Max Verstappen strengthened his grasp on the Formula 1 title in 2023 with another commanding drive at the Spanish Grand Prix.
But on a weekend where several high-profile drivers were caught out by changing conditions, who tailed the reigning World Champion in impressing on the track?
Max Verstappen – 10
Qualified: P1, Race: P1
An utterly dominant and flawless drive from the reigning World Champion. He led every practice session, topped two of the three stages in qualifying as he sauntered to an unopposed pole position and then rounded it off with a masterfully controlled race drive to deliver a magnificent grand slam victory.
The only minor blemish on his excellence was receiving the black and white flag for track limits – but even that, nor his team’s attempts to slow him down, could hinder a successful attempt to set the race’s fastest lap, notching him a bonus point to extend his lead at the top to a mammoth 53 points.
Perez’s endeavour to bounce back from a disastrous Monaco weekend was derailed when an excursion at Turn 5 meant that he failed to reach Q3 for the second qualifying session in the space of a week.
The Mexican attributed an unsuccessful attempt to adjust his driving style and changeable conditions throughout Saturday as the primary reasons for his early exit.
Unlike in Monaco, Perez was able to utilise the array of overtaking opportunities in Barcelona to rise to fourth – but on a weekend where his team-mate dominated proceedings, even exceeding the team’s pre-race simulations wasn’t good enough for his rapidly dwindling championship aspirations.
Lewis Hamilton – 9
Qualified: P5 (Started: P4), Race: P2
Having feared he would struggle to make Q3 at the end of Friday, 24 hours later Hamilton expressed annoyance at missing out on a spot on the front row after committing a minor but costly error at Turn 10.
Nevertheless, the Brit made a typically fast start to gain the high ground on Lando Norris – avoiding a puncture as the McLaren tagged his rear – before utilising the superior race day performance of the upgraded Mercedes W14 to move his way up to an encouraging second place at the close.
George Russell – 8
Qualified: P12, Race: P3
As Hamilton sailed effortlessly through qualifying, Russell was made to rue a set-up alteration between FP3 and qualifying for his surprise omission from Q3.
However, he made a surging start to make up multiple places on the opening lap, including immediately beating Perez off the line – a move that would prove crucial to scoring his first podium of the season.
The one-time F1 race winner transpired to pull off a series of clinical overtakes and then had the pace in hand during the final stint to keep Perez at bay to claim third.
Carlos Sainz – 8
Qualified: P2, Race: P5
With the sister Ferrari encountering issues, the Scuderia’s hopes in qualifying rested on Sainz’s shoulders and he rose to the occasion in front of his fanatical home crowd to register a best lap that entitled him to a starting place on the front row.
Although he surrendered positions to both Mercedes drivers and Perez once degradation became a hindering factor on his SF-23, Sainz’s drop to fifth by the end of the race was more reflective of the car’s struggles in race trim than the Spaniard’s own outright performance.
Charles Leclerc – 4.5
Qualified: P19 (Started: Pit lane), Race: P11
Last year’s Spanish GP pole sitter provided the biggest headline from qualifying when he dropped out of the running in Q1.
Having reported problems with the rear of his car in the left-hand corners – an issue subsequently supported by the data – Leclerc was withdrawn to the pit lane to allow the team to conduct changes.
Despite the engineers’ making alterations to his set-up and placing him on an alternate strategy, the Monegasque driver was unable to make enough headway in his opening stint on the hard tyre to ensure he elevated his way into the top 10 at the finish.
Fernando Alonso – 6.5
Qualified: P9 (Started: P8), Race: P7
After five podiums in six races, there was much anticipation that Alonso would be standing on the rostrum again at his home event – 10 years after his last appearance.
However, the former two-time F1 champion’s chances of a top-three finish were dented when he endured a scrappy qualifying hour. Alonso ran wide into the gravel at the final corner in Q1 to pick up noticeable floor damage before a mistake on his solitary run in Q3 meant he could only muster ninth, five-tenths shy of team-mate Lance Stroll.
Against the form book of previous rounds, the AMR23 was not able to recover from a qualifying deficit in race trim on this occasion, with Alonso declaring the Silverstone side simply lacked the speed to challenge its rivals in the Championship.
Lance Stroll – 8
Qualified: P6 (Started: P5), Race: P6
Stroll arrived in Barcelona as a man under pressure but he responded admirably to emphatically topple Alonso in qualifying for the first time as team-mates.
The Canadian took advantage of Hamilton and Norris’ Lap 1 contact to seize third, executing a clean move down the inside of the Mercedes into the Turn 5 hairpin.
But that was as good as it got for Aston Martin as unforeseen degradation troubles – particularly on the soft compound – saw Stroll drop back to his qualifying position.
Esteban Ocon – 7
Qualified: P7 (Started: P6), Race: P8
The Monaco Grand Prix podium finisher was unable to replicate his one-lap exploits in Barcelona, dropping two-tenths and three places behind his team-mate in Q3.
But Gasly’s penalty bumped Ocon up the order and a solid first lap paved the way for him to potentially land another huge haul. However, tyre troubles saw him get overtaken by ex-team-mate Fernando Alonso, bumping the Enstone squad’s lead representative to eighth.
Pierre Gasly – 6.5
Qualified: P4 (Started: P10), Race: P10
Gasly had been frustrated to miss out on the opportunity for his own headline-grabbing result in Monaco but righted that wrong by sticking his Alpine fourth in qualifying.
However, like Leclerc last weekend, his joy was short-lived as he was deservedly hit with two separate three-place grid penalties for impeding Verstappen and Russell in Q1.
A sluggish opening lap demoted him out of the top 10 altogether, but the Frenchman made a string of overtakes at the start of his second stint to at least assure Alpine of a third double points finish on the bounce.
Zhou Guanyu – 9
Qualified: P13, Race: P9
Following a couple of below-par weekends, the balance of power within Alfa Romeo swung back towards Zhou in Spain as he produced arguably his best weekend in F1.
The 24-year-old easily had the measure of Valtteri Bottas during an overcast qualifying and used that as a platform to score two well-earned points for the Hinwil outfit.
Valtteri Bottas – 3
Qualified: P16, Race: P19
If Bottas was left mystified by Zhou’s ability to escape the Q1 drop zone, the Finn would have been even more staggered to hear his Alfa Romeo partner had delivered a points finish in precisely the same machinery.
Following a strong Friday, Bottas ghosted the rest of the weekend, believing any chance of a comeback in the race was thwarted by picking up floor damage early on.
Yuki Tsunoda – 7.5
Qualified: P15, Race: P13
Although he squandered a higher starting spot by having his final run in Q2 deleted for track limits, Tsunoda’s breakthrough campaign looked set to churn out another impressive result when he occupied ninth place as the lap counter ticked onwards.
But the Japanese racer wasn’t rewarded for his efforts in the end, going home empty-handed and heavily incensed by the stewards’ decision to award him a five-second time penalty for forcing Zhou off at Turn 1.
Nyck de Vries – 5.5
Qualified: P14, Race: P12
The Dutch rookie out-qualified Tsunoda for the second consecutive weekend, yet that didn’t tell the full story of the respective pace comparison between the two AlphaTauris.
De Vries was unable to maximise his starting position advantage, getting caught up on the inside into Turn 1 and spending the majority of the afternoon stuck behind slower cars.
Lando Norris – 6
Qualified: P3, Race: P17
Norris demonstrated precisely why he is deserving of better machinery than McLaren has served up in this regulation cycle by taking advantage of other drivers’ failings to place his car a stunning third in qualifying.
While the Brit acknowledged McLaren’s race pace would mean points were still a tall order, he would have expected to run in the top 10 far longer than the first few corners.
Having been caught out by Hamilton’s change in line and reduction in speed through Turn 2, Norris hit the rear end of the Mercedes, damaging his front wing and requiring an early trip to the pits for repairs. Even if he had conceded points were only a remote possibility heading into Sunday, throwing it all away on Lap 1 merited a hefty reduction to his weekend score.
Oscar Piastri – 6
Qualified: P10 (Started: P9), Race: P13
Norris’ bleak assertion about McLaren’s prospects for the race was at least supported by his team-mate’s swift decline through the order.
Prior to that, Piastri had demonstrated the potential to mix it at the front with Norris in qualifying until a mistake on his final flying lap consigned him to prop up last of the 10 contenders running in Q3.
With McLaren lacking the speed on higher fuel to maintain a position that would yield a points return, the Australian at least managed to steer clear of trouble to win out in the McLaren intra-team battle.
Nico Hulkenberg – 6
Qualified: P8 (Started: P7), Race: P15
Although Hulkenberg was scintillating over a single lap to record another Q3 appearance, a reoccurrence of Haas’ race day struggles meant he couldn’t convert it into points.
Having already rapidly slipped back in the opening stages, the ex-Renault turnout was the first driver in the pits for a scheduled stop. However, the time subsequently gained through the undercut was minimised when the American side’s excessive tyre wear woes necessitated an extra stop compared to other teams.
Kevin Magnussen – 5
Qualified: P17, Race: P18
Magnussen was frustrated to be eliminated from Q1 in a car that his team-mate showed to possess genuine top 10 credentials.
While he appeared to manage Haas’ tyre issues slightly better than Hulkenberg, his lowly starting position meant he had no chance of making up the lost ground from Saturday’s pitiful performance.
Alex Albon – 6
Qualified: P18, Race: P16
Williams’ hopes of a competitive outing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya were purely nested on the return of a high-speed final sector in place of the slow left-right chicane at the end of the lap that had previously been a severe hindrance against the low-drag nature of its modern-day cars.
But the aerodynamic limitations of its 2023 package meant neither driver was able to deliver a ground-breaking result, with Albon once again emerging as the leading charger for the Grove-based team.
Logan Sargeant – 3
Qualified: P20 (Started: Pitlane), Race: P20
During a closely fought Q1 session that ended with the top 19 drivers separated by only 1.1s, Sargeant stuck out like a sore thumb at the bottom of the tower, 0.6s off.
Unsurprisingly, a lonely affair followed with an uncompetitive car. His spin into the gravel in practice, exposing how basic the Williams FW45 floor is, provided the tip of the iceberg of another bad weekend for the American newcomer, whose desperate need for a confidence-boosting result remains.