2023 F1 drivers ranked: Top Ten

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Entirely subjective, often controversial and always tough to pick, ESPN's end-of-season top ten ranking is back to mark the end of another year in F1.

This list should not be read as a global ranking of the top ten drivers in F1 right now, but instead an ordering of each driver's season based on the car they had at their disposal, the stage they are at in their career and the expectations they faced going into the season.

1. Max Verstappen

Championship position: 1st

Points: 575

Podiums: 21

Qualifying head-to-head with teammate: 20-2

How could it be anyone else? It would be easier to list the records Verstappen didn't break in 2023, but with 19 wins, 10 of which were in a row, 1003 laps led and more than double the points of teammate Sergio Perez in second place, he set a new bar for domination in a single season. Of course, he had the best car and with that come the tedious arguments that he somehow had it easy, but the margin by which he beat Perez and the ease with which he reeled off victory after victory was undoubtedly special.

Finding mistakes among the relentless success is difficult, and even on the one occasion when he appeared to be genuinely outperformed by Perez, in Baku, he learned from the experience and came back stronger at the next round in Miami. Love him or loathe him, it's hard to argue against Verstappen being named the best driver in 2023.

The mind-blowing stats which underline Verstappen's dominance

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2. Fernando Alonso

Championship position: 4th

Points: 206

Podiums: 8

Qualifying head-to-head: 19-3

Alonso scored five podiums in the first seven races of the 2023 season -- a tally he increased to eight by the end of it. Although his results tailed off as Aston Martin seemed to get lost with the development of its car, he consistently dragged the team up the order, including remarkable results such as his second-place finish at a wet Zandvoort and his hard-fought podium ahead of Perez in Brazil. An elusive 33rd career victory was fleetingly up for grabs in Monaco, but the wrong tyre choice at his pit stop meant he had to settle for second place. The season served as proof, if it was ever needed, that Alonso still has what it takes to compete at the very front in Formula One.

3. Lando Norris

Championship position: 6th

Points: 205

Podiums: 7

Qualifying head-to-head: 15-7

The opening eight rounds of the 2023 season were a write off for Norris and McLaren, but once a series of car upgrades came on stream from the Austrian Grand Prix, Norris' season came alive. Had the championship been reset to zero in Austria, Norris would have finished a comfortable second in the championship behind Verstappen and ahead of Lewis Hamilton by 24 points, ahead of Charles Leclerc by 29 points and ahead of Perez by 66 points. But that's not to say he was perfect.

He admitted to missing out on pole on three occasions, in Qatar, Austin and Abu Dhabi, due to his own mistakes -- and in Qatar he felt a pole may have resulted in victory.. To finish on a high note, any summary of Norris' season wouldn't be complete without a tip of the hat to his drive from 17th to fifth in Mexico, which team boss Andrea Stella marked out as one of the best race performances he has ever seen.

4. Lewis Hamilton

Championship position: 3rd

Points: 234

Podiums: 6

Qualifying head-to-head: 11-11

By the seven-time world champion's own high standards, his 2023 season will be one to forget. But even without the race-winning success he has become accustomed to, Hamilton still emerged as the best of the rest behind the Red Bull drivers in the championship. Including points scored at sprint races, Hamilton added to his tally at every round this year, with his only blanks on Sundays coming after a first corner crash with teammate George Russell in Qatar and his disqualification from near victory at the U.S. Grand Prix.

His final four races in Brazil, Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi were uncharacteristically lacklustre, but by countering the inevitable recency bias that comes with those results, it's fair to say Hamilton was remarkably consistent in a car that was anything but. The added sparkle that adorns some of his championship years may have been missing in 2023, but there was enough brilliance to believe he would be a title contender again given the car.

5. Alex Albon

Championship position: 13th

Points: 27

Podiums: 0

Qualifying head-to-head: 22-0

Too high on this list? Possibly. But what we're trying to do here is strip away the performance of the car and focus purely on the achievements of the driver. At the start of the year, you may have predicted that Verstappen would win the title or Hamilton would finish third in the championship, but would you honestly have put money on Albon scoring 27 points to ensure Williams secured seventh and its biggest points tally since 2017? What's more, it wasn't one lucky result that bagged the points, Albon finished in the top ten on seven occasions and each time fought hard, often on an alternative strategy, to fend off faster cars. He was also the only driver in 2023 to achieve a perfect qualifying record against his teammate, beating rookie Logan Sargeant over a single lap every single weekend.

6. Charles Leclerc

Championship position: 5th

Points: 206

Podiums: 6

Qualifying head-to-head: 15-7

On the basis of Leclerc's high points, it would be possible to put him second on this list only to Verstappen, but a lack of consistency means he's mid top ten material this year. Leclerc started from pole on five occasions in 2023, taking the fastest time in three of the last five qualifying sessions of the season. Each pole required him to take his recalcitrant Ferrari to the very limit of its performance, but that approach also resulted in accidents in qualifying in Miami, Baku (where he still secured pole) and Zandvoort.

Bad luck accounts for a large part of his missing points tally -- Leclerc had an engine-related grid penalty at the second race of the season and crashed on the formation lap in Brazil when his car shutdown unexpectedly -- but his form also went missing entirely at the Spanish Grand Prix and to a lesser extent when Ferrari had its shot at winning in Singapore. In his defence, for a large part of the season, including Singapore, the car was so unpredictable he had to drive with a setup that went counter to his natural driving style, meaning the form towards the end of the year after a floor update in Japan is a much fairer reflection of his actual level.

7. Carlos Sainz

Championship position: 7th

Points: 200

Podiums: 3

Qualifying head-to-head: 7-15

You could make an argument for the only non-Red Bull race winner being higher up this list, but when his season is viewed as a whole it's hard to name Sainz as the better of the two Ferrari drivers. The Spaniard's trademark consistency saw him score points at all but three of the races he entered (a fuel system issue meant he couldn't start the Qatar Grand Prix), but aside from his impressive performances in Zandvoort, Italy and Singapore it's hard to pin down occasions when he was head-and-shoulders above Leclerc.

Monza and Singapore came at a time when Leclerc was struggling with the handling traits of the car, meaning Sainz was very much the stronger of the two drivers -- a run that seemed to last from the summer break until an upgrade to the Ferrari arrived in Japan. It should be noted, however, that his defensive performances at both Monza and Singapore were mighty impressive, showing a level of racing intelligence that is up there with the best in the sport.

8. George Russell

Championship position: 8th

Points: 175

Podiums: 2

Qualifying head-to-head: 11-11

Russell's results did not match his outright performance in 2023, but against such tough competition it's hard to ignore his missed opportunities and not focus on his lowly points tally at the end of the year. On head-to-head qualifying with Hamilton he was even, strengthening the belief that he has lost none of his raw performance, but mistakes all of his own making in Canada, Singapore (while challenging for the win) and Las Vegas (when he clashed with Verstappen) account for a significant amount of dropped points. Run the season again with Russell providing the same level of performance but with fewer mistakes and a little more luck, and he would probably be a top five driver. But based on the reality of 2023 season, he's lower top ten.

9. Oscar Piastri

Championship position: 9th

Points: 97

Podiums: 2

Qualifying head-to-head: 7-15

Where you put Piastri on this list depends on where you set your expectations for a rookie driver. There's an argument that his ability to perform on a similar level to Norris in qualifying is hugely impressive given his lack of experience, but it was also clear he still has plenty to learn about extracting the maximum from the car and its tyres in race conditions. Like Norris, his season came alive with McLaren's mid-season upgrade, although Piastri got his updated McLaren a race later at Silverstone. His first podium came at the daunting Suzuka circuit and then he secured his first win in the Qatar sprint race two weeks later. Getting less than half the points of Norris doesn't seem like a fair representation of his season, but regardless it was a hugely impressive showing for a rookie.

10. Yuki Tsunoda

Championship position: 14th

Points: 17

Podiums: 0

Qualifying head-to-head: 15-7

It's always difficult to judge the true performance of drivers when they are stuck at the back of the grid, and even more so when the face three different teammates over the course of the year. So it's fair to Tsunoda's inclusion in the top ten is based on a fair bit of gut feeling. But when you consider he scored 17 points in one of the slowest cars on the grid and avoided Q1 knockouts on 14 of 22 occasions, there are also a few impressive stats to back it up. He also finished 11th (one place away from the points) at three of the first five races when the car was at its worst and his only retirement came when Sergio Perez made contact with him in Singapore. He also failed to make the start in Italy due to an engine problem after qualifying 11th, therefore missing out on a few more potential points. Consider where he was at the end of 2022, and there's a good argument to say he is the most improved driver on the grid.