Written by Paul O’Grady, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
As we move from one season into the next, it’s a good time to debate how the 2022 grid would have looked, should every driver have equal machinery at their disposal.
Based on their ultimate skill level, I’ve come up with an order from 20-1 considering overall ability, outright speed, performance over their F1 careers and, in particular, form over the last few seasons.
20 - Nicholas Latifi
Nicholas Latifi endured a difficult time during his three years of racing at the top level of motorsport. Whilst he drove for Williams, often the slowest car on the grid over the last few seasons, some drivers still manage to stand out in such machinery. Yet in his first two seasons, he was comprehensively outperformed by a driver widely tipped as a future World Champion in George Russell, who did manage to haul the Williams up into places it shouldn't have been, such as second on the grid at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix.
When Russell left Williams for Mercedes in 2021, Latifi had a fresh opportunity to rebuild his reputation. He had the chance to establish himself as team leader against incoming teammate Alex Albon, but it was the same old story. Latifi regularly found himself at the back of the grid in Qualifying and in races, Albon outscoring him four points to two. Arguably, his worst weekend came in Italy when Nyck de Vries, standing in for the unwell Albon and in his first Grand Prix, finished an excellent ninth compared to Latifi's disappointing 15th.
19 - Mick Schumacher
Unfortunately for Mick, his F1 career up to this point did not pan out the way he would have hoped. In his first season in F1, Mick was in the slowest car by far, unable to race anyone other than his teammate Nikita Mazepin, a “pay” driver who was in the sport due to his father's wealth. Mick outraced Mazepin across the season. Both being rookies, it was hard to gauge just how impressive Mick had been in his first season in F1, due to little knowledge of his teammate's relative competitiveness. Both drivers struggled in an uncompetitive car, with the team scoring no points.
Haas announced the shock return of Kevin Magnussen at the start of 2022 to replace Mazepin, presenting Mick with the benchmark of a solid midfield runner. The 2022 Haas immediately proved to be more competitive, Magnussen managing a spectacular fifth-place on his return to the sport, having been out for a year. Schumacher could only finish 11th, hugely disappointed to have been so far behind his teammate over the course of the weekend. The rest of Mick’s season followed this trend, the German often lagging behind the pace of his teammate. He finished in the points only twice, compared to Magnussen's six, with the Dane even taking a surprise pole position in Brazil. For context, Schumacher qualified 20th and last.
Mick may feel he was unfortunate to lose his seat, but he hasn’t left the Formula One Paddock yet, as he is the new reserve driver for Mercedes.
18 - Zhou Guanyu
F1's only rookie in 2022 may have been thrashed, according to his points tally, by teammate Valtteri Bottas, but his relative pace to the Finn suggested China's first F1 driver may have what it takes to stay in the sport for now. After scoring points on debut, Zhou struggled in extracting pace out of the car during Qualifying, often getting caught up in incidents at the start of races. The most notable instance was in Silverstone, where Zhou actually managed to qualify an excellent ninth in rainy conditions. An enormous crash saw Zhou sliding upside down towards turn one, his momentum bouncing him over the tyre barrier, eventually coming to a rest on the metal fencing. Whilst physically fine, he did admit to being a little frustrated not to have had the opportunity to translate his starting position into points.
Towards the end of 2022, the gap between Zhou and Bottas had reduced significantly. The relative pace of the rest of the field, however, had improved compared to that of Alfa Romeo, meaning points were harder to come by, therefore providing the scoreboard with a slightly skewed complexion. Bottas is a fine benchmark for Zhou, having raced in F1 for ten seasons, five of which were at Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton.
Whilst 2022 was a decent start, Zhou will have to make further progress in 2023, to stand a chance of staying in F1 for future seasons.
17 - Yuki Tsunoda
While Japan's first F1 driver since 2014 has shown flashes of speed throughout his two seasons in F1, it is perhaps still not regular enough for AlphaTauri's liking. A brilliant run to fourth-place in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021 was supposed to be a springboard for future success, but this didn't materialise in 2022. The AT03 may have been a lot slower than its predecessor, but Tsunoda still struggled to get the best out of it, scoring points in only four Grands-Prix. In addition, his tendency to crash in important moments has still not quite been ironed out.
2023 will be the third season of Tsunoda's Formula 1 career, and by far, the most important yet. Tsunoda clearly has ability, but needs to be more consistent. He is expected to be a lot closer to the incoming Nyck de Vries. Not only will it be de Vries' first full season in F1, Tsunoda has been with the team for two years and should be able to draw on the experience he has gathered. Should he be beaten by de Vries, it may be curtains for Yuki’s F1 career.
16 - Lance Stroll
Unbelievably, Lance Stroll is a veteran of 122 Grand Prix starts, despite being only 24. Perception of the Canadian has been clouded, due to his fast-tracked entry into the sport at the age of 18, and that he drives for the team his father owns. However, the reality is that Lance Stroll is a gifted racing driver, who has shown he can operate at this level.
Stroll proved himself to be a decent racing driver whilst at Williams, scoring a podium at Baku, and netting a front row start on the grid in Italy, but Stroll's most impressive season was in 2020. The Canadian finally had a decent car, and by mid-season, was leading teammate Sergio Perez in the Championship. The turning point was at the Tuscan Grand Prix when Lance, running P4, suffered a tyre failure which caused him to have a big accident. When Lance had scored points in seven consecutive Grands Prix, he would only score once in the next seven, including Mugello.
Stroll brilliantly put his Racing Point on pole at the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, leading for the majority of the race before a switch to new intermediate tyres, and damage to his car saw him lose pace, and end up finishing in a disappointing P9. His other highlights that season include two podiums, at Monza and in the Sakhir GP, but arguably, Stroll should have won both races, considering the circumstances and the position he was in.
Two seasons alongside Sebastian Vettel followed, and as you'd expect, Lance hasn’t been able to match his more illustrious teammate. There is no danger of Stroll ever losing his seat as long as his father owns the team, but Stroll has at least proved he is a solid midfield runner.
15 - Kevin Magnussen
Nicknamed the ‘Viking’ by team boss Guenther Steiner, Denmark’s Kevin Magnussen made a stunning comeback to Formula 1 in 2022, having been forced to take a year out in 2021. His reputation before he left was of a solid driver, although one that didn’t really have an ‘X’ factor and would be unlikely to get that special result teams towards the back of the grid crave.
His one and only podium in F1 came in his first race, back when he was racing for McLaren, but 2022 was surely his best season to date after numerous years in lower midfield obscurity with Renault and Haas. In his first race back in Bahrain, Kevin not only got through to Q3, he netted a P7 start for the race. Remarkable, considering this was the first Q3 appearance for Haas in over a year, and his teammate, who had been racing for the team the previous season, could only manage 12th. Things got better in the Grand Prix, with Magnussen coming home to take 5th place, behind only the Ferraris and the Mercedes.
Overall, K-Mag had an impressive season, scoring points on six separate occasions, but the highlight was no doubt a barely believable pole position at Interlagos. Things didn’t exactly work out in the race, but the pole was a reward for seven seasons of hard work, a reminder not to give up even when success doesn’t seem likely. Nothing epitomises the spirit of this Viking more.
14 - Alexander Albon
2022 was a year of rebuilding reputation for Alex Albon, who spent a year out of the sport after a disappointing 2020 campaign at Red Bull, moving to drive further down the grid for Williams. This move proved to be a success, with Albon delivering multiple impressive performances, dominating teammate Latifi, securing four points for the team in an otherwise difficult year.
While the car was the slowest on the grid, it was not cut adrift of the pack like the Haas of 2021 was for example, allowing Albon to at least fight with the lower midfield pack. Albon surprisingly scored points on just his third outing of the season, with a P10 finish in Australia after a mammoth stint on the hard tyres catapulted him up the order from last on the grid.
Further points would follow in Miami and Belgium, but arguably his most impressive performance came in Singapore, with Albon recovering from Appendicitis in time to take part in the Grand Prix. At the most physical Grand Prix on the calendar, Alex was back to his usual competitiveness, out qualifying Latifi and lasting 25 laps before crashing into the wall. Whilst not his best result of the year, it was perhaps more impressive given he returned so quickly, and was straight on the pace.
Alex will look towards 2023 with optimism, but with rookie Logan Sargeant as his new teammate, he’ll know he can’t afford to rest on his laurels.
13 - Esteban Ocon
Formula One's 111th race winner, Esteban Ocon is now an experienced, established competitor in the F1 field, a veteran of 111 starts. Ocon came into the sport with a big reputation, having fought Verstappen for the 2014 European F3 Title, eventually winning out. While Verstappen moved into F1 for 2015, Ocon had to wait until 2016 until he finally got a chance in the sport. After impressing during a half-season at backmarker team Manor, Ocon moved to Force India for 2017.
Ocon’s performance was expected to be impressive, and the Frenchman delivered alongside Sergio Perez, helping the team finish fourth in the Constructors Championship. Another impressive season followed in 2018, particularly an impressive P3 on the grid in a wet qualifying at Spa, but Ocon found himself ousted for the incoming Lance Stroll for 2019. A year out of the sport did not appear to do Esteban any favours, as he came back into the sport in 2020, in the shadow of Daniel Ricciardo, although he did find his feet a bit towards the end of the campaign, scoring a memorable P2 in Sakhir.
There was a similar story in 2021, as Ocon was slower on average than new teammate Fernando Alonso, but he did manage a breakthrough victory in Hungary, coming under intense pressure from Sebastian Vettel to take the flag. Ocon may have finished ahead of Alonso in the 2022 standings, but has generally lagged behind on pace. However, his consistent points scoring means he is a valuable asset for the Alpine team, adding on to his nationality and marketability.
Ocon has not been afraid to rattle a few cages throughout his career, having fallen out with Verstappen, Perez and Alonso, and now Pierre Gasly comes into the team, a driver he once clashed with in karting. Only time will tell the tale of the all-French driver line-up at Alpine.
12 - Valtteri Bottas
There was never any doubt over Valtteri Bottas' ability during his time at Mercedes, despite receiving criticism for being slow, or having poor performance just because his teammate was Lewis Hamilton, perhaps one of the greatest drivers of all-time. Indeed, on his day, Valtteri was unbeatable and won 10 Grands-Prix, finishing runner-up in the Driver's Championship twice. That being said, he did go through phases where he struggled, particularly in 2021, failing to maximise the potential of the W12 on a number of occasions.
As a result, the Finn lost his seat to the incoming George Russell. He got a new lease of life at Alfa Romeo, starting 2022 on a high, with six points finishes in the first seven races. In the subsequent races the rest of the field caught up, but it was still a successful season for Bottas. The team is set to undergo changes in the coming seasons, once again returning to the Sauber name, and then Audi. And in Bottas, they have the perfect driver to lead them into this new era.
11 - Daniel Ricciardo
He may be out of a seat for 2023, but I still believe Daniel Ricciardo is a better driver than his previous two seasons would suggest. Sure, he was beaten fairly comprehensively by Lando Norris over his two full seasons, but you don't just become a bad driver overnight. Also, he was the man who won the race when presented with the opportunity, at Monza in 2021.
Up until 2021, things had never really gone too badly for Daniel. After being promoted to Red Bull back in 2014, Ricciardo outraced four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, winning three races in a spectacular first campaign for the team. Max Verstappen joined the team in 2016, and while Ricciardo continued to win races, the highlight being the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, the Australian believed the team's focus was shifting towards his younger teammate. Daniel made the decision to join Renault for 2019, again putting in some impressive performances over the next two seasons before making the ill-fated decision to join McLaren.
Like Mick Schumacher, Ricciardo's F1 career has been handed a reprieve, in the form of a reserve driver role for 2023, where he will rejoin Red Bull. Depending on how the Sergio Perez-Max Verstappen relationship develops into the new season, Ricciardo may just find himself back with a drive in 2024.
10 - Pierre Gasly
One of a number of drivers to have outperformed their car in the past few seasons, Pierre Gasly leaves AlphaTauri after successfully rebuilding a broken reputation that was left shattered on the ground, after his disastrous half-season at Red Bull. Since returning to Red Bull's 'B' team midway through 2019, Gasly has regularly excelled in a car that is often seventh or eighth-fastest, scoring a second-place in Brazil 2019, a third-place at Baku 2021, and of course, that memorable victory at Monza in 2020. These standout moments aside, Gasly has consistently scored points, underlining the mature racer the Frenchman has developed into.
Gasly truly earned his move to Alpine for 2023, with all observers keen to see just what he can achieve in a car which should be troubling the top ten more regularly. There was a feeling during 2022 that Gasly's potential was capped, by the fact he had achieved all he could with Red Bull's 'second' team, and the chance for a fresh start in a new team would give Gasly a new lease of life. Alpine finished fourth in the 2022 season, and Gasly will hope for further progress next year, with the Frenchman ready to score more big points, stand on more podiums and race hard against the top drivers in the world for victories.
9 - Sergio Perez
No doubt, Sergio Perez has been a world-class racing driver for a large part of his career, most notably illustrated by an incredible ending to the 2020 season, when he picked up his maiden win. Standing on the verge of an F1 exit, Perez left Red Bull with no choice but to place him in their car for the 2021 season.
At Red Bull, Perez has been a noble deputy for “number one” driver Verstappen, picking up three wins, and helping the team to the 2022 Constructors Title. In particular was that robust defence in Abu Dhabi 2021, which saw Perez hold up Lewis Hamilton in some of the best defensive driving F1 has seen. It was useful too, as it directly led to Verstappen closing the gap to Hamilton, meaning the Mercedes driver was unable to pit when the infamous Latifi crash triggered a Safety Car period.
The relationship soured between Max and Checo somewhat in 2022, following Max’s refusal to move over in Brazil, one that ultimately contributed to Leclerc finishing second in the Drivers’ Championship. One of the storylines of next season may be how the relationship develops with teammate Max Verstappen. If the damage is not repaired and Checo is not performing to the expected level, Red Bull have proved they are brutal in their decision-making in the past, and there is no reason to believe they won’t be again, especially with Daniel Ricciardo waiting in the wings.
8 - Carlos Sainz
Sainz had a mixed year in 2022, with some obvious highs, sandwiched between sobering lows. His first season in a front-running car yielded a maiden pole position, and win, along with multiple podiums. Yet, his performance as compared to his teammate this year was less than promising. Where Leclerc seemed to raise his level, especially at the start of the season, Carlos was unable to do so, and was realistically out of the Championship fight by the Summer break.
Expectations were high that Sainz may be on a level similar to Leclerc in 2021, when he outscored his younger teammate in the standings, but the 2022 season leaves Carlos’ reputation in a similar place to where it was before he joined Ferrari. Sure, he did get the majority of the bad luck compared to his teammate in 2022, but his slower pace was a trend rather than an exception.
Despite this, Carlos remains one of the best drivers in the sport, and is fully deserving of his place at Ferrari, a driver who is versatile, solid and on his day, one of the fastest out there. If Ferrari produce another race-winning car in 2023, Carlos will want to see improvement vs Leclerc, as he will want it to be him leading the title charge.
7 - Sebastian Vettel
The outgoing Sebastian Vettel leaves F1 as a true legend of the sport. He’s one of the most successful drivers of all time, having won four World Titles for Red Bull. Seb would go on to have further success at Ferrari, finishing runner-up twice to Lewis Hamilton.
After mistakes in 2017 and 2018 ultimately lead to a failed title bid, Vettel failed to beat the younger, hungrier Charles Leclerc over their two years as teammates, and eventually left the team. It looked as though Vettel had lost all motivation during a wretched 2020 season which yielded just 33 points, but the German seemed to be re-energised by a move to Aston Martin for 2021. They are a team at an earlier point in their development, the aim of becoming World Champions realistically still years away. Vettel produced a couple of classic drives, earning P2 in Baku, and fighting for the win in Hungary before being disqualified post-race, for not being able to provide a fuel sample.
Having announced his retirement halfway through 2022, Vettel was able to concentrate solely on his driving, and put in some excellent performances, proving he was still one of the best in F1. He can reflect on a career which had its ups as well as its downs, but he should be more than satisfied with the legacy he leaves in F1.
6 - George Russell
After achieving all he could at Williams, George Russell confirmed the promise that he may be a future World Champion in a fruitful 2022 season, picking up a maiden pole, win and multiple podiums, much like Sainz did. He also achieved the small feat of beating Lewis Hamilton in the points standings, something only two men have previously achieved.
George proved beyond all doubt that he was destined for bigger things than Williams, when he put his Williams car second on the grid for the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, in one of the most extraordinary qualifying performances I can remember. This, after standing-in for Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, in another strong performance, one that should have seen him win the race.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff finally gave into the pressure George was putting him under, by handing him a race seat for 2022, an opportunity the Briton grasped with both hands. In his third race, George was on the podium, and consistently picked up points for the team throughout the season, with 14 top-five finishes from the first 15 races. Towards the end of the season, Russell appeared to have an obvious pace deficit to Hamilton, and was arguably under a bit of pressure. Nevertheless, he put in a commanding performance to win the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, providing the perfect answer to the critics. I can’t wait to see what George has got to offer in a car fighting for victory week in, week out.
5 - Lando Norris
The McLaren driver was, in my opinion, the second most impressive driver across 2022 (behind only Max), putting in some very impressive performances in a car that finished fifth in the Constructors' Championship. Lando has improved for every season of his F1 career, stacking up well compared to his previous team-mates, both race winners in Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo.
Over their two seasons together as team-mates, Lando and Carlos were pretty evenly matched, and fired McLaren to third in the Constructors' standings. In 2020, Lando arguably endured the majority of the bad luck, especially towards the late stages of the season, meaning that, while Carlos finished ahead in the final points table, the true picture suggested something different.
By the time 2021 came around, Lando found himself with a new team-mate in Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian arriving with plenty of reputation, including two impressive seasons at Renault and seven race wins at Red Bull. Norris took it to another level, driving consistently and maturely in his McLaren, often outperforming cars quicker than his own, scoring four podiums and a maiden pole position. Ricciardo had no answer to his team-mate's pace, even initially Qualifying behind Norris at the race he won at Italy. Norris lost out on a first victory that weekend to Ricciardo's faster start, and was also unlucky to miss out in Russia, sliding off the track on dry tyres when he really should have been on intermediates.
Norris' domination over his team-mate increased in 2022, the youngster amassing 122 points compared to Ricciardo's 37. The Brit was consistently 'best of the rest' behind the top three teams, becoming the only driver from outside of these teams to finish on the podium during the course of the season. Amongst many standout performances were his qualifying and sprint in Brazil, achieved despite having had food poisoning a day prior, demonstrating his fitness, desire and commitment.
Norris will be up against a new team-mate in 2023, the highly-rated rookie Oscar Piastri. If Norris can yet again deliver against a fast team-mate, one of the top teams may be looking at him moving forward into 2024 and beyond.
4 - Charles Leclerc
In his 102 starts, Charles Leclerc has scored 18 pole positions, giving him a hit rate of a pole position every five (and a bit) Grands Prix, impressive given he's not had a Championship-competing car until the season just gone. He is arguably the best qualifier in the sport, producing memorable laps even in uncompetitive machinery throughout 2020 and 2021.
He is a driver for me who has potential to be number one on this list, for which he needs to translate his qualifying performance on Sundays, and to iron out his mistakes. Converting 18 poles into just five wins is a ratio that needs to be improved. Of course, a lot of those 'missed' wins have come from a lack of race pace, reliability problems and Ferrari's poor strategy calls, but some have been Leclerc's fault, France 2022 for example.
Leclerc outperformed more experienced teammate Sebastian Vettel in their two seasons as teammates, and has generally been quicker compared to Carlos Sainz. Let's not forget, he won his first Grand Prix under massive pressure from Lewis Hamilton at Belgium in 2019, amidst the grief of losing his friend Anthoine Hubert a day before. Seven days later, he became the 11th man who would bring Monza success to the Tifosi, winning the 2019 Italian Grand Prix.
There is no question about how good Charles is - he is World Champion material, and for him, that has to be the next step.
3 - Fernando Alonso
The 2005 and 2006 World Champion remains, at 41, one of the best racing drivers in the world. Obviously, in the first part of his career, Fernando was hugely successful, winning 32 races and two World Titles, yet he has arguably never driven better since returning to the sport in 2021, following a two-year break.
Throughout his career, Alonso has outperformed the mediocre machinery at his disposal, proving himself to be possibly the most adaptable driver in the world. The greatest example of this is his magnificent 2012 season, in which Alonso maintained a surprise title challenge, despite having a much slower car to title rival Sebastian Vettel.
In 2021, Alonso performed defensive driving heroics of the finest order against Lewis Hamilton in Hungary, holding the Mercedes up for ten laps which ensured his teammate Esteban Ocon won the Grand Prix. Then, he returned to the podium for the first time since 2014 with a masterful drive in Qatar. 2022 was arguably more impressive, despite finishing behind Ocon in the standings. Much of this was due to a series of reliability problems or other unlucky situations, meaning Alonso missed out on a whole heap of points. Most heartbreaking of all was in Qualifying in Australia, when a hydraulic problem caused Alonso to crash, when a potential pole position may have been possible.
It is hard to imagine other drivers delivering performances like he did in Canada, where he qualified P2 in the wet, or in Austin, where he battled back to finish 7th despite a damaged car, sustained during a spectacular crash with Stroll which sent him airborne. It is for this reason that Alonso cements himself third on this list.
2 - Lewis Hamilton
Perhaps the most difficult decision on the whole list was that of first and second, from Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. Two of the greatest drivers of all-time, their records and success achieved are spectacular. They have very different styles, in and out of the car, but seem to get similar results in terms of maximum performance on a Saturday and, in particular, a Sunday.
Hamilton has put in some of the greatest driving performances in the sport’s history, proving that beyond all of the records he may hold and the top cars he has raced in, it is his skill which marks him out as something special. Perhaps his greatest win remains the 2008 British Grand Prix, his first home victory. At different stages during the Grand Prix, he was lapping seconds faster than any other car on the same tyres, meaning he ended up winning the race by over a minute. 12 years on, Lewis sealed his seventh World Championship, winning in unique low-grip conditions in Turkey 2020, finding unrivalled pace on worn intermediate tyres. Once Lewis found himself in the podium positions, there was a sense of inevitability over the result of the race. He had bided his time, but suddenly the opportunity arose and he was clinical. It was a devastating performance.
Lewis is the most successful driver in the sport in terms of Championships and race wins, entering 2023 with the goal of becoming the first man in history to win eight World Titles. He came close in 2021, and I must admit it would have been very easy to place Lewis first on this list. In the final four Grands-Prix of 2021, having been level-pegging for virtually all of the season, I felt Lewis found something extra, another gear, and would have won the Championship were it not for Latifi’s crash and that Safety Car restart scenario.
Lewis, understandably, seriously considered quitting the sport after one of the most controversial races in Formula 1 history, but returned in 2022. Ultimately, it was a difficult year when you look at the final standings and the results, but Lewis did appear to find his usual level at the back-end of the season where he finished second in three consecutive assaults on securing a first victory of the season.
Alas, Lewis takes second place on this list, purely for Lewis’ form at the start of the season, and the domination of the man ahead of him…
1 - Max Verstappen
Red Bull's flying Dutchman Max Verstappen is arguably the hottest property in motorsport circles right now, having collected his fully-deserved second World Championship in dominant fashion. A modern great, Verstappen has been truly spectacular since he entered the sport at the tender age of 17, and is finally achieving accolades in the sport he was tipped to do from such an early age. A gruelling title fight with Hamilton in 2021 only seemed to fuel Verstappen’s motivation in 2022, as Max won 15 of the 22 races, setting a record for the most number of wins recorded in an F1 season.
Like any successful sportsperson, Max polarises opinion. His directness in interviews can make some believe he is arrogant or rude, whilst his aggressiveness in wheel-to-wheel combat in the past has not endeared him to fans and even his fellow drivers at times. However, it’s this edge to his character which makes him a ruthless, clinical racing driver. I accept it as part of him – it’s what makes him such a phenomenal driver. His domination this year has made him look unstoppable at times, and it is perhaps unimaginable at present to see how this force of nature fails to win future titles.
In truth, it is extremely difficult to choose between Lewis and Max, but I have given it to Verstappen because of the near faultless season he strung together in 2022.
Both are great drivers, and I definitely enjoyed their battle in 2021 - let’s hope we get more of the same in 2023.