Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Istanbul Park, 2020

2020 F1 driver rankings #1: Lewis Hamilton

2020 F1 season review

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With Red Bull seldom in the picture and Ferrari no threat at all to Mercedes, the 2020 championship was always going to be all about Hamilton and Bottas. While the outcome long seemed a foregone conclusion, the title battle was finally settled at Istanbul, with three races still remaining.

On the face of it, this was very familiar: Hamilton clinched his two previous championships with three races to spare. But the crucial difference, which made his latest achievement more impressive, is that there were four fewer races in 2020. Hamilton pulled out the necessary lead over the competition more quickly than he had in previous years.

He had a little fortune on his side. Unlike Bottas in Germany, he didn’t suffer a race-ending technical failure. His absence from the Sakhir Grand Prix after testing positive for Covid-19 was the only reason he didn’t repeat his 2019 feat of scoring points in every weekend.

But the key to Hamilton’s success was his ability to relentlessly find his way to the front of the field. He usually got pole position and almost invariably converted that into victory.

Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Nurburgring, 2020
Hamilton reminded Bottas who’s boss at the Nurburgring
If he didn’t win, it was rarely because Bottas had put one over him on merit. Arguably the stewards caused him more trouble than his team mate, as Hamilton tripped over some of more obscure areas of the rules on more than one occasion.

There’s no doubt he transgressed by entering a closed pit lane at Monza, but it was a last-minute call involving a little-used rule. At Sochi he was dinged for performing his pre-race practice starts in the wrong place. As Charles Leclerc’s experienced at Spa showed, had the stewards been in a different mood Hamilton might have got away with it.

Both incidents cost him likely wins in a season where he nonetheless triumphed in 11 of the first 15 rounds before contracting the virus. This was his most crushing performance yet.

Lewis Hamilton

Beat team mate in qualifying 11/16
Beat team mate in race 11/15
Races finished 16/16
Laps spent ahead of team mate 613/907
Qualifying margin -0.12s
Points 347

Those who dismiss Hamilton’s achievements as being entirely down to his car overlook, among many other things, the details which go into achieving such relentless success. The shrewd call for medium compound rubber in Spain, the intelligent tyre management which secured pole position in Bahrain, the opportunistic pass on Bottas at the Nurburgring and his thumping margin of superiority in a wet qualifying session for the Styrian Grand Prix. Not to mention the scale of his wins at Spa, Algarve and Istanbul – the latter an irrefutably superior drive on a treacherous track.

It’s inarguably true Hamilton enjoyed a Mercedes which was restored to almost 2014-16 levels of dominance. But look how close Bottas was able to consistently run him over a single lap, and yet how large the points gap between them was at the end of the season.

That speaks to the quality of job Hamilton day on race day. Appropriately enough in a season when he scored his record-equalling seventh world championship, his performance was Schumacheresque.

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Compete RaceFans 2020 F1 Driver Rankings

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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146 comments on “2020 F1 driver rankings #1: Lewis Hamilton”

  1. Unsurprising.

    1. True, when theres been 19 drivers rated already and one of them isn’t Lewis…

      1. Comment of the day! Made me laugh that! :-D

      2. Still I was hoping it would be the Hulk

        1. Or better yet, that young driver who tested in Yas Marina and got his Renault ahead of the Mercs, Fred Halons was his name or something like that, seems like the starting shot of a promising career.

          1. Golden comment right there!

            I’m going to call him Fred Halons from now on…

    2. Unsurprisingly…however…?
      Lewis was driving a car 0.5-0.8 sec faster than the closest competition, checked by actually quali gaps, in race trim the Merc’s where still good for an advantage of around 0.4-0.6 sec.

      Austria actually started off quite poor for Lewis…. the dramatic ‘lie’ (?) no visible yellow flags he claimed..the FIA fell for it. However RBR protested and confronted the FIA with their own video footage… uite an impressive large flashin yellow sign… Lewis was penalized just before the start of the race. During the race he collided with Albon who did have a massive speed advantage thanks the a well planed pit stop… Lewis hit Albon in the rear..another penalty for Lewis.
      Silverstone 1 was a team gamble…Mercedes to fast and out of reach, Max did pit for the fastest lap… than Bottas and Lewis both blew their tyres… Thanks to Merc’s advantage Lewis could limp the car across the line in first….
      Silverstone 2… the pace was there, but the tyres just didn’t work….
      Monza… going into a closed pitlane, Lewis couldn’t believe it himself, went to the stewards during the red flag period… another penalty.
      Sochi… two false practice starts, Bottas was quite blunt about it… ‘the team did point us where to start’ no less than two penalties and another ‘sure’ win ruined.
      Lewis missed a race due to Covid when he was already the WDC…. and wasn’t at his best in Abu Dhabi, losing out to his team mate and Verstappen.

      5 races ruined, in all he could or even should have been the winner considering the car and his average team mate.
      Yet the faster car does save his reputation…. Max arguably ruined one race, worst finish 6th versus Lewis worst finish 7th. We don;t expect drivers to be flawless, not even the winners…but overall Lewis surely was not the best performer this season…he did have the best car which counts for a lot….. more even considering the ranking.

      Max was the absolute best performer of the 2020 season…. Lewis hardly made racing mistakes, apart from taking out Albon, however yellow flags, red lights, practice starts are part of the game.

      1. Salty Max fans…diddums!

      2. So Martin you know more than Keith, how unusual.

        1. I don’t pretend to know more, neither am I salty…
          The FIA gave him his penalties, not me, I just summed it up.
          Verstappens first few races in 2018 where rough, Lewis first half of 2020 was…. a spade is still a spade where I come from, regardless if it’s about Max, Lewis, Charles or any other driver.

          Facts are Lewis was far from flawless, didn’t maximize the car’s potential in at leas 5 races…. the car made up for it in the remaining 11…plus missing one. Just saying I am ‘salty’ of ‘know better’ are emotions, share with me where you think I am wrong by motivation….

          1. You stated your opinion was absolute, ergo you’re wrong. Any unbiased observer could at least see why either driver could be first or second. Hamilton broke so many records, won every race he was in a position to and also helped drive the anti racism campaign this year. If you want to say Max made a couple of less mistakes and delivered exactly what is car was capable is enough to rank him above then I say you’re just being absolutely salty.

          2. Lewis isn’t Flawless. Show me ANY driver in history that is/has been.
            Fastest car or not (F1 is NOT a spec series) Lewis Hamilton is one of, maybe THE, best F1 driver(s) ever seen. Forget about emotive judgements that will be long forgotten in 10 years or less, these numbers are all that matter:

            F1 Starts 266
            F1 Wins 95 (WR)
            F1 Podiums 165 (WR)
            F1 Pole Positions 98 (WR)
            F1 Fastest Laps 53
            F1 Win v Starts percentage 36% (2nd to Fangio only)
            F1 World Championships. 7

            However much you want to scream, shout and stamp your feet, this is what will be remembered in the annuls of time. Your warped, angry views however… not so much.

          3. No matter the stats everyone produces, they never mention the car’s potential.
            The gap between Mercedes any any other car has mostly been larger than the average gap between team mates, simply meaning Mercedes was out of reach.

            We can all pretend it was exciting….but when one car is between 0.4-0.8 sec faster than the next best car it really isn’t, than you simply have to look at the driver performance and the potential of the car he’s driving.

            Max delivered the maximum possible from the car in all, but one race he finished…mostly more… in fact Max beat a faster Mercedes more often than not. Lewis sure was impressive, however failed to maximize the car’s potential 5 times. 5 times under performing versus once is simple math.

          4. Tell me why all you can see and so many other with your mindset is he’s driving the fastest car?
            Every dominant world champion in their era also drove the fastest car.
            Whose fault is it that he’s in the faster car, when other teams with the same spending power and one in particular with the veto power in F1 failed to maximise their abilities to match Mercedes?
            Your ranting logic shows saltiness over Lewis’s dominance and you chose to pinpoint the races he didn’t win as an argument to say that max was better driver therefore should have been rank #1.
            Stop blaming Hamilton and Mercedes for putting him in their car, blame Ferrari and RBR for not seizing the same initiative and maximizing their own cars.

          5. I am not blaming Hamilton for being at Mercedes, nor do I blame Mercedes for anything. They actually did the best job devoloping the hybrid engine, while Lewis is indeed an outstanding driver.

            However this isn’t an all time ranking, this is about the best performing driver of the 2020 season, given all, that’s not Lewis with the amount of mistakes and penalty’s. In equal cars the outcome would have been quite different….however the winner takes it all.

            In 2016, Lewis was ranked ahead of Rosberg, I felt that was correct.

        2. Well, thats hardly an argument and yes, some of us do know a lot more than Keith believe me

  2. So I have recorded every driver ranking I have found from 2020 that had at least a top ten (including official sites, comments under sites, rankings on this thread, team principals’ top ten, drivers’ top ten etc.), and have counted up how many total points all the drivers had, using the 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scoring system for positions in the rankings. These are the results:

    1. Lewis Hamilton 457
    2. Max Verstappen 410
    3. Daniel Ricciardo 269
    4. Charles Leclerc 224
    5. Pierre Gasly 217
    6. Carlos Sainz 204
    7. Sergio Perez 199
    8. George Russell 113
    9. Lando Norris 93
    10. Valtteri Bottas 33
    11. Sebastian Vettel 6
    12. Kevin Magnussen 4
    13. Romain Grosjean 4
    14. Kimi Raikkonen 3
    15. Esteban Ocon 2
    16. Daniil Kvyat 1
    17. Lance Stroll 1
    18. Alex Albon 1
    19. Antonio Giovinazzi 0
    20. Nicholas Latifi 0

    The problem this year is that almost everyone had the same drivers in the top ten (in various orders), so drivers outside the top ten were too heavily influenced by one strange ranking (for example, Vettel was only in one top ten). However, I think it is interesting for the first ten drivers.

    Only one ranking was ignored in the count; one that had Raikkonen 1st, Bottas 2nd, Stroll 3rd and Latifi 4th. There is no such thing as a ‘correct’ ranking, but there definitely is such thing as an ‘incorrect’ ranking.

    1. Thanks @f1frog,
      IMO a much better (in line with my assessment) list than some positions on this site.

      As you mentioned it is tough to rank those below Bottas as they did not appear in a top-10 too often (and I would rank them differently or just award them 11+ position.

    2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      5th February 2021, 13:31

      19 different rankings?

      1. I guess it must be at least 22 based on the total points, @freelittlebirds.
        So Lewis probably had some 10-13 first places, Verstappen 6-9, and the rest outliers for Perez, Leclerc, and Sainz.

        1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
          5th February 2021, 14:13

          @Verstappen 6-9 people out of 22 put Verstappen in #1? That would be quite something! I guess we should celebrate their humanity!

          1. Verstappen’s score should be 395, not 410 (not sure what went wrong there). Surprisingly only 2 people had Verstappen first, but almost everyone had him second. The total number of first places was:
            Hamilton 14
            Verstappen 2
            Sainz 2
            Ricciardo 1
            Perez 1
            Leclerc 1
            Gasly 1

          2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
            5th February 2021, 14:36

            @f1frog Thanks for the breakdown and thanks for the alternative compilation of rankings!!! Very cool!

      2. It was 22 but there are a few errors in there:
        Hamilton should be on 463
        and I’m not sure what the other one is because all the other maths is correct but I might have written something down incorrectly

    3. @f1frog That’s pretty interesting to see actually, and the top 10 is almost exactly the same as mine (I have Perez and Sainz switched). That means either I’m an excellent judge of driver performance, or I conform too heavily to the accepted norms due to outside influence ;)

    4. @f1frog thanks, good piece of work… amazing what you have time to do in lockdown 😂

    5. @f1frog Would the website that ranked Raikkonen and Bottas as the top two be Finnish by any chance?

    6. This is amazing ranking. It instantly strikes me as resonable.

      Good job.

    7. Thanks for this @f1frog and for your assessments on these rankings. It’s been interesting reading your (fairly) objective input.

      Certainly beats the usual “wut?! (Driver X) above (Driver Y)?! Keith knows nothing about f1!”.

    8. Nice work @f1frog this is a really interesting ranking as it seems much more in tune with the consensus (well, it is the consensus I suppose), for the top 10 at least (as you mentioned, the bottom 10 can’t be trusted if the sources didn’t rank all 20 drivers). I don’t know where these all came from, which matters in some ways – if they are all subjective rankings or some sort of objective method (like f1metrics). If they are all subjective evaluations then you can interpret them more easily.

      For example, I think bottas would be ranked higher by some objective measures and gasly probably a bit lower, but the subjective rankings are likely to share the same observation biases and, crucially, they are at risk of being influenced by one another. Still, this cumulative top 10 certainly passes the sense check, which is often a big hurdle!

      1. @f1frog thanks for this. Much more reasonable than Keith’s rankings IMOH.

        Nice one.

    9. Better list indeed. Provides justice to the gap between nrs 1&2 and the rest of the field and is more consistent with Sainz and Perez. Only flaw imho is that Vettel is overrated

  3. Ranking aside, a thoughtful piece on Lewis. There are never binary answers to everything and arguing who is the best driver is as old as the motor car but generally with Lewis it seems to be his likeability that stops him being venerated. Thats their problem though. The rest of us know class when they see it.

    1. The rest of us know class when they see it.

      ‘Classy’ comment!
      Maybe it’s a lack of ‘likeability’ of some of his fans. :/

      1. You can say that again and you’re the biggest ‘fan’ by a long shot.

      2. @coldfly Fans have an impact on my feelings towards a driver, no doubt. For example, I have nothing against Raikkonen and was relatively happy when he won the 2007 title and when he came back to the sport, but his fans are some of the most stubborn and delusional I’ve come across. Not all of them, but a major section of them.

        1. Max fans are the most unlikeable imo–salty as hell

          1. They are realistic though….

          2. @ Matn. HAH!!! SERIOISLY?

      3. Well I put Lewis on nr 1 but seriously struggle liking him. But thats not what this list is about

  4. So many delays, so many other things announced before Mercedes announce it.

    1. I can only guess that Mercedes was waiting for the formal RaceFans.net ranking positio before contracting him for 2021.
      So we can now expect a formal announcement after the official cool down period (I believe 14 days for online rankings).

      1. Well, that’s gonna give hamilton some laverage back, after losing it due to russel!

        1. Ops, leverage.

  5. One curious thing I have noticed about Hamilton is his lack of one-lap superiority over his team-mates. He has never shown dominance the kind of which Alonso, Verstappen, Leclerc have shown. Even Jenson Button (an average qualifier at best) was beaten by less than three tenths in 2012. The gap to Bottas is just 0.12, 0.12, 0.17 in the last 3 years. He tends to beat his team-mates in approximately 60-80% of the races (except Rosberg in 2014).

    Either he is very precise in his tyre usage (he knows exactly how much his competitors / team-mate can do and hence keeps exactly that much more in hand come Q3) or he is not that much superior than other drivers when it comes to qualifying.

    Nothing to take away from #1 ranking. But just thought I will post a curious trend.

    1. Hes had stronger team mates, at least in qually. There fixed that for you

    2. I’m too lazy to look through all the data but my uninformed impression is that certainly from 2014-on, LH oftentimes seems to sacrifice maximum performance in quali for better race pace and tyre life. It’s happened more than a few times where he’s just been edged by his team-mate, watched them chew their tyres and then picked up the pieces. Conversely when he comes out ahead in quali he’ll maintain that pit-stop safety window of a few seconds back to his team-mate and then over the course of the race they’ll drop back as they can’t keep pace or just lose hope of challenging him for the lead. There’s probably a whole heap of confirmation bias in there but that’s just my general impression.

      1. I feel the same. I think in the Pirelli era, as the time has passed, he has learnt to be wiser when it concerns qualifying. His race performance has kept on getting stronger and stronger and he seems to be able to overtake his team-mates with ease.

        His tyre / pace management in qualifying is probably one of the key reasons he is so much dominant in races, one of his unsung attributes I feel.

        1. And still he complain about his tyres a lot!

      2. Hamilton has nothing left to prove when it comes to qualifying, so these days he plays the percentages. He saves his tires when he can, he saves his engines, he’ll also qualify second if he believes it means a better starting position into the first corner.

    3. Sumedh, with all due respect I’m not sure how valid a point you’re making? I think what matters is that HAM out qualifies his team mates, the gap is somewhat irrelevant.

      Example, I just checked the stats on HAM/BUTTON. Over their three seasons at Mclaren (discounting grid penalties), Hamilton ended qualifying with the better lap time on 44 occasions compared with Button’s 14.

      I’m sorry, but I’d call that dominance.

    4. So by far the leading qualifier in the history of the sport isn’t that good at qualifying? OK. I’d suggest it’s more the opposite, Hamilton is confident enough in being able to sacrifice some one lap setup to concentrate on race setup. That’s why we sometimes get Bottas nicking qualifying only to usually then be slower in the race and/or have more tyre issues. In other words, Hamilton, through experience over the years, has preferred to trade off some of his one lap advantage over his teammates to ensure better race performance. He’s said as much a few times in interviews, including last year.

      1. Yes, you and @tomd11 are bang on – Lewis is the best not just because he drives fast, but because he drives clever. His constant analysis of the situation, his experiments with the limits of the track/car/racing line combined with his speed are what makes him so devastating to the rest of the field.

        1. @geekzilla9000 I think that’s why the Algarve and Istanbul were such ‘connoisseur’ races, especially appreciated by the F1 insiders like Brawn. The ‘new’ conditions meant learning as the race unfolded and it’s where Hamilton was most able to maximize that combination of talent (feel for the car and control) and smartness (experimenting and using past experience). The result was him pulling out a larger lead as the races went on, keeping his tyres going better and going faster.

      2. @david-br
        So by far the leading qualifier in the history of the sport isn’t that good at qualifying?

        These kind of statistics are almost meaningless tbh.

        Vettel – 57
        Leclerc – 7
        Ricciardo – 3

        A vastly superior number of pole positions didn’t stop the first guy from getting whooped by the other two on qualifying speed in equal cars.

        I do think that both Max and Charles have more natural speed than Lewis

        1. @kingshark

          I do think that both Max and Charles have more natural speed than Lewis

          Even if you’re right (I don’t think you are, but not sure how either of us could find proof for their assertion), qualifying also requires the ability to put in that near perfect lap when it counts. And that’s something Hamilton has proven he’s capable of doing year after year.

          1. @david-br
            Verstappen has never had a car capable of any more than 1-2 pole positions per season.

            As for Leclerc, the one year where he had a car capable of taking pole regularly, he took more poles than Hamilton did.

          2. The point is that Verstappen has had the car to set 2 or more poles just about all seasons and he barely makes it to 1.

            All those Monaco and Mexico weekends he blundered the pole away. Or in 2020 when he messed up his Q3 attempts in Turkey and Sakhir.

            He should have at least 8 poles by now, but he’s still stuck on a measly 3

        2. Absolutely agree, kingshark, 2019 ferrari wasn’t great but was decent in qualifying, and both leclerc and verstappen would be serious competition for hamilton on the same car.

          The vettel-ricciardo-leclerc comparison show how meaningless absolute stats like those are, when there’s a huge car quality difference to achieve those.

          1. Didn’t Charles’s Ferrari have a gi-normous 68HP advantage in 2019? With that kind of advantage, kinda hard not to get a lot of poles.