – or the bad luck that has impacted him. Realistically, I think Bottas and zhou should be separated by a few more positions than this.

    Here is what I copied from the other page:

    Saudi Arabia: Damage on lap 1 – Damaged floor.
    It was Piastri’s front wing that wrecked his floor. That would have been impossible for any driver to avoid.

    Baku: Damage on lap 1 – hit from the side and behind – Damaged diffuser and bodywork.
    He was on the outside of Turn 2 with Piastri on the inside of him, then Albon also went down the inside, hit Piastri and then Piastri lost control and hit Bottas which damaged his diffuser and bodywork. This was after he had actually made a good start and this damage was the reason why he finished last.

    Spain: Floor damage –
    The team found significant damage to the floor after the race, which is highly likely the reasoning behind Bottas being nearly an entire minute behind Zhou, who was in the points. The team think it was from damage on lap 1. I think it is possibly from debris from Norris’s front wing when he and Hamilton made contact.

    Austria: Damage on lap 1 (Broken front wing)
    It was Tsunoda’s end plate that came flying Bottas’s direction and while it was stuck under the car for a few seconds, Bottas really had to fight with counter-steering to keep his car on track. Then he had the damaged front wing until he pitted, and quite possibly floor damage too. This was what lost him the positions this race.

    Britain: Disqualified from qualifying due to no fuel sample and also could not take part in Q2 due to the teams error.
    While it did not effect him in the race, it was yet another weekend where bad luck hit him.

    I’ve also unconvinced that is it is just a coincidence that Zhou happened to beat Bottas in 3/5 of these occasions. He also did better in Baku too until he retired. To me, Bottas having damage has almost always been the reason why Zhou has done better on race days.

    Zhou has improved / bottas the opposite in qualifying though. But it is certainly down to Bottas’s luck during the races this year that is making them look close. Bottas has looked pretty comfortably on top every time his car hasn’t been damaged pretty much every weekend. Australia was the only weekend where he had no bad luck and he clearly looked worse than Zhou on race day.

    It’s typical of me to defend bottas, but to be fair, I think very few have realised the luck he’s had this year just because none of it has resulted in a DNF and has just resulted in it looking like he’s struggling and slow instead too often.

    1. I don’t recall him having damage in the Austrian GP other than the front wing damage until pit stop, or at least no one from the team mentioned floor damage at the time.
      However, he indeed did sustain damage in the Saudi Arabian, Azerbaijan, & Spanish GPs, although he probably would’ve finished lower than Zhou in those races anyway because of already being behind or having generally worse pace.

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        16th August 2023, 13:43

        His start in Baku was great only to be ruined by the damage. He also only got overtaken by Zhou in the sprint on the last lap. We can’t judge anything about bottas’ pase in any of these races as the damage was done at the start.

  3. Hard to disagree with this one, but Piastri in the top-8 is way too high, since he has lost 10-2 in quali and 7-3 in races finished by both McLarens versus Norris. OK, a couple of them without aero evolutions, but still, before GB (yep, mid-season ranks should consider that the first 10 races weigh much more than the last 3…) his season was being as complicated as a rookie season can be. Strange to rate that ahead of Ocon.

    You could say “well, since he’s a rookie, it’s quite impressive”. And yeah, you are right, but this is precisely the point: he’s a rookie, and since he’s a rookie he has struggled to get to the speed sometimes and he has made a couple of mistakes aswell. So it’s obvious he hasn’t performed as well as some other drivers who has shown more speed.

    Summing up: difference between NOR and PIA during the whole first part of the season has been only slightly smaller than NOR-RIC. You could expect MUCH more from RIC and he was more disappointing, but the job both were/are doing is quite similar. And if PIA keeps working and IMPROVING, in a couple of years he’ll be doing a top-3 job.

  4. I can agree with these rankings & a side note about Gasly I recall he was at ten penalty points at the highest, so two away from a ban rather than one until the pre-Monaco GP Monday.

    1. @jerejj You’re correct – I should’ve been clearer that it was more that he was one infraction away from a ban as you’d typically get at least two points for causing a collision or the like.

      1. From what we’ve seen so far, I think it would have to have been a particularly massive infraction for him to have been given enough points for a ban, probably close to enough for a ban outright. The stewards seem very hesitant to hand out points when a driver is close to a ban. It kinda makes a mockery of the entire penalty points system, IMHO.

  5. George Russell getting some serious British bias here.

    1. HUUUUUGE bias – Lewis has 50% more points, compared to 6-7% gap between Sainz and Leclerc, only has 1 podium finish, finished outside the top 6 only 1 time less than Sainz, yet is ranked miles ahead?

      Nah. Not buying that.

      1. +1 I’ve been quite disappointed with Russell this year. If he’s higher than P8 I’d be very surprised.

    2. Who was Russell worse than on this list? You might argue Ocon, but does Ocon have a comparable benchmark? Gasly has been pretty awful this year and Ocon has been on his level pretty often. I agree that Russell should be at #8, but he definitely wasn’t poorer than Ocon, Gasly, Hulkenberg or Bottas this season.

    3. @hahostolze Really? I think he’s been more consistently good than the Ferrari pair for example (level on points with Leclerc in an arguably worse car, though driving for Ferrari has its strategy downers too). True he’s faded a bit since the Mercedes update – or maybe Hamilton has improved – but the car is clearly difficult, unpredictable and basically flawed, albeit capable of pace intermittently. It’s a second season in difficult circumstances, against a 7-time champion, for a team that lost its way hugely with the new design remit. Many others would have imploded under the pressure.
      That said, aside from Verstappen in first place, I’m kind of confused about where I’d rank anyone else so far. It’s competitive aside from the Red Bull/Verstappen combo, some cars have improved, others faded, and driver performance is difficult to gauge in many cases.

      1. Indeed, when you have aston martin getting so much worse over the season, mclaren suddenly becoming a top car, mercedes and ferrari that can be better a race and worse the next race, it makes it very hard to separate between certain drivers.

    4. Hamilton outqualifies Russell by an average 2,4 places, and outraces him by an average 1,2 places.
      Leclerc is outqualified by Sainz by an average 0,6 places*, and outraces him by an average 0,8 places.

      Both are close, but how is Russell doing so much better? Sainz is dumped all the way down in 14th while Russell sails cleanly into the top 10. Because of that one podium?

      *Yes, Spain, but Leclerc messed that up on his own.

      1. A podium shouldn’t be what saves you in these rankings, perez has 2 wins and he’s as low as he possibly could’ve been placed.

  6. Perez and Piastri are perfect examples of how even people who know what their writing about can’t put recency bias aside. I both expected them to be in this or the last ranking. Both got trashed by their teammates. Yes, Piastri had a race without the upgraded car and Perez qualifying run was disma, but their relative deficit in race pace was quit equal and arguably even favours Perez. Piastri has the “luck” that his good performance were just before the summer break (although still comprehensively being beaten by Norris) whereas Perez best races were early on.
    Piastri of course did better overall and improved over the season but in a rating like this there shouldn’t be a Rookie bonus so no way they are 10 places apart.

    1. @roadrunner These rankings are 100% following Will’s individual race rankings throughout the year, so there is no recency bias factor. I think the other thing is that due to the way Will has being doing the rankings, the differences between drivers in terms of average points are very small over the year, so that gap of 10 places covers probably quite a low range of scores. I think potentially that also means drivers get heavily punished in the rankings for those mistakes and off weekends, which Piastri hasn’t had too many of even though he has almost always finished behind his teammate.

      1. Thanks for having checked that. I happily stand corrected. Fair points with mistakes beeing heavily punished but imho speed should matter more than consistency and that’s where Piastri (so far) has problems with in comparison to Sainz and Perez and Norris of course.

      2. They are not 100% following the race rankings. From the top of the Part 1 article:

        These rankings are largely based on RaceFans’ race weekend driver ratings for each round of the season so far, which assess driver performance across Friday, Saturday and Sunday. However, there are other factors that will be considered when ranking each driver’s form across all of those rounds.

        1. Considering last year’s rankings were EXACTLY the average of the race by race ratings, that remains to be proven: you need to find at least 1 example of a driver who isn’t where the average of those ratings indicates he would be.

  7. Coventry Climax
    16th August 2023, 12:49

    The rankings leave room for discussion, clearly, but overall, I think this is fairly decent.
    Wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a comment though:
    We often heard that good drivers can only do so much when in a bad car, and that a bad car therefor usually seems to close the gap between drivers. That makes sense, as when a car only has about 70% of the preformance of other cars, it’s easier for a not so good driver to get to the car’s max possible performance than it is for the better driver to surpass the car’s performance.
    I wonder how much of this is at play between team mates in general this season.
    For example, I’m not Bottas’ biggest fan, but is it possible this is what’s going on at Alfa? Then blaming Bottas for that does not actually have a place in a drivers ranking?

    1. Coventry Climax
      16th August 2023, 12:52

      Last sentence: does not actually => should not actually

    2. It’s possible, but the Alfa isn’t that bad. And you still see significant differences at Red Bull II, which is arguably a worse car, and at Haas, which has also had some slow weekends.

  8. Fair enough so far, though I’d rank Sainz a bit higher and – going purely by subjective impressions than results – I think Ocon has had a good season so far, I anticipated him being higher. Aside from Verstappen, I’d say Ocon, Norris and Piastri have most caught my attention at various points. All very close though.

  9. This seems fair and @willwood provides enough context to understand his point of view.

  10. These 4 were not controversial at all imo: having accounted for sainz and perez being further back than I expected, I was indeed expecting these 4 in these positions, in varying possible orders.

  11. i wish you the best. where did you learn to blog?

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