Ahead of each race in 2019, ESPN is ranking every driver on the grid in our Formula One Power Rankings.
In compiling these standings, we have taken out the car factor and focused solely on the drivers and how each has been performing. This is not a prediction for how the race will go this weekend. Nor is it a prediction for how things will look at the end of the season. Instead, read this as a gauge for who has the most influence over everything that lies ahead, who’s hot and who’s not ahead of the Russian Grand Prix.
Previous rankings: Australian GP | Bahrain GP | Chinese GP | Azerbaijan GP | Spanish GP | Monaco GP | Canadian GP | French GP | Austrian GP | British GP | German GP | Hungarian GP | Belgian GP | Italian GP | Singapore GP
Power Ranking podium
1. Charles Leclerc
2. Lewis Hamilton
3. Lando Norris (Last week: 9)
Charles Leclerc is still the undisputed leader of this list. You only had to look at the face of Lewis Hamilton during the post-qualifying press conference during a candid exchange between the two of them. Hamilton asked Leclerc if he really now had five pole positions on the season, and the last three in a row — when the response was yes, Hamilton turned away and said “shit!” with a smile and an approving nod.
It was a small moment, but it spoke volumes about the impression Leclerc has made this month. Leclerc’s pole lap was genuinely superb and he would likely have had a third straight win were it not for Ferrari’s strategy call, which handed the initiative to Sebastian Vettel (more on him later).
Hamilton stays second. There is no reason to relegate the man down this list. His nearest championship rival, teammate Valtteri Bottas, is obeying team orders to help him wrap up the title as early as possible. He doesn’t need to win another race to win title No.6, which he should have sewn up with ample time to spare.
Lando Norris goes third, moving above Max Verstappen. The rookie is having a superb debut season in F1 and recently appears to have the edge over Carlos Sainz. If the F1 grid was a stock market, everyone would want a piece of Norris right now.
4. Max Verstappen (Last week: 2)
Verstappen had another stellar weekend, but Singapore was supposed to big chance for Red Bull. An opportunity missed — with Ferrari surging, a chance for another win in 2019 might be hard to come by, meaning Verstappen has to slip down the order.
5. Daniel Ricciardo
The Honey Badger never misses an opportunity to remind us he’s the grid’s best at overtaking. He channeled frustration at a controversial penalty to light up the early stages of the race. He’s performing superbly.
6. Carlos Sainz
Sainz would be bottom of any list for bad luck at the moment — after two retirements, he finished out of the points in Singapore after early contact. When things are in his control, though, he’s still driving brilliantly and it would be harsh for him to be any further down this list.
7. Sebastian Vettel (Last week: 19)
Vettel needed that win. He was eviscerated by the media after the Italian Grand Prix and had to bounce back strong in Singapore. In truth, he got a bit lucky — he muffed up his chance to claim pole position in qualifying and was given what in hindsight was clearly the better of all the strategies on offer.
Once he got in front he was flawless, managing several restarts beautifully, so full credit to him.
One good race result doesn’t erase the memory of his roller-coaster 12 months but it could be the boost in confidence the four-time world champion needs to rediscover his best form. He will move further up this list when he proves he has what it takes to beat Leclerc’s current level on complete merit.
The Power Ranking midfield
8. Alexander Albon (Last week: 4)
In his first weekend of a “fair” comparison to his teammate, Albon was off the pace but still looked reasonably solid. He’s not done anything wrong yet, but the man he is battling with for another year in a competitive car had a great showing…
9. Pierre Gasly (Last week: 16)
Finally! Gasly looked back to his old self on Sunday, finishing eighth. Out of the car, it looks like the heavy weight he was carrying at Red Bull has been lifted. The 2020 Red Bull seat looks like Albon’s to lose, but Sunday’s performance showed Gasly is going to fight for it.
10. Antonio Giovinazzi (Last week: 17)
Is this the Giovinaisannce? Since Nico Hulkenberg’s service became available on the driver market, Giovinazzi has recorded two impressive points’ finishes in a row. His chances of staying at Alfa Romeo in 2020 have increased big time.
11. Romain Grosjean (Last week: 18)
If this was purely down to on-track form, Grosjean would be near the bottom. But he climbs here because Haas unexpectedly, despite all his mistakes (he made another for good measure in Singapore), extended his stay for another year.
12. George Russell (Last week: 13)
It’s hard to find much fault with Russell at the moment. He is the next man in line for a seat at Mercedes and right now just has to be patiently wade through life at the back of the grid for another year and a half.
13. Sergio Perez (Last week: 7)
Perez continues to be one of the midfield’s solid performers. He only falls because of movement around him.
14. Valtteri Bottas (Last week: 8)
If you listen to the Singapore GP radio compilation, there is a moment — a brief moment — where the Bottas questions the request from Mercedes strategist James Vowles to slow Albon and build a gap for Hamilton to emerge into from his pit stop in fourth, rather than sixth. In the end, he did it, allowing Hamilton to extend his already massive championship lead.
Maybe he had no, but it’s hard to imagine Hamilton obeying that order in a similar situation (recall how Hamilton backed Nico Rosberg into the chasing pack, despite protests from the pit-wall, at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix).
Bottas should be riding high on this list having kept the grid’s most coveted seat for 2020, but he’s done little in the last few months to suggest he won’t just slip back into the glorified wing-man role at some point during that season. Bottas has always gone well at the Russian Grand Prix but it is the place where he obeyed a team order to give Hamilton the win last year — the fact the dynamic is the same 12 months on is a damning indictment of Bottas’ season.
A bad report card
15. Kimi Raikkonen (Last week: 12)
The Iceman has thawed a bit recently. A clumsy collision with Daniil Kvyat rounds off a pretty dismal spell for the 2007 world champion.
17. Lance Stroll (Last week: 14)
Stroll turned in some nice moves in a thrilling last-lap tussle with three other cars in Singapore. Beyond that, it’s hard to remember the last time the Canadian did anything meaningful on track.
18. Daniil Kvyat (Last week: 11)
Over the weekend, it was confirmed Kvyat isn’t in the running to be Verstappen’s teammate at Red Bull in 2020. Kvyat has had an impressive return year, but right now his short-term prospects look fairly ordinary.
19. Kevin Magnussen (Last week: 15)
K-Mag can’t buy a lucky break at the moment. A sandwich bag, of all things, cost him a deserved points finish in Singapore after getting stuck in his car’s front wing late on. He’s still driving well, but he hasn’t scored points since the chaotic German Grand Prix in July.
Hope the sandwich was good…🙃 pic.twitter.com/N48acTfQGZ
— Kevin Magnussen (@KevinMagnussen) September 24, 2019
Back of the line
20. Nico Hulkenberg (Last week: 10)
We could be witnessing the final races of Hulkenberg’s F1 career, one that promised so much but has ultimately delivered little. It’s hard to see where he lands — Giovinazzi is coming to form at the right time, while Hulkenberg has suggested Williams is an unappealing option.
In that backdrop, no matter how well he performs on track, he can’t be anywhere but bottom of this list.