Reader Writes: Verstappen highly regarded by his peers

For the sixth year running, Formula 1 conducted a Drivers’ “Driver of the Year” vote following the 2023 season, a vote once again won by Max Verstappen.

The survey, completed by all but Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, saw Verstappen continue his winning habits as his fellow competitors ranked him as the grid’s highest performer.

Where this choice will not surprise most fans, many of the selections that back up the triple F1 World Champion provide an insight into which drivers are most valued among their peers.

Let’s explore some of the key talking points from this year’s top 10, discussing the insight it provides into the 2024 season and beyond.

Hamilton Hungry as Ever

hamilton japanese gp red bull phenomenal f1

2023 proved to be yet another frustrating season for Mercedes and seven-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton.

Third place in the Drivers’ Standings and second in the Constructor’s Championship for Mercedes, suggests a positive season. However, both team and driver were unable to mount a challenge on Red Bull, having being hampered throughout by the decision to stick with their “zeropod” design concept.

Considering the above, it may shock many that Hamilton was regarded as the season’s second highest performing driver by his peers.

However, while Mercedes often arrived at Grand Prix weekends with the third and sometimes fourth fastest car, The Brit’s form rarely dipped. Hamilton battled with an unpredictable car throughout the year to secure six podiums and one stunning pole position to assert his authority within the team, responding emphatically to George Russell’s impressive 2022 season.

It was primarily on race day that Hamilton demonstrated his class, consistently positioning himself with opportunities to finish ahead of cars that he had no right to be beating given Mercedes’ pace.

For much of the season, second place in the standings was within reach as Sergio Perez struggled to extract the maximum potential from his Red Bull.

The fact that Hamilton made the runner up spot a realistic possibility demonstrates his high-performance level this season, something his fellow drivers have clearly recognized by ranking him so highly.

Should Mercedes provide their star driver with a more stable challenger next season, there is no doubt that Hamilton still possesses the ability to challenge for an eighth F1 Title.

Sergio Perez Brings up the Rear

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 25: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19 on track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit on November 25, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Where Hamilton’s ranking suggests his fellow driver’s admiration for his talents, the same cannot be said for Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

The Mexican was equipped with the statistically most dominant car in F1 history. Despite this, he was unable to extract it’s potential to aid his own performances.

As a result, his peers have ranked him bottom of the top 10 list following a season of two race wins and a distant second place in the driver’s championship to his teammate, Verstappen.

Much speculation has arisen throughout 2023 about the Red Bull concept and whether it is tailored to suit their lead driver, Verstappen.

Speaking on the High Performance Podcast, Former Red Bull driver Alex Albon likened the car’s setup to playing a computer game on maximum sensitivity in a recent interview.

Despite this, the grid clearly feel that Perez could have adapted more effectively to the challenging conditions of the RB19 and mount a credible challenge on his teammate. The six-time Grand Prix winner’s ranking only fuels speculation that a different driver could have made life more difficult for Verstappen this season.

With a year remaining on his contract, another season of continued struggles may see the end of Perez’ Red Bull stint as the team anticipate fiercer competition from their rivals in the coming years.

Fernando Alonso Fighting at the Front Again

Sao Paulo Takeaways: Alonso, my Driver of the Day

The drivers have acknowledged Aston Martin’s return as a podium contender with a third place ranking for Fernando Alonso.

Starved of a competitive car for several seasons, the former double F1 World Champion capitalized on the team’s pace by scoring seven podiums – even threatening a victory in Monaco.

His impressive season gave everyone an insight into how much talent the Spaniard still possesses and the role his car performance level has played in restricting this in years gone by. This has clearly been reflected in his ranking.

Despite a mid-season drop in form as Aston Martin chose a wrong development direction, Alonso maintained his high form level to clinch fourth place in the standings – a highest finish since his Ferrari days.

With the team unable to match Alonso’s position in the F1 Constructor’s Championship, eventually finishing fifth, they do benefit from a higher value of wind tunnel time in 2024. Could this prove pivotal in Aston Martin’s competitive status next season and subsequently Alonso’s ability to challenge for podiums once again.

New Entries to the List

The top ten list saw two newcomers in 2023 with McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri and Alpine debutant Pierre Gasly placing eighth and ninth respectively.

Piastri in particular stole many of the headlines this season. A stunning sprint shootout pole position in Spa’s wet conditions was backed up by a couple of podium finishes and a sprint race victory in Qatar.

The Australian proved popular with many amid his calm demeanor, a factor that may have contributed to his inclusion on the list.

While no real intra-team conflict brewed with McLaren teammate Lando Norris, this will surely change if Piastri continues his upwards trajectory.

Meanwhile, Pierre Gasly overcame a difficult season to claim an impressive podium finish in Zandvoort, beating the Ferrari of Sainz on pure pace with a brilliant overtake.

Mid-season management changes caused turmoil within a team that are currently struggling to deliver on their five-year performance plan.

Should Alpine claw back some of their engine power deficit and join the podium contenders, the grid appear to agree that Gasly has the talent to consistently deliver in the right car.

(Opinion piece by GrandPrix247 reader Josh Maclaren)