F1

ESPN’s F1 Power Rankings — Max Verstappen proves value at No.1, yo-yoing Sebastian Vettel back into top 10

Ahead of each race in 2019, ESPN is ranking every driver on the grid in our Formula One Power Rankings.

In compiling these standings, we have taken out the car factor and focused solely on the drivers and how each has been performing. This is not a prediction for how the race will go this weekend. Nor is it a prediction for how things will look at the end of the season. Instead, read this as a gauge for who has the most influence over everything that lies ahead, who’s hot and who’s not ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Previous rankings: Australian GP | Bahrain GP | Chinese GP

Note: Teammate head-to-heads are compiled in qualifying sessions in which both drivers set a representative time and in races in which both drivers were classified as finishing.

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

Please, please, please get this guy in a Mercedes or a Ferrari! If the knock on Verstappen in the early part of his career was his inconsistency, he has well and truly cleaned that up in recent times and heads to Baku with 12 straight top-five finishes. If you think about it, that’s incredible, given that there’s really four cars on the grid that are quicker than his Red Bull. So he’s basically got the maximum out of his car in 12 consecutive races. Oh, and did we mention he is absolutely destroying new teammate Pierre Gasly!?

2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

Yes, yes, I know he has won the past two races, and I know he has the championship lead, but Hamilton still isn’t operating at his best — something that should terrify his rivals. The five-time world champion is having too many sessions where it just isn’t clicking for him, and to be quite honest, there hasn’t been much between him and teammate Valtteri Bottas through the first three rounds. Having said that, points-wise, 2019 is his equal-best start to a season in his career, so he’s certainly getting the job done on Sundays.

3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)

I bet Bottas is still thinking about that wheelspin at the race start in China, something that ultimately cost him the lead and a potential second win of the season. Still, he has been one of the most impressive drivers in 2019 and, as mentioned above, is proving he can match it with Hamilton — most of the time, anyway. The Baku redemption factor shouldn’t be discounted — Bottas was leading the race last year before picking up a puncture on the penultimate lap — and given the performance Mercedes showed in Shanghai, he’ll be in the fight once again.

4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)

All right, maybe putting Leclerc top in the last edition of Power Rankings was a tad premature, but I still believe he is the real deal. The 21-year-old was always on the back foot in China but would likely have finished ahead of Sebastian Vettel if not for Ferrari handing down team orders…again. If the Scuderia would just let him race, this guy could be anything, but right now they are putting all of their eggs in the Vettel basket. I tell you what, though, another strong weekend from Leclerc could have Ferrari reconsidering their No. 1.

5. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)

“What the f— is he doing? He almost hit me. On purpose!” The only criticism of Raikkonen’s start to the season is he actually thought teammate Antonio Giovinazzi tried to hit him in China, during practice. Yes, really! Jokes aside, the Finn has been spectacular for Alfa Romeo and is the only driver outside of the top three teams to score points at each race in 2019. In Shanghai, Raikkonen said he’s enjoying Formula One even more now that he’s treating it as a hobby. Gee, if only we were all that good at our hobbies…

6. Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso)

Is this the best rookie class since…well…ever? Okay, maybe not quite, but the trio of Albon, Lando Norris and George Russell has been mighty impressive in 2019. Albon’s drive from the pit-lane to 10th in China is arguably the best we’ve seen from anyone all year. Also, and it is still very early, but he’s already outscored teammate Daniil Kvyat 3-1. If it weren’t for his high-speed shunt in final practice, Albon might have come in even higher.

7. Lando Norris (McLaren)

See above, really. Another rookie, another high ranking. While Norris had his most difficult weekend of his short career in China, he still holds the equal-best race result for a driver not in a Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull, with his P6 in Bahrain. The 19-year-old has been an impressive qualifier in 2019, twice making Q3 for McLaren. He can actually consider himself reasonably unlucky to have slipped a couple of spots, but that speaks more about Raikkonen’s and Albon’s impressive starts to 2019.

8. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)

What’s that? The Ricciardo critics seem to have gone quiet again. The Australian may have only finished P7 last time out in China, but it was the best possible result for Renault. For all the talk of his slow start to the season, Ricciardo has now scored the same number of points as Hulkenberg and actually outqualified him 2-1. Not too shabby for a guy who has just joined the team and was perceived to be under pressure. Now, to work on fixing those dodgy engines…

9. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

Welcome to the top 10, Sebastian! Say what you want about Vettel’s podium in China, but he is finally on the board in season 2019, and that has to make him feel a whole lot better. I’m still not convinced he has the measure of Leclerc just yet, though, and I’m not sure he has the temperament to win the world championship this year. But, hey, I’ve been proven wrong more than once before. Go and prove me wrong again, Seb.

10. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)

He often goes unnoticed during races, which isn’t exactly a bad thing, but Perez has started making some serious gains for Racing Point. The Mexican heads to Azerbaijan — a race where he has twice finished on the podium, something no other driver has done — on the back of two consecutive points scoring finishes in Bahrain and China. Since the season opener in Australia, he has simply had the edge on teammate Lance Stroll, who is falling down these Power Rankings at a rapid rate.

11. George Russell (Williams)

If Russell isn’t jealous of fellow rookies Albon and Norris, I’ll stop watching Formula One right now. Equally as talented, Russell has been consigned to the back of the grid as Williams continues to be unbelievably uncompetitive. Still, he has dominated teammate Robert Kubica in all three races this season, and you get the feeling that will continue as he gets more and more comfortable with the car. It’s just a real shame he’s only able to race Kubica at the moment. We need him in the midfield battle.

12. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)

Poor Nico. From best of the rest in Australia to back-to-back retirements in Bahrain and China, 2019 has been a roller coaster ride for the German. Hulkenberg has shown glimpses of real dominance, but Renault’s fragile engine is holding him back. He doesn’t drop in these rankings because of that, though, instead because Ricciardo is starting to look like top dog at Renault. Life could be about to get worse as Ricciardo gets more and more comfortable with his new machinery.

13. Romain Grosjean (Haas)

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering what’s happened to Haas’ race pace — it has to be the greatest mystery of the season to date. Grosjean still hasn’t opened his points account in 2019, but he comes in higher than teammate Kevin Magnussen after outracing the Dane last time out in China. Don’t forget, Grosjean should have scored a haul of points in Melbourne if not for a botched pit stop, and he wasn’t really at fault for his retirement in Bahrain, either.

14. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)

Like Grosjean, Magnussen hasn’t had a great few weeks, but a lot of that can be blamed on Haas seemingly taking a backward step. He falls behind his teammate purely on their results last time out in China. However, the last time Magnussen finished consecutive races in 13th place, he went on to claim best of the rest 6th and then 5th in the following two races. Keep an eye on him in Baku….

15. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)

I’m really not sure what to make of Sainz’s season so far. He’s been unlucky at times, simply outperformed on other occasions, and after three races is yet to score a championship point. It’s hard for him to feature much higher here given that rookie teammate Norris has been performing on par, if not better. Having said that, I’m backing him to crack the top 10 sooner rather than later.

16. Lance Stroll (Racing Point)

I’m not sure if Stroll is just a really bad qualifier or if he thinks starting at the back gives him the ability to look like a star as he slices through the field. Either way, a streak of seven consecutive Q1 exits is a horror stat for the Canadian, and he ain’t going to be rising too high in these Power Rankings unless he cleans up his work on Saturday. Enough said.

17. Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso)

I’m going to repeat myself: If Kvyat does not outperform Albon, he won’t be in Formula One next year. The heat has been well and truly on the Russian to deliver, and so far he has failed to do so. Meanwhile, teammate Albon is earning Driver of the Day honours and surging up these Power Rankings. Kvyat didn’t make the most of Toro Rosso’s strong package in Shanghai, missing Q3 in qualifying and having his race ruined when a drive-through penalty was handed down by the stewards. He’s got to find something soon.

18. Pierre Gasly (Red Bull)

Three races in, and there’s still no signs that Gasly can be a long term teammate to Verstappen, or a reliable team leader should the Dutchman move elsewhere. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said he hopes Gasly’s fastest lap in China will give him some confidence going forward. That really sums up where he’s at right now, doesn’t it? In recent years Red Bull has had Vettel and Ricciardo walk, with Gasly so far off the pace it isn’t funny. They cannot afford to lose Verstappen as well.

19. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)

Like Verstappen with Gasly, Raikkonen is really putting Giovinazzi to the sword in the early rounds of 2019. Raikkonen has been a points finisher in all three races this year, while Giovinazzi is one of only five drivers yet to score this season. In fact, if you take the Williams cars out, Giovinazzi finished last in both Australia and China. Ouch!

20. Robert Kubica (Williams)

I genuinely feel bad for putting Kubica on the bottom yet again, but the sad reality is that’s where he is right now. For every race he is outperformed by Russell, it’s more and more likely Kubica won’t remain on the grid for 2020. It’s a shame, given his much-hyped return to the sport, but Formula One is no charity.



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