With six races left in F1’s 2020 season, it just so happens that it is possible to split the grid into six distinct groups when sorting the Power Rankings ahead of the Portuguese Grand Prix.
This is not a ranking of who is F1’s best driver, nor how the championship would look in equal machinery. Instead it is an attempt to look at everything around each driver at the moment — performances, status, reputation, future prospects — and trying to make sense of who is rising and who is falling in the F1 pecking order.
The cream of the crop
1. Lewis Hamilton
2. Max Verstappen
This order might as well be engraved in stone at the top of every Power Rankings we do for the foreseeable future. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have seen Hamilton is on the brink of becoming F1’s most successful driver ever. His incredible recent form will put him into uncharted territory once he claims another victory.
As for Verstappen — right now if you were to bet on the driver to challenge whatever benchmark Hamilton finishes his career on, it would be the Dutchman. This year he has kept the bar at a super high level and is the only person close to matching Hamilton’s consistency and intensity on a race-by-race basis.
3. Daniel Ricciardo
4. Pierre Gasly
5. Charles Leclerc
These three are vying for the award for best driver of the rest this year. Ricciardo scored a popular, and much deserved, podium for Renault at the Eifel Grand Prix. He has made mincemeat of teammate Esteban Ocon in this second half of the season, too.
Gasly’s win at Monza is still fresh in the memory, but he barged past Alex Albon on route to sixth last time out. He’s still performing superbly. While Ferrari has fallen below expectations, Leclerc continues to excel — eighth, sixth and seventh might not look like much on paper, but given the place Ferrari is in right now, it’s a remarkable run of form.
Credit in the bank
6. Sergio Perez
7. Lando Norris
8. George Russell
9. Lance Stroll
These four drivers have all had impressive seasons in different ways. Perez might not have a confirmed seat for 2021 but it is hard to see him failing to land somewhere on the grid. Racing Point’s decision to replace Perez with Sebastian Vettel appears to have lit a fire, as his run of fifth, fourth and fourth has moved him to fifth in the championship.
Norris has encountered a bit of a blip in his standout campaign recently but has been one of the best drivers of the year. The same can be said about Russell, who was cruelly denied a point at Mugello before two difficult weekends at Sochi and the Nurburgring. Stroll failed to finish the last two races he started, but both retirements were out of his hands so it would be harsh to demote him too far down the order as a result.
Tip of the cap to: Nico Hulkenberg
While we’re on the topic of credit in the bank, it would be wrong not to mention Racing Point’s super-sub. Hulkenberg’s performance at the Nurburgring has strengthened the talk of him returning to the grid next season. However unlikely a move to Red Bull might be in reality, the fact he is even in that conversation speaks volumes about how good he has been in his limited appearances this year.
The Comfy Club
There are two drivers who appear to be a little bit too comfortable in their current situation.
10. Valtteri Bottas
11. Sebastian Vettel
Bottas and Vettel remain two of the most underwhelming drivers on the grid right now, but both have their immediate futures sorted out with contracts for 2021 (and, in Vettel’s case, 2022), so can’t drop too far down this list.
Bottas’ unforced error while leading the Eifel Grand Prix suggests little has changed despite his comfortable win in Sochi, while Vettel’s form has been bad enough it’s fair to question whether he’s worth the money Aston Martin are investing in him for 2021. Fun fact: since the British Grand Prix, Hulkenberg has outscored Vettel 10 points to six, despite starting just two races in that time.
The Kimi Club
Raikkonen can’t go in the group above or below this. He’s F1’s most experienced driver and is at the tail-end of his career with nothing to prove and nothing to lose. Reports suggest the door is open for him to take another year in F1 with Alfa Romeo but either way the 2007 world champion appears to be completely at ease with whatever is next for him.
The Uncomfy Club
The drivers in this segment all deserve their own entry, as each has reason to feel a little hot under the collar about their current form and their short- to medium-term prospects in Formula One.
14. Carlos Sainz
Sainz’s form has picked up recently, capped with a superb drive to fifth at the Nurburgring, but it’s still hard to escape the face Sainz appears to be making a big backwards step in joining Ferrari next season. Coming at such a crucial moment in his career, that move cannot be ignored.
15. Esteban Ocon
The hype once attached to Ocon has disappeared this year. He’s been close to Ricciardo in qualifying but seems completely out-matched by the Australian on Sundays. If he’s struggling to match Ricciardo it’s hard to see him doing much better alongside the returning Fernando Alonso in 2021.
16. Daniil Kvyat
The Russian’s chances of staying with Alpha Tauri appear slim. The team is testing F2 standout Yuki Tsunoda at Imola in November, while Kvyat would be the loser in any scenario which saw Red Bull demote Alex Albon and sign Perez or Hulkenberg in his place.
15. Alex Albon
Mugello was supposed to be the moment we saw the real Albon, but his performances in Sochi and Nurburgring were poor. It is significant that Red Bull’s tone around Albon appears to gradually be changing. 2021 is still his seat to lose, but clearly contingency plans are being made and that’s a fair reflection of how he’s been performing.
17. Kevin Magnussen
Of the two Haas drivers, Magnussen appears the more likely to be retained if the American team goes in that direction, which is the only reason he is above Romain Grosjean on this list. It’s been difficult to get excited by the Dane’s on-track performances.
18. Romain Grosjean
Grosjean turned in a wonderful drive to ninth last time out — his first points of the season — but it appeared to be too little too late to save his F1 career, as he seems to be heading towards the exit door.
19. Antonio Giovinazzi
Giovinazzi is under threat from the rising stars of Ferrari’s driver academy and is the most likely driver to make way for Mick Schumacher, assuming the German ends up at Alfa Romeo instead of Haas. Giovinazzi occasionally performs well, as he did by snatching a point at the Nurburgring, but it does not happen often enough to warrant an extended chance in F1.
20. Nicholas Latifi
Latifi has looked painfully ordinary in his rookie season at Williams. His sponsorship package helped the team but there are rumblings new owners Dorilton are looking at getting out of its existing driver contracts. Were that to happen to Latifi, it’s hard to see him landing anywhere else.