Using the mathematical model I devised, I have compiled rankings for the best drivers of the 2020 formula one season.
Each score was obtained by predicting a teammate matchup outcome based on each driver’s previous results (up until the end of the 2019 season). The predictions were then compared to the actual outcomes in 2020, and drivers seasonal scores were adjusted from their average career score to account for the difference. As an example, Lewis Hamilton has performed very strongly over his career, so the fact that Bottas could not sustain a title challenge against his teammate does not necessarily mean that Bottas had a poor season relative to the rest of the grid.
Each driver is given a position and a percentage. The percentage is calculated based on the number of points that Lewis Hamilton would be expected to score this year (note that Hamilton’s score is actually not 100%, due to the fact that it is a prediction for Hamilton based on his average performances across his career, rather than specifically 2020.) Although the top performing drivers are somewhat predictable, there are some surprises in the rankings of those in the middle of the pack! Let’s see who came out on top:
20) Daniel Kvyat (39%)
What is probably Kvyat’s final year in F1 ended without much fanfair or many highlights. The model thinks that the Alpha Tauri was a capable of considerably more than Kvyat delivered, and his role of a benchmark for up-and-coming Red Bull talent appears to now be taken by Gasly.
19) Nico Hülkenberg (45%)
Drafted in twice at short notice, Hülkenberg was rightly praised for his performances, briefly making the prospect of a return to the grid a credible possibility. How then, has he ended up near the bottom of the pile? The model only cares about results, and in the two races he started, the Hulk was outscored by his teammate both times. Still, he can hold his head up high for some solid performances in difficult circumstances.
18) Kevin Magnussen (51%)
Another driver whose F1 career appears to be over. A single point due to a brave tyre call by the team the only highlight for Magnussen, and even then he spent the majority of the race trying to keep faster cars behind him.
17) Roman Grosjean (56%)
Grosjean can consider himself lucky just to survive the season, given his horrific Bahrain crash in and subsequent escape from the inferno. As with Magnussen, there were few highlights this year, with the model considering the Haas a poor car overall regardless of the driver performances.
16) Lance Stroll (56%)
Whilst Stroll did not embarrass himself, the unique circumstances of having his father own the team must surely have contributed to him being kept on at Aston Martin instead of Perez. A pole position and strong opening stint in Turkey was a highlight, but Stroll’s final points total was unimpressive given how competitive the car was. The model suggests that Stroll’s underperformance may have cost Racing Point 3rd place in the constructors championship, and one has to wonder if Aston Martin are ruthless enough to succeed in the world of F1 where sentimental ties do not guarantee results.
15) Pierre Gasly (57%)
On paper Gasly had a strong season, with the highlight obviously being the historic win at Monza. The low result may surprise some, but comes from the fact that neither Gasly or Kvyat are not considered top tier drivers overall. Another point to note is that the midfield is extremely tight. A slight change in the way career averages are defined (by including the 2020 results instead of stopping at 2019) sees him jump up to a much more respectable 10h place.
14) Alexander Albon (60%)
Red Bull seemed determined to give Albon a chance to prove himself, but he never quite managed to fulfil their requirements. A single podium is a poor outcome from what was undoubtedly the second fastest car, although he can consider himself unlucky not to have achieved more. Regardless, by any reasonable metric (podiums, points scored, race pace etc.) the decision to replace him seems reasonable. The similar ranking of Pierre Gasly also justifies Red Bull looking outside their usual driver program.
13) Esteban Ocon (66%)
An unspectacular return to the grid for Ocon. A late podium in the Sakhir Grand Prix saved his season from mediocrity, but his even so his final points total was barely half of that of Ricciardo’s. Next year has the unenviable task of going up against Alonso.
12) Valterri Bottas (66%)
Bottas had a season of two halves. In the first half he was feisty and competitive, achieving 8 podiums in the first 10 races. The second half saw his form ebb away, with only 1 podium in the last 4 races. He was also shown up by Russell in his one-off appearance (although he managed to finish ahead, which is all the model cares about). So far Mercedes have been happy to keep Bottas, a driver fast and consistent enough to keep Hamilton on his toes, whilst also being compliant and apolitical. Given how converted his Mercedes seat is though, one suspects that he may have to up his game next year to continue with the team.
11) Antonio Giovinazzi (66%)
Giovinazzi may have done enough to earn himself another year in the grid, but it is notable that he was not considered as Vettel’s replacement, despite his Ferrari academy links. Given Räikkönen is approaching retirement and Giovinazzi now has a couple of years experience under his belt, one would expect the intra-team battle to swing in his favour in 2021.
10) Sebastian Vettel (67%)
Vettel seemed lost at several points in 2020, but was still able to show flashes of his former self on occasion. There was an obvious discrepancy between Vettel’s performances in 2020 even when compared to 2019 (which was also not considered a particular strong year for him). If he were an inexperienced driver this season may have killed his career. As it is, Aston Martin saw him as a driver with a higher peak than Perez and snapped him up.
9) Kimi Räikkönen (70%)
Seeing a world champion languishing at the back of the grid is never a good look, but Kimi was happy enough to renew his contract. His first lap in Portugal was exceptional, overtaking literally half the field in the wet. Other than that, a couple of 9th places were as good as it got. He can take heart that he is still competitive despite being in his 40s.
8) George Russell (72%)
This is a very tentative ranking for a whole slew of reasons. With Latifi being a rookie, Russell’s rating is based entirely on his single Mercedes race, where he was twice prevented from fighting for victory for reasons outside of his control. On top of that, his base rating comes from 2019s match up with a returning Kubica, whose form is also highly questionable. There’s no doubt that Russell is a quick driver, particularly in qualifying, but a full assessment of his abilities compared to a known quantity will have to wait.
7) Lando Norris (74%)
Norris had a strong start to the season, opening with a podium and becoming notable for his last lap heroics. Whilst teammate Sainz eventually got the upper hand, Norris was still a consistent points scorer throughout year. Indeed, McLaren’s 3rd in the constructors championship largely came from having two drivers both performing well, something that neither Renault or Racing Point could manage consistently.
6) Sergio Pérez (75%)
The model rates 2020 as Pérez’s strongest season to date. Early on he missed two races due to coronavirus and was looked like he might be facing the end of his career. He finished the season a race winner with a contract at Red Bull. Expecting him to come out on top vs Verstappen is perhaps asking too much, but Pérez may be able to play a better supporting role than either Gasly or Albon.
5) Carlos Sainz Jr. (77%)
Like Perez, Sainz has established himself as an efficient points gatherer. His points total could have been even higher with a bit more luck, most notably narrowly missing out on victory at Monza. Just a couple of years ago his career seemed like it was in a tailspin, after leaving the Red Bull program and delivering an underwhelming performance versus Hülkenberg at Renault. Now his career is going from strength to strength, with a well earned Ferrari contract in hand.
4) Daniel Ricciardo (90%)
Ricciardo continued to show his class this year. His run to the end of the year featured 11 consecutive points finishes (only Hamilton and Pérez managed more), including two podiums. He seemed frustrated at times last year, and chose to leave Renault just before their uptick in form this season. Time will tell if he has made a wise choice, but any team would be lucky to have such a consistent driver.
3) Max Verstappen (100%)
This season must have felt like déjà vu for Verstappen. Once again, he extracted the maximum from the car and was typically in a position to pounce when Mercedes faltered. Once again he dominated his teammate. And once again it was not enough for a credible championship challenge. Verstappen gets his 4th new teammate in as many years next year, but one suspects his focus is on beating Mercedes rather than his teammate.
2) Lewis Hamilton (105%)
Another world championship and another champions performance from Hamilton. A scrappy first race was followed by total domination: he won 11 of the next 14 races. He scored points in every race he started and was only twice of the podium. The 105% rating suggests his season was even better than average, and even without a dominant car, the model sees Hamilton’s performance to be almost as good as anyone else’s.
1) Charles LeClerc (110%)
Ferrari placed their faith in LeClerc before the season began with a new, long term contract. He repaid them in spades, making his four time world champion teammate look very ordinary in the process. Two podiums and four 4th places were a poor reward for his efforts given he was fighting for wins last year, but they were far more than the car should have been capable of. LeClerc still has some rough edges, as he demonstrated when he took himself and teammate Vettel out of the Styrian Grand Prix on the first lap, but he has earned his place as one of the sport’s elite.
The graph below shows each drivers score side-by-side. One noticeable point is the close midfield, contrasted with the four top performing drivers, who have a significant advantage over the chasing pack. I look forward to the new year of racing to see if anyone else can up their game.