Driver ratings from the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Finley Crebolder
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton on the podium. Saudi Arabia December 2021

We saw the good, the bad and the ugly from drivers at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, one of the craziest Formula 1 races ever.

Here’s how we rated every driver’s performance in Jeddah…

Lewis Hamilton: Hamilton headed to Saudi Arabia knowing a win would make him the favourite in the title fight, and despite obstacles of all shapes and sizes being thrown his way, he got it.

While Verstappen’s crash was the reason he got pole, his own lap in qualifying was still excellent as was his start on race day, with him comfortably staying in the lead. His good work was undone soon afterwards though with a Red Flag coming out soon after he pitted and lost track position to his title rival, allowing the Dutchman to put on fresh tyres.

The Mercedes man responded by making another very strong start which ultimately led to him getting ahead of the Red Bull man who was forced to start behind at the next restart due to corner-cutting in his efforts to stay in front. He then lost the place immediately though, but it didn’t look like it would matter when Verstappen was told to let him through after more aggressive defending.

Then, instead of going past, the seven-time World Champion hit the leader. He could have handled things better himself with his reluctance to give up the advantage of DRS partly why he ended up in the back of the Red Bull and not ahead of it, but Max so suddenly slowing was the main reason for the incident.

Hamilton quickly cleared his head and produced a masterclass as he found some serious pace and pulled away massively despite having a severely damaged front wing. It wasn’t a pretty or perfect race for him, but as is so often the case, he stepped up when he had to and did what he needed to do. 8

Max Verstappen: It was the best of drives. It was the worst of drives. Over the course of the penultimate race weekend, we saw Verstappen’s brilliance as well as his flaws.

On Saturday his final lap in Q3 was simply stunning, one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, up until he crashed at the final corner. If he hadn’t made that mistake, he would’ve taken pole and may have cruised off into the distance on race day. What actually happened couldn’t have been more different.

The Dutchman struggled with his first two standing starts on race day, failing to challenge the Mercs initially before having a poorer getaway than Hamilton at the restart, causing him to eventually be given a penalty for his efforts to stay ahead. The third of them was incredible though as he flew off the line and squeezed through the smallest of gaps to take the lead. Senna would be proud.

Sadly for Verstappen, that’s as good as things got for him. He earned his second penalty of the day with some more extremely aggressive defending, and the manner in which he slowed down to give his rival the position afterwards was dangerous and earned him his third.

The Dutchman is a driver that drives on the very limit which can be utterly glorious to watch at times, as it was at the second restart, but he ultimately went too far in Saudi Arabia. 5

Valtteri Bottas: With all that was going on between the two at the front, we barely saw or heard anything about the man who joined them on the podium, but he had a fair amount of drama himself.

After a decent qualifying performance, the Finn did his job perfectly at the start, staying ahead of Verstappen, but his restart was poor as he locked up and thus fell behind Ocon and Ricciardo, whom he then struggled to get back ahead of for a good while.

He ultimately cleared the McLaren and set off in pursuit of the Alpine, passing him in the final few metres of the final lap, but while P3 was a decent result, it could and maybe should have been P2 given Verstappen’s penalties if not for his mistake and struggles to overtake slower cars. 6

Esteban Ocon: Ocon was understandably gutted after the race given how close he came to another podium, but he should be delighted with how he drove nonetheless.

While it was a fair bit of luck that put him briefly into P1 and into contention for a top-three finish, he deserves a lot of credit for avoiding the chaos around him, making no mistakes and generally having very strong pace. Indeed, his qualifying performance, with him outclassing Alonso, showed that he was simply very good at that track.

The result all but secured P5 in the standings for his team and moved him to within five points of his team-mate. Only top drivers have been able to push the Spaniard so close in the same car, and the Frenchman is showing that he can be one. 10

Daniel Ricciardo: What at one point looked set to be another disappointing weekend for Ricciardo turned out to be a great one as he delivered one of his best drives of the season.

It was hard to see him doing so when he went out in Q2 in qualifying, but he quickly started to make amends in the race, gaining two places at the start before the Red Flag gave him a few more. He didn’t put a foot wrong after that, staying inside the top five until the end.

The Aussie had his fair share of luck and will maybe be a little disappointed that he couldn’t challenge Ocon more, but it was a great drive nonetheless. 9

Pierre Gasly: Gasly couldn’t close the gap between his team and Alpine in the standings or stop it from growing, but it’s fair to say he gave it his all and did the best that he could.

As always, he was excellent in qualifying, securing P6, and like in Qatar, he then dropped down the field at the start of the race. Unlike there though, he managed to stop the rot, taking full advantage of issues for those ahead to climb back to when he started and stay ahead of the Ferraris despite having a slower car.

The Frenchman displayed excellent one-lap pace on Saturday and showed real resilience and composure on Sunday. While he made a poor start, he showed that he’s fast becoming the complete driver. 8

Charles Leclerc: P7 is a bit of a disappointing result for Leclerc given strong the pace of his Ferrari throughout the weekend, although it wasn’t entirely his own that he finished there.

After taking P4 in a very impressive qualifying for him, he held onto the place at the start of the race, staying ahead of Perez, but like a few others he then lost a few positions due to pitting just before the first Red Flag was waved. To make matters worse, he then locked up and hit the Red Bull man at the restart, causing him to drop down more places.

It was a decent recovery effort after that with the Monegasque pulling off a few good overtakes to ultimately finish ahead of all but three midfield drivers. Things could have been better if he didn’t make contact with Perez, but they could’ve been much worse too if not for his driving. 8

Carlos Sainz: While he finished the race a place behind his team-mate, Sainz would have most likely left Saudi Arabia as the much happier of the two Ferrari drivers.

That’s because he started down in P15 after spinning and damaging his wing in qualifying. He didn’t stay there for long though as he made an excellent start and restart, thus finding himself well inside the points and ahead of his team-mate halfway through the race.

He continued to make good progress after that, overtaking Giovinazzi and catching Gasly. However, his tyres then started to wear, causing him to fall behind Leclerc.

Looking after his tyres more would have perhaps been a good idea, as would not crashing in qualifying, but it was a top drive nonetheless. 9

Antonio Giovinazzi: Speaking of top drives, Giovinazzi enjoyed one of the best race weekends of his Formula 1 career.

The Italian was perhaps the stand-out performer on Saturday, making it into Q3 ahead of three drivers who were in faster cars than him. He was just as good the next day too, running well inside the top-10 from start to finish to triple his points-tally for the season.

He did admittedly have a faster car than he has had for most of the year, but you can’t help but think that if he drove that way more, we may have been seeing him on the grid again in 2022. 9

Lando Norris: Norris had a lot of pace in Saudi Arabia, but even more bad luck, meaning that scoring more than a single point was all but impossible in the end.

Things were going well for the McLaren mane early on with him starting in P7 and then moving up to P6. At that point, he looked set to score big points, but the Red Flags had other ideas. He dropped all the way down to the back of the field as a result of them and could only climb back up to P10 in the remainder of the race which was a credible achievement in itself.

Sure, he could have perhaps taken P9 from Giovinazzi if he had found some more pace and been completely flawless, but his performance was still better than his result suggested. 8

Lance Stroll: Stroll found himself in the slowest car , relative to the rest of the field, he’s driven in a good while at Jeddah, but got everything out of it in the race to come close to scoring a point.

Even with a car that struggled at the track, qualifying was still poor for the Canadian with him going a tenth and a half slower than his team-mate and less than a tenth faster than the Haas of Schumacher. His race pace was better though and he got himself into the mix for a top-10 finish thanks to two excellent restarts.

He didn’t have the pace to stay ahead of Norris in the end, but can be fairly pleased with his performance nonetheless, although his qualifying wasn’t great and he gained a lot of places due to incidents for others rather than on merit. 7

Nicholas Latifi: We’ll be honest; we didn’t see Latifi once throughout the race and couldn’t tell you much about what he got up to without researching it, which says a lot about the pace he possessed.

He was decent in qualifying, going faster than both Astons but slower than his team-mate, and couldn’t make any waves in the race, spending most of it towards the bottom of the field and only finishing ahead of drivers that had issues.

The Canadian deserves some credit for qualy and simply making it to the end of the race without being involved in any incidents, though. That’s all there is to really say about that. 6

Fernando Alonso: Alonso went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows with his best race of the year, ending with him on the podium, being followed by one of his most difficult weekends.

The Spaniard simply didn’t have the pace in Saudi Arabia, being knocked out in Q1 and racing with the backmarkers while his team-mate spent the entire weekend well inside the top 10.

He did have some setup issues on Saturday and bad luck on Sunday, but he’ll be the first to admit he didn’t drive as well as he can either. 5

Yuki Tsunoda: Not for the first time this year, it looked like Tsunoda was really starting to find his feet early on in the weekend before things fall apart for him.

Starting in P8 after a good qualifying performance, he made a steady start to stay in the top 10 but then lost a lot of places due to pitting just before the Red Flag. That meant he’d have to pull off some overtakes to get back into the points, which didn’t go so well, with the AlphaTauri getting a penalty and losing more time and places after hitting Vettel.

He’s starting to show that he has good pace on his day and is definitely improving, but while luck wasn’t on his side, there’s still a long way to go in terms of his driving too. 5

Kimi Raikkonen: Just as he doesn’t have much to say in general, I don’t have much to say about Kimi’s weekend.

He was slower than his team-mate in qualifying, and couldn’t join him in the fight for points in the race, with his only real moment of note being when he hit Vettel.

Hopefully, his final round in Formula 1 will be a more worthy send-off for the Iceman. 6

Did not finish:

Sebastian Vettel: After going out in Q1 on Saturday, Vettel made a great start to the race and was well placed to fight for points, running in P8 ahead of the Ferraris, when he was hit by Tsunoda, ending his hopes of a top-10 finish. Things then went from bad to worse as Kimi got in on the Seb-bashing, ultimately causing him to retire.

Neither incident was his fault, and in terms of driving alone, his Sunday was pretty good. 7

Sergio Perez: It hadn’t been a good weekend for Checo before he retired after hitting Leclerc and the barrier, but he only completed a handful of laps – 10 – in racing conditions before that, which isn’t enough for a rating. N/A

Nikita Mazepin: The same can be said about Mazepin. It was an incident this time that was no fault of his own at least, and the main thing is that he’s okay. Seeing him fly into the back of a slowing Russell was a scary sight. N/A

George Russell: Nothing to rate here either, the Williams man was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. N/A

Mick Schumacher: Again, he didn’t last long enough for a rating, but will no doubt be annoyed with himself for crashing. N/A