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Max Verstappen’s march toward his third Formula One championship continued with another comfortable victory in the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix as he put in arguably his best performance of the season.

While Barcelona offered big breakthroughs for the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Zhou Guanyu, there were quite a few drivers whose weekends we could sum up using the “Spain without the S” meme. Mistakes, penalties and, in the case of Charles Leclerc, some strategic confusion all added up to a raft of missed opportunities.

But who were the standout performers in the Spanish Grand Prix? Here’s our latest top 10, and if you need a reminder on our criteria for the rankings, get a refresher here.

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

Start: P1

Finish: P1

The RB19 continues to blow away the competition, and Max Verstappen extracted top performance once again as he navigated a near perfect weekend. The Red Bull driver topped all time sheets aside from Q1 and led every lap of the Spanish Grand Prix by a sizable margin. However, what is arguably the most impressive aspect of his weekend is his tire management.

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is known for chewing up rubber, and as the other top 10 drivers started on softs, Verstappen opted for the medium compound. He grew a healthy lead — one strong enough that when he pitted, he came out still several seconds ahead of the second place car. Yes, he exceeded track limits enough times to warrant the threat of a five-second penalty, but he went and recorded the fastest lap anyway.

On a more sentimental note, Verstappen logged his 40th win at the race where his Red Bull journey began seven years ago (and where he secured his first F1 victory).

2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

Start: P4

Finish: P2

For Lewis Hamilton to declare after his run to P2 the Mercedes car felt the best it had in 18 months speaks to the significance of this result. His second place in Australia was a great display, but this one was vintage Hamilton: hassle-free, cleanly executed, doing all he could with the car at his disposal.

Mercedes is still working to understand the boost provided by the W14’s upgrade package, and Hamilton was quick to stress it was too early to draw any big conclusions. But the ease with which he picked off Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin, the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and then pull away into the distance indicated a comfort over the longer distances that hasn’t been there for quite some time.

We could well look back on this result as a turning point for Mercedes. At the very least, it’s a really big step forward for Hamilton and a result that can lift the entire team.

3. Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)

Start: P13

Finish: P9

A ninth-place finish may not seem like much, but those two points are a big deal for Zhou Guanyu and Alfa Romeo. The team has struggled to secure a points finish this season, similar to the likes of Haas and AlphaTauri, and brought upgrades to Spain in hopes of improving their performance.

Though Zhou was knocked out of Q2, he missed Q3 by just a couple of tenths. He started the race 13th but quickly moved up several spots after a strong first lap — and fought to stay within points reach. It came to a late battle with Yuki Tsunoda, in which the AlphaTauri driver caught a penalty for forcing Zhou off the track.

That ninth-place finish is huge as Alfa Romeo hasn’t scored points since Australia, and the overall performance showed Zhou’s growth. He went as far as to say in the post-race recap, “I think these have been some of the best two days for me in Formula One, in terms of performance.”

4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)

Start: P2

Finish: P5

If you’d have offered Carlos Sainz the result of ‘top Spaniard’ going into the weekend, he’d probably have taken it given the form of Fernando Alonso so far this year. But Sainz’s home race weekend ended in disappointment as he fell from second place on the grid to fifth in the race, largely left in no man’s land.

There’s not much more Sainz could have done. With Alonso and Sergio Perez out of the picture, P2 on the grid maybe flattered the true pace of the Ferrari in Spain. Sainz did well to hang on as long as he could at the front, but was powerless to stop either Hamilton or Russell from flying past. Sainz even joked after the race how easy the overtakes on him were made to look.

Tire degradation remains Ferrari’s weakness, and this was a tough race on the rubber. Sainz had to manage his tires so much that he couldn’t pay much attention to pushing forward. Ten points for fifth may not be much to shout about, but at least he brought home something for Ferrari as Charles Leclerc’s miserable weekend ended outside of the points in 11th.

5. George Russell (Mercedes)

Start: P12

Finish: P3

Russell doesn’t rate as highly as Hamilton in our rankings by virtue of his qualifying result, dropping out in Q2. Yet he merits praise for a brilliant charge up the order to score his first podium since winning in Brazil last November.

As early as lap two, by which point he had already made up five places, Russell sensed the podium was within reach. The Mercedes car really came alive on Sunday, allowing him to keep the tires in good check as others struggled with degradation. Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon and Carlos Sainz didn’t stand a chance against Russell, whose biggest issue were the spots of sweat on his visor that he briefly mistook for rain.

One of the best parts about Russell’s performance was the amount of fun he was clearly having out there, clear from the chipper messages back and forth on the radio with his race engineer, Marcus Dudley. With a better qualifying, he may have been able to pose a threat to Hamilton, who finished eight seconds up the road in the end.

6. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)

Start: P5

Finish: P6

Lance Stroll capitalized off of teammate Fernando Alonso’s off weekend and out-qualified the Spaniard for the first time this season, though Alonso did damage his car’s floor after ending up in the gravel during Q1.

The Canadian driver started fifth and made a brilliant pass on Hamilton early on. Given its race pace compared to the improved Mercedes and ever-powerful Red Bull (as Sergio Pérez charged up the grid), sixth was the best finish for an Aston Martin. That being said, Alonso communicated over the radio that he wouldn’t attack Stroll. There’s no way to know what would’ve happened if Alonso did challenge his teammate, and how Stroll would have responded.

7. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)

Start: P8

Finish: P7

This was a weekend quite some way off the high standards Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin have set so far this year. Yes, Alonso’s performance in qualifying was remarkable given the floor of his car had been significantly damaged in Q1. But that was due to his off at the final corner that sent the car through the gravel.

Even with a repaired floor, Alonso’s race was quiet. Tire management has been a big strength of the Aston Martin so far this season, but Alonso struggled on the softs in the opening stint, not making any real progress. He hovered in the lower-reaches of the top 10 until his final stop, after which he easily cleared Yuki Tsunoda and Esteban Ocon before bearing down on Stroll.

Had it been any other driver, Alonso would absolutely have fought for the position and made the overtake. But he was correct in saying that no more than P6 was on offer to Aston Martin.

8. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)

Start: P6

Finish: P8

Esteban Ocon continued Alpine’s progress, and while it wasn’t a podium finish like in Monaco, eighth place was arguably the best he could do compared to the Mercedes, Red Bulls, Aston Martins and the single Ferrari ahead of him. It was expected Russell, Pérez and Alonso would navigate around the Alpine driver — though he did try to defend.

“He was too fast in that race, so I had to defend quite hard,” Ocon said about Alonso, per formula1.com. “But I backed off, because I thought I would not be able to do it.

“For two laps I managed to keep him [there], but the pace that we had today compared to yesterday in qualifying has dropped off significantly. We were not as fast as Saturday, as the good group in front, and that’s what we need to work on and understand.”

9. Sergio Pérez (Red Bull)

Start: P11

Finish: P4

Spain marked the second bad weekend in a row for Sergio Perez’s championship aspirations as he lost yet more ground on Verstappen at the top of the standings.

The damage was done on Saturday in qualifying, when Perez ran off the track in Q2, and then couldn’t get his tires into the right temperature window for his final push lap, leaving him 11th on the grid.

Perez did well to fight back up to fourth place, but couldn’t produce the kind of fightback Verstappen has managed in the same car earlier this year (see Jeddah and Miami). He only made two overtakes in the first half of the race — hardly rapid progress — and couldn’t sustain a late charge to catch Russell in third.

Canada will be an important opportunity to snap Verstappen’s momentum and attempt to eat into the 53-point gap at the head of the standings.

10. Lando Norris (McLaren)

Start: P3

Finish: P17

Some may be surprised to see Lando Norris’ name in our top 10 driver rankings given that he finished the Spanish Grand Prix 17th, but the decision came down to evaluating errors and incidents (like Yuki Tsunoda’s five-second time penalty), which were differentiated by small margins.

Norris’ qualifying was an attention-grabber given his performance in a McLaren, and it left many shocked. The cooler conditions went in his favor as the car came alive, but Sunday was a different story as a first lap incident, where he hit Lewis Hamilton’s rear tire, ruined the McLaren driver’s day.

“Max went off the track and a bit wide, so he had to bounce over the kerb at Turn 2. Everybody checked up and I was too close to Lewis to react, to brake, so it was just unlucky in my opinion, and a racing incident,” Norris said.

Norris’ front wing was damaged in the incident, which dropped him out of contention. But even without the contact, he said McLaren “knew we were going to be slow and difficult to get into the points.”

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(Top photo of Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda: Dan Mullan – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)



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