The Best Formula 1 Drivers to Watch This Season

Formula 1: Max Verstappen raises a trophy in front of a blue banner after winning the Miami Grand Prix in 2022.
Max VerstappenDoug Murray via Icon/Action Plus / Shutterstock

If you haven’t already gotten caught up in it, you might feel whiplash over how quickly Formula 1 racing entered the mainstream in the American sports world. Buoyed by a Netflix docuseries that doubled as a commercial for the sport, and bolstered by more and more people following their friends into the fray, F1 has become mega-popular here, mega-quickly.

This past weekend was another step on that journey. The series debuted its Miami Grand Prix, the second of what will soon be three American races alongside the existing U.S. Grand Prix in Austin and a forthcoming race in Las Vegas. The Miami race was a huge event, with hilariously expensive prices and, apparently, plenty of people willing to pay to watch in person.

F1 has 10 teams with two drivers apiece. In case you’re just getting acquainted, let’s meet some of the most notable racers making their way around the tracks in 2022.

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The Best Formula 1 Drivers to Watch in 2022

1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull

What to know about him: Well, he’s fast. F1 has two ongoing championships: one for drivers (based on who gets the most points over the season’s couple dozen races) and the Constructors’ Championship for teams (based on the combined performances of each team’s two drivers). Verstappen won the Drivers’ Championship in 2021, unseating seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in a wildly controversial last race of the season. The Dutch driver has remained on top this season, and right now, nobody is operating at a higher level.

How’s he looking coming out of Miami? Still great. Verstappen won this race by finishing 3.786 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. Verstappen has had to retire from two of five races this year due to various mechanical issues. But car trouble aside, he has won every grand prix he has finished—a good indicator that, if Red Bull keeps its car reliable, he’ll finish on top when the season ends in December.

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2. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari

What to know about him: The 24-year-old from Monaco has been a rising star for a long time. He has raced for Ferrari, the most historic team in motorsport, since 2019. He won a couple of races that year, but didn’t win anything in 2020 or ‘21, when Ferrari put together a slow car. But this year, everything has clicked. Leclerc won two of the year’s first three races in March, and he has run near the front of the pack in every race to date.

How’s he looking coming out of Miami? He didn’t nab first place, but Leclerc is in a good position—still leading Verstappen atop the drivers’ standings, still driving a fast car, and set for what looks likely to be a season-defining duel between himself and Red Bull’s top driver.

3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

What to know about him: He is the gold standard for excellence in Formula 1. Hamilton won seven titles before Verstappen finally bested him last year. He has 103 career race wins, and in 2020, he passed the German legend Michael Schumacher (whose son, Mick, now races for Haas F1 Team) to set the all-time victories record.

But this year has been a harsh reminder that nothing lasts forever. The introduction of a new F1 car has stirred things up, and Mercedes’ development team has not provided Hamilton the best-in-class machine he is used to driving.

How’s he looking coming out of Miami? Still not nearly as good as he’d like. Hamilton finished sixth, and Mercedes was once again in the same position it has been all season: the third best team on the grid behind Ferrari and Red Bull. Hamilton let teammate George Russell get past him in the last few laps for fifth place, which did not make the seven-time champ any happier. Also, Hamilton’s body piercings might be a problem for his career, thanks to some new F1 underwear regulations. No, really.

4. Lando Norris, McLaren

What to know about him: At just 22 years old, he’s a grizzled Formula 1 veteran. Norris has had an F1 seat since 2019 and hasn’t won a race yet, but he is in the “matter of time” zone to reach the top step of a podium. Since they paired up in 2021, Norris has usually out-driven his McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

How’s he looking coming out of Miami? Short term: Bad. Long term: Fine, but McLaren’s car has been inconsistent this year, which means it might take a while longer for Norris to win a race. In Miami, though, Norris experienced a disaster. He was in seventh place when he went in for a pit stop on the 19th lap. That pit stop lasted for what felt like an eternity, and Norris fell back in the pack. He was in 15th position a few laps later. Then, on the 41st lap, he crashed out of the race in a collision with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. It was an ugly wreck, but Norris walked away unscathed.

5. Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo

What to know about him: From 2017 through ‘21, the Finnish driver was in the unique role of being Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes. On the one hand, that was great for Bottas: He had a fast car, and Mercedes won the Constructors’ Championship every year he was there. On the other hand, it was hard: He was inevitably compared to Hamilton, the greatest driver ever and the only one in the field driving the same car as Bottas. And he sometimes had to sacrifice his own success to let Hamilton gain as much speed as possible. Mercedes replaced Bottas with young Brit George Russell before this season, but Bottas seems to have taken things in stride. He has pushed his much slower Alfa Romeo car into the top 10, the threshold to earn standings points, in several early races—a testament to his skill behind the wheel.

How’s he looking coming out of Miami? Still pretty good. On a day that saw a couple of collisions and close tangles between drivers, Bottas had a quiet race and finished in seventh place. His Alfa Romeo teammate, Zhou Guanyu, retired from the race not even eight laps in. Beating your teammate is one measure of F1 success, but Bottas continues to outpace plenty of drivers who are steering better cars.

6. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari

What to know about him: “Chaotic” might be the best way to describe him. Sainz is the No. 2 driver for Ferrari, a clear second fiddle to Leclerc, but he’s pretty good in his own right—when he finishes races. In the third race of the year, the Australian Grand Prix, he spun out on the second lap and ended his race sitting in the gravel. In the next race, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Italy, he didn’t even last that long: Ricciardo crashed into him and ended his race on the first lap. He also crashed in a practice drive in Miami on Friday, raising questions about how his weekend would go.

How’s he looking coming out of Miami? Pretty good. He finished third, good for a podium finish and “best of the rest” status after Verstappen and Leclerc. Sainz is not going to win the drivers’ title this year, but he’s an important piece of Ferrari’s attempt for its first Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship since 2008, when Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa were at the wheel.

7. Kevin Magnussen, Haas

What to know about him: He’s likable! The best driver for F1’s only American-owned team, Magnussen wasn’t supposed to drive in F1 this year, but geopolitics put him in the driver’s seat right before the season started. Magnussen previously drove for Haas, but the team dropped him at the end of the 2020 season for the most quintessentially F1 of reasons: Haas needed money, and a Russian fertilizer oligarch forked it over under the condition that his son, Nikita Mazepin, drive for Haas. Mazepin did not score a single point in 2021. Then Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Haas dissolved its partnership with Mazepin’s dad’s company, and Magnussen came back to his old team to drive a Haas car in 2022. What a journey.

How’s he looking coming out of Miami? Haas in general looks much, much better this season, and Magnussen has been its most effective driver. But neither Magnussen nor Schumacher got points on Sunday, despite both sitting in the top 10 at one point late in the race. Magnussen got a five-second penalty at the end of the race for weaving on a straight, though it didn’t change anything given that he’d already fallen to 15th.

The next F1 race is in Spain on May 22. Now you’ll know a bit more about who you’re watching as the world’s fastest cars zip their way around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya—and for the rest of the Formula 1 season, too

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