In the second part of RaceFans’ mid-season driver rankings running all this week, it’s time to look at the drivers who have not been the most disappointing performers of the season so far, but have still not been as impressive as the majority of their peers.
16 – Kevin Magnussen – Haas
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When Kevin Magnussen was brought back suddenly and offered a second lease of life in Formula 1 early last season, he came back with a bang and made his young team mate Mick Schumacher look second-rate over their year together. In 2023, the return of veteran Nico Hulkenberg was always going to be a bigger challenge for Magnussen – and so far, he is coming off second best.
Sitting in just 18th place in the drivers’ championship on only two points, Magnussen is conspicuously behind Hulkenberg in the standings. However, both Haas drivers have recorded just two top ten finishes each in the first 12 rounds – reflecting the challenges that the pair have faced during races. The VF-23 suffers from severe tyre degradation compared to its rivals which results in the Haas drivers regularly dropping down the order whenever they qualify in a decent position.
But even with that difficulty, Magnussen has clearly not done as good a job as Hulkenberg despite being with the team for a full season before Hulkenberg joined them. Magnussen has only beaten his team mate three times in qualifying so far this season. While Hulkenberg has only been knocked out of Q1 three times and reached Q3 as often as Sergio Perez, Magnussen has been eliminated at the first hurdle seven times and reached the top ten only once.
And during race days, Magnussen hasn’t exactly set the track alight. His Sunday in Jeddah was easily the most impressive as he muscled past Yuki Tsunoda in the final laps to snatch the final point, but that was probably the highlight of the season so far. He was far off the level of his team mate in Melbourne and retired when he appeared to just drive into the wall late in the race.
But while Melbourne was the only time in the opening five rounds where he failed to finish ahead of his team mate, he could not say the same for the vast majority of rounds that followed. Magnussen was behind his team mate in Monaco, Spain, Canada and Hungary – the latter of which was another bad weekend where he failed to follow Hulkenberg out of Q1 and was running last in the race until Logan Sargeant spun with a handful of laps remaining.
Aside from the low points, Magnussen has simply not been all that impressive. He will be eager to make sure he changes the narrative over the second half of the season.
15 – Yuki Tsunoda – AlphaTauri
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Yuki Tsunoda’s third season in Formula 1 has, on paper been his most impressive so far. While the AlphaTauri is clearly one of the slowest cars in the field, Tsunoda was the only one of the team’s drivers to score points in the first half of 2023 – doing so on three occasions.
It could easily have been more, though, as he finished just outside of the points in 11th place in three of the first five rounds, finishing tenth in the other two. It was undoubtedly the best start to a season that Tsunoda has enjoyed in his three seasons in the sport.
Helpfully for his own standing, Tsunoda was easily the better performer out of him and rookie team mate Nyck de Vries. In the ten rounds they competed together, Tsunoda got the better of De Vries eight out of ten times in qualifying, reaching Q3 in both Baku and Monaco. There were also only two occasions when Tsunoda failed to reach the finish line on Sunday ahead of De Vries, in Monaco – after running off track at Mirabeau in the wet – and at the Red Bull Ring.
He probably should have scored two more points in Spain but was hit with what he called a “very harsh” penalty for forcing Zhou off the track in the final laps which dropped him from ninth to 12th. But his weekend in Austria was easily Tsunoda’s worst of the year so far. He was knocked out of Q1, then lost his best time in sprint qualifying due to track limits. Then in the grand prix, he damaged his front wing at turn one in a move that looked like a typical divebomb in an open lobby race online and then earned 20 seconds of time penalties for nine track limits infringements.
But what was perhaps more striking was Hungary, where he was out performed by Daniel Ricciardo over the weekend despite the returning veteran never driving the team’s car before Friday practice. In his third year in Red Bull’s junior team, how Tsunoda fares against Ricciardo in the last ten rounds is likely going to determine his future in Formula 1.
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14 – Carlos Sainz Jnr – Ferrari
Carlos Sainz Jnr
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The fact that a Ferrari driver can be so far outside of the top ten rankings at the mid-season stage suggests two things. First, that Carlos Sainz Jnr has underperformed over the course of the first half of the year and, secondly, that the quality of the field is so strong this season that even being merely ‘decent enough’ will leave you looking outclassed by the majority of your peers.
Perhaps the most telling statistic about Sainz’s season so far is that while he sits in seventh place in the drivers’ championship, just seven points behind both George Russell and his Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc, Sainz is one of only two drivers in the top ten positions in the championship not to have finished on the podium so far in 2023. In fact, Sainz has only finished as high as fourth once in the opening 12 rounds, that being the opening race in Bahrain – which even then was mainly down to Leclerc breaking down from third place.
It’s not accurate to say Sainz has been bad this season or had any especially poor weekends. However, it is fair to say that he hasn’t exactly stood out on many occasions throughout the first half of the year. His home grand prix in Spain was his best weekend as he secured his only front row start of the season and while he dropped to fifth in the race, that reflected more on the superior race pace of the Red Bulls and Mercedes than it did his own performance.
It’s also true that the performance level of the top four teams behind Red Bull has varied wildly in 2023. But whenever Ferrari have been at their strongest in the first half of the season – such as Baku, Montreal and the Red Bull Ring – it’s been Leclerc who has made the most of the car each and every time. He admitted he just didn’t have the pace of Leclerc in Baku, who locked out pole for the sprint race and the grand prix, and in Montreal he crashed in practice, lost three places on the grid after blatantly impeding Pierre Gasly in qualifying and then followed behind his team mate in the race.
Sainz will know he’s capable of better than what he’s shown through the first half of the season. The question is, will he find a way to improve?
13 – Zhou Guanyu – Alfa Romeo
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Retrospectively, the struggles that two of this year’s three rookies – Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant – have endured over the opening half of the season makes Zhou’s rookie campaign of last year look all the more solid by comparison. However, Zhou Guanyu is no longer a rookie and would have been expected to step up in his second season – something, arguably, he has pretty much achieved.
Although Alfa Romeo’s drop in performance compared to the first half of 2022 has drastically reduced the opportunities for Zhou to make big splashes over the course of the season, the second-year driver has been much more equal in performance to team mate Valtteri Bottas over the opening 12 rounds of 2023 compared to last year. Although he is losing the qualifying battle by eight-to-four, Zhou finishes ahead of his far more experienced team mate just over a third of the time on Sundays – an improvement over last year.
More crucially, Zhou has the same number of points finishes – two – as Bottas has achieved in the same timeframe, contributing four of his team’s nine points in the constructors’ championship after top ten finishes in both Melbourne and Barcelona. He likely could have had another top ten in Jeddah had he not suffered slow pit stops and lost out with an inconvenient Safety Car. He was on very good form in Spain as he out-qualified Bottas, gained four places with an excellent start and eventually finished ninth after being promoted one position for being ‘forced off’ by Tsunoda as they battled in the final laps.
His only real bad weekend came in Canada – the scene of the best finish of his career for far from 2022. He was slower than Bottas in ever session in Montreal and was eliminated slowest from Q1 and while he benefitted from the Safety Car timing in the race to gain four places, he was unable to make the most of it and finished six places behind his team mate.
But other than that, Zhou’s performances could be characterised largely as ‘fine’. He did brilliantly in Hungary when the Alfa Romeo hit the sweet spot in qualifying to take his highest grid position of his career, but then his race fell apart at the start. While his poor getaway was down to a very peculiar car fault, he had no excuse for rear-ending Ricciardo at turn one and taking out the two Alpines as a result. A rare mistake from the typically reliable Zhou.
While he continues to enjoy a very strong relationship with his team mate Bottas, Zhou’s performance over the second half of the season could have a major impact on how both he and is team mate are perceived in the paddock – both by their own team as well as by their rivals.
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