2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #8: George Russell

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George Russell had spent three long years waiting for his opportunity to prove he was capable of fighting for world championships in a top team when he joined Mercedes in 2022 – and he made a strong first impression.

Although Mercedes were never in contention for the title practically from the opening test of last season, Russell managed to out-score his seven-times world champion team mate Lewis Hamilton at the first attempt and even secure his first grand prix victory and the team’s only triumph of the season in Brazil.

The 2023 season was supposed to be when Mercedes turned the table and became regular race winning contenders once more. But not only did that fail to materialise, Russell also had a much more up-and-down season compared to the consistency he showed through his first season as a factory driver.

Russell arrived in the new season appearing to carry over the momentum that he had from the end of 2022 as the opening rounds of the season saw maybe his strongest run of the year. He out-qualified Hamilton in Bahrain but lost position to him at the start and finished five seconds and two places behind him. But in Saudi Arabia, Russell had a very strong showing. He qualified fourth, which became third after Leclerc’s penalty, and was originally promoted onto the podium in third after pushing hard to stay within five seconds of Fernando Alonso in the closing laps on old tyres. Unfortunately for Russell, Alonso’s penalty was reversed, but his performance had not been made to look any worse because of it.

George Russell, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2023
Appalling luck in Australia robbed Russell of a result
With apparent high confidence coming from Jeddah, Russell was outstanding in Melbourne. He was just a tenth of a second away from beating Max Verstappen to pole position and then muscled his way into the lead past the world champion at the start. When the Safety Car was deployed, he pitted for hard tyres to put himself in what appeared to be an extremely strong position – only for the race to be red-flagged, destroying any advantage he had. He never got to fight back once the race resumed as his power unit failed soon after the restart. He deserved to have been fighting Verstappen for the win, but he ultimately left Australia with nothing.

His Miami weekend was another formidable one. He turned a sixth place start into fourth thanks to a great start and multiple overtakes during the race to finish in fourth, the best result he could have expected behind two Red Bulls and Alonso. He finally achieved that first podium of the season in Barcelona after turning a disappointing qualifying position into third place to back up his team mate in Mercedes’ strongest showing of the early season.

But around mid-season Russell encountered a slump. A bizarre error in the Canadian Grand Prix saw him crash out while in a three-way fight for second place – the most embarrassing moment of his Mercedes career up to that point. Then between the British and Dutch rounds, Russell was beaten to the chequered flag by Hamilton every time on Sunday. Hungary was a particularly frustrating weekend as despite team principal Toto Wolff admitting Mercedes likely had the second-fastest car on track, Russell was knocked out of Q1 while Hamilton took pole. Although he recovered to finish in sixth, it was a significant missed opportunity.

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The second half of the season after the summer break started off in stronger fashion as Russell out-qualified Hamilton at Zandvoort, Monza and Singapore. His gamble to stay out on slicks in Zandvoort as the rain fell at the start of the race did not pay off and he was unlucky to suffer a puncture after late contact with Lando Norris which dropped him out of the points. Then in Monza, Russell was comfortably quicker than Hamilton across the weekend, finishing just one place ahead in the race but with a margin of over 20 seconds.

George Russell

GP start2 (x3)18
GP finish3 (x2)17

Singapore was his and Mercedes’ best chance of victory across the season. With Red Bull nowhere, Russell split the Ferraris in qualifying to line up second but was beaten off the line by Charles Leclerc. Later in the race, an aggressive strategy call allowed him to catch up to leader Carlos Sainz Jnr and second-placed Norris, but despite his efforts, the McLaren driver held firm. Heading into the final lap, however, Russell completely misjudged his entrance to turn ten and clipped the wall, sending him spearing into the barriers and out of the race. Furious with himself, Russell branded it a “pathetic” error on his behalf as he lost not just a podium but crucial points in the constructors’ championship for Mercedes.

The next time he qualified on the front row, in Qatar, he suffered another awkward moment when he collided with Hamilton at the first corner of the grand prix, putting his team mate out of the race and dropping him to the back of the field. However, Hamilton correctly accepted full responsibility for the clash and Russell managed to fight his way back up the order in punishingly hot conditions to salvage fourth place with an excellent recovery drive to cap off what had been a very good three days.

But towards the end of the season, he experienced another dip. At the Circuit of the Americas, Russell looked ragged. He picked up multiple penalties during the sprint sessions on Saturday and lost multiple places at the start of the grand prix, finishing over 20 seconds off Hamilton in sixth – though his team mate was later disqualified. Brazil was Mercedes’ worst weekend of the season, pace-wise, but a grid penalty for the grand prix for impeding did not help Russell’s cause.

George Russell, Mercedes, Zandvoort, 2023
A late collision capped Russell’s frustrations in Zandvoort
By the time he headed into the final round in Abu Dhabi with Mercedes looking to fend off a late assault from Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, Russell had not beaten Hamilton to the chequered flag since Monza. But his Yas Marina weekend was one of his better ones and he was the stronger Mercedes driver for the final time in the season, claiming only his second podium of the year in third to secure second place for Mercedes.

Although he salvaged a late draw against Hamilton in the qualifying battle in that weekend, Russell was beaten by Hamilton in almost every other metric. While there is no shame in losing out to the most successful driver of all time, it was striking how Russell seemed to make more mistakes in his second year at Mercedes than his first. But at his best, he showed that Mercedes enjoy one of the absolute strongest driver pairings on the grid.

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Will Wood
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21 comments on “2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #8: George Russell”

  1. Ahead of Sainz…


    1. Indeed quite shocking that Russell gets ranked 8th while over the season he drove the 2nd fastest car but finished 8th in the ranking with just 2 podiums.
      Sainz drove the 3rd fastest car, won a race, on the podium 3 times and finished 7th in the WDC with less pure driver error mistakes.

      Above 2 examples also shows how badly Perez is ranked – Perez got beaten by a far superior driver in the best car of the field no different than Bottas was from 2017-2021. Still won 2 races, got 9 podiums and 2nd in WDC but gets ranked 20th.

      Russell should not have been top 10 while Perez should have been – all 3 drivers under performed their car but only Sainz showed true brilliance in the Singapore race using Norris with DRS as shield against much faster Mercedes on fresh tires. Russell in that race failed to properly attack Norris and crashed out due to lack of skill.

      1. I don’t think Sainz giving Norris DRS was ‘pure brilliance’. It was a good move, sure, on a level with Verstappen giving Perez DRS later in the season, or drivers slowing to ensure they have DRS themselves for a window, but not a standout and (to me) not the best thing Sainz did in that race. Being at the front in the first place when he didn’t have the fastest car was more impressive!

        Sainz had a hot streak of three strong races in mid-season, and in one of those, the stars aligned to make victory possible. The rest of the season he was generally ordinary and often mystifyingly slow.

        Russell had a hot streak of five strong races at the start, and in one of those, he drove well enough to be the only person to beat the Red Bulls fair and square on their good day – if a red flag and engine failure hadn’t intervened. The rest of the season he was generally fast but made mistakes.

        I think it’s fair that the two are in the same part of the rankings. I would probably have put Sainz 8 and Russell 9, but there’s not a huge amount to pick between them. They’re both in broadly the right place.

      2. Perez was far, far worse than russell this season. His 2 wins both had an element of luck in them, and one was hardly even deserved. And 9 podiums in by far the best car is really poor, especially when you look at some of the positions he finished in. There was one point in the season where he only scored 21 points across 5 weekends, including sprints which is just abysmal. Bottas even in his worst season at mercedes in 2018 was nothing like as bad as perez this year. While bad luck hit him every time, he at least looked to be fighting for several deserved wins that season, and that was when ferrari arguably were matched to them.

        1. Mostly agree, there’s no way perez should be anywhere near sainz or russell this year, but I think the 2 wins were pretty well deserved, it was early season and he was still driving well enough to be fairly competitive: the race where verstappen had to recover from the back I expected him to go catch perez, but perez just had similar pace and kept ahead, and I certainly didn’t expect a lucky VSC to be enough for perez to win, it’s still wins not many drivers would’ve pulled off this year.

      3. Ferrari was the 2nd quickest car, not Merc

        1. thanks to the stewards in the last race. +5 seconds Perez, for doing far less than Verstappen does on the average.

    2. Carlos Sainz Jr.. is constantly underrated in this forum. However his last 2 races were uncharacteristically poor (and had massive bad luck at Las Vegas) and spoiled a bit a pretty decent year. The last few races always seem to count the most in people’s estimation, that’s human nature I guess.. Anyway I would had rated Carlos fourth to fifth. Definitely fourth before Las Vegas. George Russell eighth is about fine with me.

    3. Putting Sainz below Russell is astonishing. Sainz was closer to his teammate, scored a win, made less mistakes. I am having a hard time to find any reason why Russell would be rated better this year.
      Apart form him being British maybe, but that’s a little cheeky.

  2. Love George and generally rate him highly.

    But this year he deserves to be lower than Carlos, and only just in the top 10 due to some understated drives earlier in the season.
    The second half of the season was in my opinion his worst spell in F1, salvaged only marginally by a good race in Abu Dhabi.

  3. This is incredibly generous. If Bottas delivered a season like this F1 fans would be calling for his head, not ranking him ahead of the only driver to win a race in something other than a Red Bull and just behind an incredibly impressive rookie.

    1. it’s just his nationality. The media in general are much more lenient with drivers coming from the UK…

      1. Yes, there is a persistent bias towards the English in much of F1 media. Like F1 itself, it is predominantly based in England, and as the English constantly rank as the least bilingual people in all of Europe, there is a tendency to gravitate towards ‘people like us’. As honorary English, the Australians benefit from this effect, too. It’s very disappointing that F1 has resorted to copying English SKY for their F1 team rather than make it a truly global effort.

        That Hamilton, Russell, Norris, Piastri and Albon are all ranked ahead of race winner Sainz is a bit much. Hamilton and Norris? Sure, I guess. But all of them? Not quite.

        1. Their F1TV team, that is.

        2. Yes, a couple of those could’ve been behind, russell and piastri would be my pick, I thought albon was impressive with a not so great car this year.

  4. If George Russell was named Jorge Ribeiro he would not be ranked this high.

    Outshone by Hamilton all year, often anonymous, wasted his shot at the win in Singapore, crashed out multiple times, clashed with other drivers more than once. It was not the season George was looking for. He is now going into his third season at Mercedes, but the old generation he was meant to replace still looks better in every way.

    Competent, sure. But that goes for all of the grid. At no point does he look like he’s shaping up to be Verstappen’s nemesis over their shared career.

  5. Too high. Shouldn’t be on the top 10.
    Just like in ’22 he was always waiting for luck to help him, to the point of imagining rain in a sunny day.

    He got his wishes in Monaco and Zandvoort and ruined both by his own hand.

    Weak season, in which he knew doing a safe ’22-like season again just bringing it home wouldn’t cut, and the mistakes came.

  6. It was a poor season from Russell. The bare minimum should have been to outperform Hamilton again, but he was comprehensively beaten. He had some decent drives but made too many mistakes and his wheel-to-wheel racing is still arguably the poorest of any driver in the top four teams. I’d have placed him outside the top ten, personally.

    1. Anyone who thinks he “outperformed” Lewis hasn’t been watching F1 long.
      We all saw what was going on at Merc 2022.
      2023 Lewis destroyed him and Lewis was far from even close to his best level.
      No shame for George but please i wish people would stop with this nonsense about having “outperformed” Lewis.

  7. CP

    I love the general assumptions that at the very least he should have beaten Hamilton again. Hamilton has never had a team mate beat him twice let alone sequentially! Most give up – even world champions!

  8. It was definitely disappointing for Russell. Pace was there as we saw in qualifying but he never seemed to close out races with strong finishes. I bet the engine failure in Australia damaged his confidence. But I have no doubt he will learn from this, he’s self aware enough to know what went wrong. He will bounce back next year.

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