Ranked: Who is the best F1 driver? Tier system reveals elite racers to questionable (2024)

Let’s risk opening a can of worms by attempting to categorise each F1 driver – from the elite, right down to the questionable.

While F1 drivers’ talents are usually made most evident by the machinery they’re driving, it is possible to get a feel for where a driver stands in the pecking order based on how they exploit their machinery. Given there’s no such thing as a bad driver in F1, let’s attempt to categorise the 2024 field from top to bottom, in no particular order in each category…

Elite

Max Verstappen

We don’t really need to justify this one, do we? The Dutch driver has a command over Formula 1 that hasn’t been this comprehensive since Lewis Hamilton’s peak years, and there’s no sign of him backing off any time soon.

The scariest thing about Verstappen is the fact that, on top of always producing the goods when required, his mistakes are incredibly rare. And even when those rare moments happen, they are usually inconsequential.

How long does he have to keep up this level to be considered the greatest of all time? Well, maybe if we see him do the same outside of a Red Bull…

Lewis Hamilton

What was once unquestionable is now longer the case, and it’s tricky to categorise the 2024-spec Lewis Hamilton. Based on the Hamilton we’ve seen over the past two years, he’s not regularly showing what his talents undoubtedly are but, when he does, there’s no doubting that he has the ability to take the race to anyone on the grid.

For now, Hamilton still belongs in the elite category but, until he slots in at Ferrari and it’s possible to see whether he’s back to his best in a new environment, he is in danger of slipping out of this ranking.

Fernando Alonso

Granted, Fernando is making a few more mistakes than he used to but, in general, the Spaniard brings home the maximum result his Aston Martin is capable of more often than not.

Alonso has belonged in the elite category for two decades, and there’s not yet any reason to believe he deserves a demotion.

While some may disagree, think about this way: if Alonso was thrown into the Red Bull alongside Verstappen, can we genuinely say that we don’t see him being a problem for the Dutch driver on a fairly regular basis?

Great

Charles Leclerc

The Monegasque straddles the line between the very top tier of F1’s great drivers, but doesn’t quite yet scrape into the elite category, despite being, perhaps, the quickest man over a single lap currently in the sport. This is simply due to him being prone to errors, whether under pressure or not.

The 2022 French Grand Prix is the obvious example of this, but there have been plenty of less spectacular incidents that all have one common element: Leclerc failing to bring home the result he and his car are capable of.

Leclerc’s affable personality is heartwarming, and his willingness to accept blame and culpability is admirable but, while it’s unusual to see the likes of Verstappen or Hamilton bin it into a wall, the same can’t be said for Leclerc.

If he can calm this exuberance down and maximise his results more often, then he’s certainly an elite-level driver.

Carlos Sainz

Once upon a time, there was no question that Leclerc had a clear edge on his Ferrari teammate. Sainz struggled to get to grips with the ground-effect cars immediately, and the heightened expectation of racing in a front-running car seemed to leave him addled.

But Sainz has worked hard to unlock his talents. His willingness to question Ferrari’s decisions and strategy has been to his benefit on occasion, notably for his first win at Silverstone in 2022, has now been bolstered by him being far closer to Leclerc in terms of pace – no mean feat, considering Leclerc’s prowess over a single lap.

There is no longer any certainty over which Ferrari driver will perform better on any given weekend which, not that long ago, was not the case.

Lando Norris

While still without a win, Norris has shown that, when the stars align, he’ll be more than capable of doing so. However, given that elite-level drivers are known for their ability to pluck wins from races they shouldn’t have won, Norris’ failure to win races he perhaps should have meant he belongs in this category for now.

Norris showed his mental strength when, as a still-inexperienced youngster who had learned alongside Sainz as a mentor and friend, Daniel Ricciardo arrived at McLaren in 2021. While Ricciardo’s arrival didn’t exactly mean tension, his bravado and expectation of beating Norris meant it was even more shocking when it was the British driver who brought home the sensational results on a far more consistent basis.

Sure, Ricciardo got the headline result at Monza but, had Norris not played the team game of settling in behind him, it might have been a very different story.

The one question mark over Norris is his ability to shake off his own self-doubts, although he does seem to be improving in this regard as he gets older. Alongside Oscar Piastri, he’s got a real test – and it’s one he’s not failing in so far…

Oscar Piastri

Piastri vaulted into F1 immediately in the great category, underlining his incredible rookie season with a win in the Qatar sprint – no easy feat, with Max Verstappen hunting you down.

His junior category prowess suggested Piastri is the real deal and the Australian has unquestionably benefitted from the wisdom of Mark Webber as his manager – Piastri has proven adept and cooperative when it comes to team orders and calls not going his way.

Piastri appears utterly unshakeable, showing no signs of the emotional rollercoaster that Norris puts himself through, and has shown remarkable single-lap pace. However, his race pace still needs work – Piastri isn’t quite as good as Norris when it comes to keeping the tyres alive and the pace up for an entire Grand Prix.

In his sophom*ore year, McLaren fielding two drivers as equally matched as Norris and Piastri shines a spotlight on just how well the Australian has adjusted to life in the big leagues.

George Russell

Just how good is George Russell, really? Unfortunately for the young British driver, the timing of his switch to Mercedes coincided with their dip in performance, meaning we’ve only had the chance to see Russell fighting at the very front on previous few occasions.

But, comparing to Hamilton, Russell has fared very well. From the very start of his Mercedes tenure, Russell has looked every bit as capable as the seven-time World Champion and, while there have been ebbs and flows in their respective formbooks, the younger British driver has been the better performer of late.

Fast and extremely capable, Russell does make the occasional error – not as frequently as Leclerc, but enough that it’s not entirely shocking to see a crashed Mercedes with him behind the wheel.

Is there enough in him to promote him into the elite category? For now, no, but that doesn’t mean the potential isn’t there.

Good

Sergio Perez

The Mexican driver can be as good as anyone on his day – it’s just that his day isn’t quite as often as it perhaps should be. Capable of being quick over a single lap, Perez’s greatest weakness is perhaps that he tends to panic in circ*mstances where he knows his day hinges on getting past someone.

Too often, we’ve seen Perez get caught up in incidents during a race while battling through the field – lacking the patience and strength of will to wait for more straightforward opportunities.

With the pressure on in a big way for 2025, it’s interesting to note that it’s in this exact area Perez hasn’t made any errors so far this year. Keeping that level-headedness and allowing himself to finish second by simply driving to his car’s ability will secure him a contract extension – and it’s all in his hands now.

Yuki Tsunoda

It’s taken four years, but there are signs that Tsunoda is finally learning the lessons Red Bull has wanted him to since he entered F1 as a temper-fuelled youngster.

Having taken a drubbing alongside Pierre Gasly during their time together, Tsunoda had the legs on Nyck de Vries in 2023, but there was no clear winner between himself and Daniel Ricciardo during their handful of races together.

2024 allows Red Bull (and us) to finally see just how strong Tsunoda really is – the possibility of a Red Bull seat means it’s imperative to outperform Ricciardo this year.

With Red Bull talking up how good Ricciardo apparently was in a testing scenario last year, Tsunoda has the edge on the Australian so far and the Japanese driver is proving himself in the midfield.

Esteban Ocon

The winner of the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix hasn’t had too many opportunities to shine recently, but has shown himself a very capable figure in the midfield.

Ocon makes precious few mistakes, and he and Pierre Gasly have been on a very similar level during their time together as Alpine teammates – and he wasn’t exactly trounced by Fernando Alonso either.

When the car is dialled in, Ocon has shown an ability to pull off a strong result – as evidenced in last year’s Monaco Grand Prix. But, while bogged down in the Alpine as it bounces between the upper and lower midfield, it’s difficult to award Ocon any higher.

Pierre Gasly

Gasly’s stellar run between the 2020 and ’21 seasons seems quite a long time ago now, and the French driver seems to have mentally settled into his position in the midfield after his move to Alpine perhaps hasn’t worked out how he envisioned.

Gasly and Ocon have been far more harmonious together than many thought coming into the partnership, and there hasn’t yet been a clear winner either – neither is stamping their authority over the other.

Ocon appears to have taken a more positive mindset into 2024, having realised the extent of Alpine’s woes, which could stand to him as the year progresses, but Gasly has proven on numerous occasions he’s able to step up to the plate when required.

Nico Hulkenberg

Does Nico Hulkenberg deserve a stronger car than he has? The German driver returned to F1 last season with a different, calmer approach that has seen him be a clear step ahead of Kevin Magnussen throughout their year and a bit together.

Perhaps having come to terms with his career being over at the conclusion of 2019, the long time out of F1 as a full-timer has perhaps meant the issue of not having scored a podium in over 10 years in the sport, isn’t quite as big a deal as it once was.

Hulkenberg is proving fast and dependable in this second chance at life in F1 and, while his time to land a leading seat might be behind him, he’s making the most of the opportunities that are appearing in front of him. Don’t rule him out of moving up the grid for 2025…

Alex Albon

Restoring his career with Williams after playing a pivotal role at Red Bull since losing his race seat after 2020, Albon has earned the praise of James Vowles – no stranger to dealing with World Champions from his time at Mercedes – as being capable of putting in Champion-level drives.

Albon has proven he is very capable of putting in strong performances in the lower-pressure environment at Williams, and it’s unfair to refer back to his struggles at Red Bull as being indicative of his performance level nowadays.

The Britsh-Thai racer is fast and dependable, doesn’t make many errors, and has settled well into a leadership role with the Grove-based team. But there are hints that the extremely personable Albon lacks a ruthless streak – easy to overlook with the current dynamic.

After all, Red Bull went to bat for him on the driver market – but not for their own teams. Albon needs to be tested alongside a teammate of a known quantity once more, to see truly how good he is after rebuilding his career.

Dependable

Valtteri Bottas

Bottas has had some incredibly high peaks of performance during his time in F1 but, equally, has had days of utter anonymity. In the environment of Mercedes with their strong car, Bottas’ results thrived.

Able to keep his head calm in a way Sergio Perez has struggled to do in a similar position at Red Bull, Bottas was the ideal teammate for Lewis Hamilton – fast enough to be a problem for everyone else, but not enough to cause Hamilton problems. Nor was his personality aggravating enough to give Mercedes any headaches in controlling the dynamic.

Having forged out his own path with Alfa Romeo/Sauber/Stake since leaving Mercedes, Bottas is unquestionably a happier man – and his personality has emerged as one of the friendliest and most unique on the grid.

Give him the right car, and Bottas will bring home the result. But, with Sauber struggling to give him that car, Bottas has got stuck in the midfield and isn’t always clearly outperforming Zhou Guanyu – he needs a big year in order to secure a deal to see him through to the start of the Audi years.

Zhou Guanyu

Zhou has proven remarkably similar to Bottas during their time together as teammates. With the pair forming a harmoniously friendly, if forgettable pairing, there’s no sense that the two drivers would sell their own grannies to get one over on the other.

Zhou has compared favourably alongside Bottas, but it’s difficult to tell whether either are extracting the ultimate performance from the carand the points difference between the pair at year end could come down to minor strokes of luck, rather than displays of utter brilliance.

Kevin Magnussen

Having had a brilliant return to F1 at the start of 2022 when Haas called upon his services to replace Nikita Mazepin at short notice, Magnussen’s second chance has borne remarkable similarity to his first.

The Danish driver continues to be one of the feistiest drivers to battle within the midfield, and his defence abilities are second to none. However, he has struggled to get the most out of his Haas in a way that Hulkenberg hasn’t.

Lance Stroll

The Canadian driver may not be the greatest driver in F1 but has proven himself to be a solid and dependable force in the midfield during his time. While Stroll doesn’t set the world alight alongside Fernando Alonso, there are not many who would.

The biggest criticism that can be made towards Stroll is the fact he unquestionably is benefitting massively from nepotism – would he be an Aston Martin F1 driver, or an F1 driver in general, if it wasn’t for his father’s wealth and purchase of the team? Highly unlikely.

But Stroll is not a danger to have around – he has proven he can score good points, and even podiums, and wasn’t trounced entirely by Sebastian Vettel during their time together. Stroll’s laidback, sardonic approach to dealing with the media also belies how seriously he takes F1 – just look at how hard he worked, and how determined he was, to get back following his injuries last year.

While he has job security with Aston Martin, if Stroll was made to go looking on the open market for a drive – how many teams would pick him up? It’s safe to assume the leading teams wouldn’t, but Stroll could land a seat elsewhere if he truly wanted, meaning he has sufficient talent to back himself up.

Question marks

Logan Sargeant

The American driver had a tough rookie season, and never quite looked at home behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car. But he did just enough to be granted a second season in F1, and has looked a little closer to the known quantity that is Alex Albon so far.

Is Sargeant truly F1 material? At the moment, that’s difficult to quantify. While he has a tough car to drive, the true greats have usually found a way to shine. Think how Fernando Alonso made a name for himself wrestling around the truly awful 2001 Minardi – the present-day Williams is a far easier beast to tame.

Sargeant has shown a willingness to learn and be patient, and his calm ego allows him to admit he’s on a learning curve – always a good sign. But is the talent there to make him one of the best 20 drivers in the world? As it stands, it’s not looking positive.

Daniel Ricciardo

Ricciardo’s much-hyped full-time return to F1 has resulted in a massive spotlight being shone on him. Frustratingly for the Australian, the comeback is showing common elements to the stint at McLaren that resulted in him being paid off to leave.

Quick-ish but not quick enough, Ricciardo’s admission that he’s on a journey of understanding with the new car sounds all too familiar – he hasn’t been able to jump in and go as quickly as Tsunoda, and his chances of ever returning to Red Bull seem to be dwindling by the day.

Hope is diminishing that Ricciardo still has what it takes, but it’s not gone for good just yet.

While Ricciardo’s pace and dependability are in question, his self-belief isn’t – he truly believes he can overcome this. But, unfortunately for him, the clock is ticking – he needs to find it, and fast.

Read Next: F1 2024 power rankings: Max Verstappen not No.1, Hulkenberg above Hamilton

Ranked: Who is the best F1 driver? Tier system reveals elite racers to questionable (2024)
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