F1 POWER RANKINGS: Which driver denied Hamilton top spot after the Qatar Grand Prix?
There were plenty of talking points after the very first Qatar Grand Prix. But which drivers impressed our Aramco F1 Power Rankings judges the most under the lights at the Losail International Circuit? Their votes are in…
HOW IT WORKS
Our six-judge panel assesses each driver after every Grand Prix and scores them out of 10 according to their performance across the weekend – taking machinery out of the equation
Our experts’ scores are then averaged out across the season to create an overall Power Rankings Leaderboard (at the bottom of the page)
Seven years, three months and 25 days was the interval Fernando Alonso endured between his 2014 Hungarian and 2021 Qatar Grand Prix podiums – while he also became only the third quadragenerian driver in the last 35 years, after Nigel Mansell and Michael Schumacher, to stand on the rostrum. Stats aside though, this was simply a brilliant weekend from Alonso, especially on race day, as he scalped Pierre Gasly for P2 on Lap 1 before claiming the first podium of his F1 comeback.
No pun intended, but the difference in Hamilton’s performances from FP1 to qualifying and the race in Qatar was night and day. Off-colour with a stomach-ache on Friday, come quali, Hamilton was in devastating form, with both of his Q3 laps good enough for pole – although the second one gave it to him by over four-tenths over Max Verstappen’s ultimately disallowed lap. From there, Hamilton simply blasted off into the untouchable mid-distance on Sunday evening for his 102nd victory, moving him just eight points shy of Verstappen’s title lead.
Ignoring the yellow flag issues that dropped him from P2 to P7 on the grid, this was a worryingly 2020-spec performance for Verstappen; that is to say, the Dutchman did the maximum job he could with the equipment at his disposal, but ultimately had to settle for P2 behind a Hamilton-Mercedes package that was simply a step better this weekend, as it was in Brazil. That crushing win in Mexico City seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it?
Just as for Alonso in Hungary, Esteban Ocon was big enough to realise that the Qatar Grand Prix was his team mate’s race to shine. Implored by Alonso to “defend like a lion” to protect the Spaniard’s third place (a reference to Ocon’s own comments about Alonso’s defence of Hamilton in Hungary that ensured his maiden victory) Ocon did the best he could to keep Sergio Perez at bay and allow Alonso to get away at the front. The Frenchman was rewarded with his own fifth place, while he described the Qatar result for Alpine as “like a win”.
Like Alonso and Ocon, key to Lance Stroll securing his best finish of 2021 in Qatar was a well-executed one-stop strategy. It probably didn’t make for the most thrilling night behind the wheel for the Canadian, but it achieved the desired results, as Stroll came home a fine P6. With Sebastian Vettel taking P10, it marked just the third double score in a race for Aston Martin this season.
Lando Norris was in no doubt that, had it not been for a late puncture that forced him into a second stop, P4 in Qatar would have been his. After making Q3 where team mate Daniel Ricciardo could not, Norris was doing everything required of him to claim that fourth place when the puncture struck and he pitted on Lap 49 of 57. He performed a decent recovery thereafter to make it back to P9 by the end – but that did little to improve his mood on Sunday evening.
There were plenty of positives from Carlos Sainz’s Qatar weekend, not least the fact that he was one of only four drivers, alongside the two Mercedes and Max Verstappen, to make it through Q2 on the medium tyre. From there, though, Sainz endured a largely anonymous, albeit points-scoring showing, coming home P7 having been another driver to one-stop.
Sergio Perez would argue that there were mitigating circumstances behind his Q2 knock-out. But suffice it to say that, with the drivers’ and constructors’ titles so finely poised, Perez didn’t do himself any favours on Saturday – his performance especially stark given both AlphaTauris went through to Q3. But after that Perez did the recovery job required of him to take P4 – although the Mexican felt he should have been left out to nurse his tyres to the end on a one-stop, rather than ceding track position to Alonso with a two...
But for a disastrous start that saw him drop from P10 to P17 on Lap 1, this could have been a strong race for Sebastian Vettel. The four-time champion was the sole Aston Martin to make it through to Q3, but then got squeezed at the start, dropping him down the order and leaving him to stealth his way back up to P9 – only to be deposed by Norris with three laps remaining.
Heartache for Gasly, who drove so beautifully across Friday and Saturday. But following his first ever front-row start – earned thanks to penalties for Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas driving through yellow flags caused by Gasly’s own puncture in quali – the French driver’s pace then evaporated under the floodlights, with a decision to start on the softs and two-stop seemingly contributing to Gasly’s undoing as he came home an unhappy 11th.
Kimi Raikkonen, George Russell and Charles Leclerc were all just outside the top 10 this week. Raikkonen never looked like troubling the top 10 but at least showed the old magic in a fine wheel-to-wheel battle with Nicholas Latifi.
Leclerc, like Ricciardo and Perez, failed to make it out of Q2, but at least took points for P8 on race day. And Russell did the best he could with a Williams FW43B that appears to have stagnated performance-wise in recent races, before a late puncture left him P17.
THE OVERALL STANDINGS
Despite Hamilton’s 10.0 and 9.8 scores from the last two races, he remains tied with Lando Norris for P2. Perez, meanwhile, climbs back into the top 10 in place of Vettel, while Sainz and Alonso both move upwards too.