2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #1: Max Verstappen

Formula 1

Posted on

| Written by

Over the 74 years of Formula 1, there have been 1,615 occasions of drivers being classified in the world championship.

In 2023, Max Verstappen achieved more throughout his world championship-winning season than all the other 1,614 campaigns in the history of the sport.

Whether Verstappen was the best driver in the grid this year is of no debate. Even his most hardened detractors could not reasonably claim that the world champion did not perform at an exceptionally high level throughout the season.

Statistically, Verstappen’s year was unlike any seen before in the sport. A total of 19 grand prix victories from 22 starts – a winning rate of 86.36%. An unprecedented tally of 575 points – a margin of 290 over his nearest rival at the end of the championship. Leading 1,003 grand prix laps over the course of the season – obliterating Sebastian Vettel’s previous record by 264. He may not have broken any qualifying or fastest lap records, but no driver has ever been so dominant on Sundays (and Saturday in Las Vegas) as the now three-times champion was in 2023.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Miami, 2023
Following his Baku disappointment, Verstappen went on a rampage
It would be easy to point to the relentlessly fast, unstoppably reliable RB19 that Red Bull provided him as a reason for his unparalleled success, yet that would fail to give him the credit that he fully deserves. After all, the 2023 championship featured a historically tight field in which the order behind Red Bull fluctuated from round-to-round. Red Bull were always on top – except for Singapore – but the fact so many races finished with the RB19 lapping only a handful of rivals or even none at all showed that its performance advantage was nothing compared to the most legendary and dominant cars from Formula 1’s history.

No, Red Bull set multiple new records in 2023 precisely because Verstappen was able to get the best out of it every time he climbed into the cockpit. It’s telling how team mate Sergio Perez – a multiple race-winner – managed only two victories in the same car. And even then, he required something to go wrong for Verstappen to do so.

In Saudi Arabia, the second round of the season, a sudden driveshaft failure in qualifying left Verstappen down in 15th on the grid. But by half distance, he was already up to second place. If he had started from near the front of the field – where he most likely would have – it’s highly debatable whether Perez would have held his team mate off over the race distance. Similarly in Baku, Perez seemed to have genuinely strong pace on the Sunday. But the timing of the Safety Car allowed Perez to jump Verstappen in the pits, and his pace on the day allowed him to stay there – a situation which never recured.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

After losing in Azerbaijan, Verstappen said he learned something valuable about the RB19 from that afternoon behind his team mate. Whatever that was, it appeared to be fatal to Perez’s championship bid over the rest of the year.

At the next race in Miami, Verstappen made his first costly mistake of the season, ruining his first Q3 attempt with an error. Although he had a second lap to redeem himself, he never got the chance to as Charles Leclerc’s crash ended the session, leaving him ninth on the grid. But while Perez led from pole, Verstappen carved through the cars ahead to be second by lap 15, then chased down his team mate and passed him to win by five seconds in a crushing psychological blow to his only competition for the championship.

That Miami triumph started a historic run for Verstappen. He won every grand prix over the next four months to break the decades-old record for most consecutive grand prix victories with a 10-race winning streak. At every point, he never looked like being in serious peril of defeat. But at Spa-Francorchamps, Verstappen had to work hard for his sprint race and grand prix wins. He chased down Oscar Piastri on Saturday after falling behind pitting for intermediate tyres, while he dropped from pole to sixth on the grid prix grid after a gearbox penalty and still won comfortably by over 20 seconds.

Max Verstappen

GP start1 (x12)15
GP finish1 (x19)5

Even when Red Bull suffered their sole poor weekend of the entire season in Singapore, Verstappen was still one of the best performers on the circuit. He rose up from 11th on the grid to take fifth place right behind Leclerc and could have easily finished higher up had the Safety Car not been deployed at an inconvenient time.

As the season progressed, it was as if Verstappen only grew more powerful. He was untouchable at Suzuka, fastest in all three practice sessions, taking pole by half a second, holding off the McLarens of Piastri and Lando Norris at the start and pulling away for another controlled victory. He had to settle for second in the sprint race in Qatar after being beaten by Piastri in both Saturday sessions, but he dominated on Sunday, leading every lap of the race for victory number 14.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

He was not flawless, as his error in Friday’s qualifying at Circuit of the Americas showed. But while he lost pole position for the grand prix due to a track limits infringement which dropped him to sixth on the grid, he moved his rivals aside to reclaim the lead and take his 50th career victory. A week later, he was beaten to pole by Leclerc in a straight fight in Mexico. But there was nothing the Ferrari driver or anyone could do to keep him from another Sunday stroll to the chequered flag.

(L to R): Carlos Sainz Jr, Ferrari, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Monza, 2023
Monza win meant Verstappen broke a 70-year-old record
By the end of the season, Verstappen arrived in Abu Dhabi with two goals; take his 19th victory of the season and breach the 1,000 laps led barrier while doing so. Naturally, he achieved both, ending his year not just with his third world championship title but heading into the winter on the back of a seven race winning streak and 17 wins from the last 18 rounds of the season.

Not only had Verstappen set other-worldly benchmarks of achievement that likely will never be beaten, he had made the RB19 the most successful Formula 1 car ever built almost single-handedly. Throughout every race weekend his standard had never been lower than ‘great’, while ‘excellent’ had been the norm.

Although winning had become so routine for Verstappen in 2023 that it robbed fans of much of the excitement and intrigue that they tune in for every grand prix Sunday, it was clear all season long that Verstappen’s was a special season – one that will forever be held up among the greatest year-long performances and championship winning campaigns ever fought in the sport.

Some may not have enjoyed witnessing it as so many classic seasons of old, but there was no question that Max Verstappen was the best driver on the grid in 2023, or that he put in one of the all-time best driver performances Formula 1 has ever seen.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

RaceFans 2023 Formula 1 driver rankings

Who was the best driver of the 2023 Formula 1 season? Cast your vote in our annual poll here:

Formula 1

Browse all Formula 1 articles

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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

44 comments on “2023 Formula 1 driver rankings #1: Max Verstappen”

  1. An excellent season review.

    1. Amen to that, it really was special what we were witnessing in our lives.

      1. +1 a magnificent season from Max.

    2. well it’s not really an excellent season review is it.

      but the fact so many races finished with the RB19 lapping only a handful of rivals or even none at all showed that its performance advantage was nothing compared to the most legendary and dominant cars from Formula 1’s history.

      means what exactly?

      lol, this factoid could just as easily mean its driver wasn’t all that. Max was the best, but this is a bit silly, that because he didn’t lap a lot of cars it means it was him and not the car. But we need to see Max in another team don’t we, after Kimi, Seb, Danny for example all showing it was Adrian really

  2. This is it then. No. 1 a no brainer of course. The ranking itself is balanced, well explained and written and (with the exception of Sainz) very reasonable. Much better than the Race weekend grades.
    Thanks for the effort.

  3. Whilst Verstappen is not my favourite driver by any means I have to admit his season this year was nothing short of outstanding and even better than 2022 in my view. His victory in Miami was of course absolutely mega and team mate mate Perez never mentally recovered from that defeat to Max in my opinion . I think Miami and Japan wins were the Verstappen race victories this year I was most impressed by this year. Japan was a particularly impressive performance from Max considering that dominant weekend came off the back of the disappointment in Singapore. Max is a guy in the best car at the peak of his powers and shows no sign of slowing down.

  4. I second that.

  5. Well said.

  6. The only choice, and well deserved. It was one of the best seasons in a long time. The biggest negative is not something Verstappen can control, but it was disappointing that nobody seemed interested in actually challenging him when given the rare opportunity to do so. A far cry from the way Schumacher in 2002 had to frequently fend off a combative Montoya, or even a young Räikkönen looking to make his mark. It robbed Verstappen and us viewers of some potentially memorable moments.

    Anyway, while I (strongly) disagree with some of the rankings, it was nice to get a driver by driver summary of their seasons. Thanks!

    1. The biggest negative is not something Verstappen can control, but it was disappointing that nobody seemed interested in actually challenging him when given the rare opportunity to do so.

      There was one reason for this. DRS. What is the point of wasting your time trying to pass Verstappen on lap one when it is inevitable he will just DRS straight back through at the first opportunity.

      1. Exactly. There simply is little to no chance of keeping a superior car behind you once you‘re in a DRS zone, let alone when the zone is slightly too long to only give the trailing car an opportunity to outbreak you at the end of the straight.

        Plus, the tires are way too fragile to really battle it out and push the other guy to the limit and over it. So why even bother trying…

        We had an involuntary test this year with mandatory stops and drivers were pushing flat out. I loved it. Why not just try a race or two without DRS?

        1. I really would like to see 2 things to get better racing and more battling:
          – replace DRS with the overtake system (OTS) they use in Super Formula, based on fuel flow. Upsides: drivers can use it when and where they want on the track and have a max duration and max amount of uses. It can also be used to close a gap or to counter a attack.
          – remove tire blankets. This adds spice to the first 2 laps after each pitstop and adds power to the undercut which in return sometimes adds to excitement at the end of the stint/race. And yes: this might cause for some drivers to shove it in the gravel, but it is their own responsibility to not do that, like it is when driving on the limit in a qualification. This also brings back a little of the surprises we had back in the day when cars retired more.

  7. My driver rankings for the 2023 season, with the scores in brackets their position relative to 2022.

    1. Max Verstappen (no change). There can be no doubt about who ranks as number one this year. The only real question is whether Verstappen has put in the greatest individual season performance in F1 history, or just one of the greatest. The most remarkable thing about Verstappen’s season in 2023 was his consistency. This could be applied to Red Bull as well, considering they had not a single mechanical problem in a race, and just one in qualifying, all season, but Verstappen himself never had a single off day. There were many situations like qualifying in Silverstone, Zandvoort, Interlagos where the Red Bull may have been the best car but anything less than perfection from Verstappen would have cost him, but he delivered every time. His biggest mistake of the season was a lockup in Singapore qualifying, while only in Baku could there be a case for him being beaten on merit by Perez (he would surely have won in Jeddah without the qualifying problem). Verstappen broke all the records with his 19 victories, and ten consecutive wins, and scored an average of more than 25 points a weekend (thanks to sprint races), also scoring more than double the number of points of Perez in second which is unheard of. It was the most dominant season in Formula 1 history by one driver.

    However, I am reluctant to call it the greatest season in history, simply because the dominance of the Red Bull and the underperforming Sergio Perez meant that there was rarely any real pressure on Verstappen, and so he didn’t appear to be performing at his absolute limit. There were no really special performances like his drive in Austin 2021, or that Jeddah qualifying lap. Because of this, I still don’t think it has surpassed Jim Clark in 1965 as the greatest season ever. But I do think that Verstappen has now become more consistent than any of the other greats in F1 history after going through a 22-race season without any significant off-days or mistakes. His best drive was probably in Monaco, both for the brilliant final sector and holding his own on such old tyres in the rain, while his comeback in Austin after the only other mistake in qualifying, was another standout performance and recovering to almost pass Leclerc for fourth in Singapore after all the bad luck was very impressive. The rate at which he closed on Perez in Zandvoort is worthy of a mention, as is the strong racecraft in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi. Miami was perhaps the defining moment of his season, as from a lowly grid slot he was still able to hunt down and pass polesitter Perez for victory in the closing stages. Verstappen’s season was fully deserving of all the records it broke and it is a genuine contender for the greatest season in history, solidifying his place among the absolute elite of F1 history, but hopefully he will be pushed harder in 2024 by the challenging pack.

    1. 2. Lando Norris (up one). He may still be winless in Formula 1, although he has now matched Nick Heidfeld’s record for most podiums without a win, but I think Norris is now the second-best driver in the world and the one who would give the biggest challenge to Verstappen in the same car. The start of the season in the old-spec McLaren was very disappointing, but Norris still clearly had the upper hand over Oscar Piastri, whose junior record is on par with that of Leclerc and Russell, and he had some standout performances like Spain qualifying. But after the McLaren became competitive in Austria, Norris became the closest challenger to Verstappen, and scored more points than anyone else. And I would still suggest that he was significantly better than Piastri. The weekend at Austin was his most impressive of the season, getting on the front row out of nowhere and staying in contention for victory for such a long time, while in Brazil he gave Verstappen a genuine challenge for the lead and totally left the rest behind. Norris may have been up against a weaker version of Daniel Ricciardo in 2021-2022, but I would argue that he would still have had the upper hand over even Ricciardo at his peak.

      Norris still made quite a few mistakes in 2023, particularly in a number of qualifying sessions towards the end of the year with Mexico the most noticeable and he would surely have been on the podium with a clean qualifying session after that extraordinary fightback in the race, but he has the potential to be the closest rival to Verstappen over the next decade once these are ironed out. Another possible weakness would be his racecraft, although that is considerably less important in the DRS era, but he does tend to allow people to overtake too easily. But while Norris is certainly not a complete driver yet, his raw speed is as good as anyone else on the grid, and surely that first win will come soon.

    2. 3. Lewis Hamilton (up one). While he had certainly recovered a bit after the 2022 season, this still wasn’t Hamilton at his best, and perhaps he has now entered the inevitable decline. It is said that qualifying pace is always the first to go when drivers decline, and this year he seemed very evenly matched with George Russell. But Hamilton’s main weakness in 2023 was his consistency, having random weekends like Abu Dhabi or Monza where he was well off the pace of his teammate, and he also made that one huge blunder in Qatar as well as getting away with hitting Piastri in Monza. However, I fully believe that Russell is one of the top talents of the next generation and, on race pace at least, Lewis Hamilton comfortably still had the edge over him. He may not be as good as he once was, but Hamilton is still among the best drivers out there and I think in general he flattered the Mercedes car in 2023. Apart from those off-weekends.

      Hamilton’s best drive of 2023 was probably Austin, where he totally left Russell behind all weekend and was a serious threat to Verstappen for victory before the disqualification, while Mexico City was similarly strong as he kept the tyres intact to beat the faster Ferraris. Earlier in the season, Hamilton took podiums when the car was good in Australia and Spain, and took a great pole position in Hungary which unfortunately disappeared by turn one. Singapore was perhaps one that got away, as Russell was quicker for most of the weekend, so Hamilton was stuck behind him for that final charge. I think Hamilton is past his peak now and would no longer be able to beat Verstappen in the same car, but he is still good enough to be world champion in the right circumstances.

      1. I love these “entering the decline” qualifying is the first to go” type comments

        Just like 2011 – the only none Red Bull pole position of the year was…

        Lewis Hamilton

        Jeez people he is driving a really bad car he hates that is at best 3/4 car most weekends – yet he is still out there fighting knowing he has no chance. He pretty much single-handedly dragged a 3/4 car to second in the constructors – but no – it’s all about decline and “inevitable”

        Unbelievable – he beat every other driver bar MV and a very lucky Perez this year (and anyone with an ounce sense can see if Perez can get second then they are driving something far beyond anything the others can even imagine)

        Yet somehow the great sages, the pundits and key board warriors – put him below everyone he beat..

        His team mate – highly regarded specialist – finished 8th – and that’s exactly where this cars performance was pretty much all year

        The likes of Ray and Balue even paying forums for the express ability to run the guy down? I mean really..

        What is wrong with people? Did he make mess in your sandbox at some point?

        Go figure?

    3. Thank you
      I appreciate this extensive write-up.

      It might be gone soon though.
      Maybe you can copy-paste each drivers review in the specific stroller so that driver, and include a top21/22 here with only the names and a link to the extensive write up for each driver.

      1. PS my top picks for the year:
        1) Verstappen (no brainer);
        2) Alonso (many impressive drives, and most consistently strong)
        3) Norris and Hamilton. (Norris a tad higher as Hamilton had more lows during the second part of ‘23).

      2. Thank you, you can see the full writeup on my blog.

  8. 4. Fernando Alonso (up one). At the age of 42, it is very unlikely that Alonso is still performing at the level that he did at his peak. It is possible that the Aston Martin, and Lance Stroll, are flattering his performances and there is actually a bit left in the car. But for much of the season it seemed fifth best, so for Alonso to narrowly hold onto fourth in the championship, his best result since 2013, shows he is still among the very top drivers. And the string of podiums at the start of the season when the car was good also suggested Alonso was maximising its potential. But in some of the races at the end, he seemed to drop in performance and Stroll was much closer and sometimes even ahead. I rated Hamilton and Norris ahead because they more often seemed to be putting their cars higher than they should be than Alonso did, although Alonso was more consistent and made fewer mistakes.

    The highlight of Alonso’s season was his podium in Brazil. It is difficult for racecraft to be a defining factor in the DRS era, but that day Alonso proved that his is still the best on the grid with a fantastic defence against Sergio Perez. He also made that brilliant pass on Hamilton for third in Bahrain, while second in Canada and Zandvoort were other strong drives, particularly the latter as the Aston Martin was no longer among the top cars by that point in the season. His worst race of the season was Las Vegas with the silly mistake at turn one and lack of pace thereafter. But he will still be fully worth his place on the grid for a few more years, and is doing a better job in his 40s than Schumacher did.

  9. Best symbiosis of man and car I’ve witnessed in my life.

    1. @rolfski Thank you.
      So few words but so much truth.

      1. I just accidentally reported myself, sigh.

    2. (@rolfski) that’s funny

  10. Complete and utter dominance by car and driver. I have never seen the level of consistency Max has shown these past three years, and I have seen a few drivers over the years with a car just as dominant, if not more.
    For me that is his greatest strength. In ’21 his consistency offset all the extra DNF’s he suffered and in ’22 & this year he has continued that form and crushed his rivals and demoralised his team mate with his relentless results.

  11. For me what comes to mind is an post-race interview with Lando Norris this season, after having finished on the podium. When asked what more he needed from Mclaren he said we just need to improve further or Max needs to make a mistake- which he doesn’t.

    Every single time Norris was on the podium again after that, you could almost sense his feeling of defeat, caused by again finishing second and still not having a win to his name, as well as Max continuing to go without a mistake.

    And you could see it in his driving as well. And Charles’ too. They didn’t really believe in fighting Verstappen for the win. They’d try a lap but then settled for second.

  12. …its performance [RB19`s] advantage was nothing compared to the most legendary and dominant cars from Formula 1’s history.

    Absolutely, we have had enough of that “rocketship” babytalk

    1. Absolutely, we have had enough of that “rocketship” babytalk

      I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe in the tooth fairy

      1. Thats nice, you highlighted the difference.. Toothferries are something to believe in ..RB19 performance is factual and as stated not the single reason for the results on track.

  13. I wonder if it was tempting to replace the body of this article with “well duh”…

    I’ve always loved the writing style and effort here. I’d buy a book of weekend summaries and driver rating reviews over the years to peruse at leisuire, and a racefans coffee cup while we’re at it.

    I hope it’s been considered at least.

  14. I foresee a season in which Max doesnt have the strongest car but still wins the title by consistently scoring 2nd while others alternate the victories. His level of concentration and focus is at a scary level.

    1. I agree. In my opinion, it’s his consistency that sets him above the rest. The top drivers are all fast, but we will never know for sure who is fastest as even with the same machinery there will always be setup and car characteristics that favour one driver over another. What we can measure without all that is consistency. For Max to win a few races a year during the Merc dominant years shows he was always there ready to take any scraps he could. Now he is so consistent in a dominant car, he is leaving barely any chances for anyone else to win.

  15. Lol 33 is in the best car in F1 history. Thanks to Newey and DRS and Masi and overspending so all illegal hollow titles then. Never mind.

    1. (@fourfourseven) that’s funny

      1. I thought so.

    2. Even his most hardened detractors could not reasonably claim that the world champion did not perform at an exceptionally high level throughout the season

      Seems we just found one who’s at least making the effort, Will…

      1. These paid friends don’t speak for me, and neither does anybody on here. Wake up.

  16. so many races finished with the RB19 lapping only a handful of rivals or even none at all showed that its performance advantage was nothing compared to the most legendary and dominant cars from Formula 1’s history

    Though I obviously agree with the ranking here I’m not entirely on board with the reasoning here. There is just no way of knowing if the (race pace) advantage was there or not, simply because races are run differently these days. In the earlier years you’d pretty much stamp out your advantage from start to finish, but nowadays it’s all about creating a gap and then managing the race. I’d love to see how big the gaps would be if there would be tires on the cars that would allow just going for it all race.

    1. There’s far more evidence to believe that such an advantage simply was not there if you just looked at FP times and Quali deltas to other teams. Races like Qatar are excellent evidence of a lack of significant race pace advantage without wear. Red Bull finished a few seconds in front albeit with a slightly compromised strategy. A tenth or two tenths in a race at best to a rookie whose weakness is race pace on pure performance given the lack of tire management at Qatar is all the evidence you need.

      Red Bull as a team had the best driver, car with a small (relative to other dominant car) but sufficient advantage that they could use and unmatched operations to win 21/22 races.

      This year is the best example of how when the team truly operates at a very high level they can elevate everything concerning performance and deliver a masterclass.

  17. Though I obviously agree with the ranking here I’m not entirely on board with the reasoning here. There is just no way of knowing if the (race pace) advantage was there or not, simply because races are run differently these days.

    You could consider the fact that radio messages to Max telling him to ease up were fairly common.
    Some people spent time managing their tyres, RB seemed to spend time managing the optics.
    It would not do to have the full performance demonstrated and incur a BoP style alteration of regulations (like Brawn et al. promised/threatened)

  18. Not a big Verstappen fan but I agree this was an ATG season by him. Great car yes, but massively enhanced by the driver. And he kept it up for 20+ races, that’s the most impressive aspect.

  19. Massively enhanced by DRS and Newey, 33 is an average driver in the fastest car in F1 history, as soon as he has to race properly in a bucket car, beleive me Red Bull will build one in 2026 he will be Vettel 2.0 an average driver in a fast car with everything done for him.

    1. You must be a troll. How else can you be so wrong

Comments are closed.