Japanese GP driver ratings: Night-and-day weekends at Red Bull in title-winning race

Max Verstappen stands atop the podium at Suzuka. Driver ratings

Max Verstappen stands atop the podium at Suzuka, flanked by Christian Horner, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

As Red Bull claimed top honours with a signature victory, here are our driver ratings from the Japanese Grand Prix.

Driver ratings explained: Every driver starts the weekend slap bang in the middle with a 5/10 rating and we operate on a sliding scale from there. We take the entire weekend into account, not just the race itself.

However, the scores will be weighted more towards a driver’s race performance, but qualifying performances (good or bad) are also factored into our ratings and, in extreme circumstances, practice will also play a minor part in the overall score.

After their Singapore shocker, Red Bull cruised to a Championship-confirming fifteenth victory of the season, as the improving McLaren team gave their best showing of the season so far.

On a weekend which saw utter domination from Max Verstappen, there were standout performances from F1’s latest podium winner and a rookie fighting for his future.

Here are PlanetF1.com’s driver ratings for the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix:

Max Verstappen 10

In some ways, this felt like a typical Max Verstappen response to the unusually off-pace Singapore GP. At a track which very much suited the Red Bull, Verstappen took a dominant pole position, and barely looked troubled in the race.

The Dutchman managed the early Safety Car restart, and took victory by close to twenty seconds, and it felt like a much bigger margin was possible. The pace difference between him and teammate Sergio Perez this weekend was completely night-and-day.

Lando Norris 8

After being pipped to P2 in qualifying by his teammate, the lead McLaren driver showed his experience by smartly sweeping around the outside of Piastri at Turn 1 to take second.

He only fell behind again due to Virtual Safety Car interference, but demonstrated the pace required to be offered the position back, and he never looked back. A first Formula 1 win still evades Norris, but you suspect he will be well placed if there’s a slightly more chaotic race ahead.

Oscar Piastri 7

He probably deserved to take his first Formula 1 podium sooner than he actually did, but Piastri was finally able to follow his teammate onto the rostrum. It was a justified result for a phenomenal qualifying lap which placed him on the front row of the grid.

His charge into Turn 1 unfortunately resulted in losing a place to Norris at the start, but he profited from making his first pit stop under the early VSC to regain the place. However, he was unable to match his teammate’s pace, and dutifully handed the position back later in the race.

It was a fantastic points haul for the McLaren team, and they will now have their sights firmly on Aston Martin, who currently occupy P4 in the Constructors’ Championship.

Charles Leclerc 6.5

After the impressive form shown by Sainz in the last couple of races, this was probably an important result for Leclerc, even if it didn’t reach the same heights that Sainz achieved at Monza or Singapore.

After out-qualifying his teammate, he became the lead driver in the race, but didn’t quite have the pace to challenge for a third Ferrari podium in a row.

Lewis Hamilton 6

Hamilton had the better of Russell in qualifying, and had a strong getaway at the start until he was bumped into by Perez at Turn 1. He sustained minor damage, and he had a slightly scruffy opening stint of the race, which included an error at the Degner curves.

Solid race pace after the first pit stops enabled the undercut attempt on Carlos Sainz to limit the damage against Ferrari, but Mercedes will be concerned by being the fourth-fastest team this weekend.

Carlos Sainz 5.5

Any repeat of his heroics at the Italian and Singapore Grands Prix was always going to be a tall order for Sainz, but his teammate had the edge on him this weekend.

He was unlucky to lose a position to Hamilton at the final pit stops, and was unable to reclaim the place with the enforced tyre offset.

George Russell 6

With Mercedes running behind Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari this weekend, the team were right to take a punt on some alternate strategies, and pivoted to a one-stop strategy with Russell.

The Briton was given the short straw with the team orders. He wasn’t allowed past in the early stages after the robust defending from Hamilton but, more unjustly, his ceding of P5 to Hamilton in the closing stages simply opened the door for Sainz to go through as well. However, this will unlikely remain an issue, as the pace differential might have meant both drivers flew past anyway.

Fernando Alonso 5.5

The warning signs are there for the Aston Martin team, who appear to have now fallen sharply off the back of the leading cars. Once again, Alonso was basically their only competitor for points after making Q3.

He was annoyed by the team’s strategy choices, but it didn’t look like anything other than a lower points finish was achievable for the team.

Esteban Ocon 6

He was involved in the opening lap tangle with Albon and Bottas and, if blame was to be apportioned, was probably the more guilty party. However, it’s difficult to hand out penalties for these three-wide, opening lap collisions, especially with poor visibility beyond the car next to you.

He recovered to the points strongly, but only achieved ninth after being given the position back on the final lap.

Pierre Gasly 7

Gasly has quietly been having the edge over Ocon in qualifying in the recent run of races, and duly became the lead Alpine on Saturday once again.

He only fell behind teammate Ocon due to a late first pit stop, but he ultimately had the pace to pass rival cars and catch his teammate back up. He was allowed past Ocon with several laps to go in order to try and challenge Alonso ahead, but was bizarrely told to concede the position back to Ocon on the final lap. I’m sure Gasly would’ve rather raced his teammate properly rather than ‘owe’ him the position, and he was visibly annoyed when he finished the race.

Liam Lawson 7.5

You can imagine that Lawson went into this race with a point to prove. He started the weekend knowing that he wouldn’t be driving for the team next season, but he demonstrated a similar pace to Tsunoda all weekend. However, he fell just short of matching his teammate’s Q3 appearance.

Lawson fought back in the race. He raced well to move ahead of Tsunoda at the start, and only fell back behind due to Tsunoda’s pit stop undercut. The New Zealander was handed the undercut opportunity at the second stop, and took full advantage to reclaim the place and stay ahead of Tsunoda. His efforts deserved a point, but it was nonetheless a nice message to the powers that be.

Yuki Tsunoda 6

With pressure coming from substitute driver teammate Lawson in recent races, Tsunoda needed to issue a response to validate his contract extension. It looked like he was going to do this after an impressive Q3 result, but he was unable to assert his ‘number one’ status in the race.

The AlphaTauri drivers seemed unable to prevent the recovering Alpine drivers from taking the final points places, but it’s nonetheless a solid showing from this season’s P10 team.

Guanyu Zhou 5.5

Qualified behind Bottas but, after a reasonable start, was forced to pit at the end of Lap 1 after picking up damage due to the debris from the tangle between Ocon, Bottas and Albon.

Drove relatively well after that to reclaim positions against the Haas drivers, but the Alfa Romeo didn’t seem to have the pace to be anywhere near the points to begin with.

Nico Hulkenberg 5.5

Out-qualified by teammate Magnussen for the second race in a row, Hulkenberg soon recovered the position at the start and became Haas’ lead driver for the race. He ran as high as P12 early on, but the Haas drivers looked nowhere near fast enough to trouble the points today.

Kevin Magnussen 4.5

The Dane has started to turn the tide in qualifying against his teammate in the last couple of events, but his efforts were quickly undone in the opening stages of the race.

After a poor start, he was forced to battle the early-stopping Ocon and Perez, with the latter clumsily punting Magnussen into a spin and denting his recovery efforts.

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Did not finish

Alex Albon 5.5

After a very difficult Singapore GP, Williams probably had higher hopes for Suzuka. Albon’s Q2 gave them an outside hope of points, but he was faultlessly involved in the Turn 1 shenanigans. He retired halfway through the race.

Logan Sargeant 3.5

Starting from the back after his qualifying crash, the Williams team attempted a couple of tyre gambles with Sargeant at the start of the race and during the Safety Car periods. However, all he managed was to nerf Bottas off the road at the start and retire not long after.

Williams Team Principal James Vowles claimed that he demonstrated similar pace to Albon before his qualifying shunt in Q1. However, the incident gave the team more crash damage to contend with, and placed one driver several places behind the other on the grid. How much patience will the team have?

Lance Stroll 4.5

The Aston Martin driver was attempting to make up for another poor showing in qualifying by making progress in the race. He made reasonable headway at the start and the opening race stints, but was forced to retire with a rear wing issue.

Sergio Perez 2.5

Whilst one Red Bull driver was utterly dominant, it was a nightmare weekend for the second Red Bull driver. On top of being comprehensively beaten by Verstappen, Perez had a clumsy race. A collision with Hamilton, a careless Safety Car infringement and an ungraceful overtaking attempt on Magnussen resulted in one of Perez’s worst performances of the season.

Valtteri Bottas 5.0

The Alfa Romeo driver was blameless for much of what happened to him today after being caught up in two incidents and retiring with excessive damage. He was pincered on the run to Turn 1 and sustained damage, and was then taken out when trying to pass Sargeant at the Turn 11 hairpin.

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