Pit Debrief’s 2023 F1 Driver Rankings — 16-11

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16) Liam Lawson —

The driver with the fewest races in the 2023 season was Liam Lawson, who made his Formula 1 Grand Prix debut replacing Daniel Ricciardo after the latter suffered a nasty injury in an FP2 crash at Zandvoort.

The New Zealand native drove an F1 car for the first time in anger in 2021 at the Abu Dhabi Young Driver Test. However, in July 2022, he would be recruited as Red Bull’s main reserve driver after Juri Vips was dismissed from the team over the use of a racial slur.

Following this, Lawson had the opportunity to drive the Bulls’ cars three times that season: at the Belgian and Mexican Grands Prix he drove the AT03 and at the end of the season, in Abu Dhabi running Max Verstappen’s RB18 and achieving fifth place in FP1, behind Checo Pérez.

From Zandvoort to Qatar, the 21-year-old had the opportunity to participate in 5 Grands Prix where he was able to demonstrate his talent and impressed many people. So much so, that it was rumoured that he would have a permanent seat on the grid in 2024.

In the Dutch Grand Prix, he qualified last but managed to finish the race in thirteenth in mixed conditions following that last-minute call-up because of Ricciardo’s injury.

He impressed with P11 finishes at Monza and Suzuka [beating Tsunoda at the Japanese driver’s home race on merit with older tyres in the last stint].

But the big one was Singapore. He made Q3, knocking out World Champion Max Verstappen in the process. He drove a very mature and sensible race to bring the car home in P9, bagging a brilliant two points — the first of his F1 career.

Lawson has shown that he deserves a place in the big league, let’s hope to see him on the grid permanently in the top class very soon.

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

15) Nico Hülkenberg —

Nico Hülkenberg’s return to Formula 1 with Haas four years on from his last full-time drive at Renault saw the German deliver some impressive performances.

In Bahrain, he immediately impressed as he made Q3. The German veteran would go on to make the final segment of qualifying a further seven times in 2023.

The standout qualifying came in Canada when he put it on the front row in tricky conditions. Sadly for Hülkenberg, he took a three-place grid drop for a red flag infringement.

Unfortunately for him, that was pretty much as good as it got on a race weekend. Aside from a P7 in Australia and a great decision to switch to dries in the sprint in Austria that saw him finish P6, Sundays were pretty brutal as he fell back through the field on a consistent basis because of the high tyre deg the VF-23 produced.

He was also highly critical of the team towards the end of the season as he made his feelings very clear about the updated package failing to produce any kind of significant step in performance.

On track, however, he was really solid and clearly outperformed teammate Kevin Magnussen. His main hope over the winter will be that Haas sort their tyre deg issues out.

If that happens and the car has similar raw pace to this season, points should come on a more regular basis in 2024.

Photo Credit: MoneyGram Haas F1 Team

14) Daniel Ricciardo —

The Australian driver’s break from Formula 1 was a tad bit shorter than what he had expected, ultimately leading him to a very short season, with seven race weekends completed and a best result of P7 in Mexico as its highest point. But let’s see analyse the smiling Ricky Bobby’s rollercoaster of a 2023 was.

After a disappointing, almost disastrous final year with McLaren, Ricciardo had opted for a year on the sidelines, as he had “returned home” to Red Bull, signed as third driver for the championship winning team.

His season took a turn after a Pirelli test in Silverstone with Red Bull Racing, where it was rumoured that he had signed lap times comparable to the ones actually recorded by the top five drivers in qualifying.

The eight-time race winner was then back on everybody’s radar, and he was the obvious replacement for Nyck De Vries at AlphaTauri when the Dutch rookie was sacked due to a lack of performance.

Photo Credit: Scuderia AlphaTauri

In spite of a lack of points in the very unimpressive AT03, on his return in Hungary, Ricciardo managed to beat his teammate Yuki Tsunoda, although he had been suffering from an aerodynamic disadvantage after he had been hit on Lap 1 from behind by Zhou Guanyu.

2023 unfortunately had some pain in store for the former Renault driver, who injured his left hand after a crash during FP2 in Zandvoort. On a brighter note, while he was recovering from surgery, the Faenza-based team announced his renewal for the 2024 season.

Austin was his return to racing, and the week after in Mexico saw him score his first points of the year in P7 after qualifying an astounding P4. Even in the races he ended outside the top ten, the Australian driver showed signs of his best form.

With a bit more track time on his hands, as well as getting fully back into shape over the winter break, Ricciardo can definitely be a key asset in AlphaTauri’s quest to return to its consistent points-scoring days.

13) Esteban Ocon —

Esteban Ocon’s 2023 Formula 1 season was a rollercoaster ride marked by highs and lows, ultimately culminating in a 12th-place finish in the Drivers’ Championship with 58 points. This was notably his lowest since joining the Alpine team back in 2020. The Enstone-based team faced a challenging season, slipping from fourth to sixth in the Constructors’ standings compared to the previous year.

The season kicked off on a challenging note for Alpine, with Ocon securing only minor points in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The team’s misery escalated in Australia when a collision between Ocon and teammate Pierre Gasly resulted in lost points. The Azerbaijan Grand Prix further compounded Alpine’s struggles with a weekend packed with incidents.

Photo Credit: BWT Alpine F1 Team

However, amidst the adversities, Ocon showcased his prowess in the Monaco Grand Prix, securing a podium finish and marking Alpine’s first top-three placement in the 2023 season. Racing in Monte Carlo, Ocon delivered a dry-to-wet masterclass, fending off sustained pressure from competitors like Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton.

The race’s unpredictable weather demanded perfectly timed tyre switches, and Ocon, along with the team, demonstrated composure on when to switch to inters from dries, earning an impressive third place and contributing significantly to Alpine’s tally with 21 points at that stage of the season.

Despite this high point, Ocon faced setbacks throughout the season, experiencing seven DNFs, including Singapore when a top 6 finish looked a certainty.

This string of non-finishes left him lamenting the lost points, ultimately trailing behind teammate Pierre Gasly in the drivers’ championship. His overall performance made him take 13th place in our Pit Debrief Driver Rankings.

12) Pierre Gasly —

Photo Credit: BWT Alpine F1 Team

Pierre Gasly joined Alpine this season and in a hotly anticipated battle with fellow Frenchman Esteban Ocon, Alpine’s newest recruit on track just edged it with 62 points compared to Ocon’s tally of 58. In our rankings, Gasly has also come out just in front of Ocon as a result of a season which saw a P3 in the Belgian Grand Prix Sprint as well as a P3 in this year’s 2023 Dutch Grand Prix claimed by Gasly.

One of the more memorable moments of the 2023 F1 season, for all the wrong reasons, was the double DNF experienced by Alpine in the closing laps of an unforgettable Australian Grand Prix. A moment which for many lives longer in the mind than that of seeing Gasly on the podium in Zandvoort later in the season.

However, having told the media that his season has been “slightly disappointing in terms of the overall performance we’ve shown” he then followed up with “but personally, I’m definitely happy with the step I’ve made”.

One can imagine the Hollywood and sportstar talent which invested in Alpine during the season would not be happy with the mid-table mediocrity demonstrated in 2023. With Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer being relieved of his services after August’s Belgian Grand Prix, the offtrack antics have been taking center stage. From the outside, Alpine lacks direction and there cannot be a repeat of that in 2024.

There are certainly positives to take for Gasly. Having had a season in the team under his belt he will start the 2024 campaign well integrated at Alpine which will surely allow him to hit the ground running come pre-season testing in Bahrain.

Unsurprisingly, what Gasly needs more of in his 2024 package is speed. The A523 with the 2023 Renault power unit seemed well down the pecking order in performance compared to the majority of its rivals on the grid. Should the team turn a corner on that front, the 2020 Italian Grand Prix winner has more than enough talent to make the most of any opportunity to come his way next season.

11) Sergio Pérez —

Photo Credit: Red Bull Content Pool

Sergio Pérez may have finished runner up in the 2023 F1 Drivers’ Championship but in the Pit Debrief rankings, the popular Mexican racer just misses out on making it into the top 10. Pérez would conclude the season having been part of Red Bull Racing’s historic 1-2 finish in the table but with teammate Max Verstappen achieving a tally of points more than double that of Pérez’s 285, inconsistency was the best way to sum up his season.

Nowadays, a season in the pinnacle of motorsport is a long one indeed and it started very differently for Pérez compared to how it ended. Having won two of the season’s first four races (and with the RB19 clearly the most dominant machine on the grid) many were hoping for a season long teammate battle. However, that never came to pass and instead the battle that Pérez was faced with — if the rumour mill is to be believed — was one to hold on to his race seat.

Sergio Pérez would surely be the first to admit that he had far too many below par qualifying performances as well as really clumsy unforced errors in wheel-to-wheel combat in 2023, such as the incident with Kevin Magnussen at Suzuka.

Even so, one of the strangest rumours of the year was surely that Pérez would leave Red Bull Racing at the end of the season and also retire from the sport. No such announcement came but Red Bull’s management is notoriously trigger-happy. With that in mind, and a revitalised Daniel Ricciardo waiting in the wings (pun intended), it will be vital for Pérez to start the 2024 season strong and continue in such form if he wishes to keep any mid-season driver replacement off the table.

Next season, will see Sergio Pérez in his 14th year in Formula One and he is no stranger to adversity. His title from his fans of ‘Minister of Defence’ may prove to be very appropriate in 2024 with Pérez expected to have to defend his position off track as well as on.

For his part Pérez is clearly confident that he will raise his form next season having previously told media: “I’ve already finished second, my main interest is to do one better. I’m aware of the challenge that it is.“

Therefore, if Red Bull Racing’s 2024 challenger is a class above yet again then maybe the neutral race fan will finally get the teammate battle that many had hoped for.