If you were an F1 team boss, which of 2023’s driver pairings would you most like to have? Let’s have a go at ranking the 10 teams’ driver line-ups…
Every team boss likes to argue the point that their driver combo is “the best on the grid” which is, obviously, completely impossible for nine of them!
Like the argument of who the best driver is, figuring out the best partnership comes down to a mixture of statistics, achievements, recent form, and plain old gut feeling.
So, with that in mind, let’s have a go at ranking the partnerships from weakest to strongest, shall we? Let’s start the countdown…
10. Alfa Romeo: Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu
Perhaps F1’s most anonymous team since Kimi Raikkonen’s retirement, Alfa Romeo continue to toil away in the lower midfield with two drivers who are probably not showcasing the full ability of the machinery.
Valtteri Bottas proved, even over his final year or two with Mercedes, that he lacked the outright speed and racecraft to be considered an absolutely elite F1 racer, although he remains a safe pair of hands behind the wheel – seeing the Finn dramatically lose control and fly off the road almost seems unimaginable.
Points in Bahrain aside, Bottas has been completely invisible on track this year, with his cycling accomplishments with girlfriend Tiffany Cromwell and his burgeoning life (and mullet!) as an honorary Australian slowly but surely taking over.
Zhou, after a solid first year in Formula 1, is assuming the mantle of leading the team, having learned the lessons Bottas was more than willing to teach. The Chinese driver is continuing his learning curve in F1 and has produced some strong drives already, scoring points in Australia and Spain.
Again, like many of the teams near the back, how much laptime is left in the car if a known frontrunning driver was to hop in?
9. Williams: Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant
Two very likeable drivers at Williams in Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant, but neither are setting the world alight so far in 2023.
While Sargeant is having a tough start to life in the sport with a few high-profile incidents and accidents, such as crashing out of qualifying in Spain last time out, he’s roughly having the sort of season expected of an inexperienced rookie in a difficult car.
What’s less expected is that the far more experienced Alex Albon would only be doing marginally better. While the British-Thai racer has a small pace advantage over his rookie teammate, errors such as crashing out of a strong position in Australia and wrecking the start of his Monaco weekend with an FP1 crash are incidents that shouldn’t be happening for the lead driver at a team of lesser resources.
8. AlphaTauri: Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries
After a pretty dreadful start to his F1 career with AlphaTauri, Nyck de Vries has shown marked improvement as he kept his nose clean in Monaco and Spain.
But De Vries has, in general, been nowhere near the pace or form of Yuki Tsunoda who, himself, remains something of an unknown quantity.
As teammates with Pierre Gasly, Tsunoda has been expected to step up to the plate of team leadership after the French driver’s departure to Alpine. This, Tsunoda is achieving, putting a clear gap between himself and De Vries in terms of pace and showing a much calmer, mature approach to his racing.
But, given that Tsunoda didn’t set the world alight over the past two seasons alongside Gasly, how much of his improvement is down to a teammate flattering him? Only way to find out is to put a more known quantity beside him…
7. Haas: Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg
Last year’s sensational return to Formula 1 for Kevin Magnussen has subsided to a pretty mediocre 2023, while the opposite can be said for Nico Hulkenberg after his unexpected return to F1.
From the get-go, Hulkenberg has had a slender pace advantage over Magnussen in 2023, although Magnussen has set about closing the gap with his particularly eye-catching display in Miami.
Magnussen is proving as combative as ever when it comes to wheel-to-wheel fighting, but both drivers have struggled with the VF-23 inevitably sliding backwards as a race unfolds due to the car’s issues keeping tyres alive.
The Dane has also outlined how the car hasn’t suited him particularly well from season start, while Hulkenberg has enjoyed it quite a bit more – it’s the German who is coming out on top as it stands but, given their respective careers up to this point, there would likely be a small bit more laptime to be extracted from the car if an A-lister jumped in…
6. Aston Martin: Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll
Probably the first example of a leading driver having the average of the team brought down by his teammate, Fernando Alonso’s performances for Aston Martin can’t really be questioned.
The Spaniard has been near-impeccable throughout 2023, showing all of the speed and racecraft that made him the most eagerly-anticipated young gun in Formula 1 20 years ago.
However, the same can’t be said for Lance Stroll. The Canadian put in a heroic display in Bahrain to kick off the season, and kudos to him for making that happen. But there’s no doubting that Alonso has had a huge advantage in almost every way over Stroll.
Even in Spain, Alonso’s least impressive showing of the season after his qualifying error compromised his session, the two-time World Champion was able to put himself in a position to make it clear that he was voluntarily coming home behind Stroll – a clever move to keep everyone happy, while still making it clear he had the edge on performance.
Stroll is solidifying his abilities as a very solid midfield F1 driver but, in a team angling to be a front-runner, the Canadian can’t measure up to what Alonso is capable of.
5. McLaren: Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri
Lando Norris hasn’t been quite as impressive in 2023 as he has been in recent years with McLaren, as the British driver has struggled a little to adjust to life with a less competitive and more troublesome car than he’s been used to.
Stand-out mistakes include his qualifying error in Saudi Arabia, as well as his Turn 1 clash with Hamilton in Spain that squandered his strong grid position, but Norris remains a solid pair of hands for the Woking-based squad.
Oscar Piastri has completely vindicated McLaren’s decision to pay off Daniel Ricciardo and vacate his seat, showing remarkably composed and measured performances as a rookie driver. While lacking a slight edge that Norris still has in terms of outright pace and racecraft, Monaco highlighted Piastri’s potential as he came home just behind Norris and shadowed his teammate’s late move to overtake Yuki Tsunoda into Ste. Devote.
4. Alpine: Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon
The all-French pairing of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon has gotten off to a surprisingly amicable start, which is indicative of the professional maturity of both drivers. Knowing that they had history on a personal level, Ocon and Gasly have done their level best to ensure that no problems have emerged on-track – even if Gasly managed to screw up to the point of taking both of them off and costing the team big points in Australia.
With one win apiece – Gasly winning Monza 2020 and Ocon winning Hungary ’21 – Gasly’s consistency was on full display at AlphaTauri in 2021 as he took ninth in the standings after numerous strong points finishes, while Ocon put in respectable performances at Alpine in ’22 to come out on top of the battle with Fernando Alonso (although it must be pointed out Alonso suffered more technical issues than Ocon).
This year, Ocon has had the clear measure of Gasly (Australia aside), although this isn’t surprising given his familiarity with the car and the team. Gasly has improvements to find, but there’s no reason to think he can’t make them as he finds his feet with Alpine. Meanwhile, on the days where the car is capable, Ocon can put surprisingly impressive performances out of nowhere, just like he did in Monaco two weeks ago.
3. Ferrari: Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz
Two drivers of different strengths at Ferrari, with Charles Leclerc the marginally higher performer.
While the Monégasque had the clear edge on performance when the Ferrari was properly competitive, the SF-23’s difficulties have reset the balance somewhat. Leclerc still appears to be the quicker of the two over a single lap, but Sainz is not struggling in the same way he did last year.
Instead, the balance of power seems much more akin to 2021, where the duo spent most of their time fighting each other over best of the rest. Sainz has steadied the ship after a year in which he lost his ‘Smooth Operator’ moniker, while Leclerc’s lack of reliability at keeping the car on the road has resulted in quite a bit of criticism in recent weeks. Compared to Red Bull or Mercedes, it’s never really a shock to see a Ferrari in the gravel or facing the wrong direction, is it?
With Leclerc’s head dropping, and his belief in Ferrari seemingly wavering, Sainz’s willingness to argue and challenge the decisions of his team is similar to what Sebastian Vettel used to do. With a 16-point lead in the standings, Sainz may yet end up coming out on top in the fight this year.
2. Red Bull: Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez
Red Bull’s driver pairing is almost as strong as that of Mercedes, with the combination pulling off four 1-2 finishes in the opening four races of 2023.
Given Max Verstappen’s relentless and metronomic consistency and reliability, he arguably sets an even higher bar than Lewis Hamilton for the initial baseline of the pairing. But Sergio Perez brings that average down below what the Mercedes combination are capable of, due to his inconsistency.
While Perez is undoubtedly capable of extreme highs of performance, as evidenced by his drives in Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, his lows are extremely low – particularly given the extent of the deficit he invariably has to Verstappen in the same machine.
While Hamilton and George Russell are usually fairly well matched, Perez’s poor days have him miles off Verstappen – as evidenced by his performances in Monaco and Spain while the Dutch driver stormed to uncontested wins.
But while Perez’s inconsistency lets him down for keeping him in a title fight, he is of high enough level to make sure Red Bull secure titles. Given the rarity of the days on which he can genuinely beat Verstappen, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Red Bull don’t bother to intervene to ensure Verstappen comes out on top.
1. Mercedes: Lewis Hamilton and George Russell
It’s obviously pretty difficult to gauge which of the leading partnerships is the strongest, but Mercedes just edge it by a tiny fraction over Red Bull.
Lewis Hamilton’s status as one of the sport’s all-time greats means he’d have to have a pretty poor teammate to bring down the average. But George Russell is quite the opposite – the young British driver has taken to life at Mercedes with aplomb and is usually there-or-thereabouts with wherever Hamilton is, or even ahead.
22 points separate the pair in the 2023 Drivers’ Championship, in Hamilton’s favour, with that deficit coming about as a result of Russell’s retirement in Australia on a day where Hamilton was able to come home in second.
It’s a battle set to run and run throughout the season, and perhaps for a few more into the future, given that Russell’s future is committed to Mercedes. While Hamilton’s statistics put him out front by a country mile, Russell’s sole victory and pole position don’t do justice to just how well he is keeping apace with his illustrious teammate.