F1 Singapore GP driver rankings: Perfection from Sainz, a statement from Lawson

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 17: Race winner Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari celebrates on the podium after the F1 Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2023 in Singapore, Singapore. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)
By Luke Smith and Madeline Coleman
Sep. 18, 2023

Stay informed on all the biggest stories in Formula One. Sign up here to receive the Prime Tire newsletter in your inbox every Tuesday and Friday morning.

With Max Verstappen and Red Bull out of victory contention for the first time in over a year, the Singapore Grand Prix gave the rest of the Formula One field a golden opportunity.


Ferrari, Mercedes, Aston Martin and McLaren all circled to take full advantage of Red Bull’s struggles, knowing they were unlikely to get a chance as good as this to win a race all season.

Right down to the final laps, just a couple of seconds covered the quartet of Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, all with high pressure to snatch the victory.

The win went Sainz’s way thanks to a brilliant, tactical performance, but that didn’t stop his rivals for victory from impressing — even if one ended up in the wall.

But which stars shone brightest in the Singapore night? Here’s our top 10 for Sunday’s race. As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom.

1. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)

Start: P1

Finish: P1

Sainz produced his best display in Ferrari colors at Monza two weeks ago, taking a brilliant pole and then fighting Verstappen through the opening stages. Singapore was even better.

Like at Monza, Sainz was on the pace from the first session of the weekend, finishing second in FP1 before topping FP2 and FP3. He narrowly edged out Russell and teammate Charles Leclerc for pole and perfectly managed each phase of the race.

Even when the early safety car forced a change in strategy, and the virtual safety car allowed Russell and Hamilton to roll the dice with fresh tires, Sainz stayed cool. He pushed when he needed to without overworking his tires, and managed the gap to Lando Norris, using the McLaren to hold up Russell.

Sainz said that Zandvoort was “very good” and Monza was “almost perfect,” but that Singapore “was the perfect one.” He’s not wrong. A faultless performance at the front.

2. Lando Norris (McLaren)

Start: P4

Finish: P2

With new upgrades fitted to his car, Lando Norris maximized his performance throughout the weekend. He secured a fourth-place start for Sunday’s race, qualifying within 0.286 seconds of pole sitter Sainz’s fastest Q3 lap. He started the grand prix ahead of one Mercedes (Lewis Hamilton) and next to Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.


During the race, he handled the pressure well, navigating his way to second place and holding off a surging Russell (and benefitting from Sainz trying to help keep him within DRS range). It marked Norris’ third podium of the season, and there’s nothing more the 23-year-old could have done in Singapore.

3. Liam Lawson (AlphaTauri)

Start: P10

Finish: P9

Some may be surprised by how highly we’ve ranked Lawson, but it boiled down to the weight of two factors: making it to Q3 (knocking out Verstappen in the process) and scoring his first F1 points in just his third race weekend.

Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit is twisty and tight, so it’s understandable if Lawson took a cautious approach at first as he learned the format (and the car — AlphaTauri brought upgrades this weekend). He made it count, though, during qualifying. He didn’t break into the 1:31-range like teammate Yuki Tsunoda, but his final flying lap in Q2 was 0.007 seconds faster than Verstappen’s, making Lawson the only current Red Bull-backed driver to advance to Q3.

Come Sunday, he lost positions at the start, something he wants to review, but from there, he delivered an error-free race. As we saw during the grand prix, the smallest mistake can end up being a costly error, so simply avoiding that and not missing a step is a feat in itself. Lawson maximized the car’s performance, bringing home two points.

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 17: Liam Lawson of New Zealand and Scuderia AlphaTauri prepares to drive on the grid during the F1 Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2023 in Singapore, Singapore. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)
AlphaTauri rookie Liam Lawson scored his first F1 points in Singapore. (Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

Start: P5

Finish: P3

Singapore wasn’t the easiest of weekends for Hamilton. He struggled to match teammate Russell’s pace through qualifying, leaving him four-tenths of a second further back in fifth. It would be a deficit that Hamilton would rue after the race, where he was much closer to Russell, especially in the final stint.


He started the GP aggressively, running very wide at the first corner and eventually giving up the places he gained to Russell and Norris. It would be the closest he’d get to them in that first stint, but Hamilton came into play later on. Mercedes put Hamilton on the same strategy as Russell for the final stint as he also had a new set of mediums saved.

Russell may have been pushing to catch the leaders and snatch the win away, yet it was Hamilton who was the quicker Mercedes driver through the last stint. He even asked if Russell could speed up as they approached Norris with a few laps to go.

Hamilton made the podium after Russell’s last lap crash, but he felt the gap between them in the earlier stints — because of his own setback in qualifying — had hurt Mercedes’ chances of using the numbers to its advantage early on.

“When you separate the cars a little bit more, it makes it really hard to work against two other drivers from another team,” Hamilton said. “So, I’ve got to do a better job there.”

5. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

Start: P11

Finish: P5

Verstappen’s struggles in Singapore shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise. Right after the race at Monza, he warned the street track wouldn’t be Red Bull’s strongest. But nobody saw it being quite this bad.

Verstappen fumed that his car was “absolutely shocking” after his shock Q2 exit on Saturday, leaving him to start 11th. He quickly accepted the reality of the situation: both his and Red Bull’s win streaks were good as finished.

Starting on hard tires gave Verstappen the chance to run deep in the race before pitting. He carefully managed the first stint, deliberately leaving a gap to some of the cars ahead to avoid hurting his tires in dirty air. Sainz’s slow pace at the front meant Verstappen could stabilize the gap, and with a fresh set of mediums for the final stint, he had a chance to make serious inroads.


The safety car spoiled that. It lifted Verstappen up to second briefly, but it also bunched the pack and allowed everyone else to fit fresh tires. Verstappen was powerless to keep Russell, Norris, Hamilton and Leclerc back, reporting that it felt like he was “driving on ice” towards the end of the stint.

The mediums worked their magic through the final stint, meaning Verstappen could claw his way from 15th to fifth as others struggled on old hards. It was perhaps the most he could achieve given how the race played out, but Verstappen will still want to quickly forget about this weekend and shift focus to Japan.

6. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)

Start: P3

Finish: P4

A swing of eight-hundredths of a second in qualifying could have made this a very different weekend for Leclerc. The 0.079 second gap to Sainz left him third on the grid, making him the rear-gunner. The soft tire call for the first stint helped him jump Russell before then slowing his pace to create a gap, defending Sainz from a possible undercut.

Leclerc was still in a good spot for the podium until traffic in the pit lane meant Ferrari had to hold him a couple of extra seconds in the pits, putting him behind Russell, Norris and Hamilton, all of whom had superior race pace. There was little he could to respond.

Fourth place — it would’ve been fifth without Russell’s last lap clash — left Leclerc with mixed feelings. He’d played his part in helping Sainz win the race, and Ferrari had nailed the execution of the grand prix. Yet being step — even a very small one — behind Sainz all weekend meant he didn’t have a chance to properly fight for the win.

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 17: George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W14 on track during the F1 Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2023 in Singapore, Singapore. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
George Russell’s heroic push for the win ended in disaster. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

7. George Russell (Mercedes)

Start: P2

Finish: P16

Singapore so easily could have ended in Russell, not Sainz, celebrating his second grand prix victory. He rolled the dice on an audacious strategy that required a serious charge in the final stint, and very nearly pulled it off — only for his race to end in the wall.


Russell was in good shape all weekend, running Sainz close for pole. He was jumped by Leclerc off the line (Leclerc aided by his soft tires and the cleaner side of the grid) but got back ahead under the safety car, knowing he had an extra set of mediums to fit for a late run at victory if he wanted.

Even before the VSC, Russell was leaning that way, only for Esteban Ocon’s stoppage to make the decision an easy one. The extra stop cost Russell track position, yet he was able to gain almost two seconds per lap on Sainz and Norris, making him a serious threat for the win. Without dropping back to give Norris DRS, Sainz admitted he would’ve been “dead meat,” so fast was the Mercedes.

Russell was the fastest driver out there on Sunday. But his race-ending mistake, clipping the wall on entry to Turn 10 on the final lap, was a big one — thus his place so far down our rankings.

“I was pushing the boundaries, and went down fighting,” Russell said. “I was proud of the job that we did up until that moment, and I’m not going to let one corner cloud what’s been such a positive weekend.”

Russell didn’t finish the race, but was classified P16 by the FIA.

8. Oscar Piastri (McLaren) 

Start: 17

Finish: 7

After a difficult qualifying ending, Oscar Piastri turned his weekend around as he climbed 10 places on Sunday, bringing home six points.

Teammate comparisons typically factor into our rankings, but this weekend the McLaren drivers competed in different car specifications, Piastri in the older version. Still, he had the pace to be competitive. On Saturday, Lance Stroll’s big crash ended Q1 before Piastri could finish an eye-catching lap that may well have pushed him into Q2.

Piastri didn’t miss a step come Sunday. He gained positions fairly early, and as the race proceeded, capitalized on opportunities when others misstepped. Ultimately, his weekend saw him do the maximum after facing compromised circumstances.

SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - SEPTEMBER 17: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and Haas F1during the F1 Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on September 17, 2023 in Singapore, Singapore. (Photo by Kym Illman/Getty Images)
Kevin Magnussen was quick by Haas’ standards and fought his way to a points finish. (Kym Illman/Getty Images)

9. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)

Start: P6

Finish: P10

Singapore marked Magnussen’s strongest weekend since Miami — his most recent top 10 finish.

Throughout the season, Magnussen has struggled to extract consistency from the VF-23, unlike teammate Nico Hülkenberg. Even with both drivers in the top 10 after making it to Q3, there was reason to caution people from being too optimistic given the team’s long-run pace. That being said, sixth place marked Magnussen’s second-highest start of the year (he took fourth in Miami).

Magnussen was quick by Haas’ standards and fought his way to a points finish. As he said after the race, “It’s a long bloody race if you’re not fighting, so you might as well just go for it.” The virtual safety car window helped revive his race when Magnussen pitted for soft tires, and he benefitted when Russell crashed out on the final lap. In the end, the Dane was quick but got lucky at times to stay within reach of points during the grand prix.

10. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)

Start: 8

Finish: DNF

Ocon looked poised to celebrate his birthday with a points finish until a gearbox issue ended his race early.

The Frenchman extracted the maximum en route to his Q3 appearance on Saturday, something Alpine desperately needed amid a roller coaster season. An eighth-place start looked like the maximum for Alpine compared to its nearby competitors, and Ocon didn’t misstep come Sunday, nailing key overtakes like the one on former teammate Fernando Alonso.

But in the end, Ocon fell victim once again to mechanical issues, something completely out of his control. The Frenchman had looked to be on pace to finish ahead of his teammate, Pierre Gasly who finished sixth place.

 (Lead photo of Carlos Sainz: Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Get all-access to exclusive stories.

Subscribe to The Athletic for in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.