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Top 200 Drivers of 2023 (Drivers 10 to 1)

by Sean Wrona

10. (44) Kyle Larson

Throughout the season, everybody on the auto racing Discord where I post kept telling me Larson was having the best NASCAR season and I was pretty resistant for most of the season mainly because William Byron was beating him in almost all the statistics I was tracking throughout the year. It's true that Larson's wins were usually more impressive than Byron's and he did usually seem to steadily improve in speed throughout the race while Byron tended to be faster early in a race before fading around the midpoint before some kind of deus ex machina allowed him to fight for the win anyway. However, just like Byron, Larson tended to have a losing lead change record for the entire year too and while his lead change record at 24-26 was better than Byron's 25-30, that certainly isn't a massive difference. Byron did beat Larson in most of the other categories I tracked with a 15-11 advantage in natural races led, 6 wins to 4, 5 TNL to 3, 4.04 lead shares to 2.41 (Larson only ranked 7th in this category, even behind Ross Chastain, which was one of the things that was really not impressing me), 4.17 CRL to 3.94, 4 poles to 2, and a speed percentile of 79.80 to Larson's 79.00. Byron was also a lot more consistent as he had only three crash/DVP DNFs to Larson's eight and only 10 incidents to Larson's 23, which was the main difference between them. Some of that no doubt is Larson's fault (like that stupid crash when he entered the pits at Homestead, although you can argue that was Ryan Blaney's fault) but some of it isn't as he was the main recipient of Chastain's early season reign of terror after Chastain took him out at both Dover and Darlington, not to mention Denny Hamlin wrecking him out of a win at Kansas (I don't know whether Toby Christie would count that as an incident or not.) Larson is likely a sloppier driver than Byron because of his tendency to overdrive. This means at his best, he can do things no one else can such as at the All-Star race where NASCAR made its return to North Wilkesboro. At a track where none of the active NASCAR drivers had competed until that weekend, Larson drove from 16th to the lead in 55 laps; he then built up a 12-second lead in the next 45 laps before the mid-race competition caution. I don't think any of his points races were that impressive, but he did probably have more good races than anyone else as he led 50 or more laps in ten races to Byron's eight and Blaney's four. I still think the gap between all three of them was really small, as rankings of 10th, 15th, and 18th indicate, but I finally agreed that in spite of all Larson's crashing and lack of consistency that he was still better. According to Ryan McCafferty's luck statistic, Larson was by far the unluckiest of the triumvirate with a luck rating of -4.135 to Blaney's -1.22 and Byron's 2.0506. Byron was much luckier than Blaney, who was much luckier than Larson. Granted, that assumes unrepresentative bad finishes aren't the driver's fault when Larson did take himself out several times (and the Homestead race was a pretty notorious one.) But I do think such a difference is likely greater than the difference between Byron's and Larson's unforced errors, and Larson obviously had the two instances when Chastain took him out and Byron didn't really have much like that all season. I was not as wowed by Larson as everyone else was, mainly because of his negative lead change record and weak lead share total, although I'll admit lead shares weren't as accurate as they often are in a season when Michael McDowell made all the passes in a two-race span giving him 2 complete lead shares, after which he was actually ahead of Larson for a while. Maybe I just need to largely ignore that for 2023, especially because too many of Byron's late-race passes were deus ex machina. Larson did have moments of good fortune himself of course: he beat Byron out of the pits to win the spring Richmond race and beat Tyler Reddick out of the pits to win the Southern 500. The two main things that led me to finally take him over the other two when honestly Blaney impressed me more personally were his overall passing percentage and his performance in other series. As I mentioned in the Byron entry, Larson had an overall passing percentage of 52.97% to Blaney's 51.36% to Byron's 50.32%. Larson had a better lead change percentage, lead change percentage on the final lead change of the race, and overall passing percentage than Byron, which no doubt was the main reason why he topped Ryan's model. Larson was fourth in mine with a rating of .203, but he was only barely behind Chris Buescher and William Byron, who were both much luckier and that model is entirely based on finishes so if they had even had balanced luck, there is no way Larson wouldn't have beaten those two. Although Blaney was much better at passing for the lead, Larson was much better at passing through the field and I couldn't decide which to value more, especially since Blaney did win the title with the slower car. I ultimately went with Larson because he had a lot of extracurricular accomplishments while the other two did not. In addition to his Cup successes, he also won the High Limit sprint car championship by seven points over Rico Abreu even though Abreu won 4 races to Larson's 3. On top of that, Larson added an Xfinity win, a Craftsman Truck win, 4 World of Outlaws wins, 2 All Star Circuit of Champions wins, and 3 USAC Midget wins for an overall of 18 wins across all series. Blaney and Byron had no wins outside of Cup. Yeah, I think that decides it although I wasn't as impressed as many of my peers were by him last year, maybe because I have higher expectations for him than I had for either Byron or Blaney. The best argument against Larson is the crashing, but the question is how much that should matter. Since NASCAR has now adopted a "winning is everything" mentality, one can argue consistency doesn't even matter anymore in the regular season as long as you win and even Larson's Homestead crash didn't really matter since he had already won at Las Vegas. Although Larson still overdrives and it looks like he probably always will, that strategy is the best for maximizing your best results, and since NASCAR is now choosing to reward drivers for their best races more and rewarding consistency much less, it's likely the correct strategy. Byron can't count on taking the lead on a late restart forever. I am tempted to say Blaney had the better Cup season because he did more with less but he was almost involved in as many incidents as Larson was even though he got taken out much less often in them. However, I ended up ranking Larson in the top ten and the others not mainly because of all his other wins. It's a marginal distinction to be sure as all drivers between 6th-25th score the same number of points towards my overall top 1,000 list (and I won't be ranking any drivers outside the top five for years prior to 2021 besides classifying them into my E, E-, C+, C, and C- tiers), so they were obviously very close.

9. (15) Mitch Evans

I've mentioned several times over the years that Evans has been the highest-rated Formula E driver for the entire history of my open wheel model, even though I originally launched it at the start of 2021 when he had only had two career wins. Over that same time period, the highest-rated F1 driver has changed from Fernando Alonso to Max Verstappen and the highest-rated IndyCar driver has switched from Scott Dixon to Josef Newgarden to Pato O'Ward, but Evans has continued to hold off all Formula E challengers. He was even the highest-rated driver in my model globally in 2020; his .636 rating that year when he swept last year's Le Mans winner James Calado 5-0 and last year's 24 Hours of Daytona winner Tom Blomqvist 2-0 remains the highest single-season rating for any open wheel driver since Nico Rosberg dominated a rusty Michael Schumacher who was returning after a three-year sabbatical in 2010. While he wasn't the highest-rated driver globally again, he was the highest-rated Formula E driver for the second time in 2023 and he still ranked fourth overall in my open wheel teammate model with a rating of .417 behind only Verstappen, Alonso, and Pato O'Ward, yet I definitely think he was better than two of them. Evans's recent dominance has been one of the major vindications of my open wheel model. While it looked dubious that he was the highest-ranked Formula E driver when he only had two wins, in the last two seasons he has tied for the most wins with four both years although he has not won a title. Moreover, his teammate Sam Bird, who had won in every single Formula E season through 2021 went winless in both of those years and only finished 13th and 8th in the same years Evans finished 2nd and 3rd. His 7-2 defeat of Sam Bird was close to the same caliber of O'Ward's near-sweep of Alexander Rossi last year, but Evans's race performances were clearly better. He led numerous statistical categories among Formula E drivers last year, including natural races led (5), wins (4), and TNL (4), which were all tied with Nick Cassidy, as well as lead change record (9-3), lead shares (2.97), races with the most lead shares (4), and poles (3). He did all this despite only ranking 3rd in speed with a speed percentile 72.20 which slightly trailed the champion Jake Dennis's 72.96 and significantly trailed Cassidy's 77.99, ultimately corroborating my teammate model's opinion that Evans was doing the most with his equipment. Cassidy did have a big advantage in raw dominance with 3.48 CRL to Evans's 2.34 (Dennis was also slightly ahead) and 6 races with the most laps led to Evans's 3, while Dennis easily had the most fastest laps and fastest races with 5 each although Evans ranked 2nd in both of those categories. Evans was clearly the best of the three even though he didn't win the title since his performance was greater than his speed while Cassidy's cars were a little better than he was, although all three drivers were clearly elite. If Evans manages a third consecutive four-win season in 2024 and Sébastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi both fail to win again (just like what happened in 2023), Evans will become the all-time win leader in Formula E history, but I suppose at this point he'd rather win a title.

8. (3) Kalle Rovanperä

Rovanperä won his second straight World Rally Championship in 2023, but his season definitely wasn't quite as good as the year before. While he won six rallies in 2022, he only won thrice in 2023. It's still remarkable that he has now won two championships at such a young age, having just turned 23 late in the 2023 season. Before Rovanperä the youngest WRC champion was Colin McRae at 27, so given the tendency for rally drivers to typically win a lot of titles consecutively, it's very conceivable that he could win six championships in a row and still be younger than McRae was when he won his first. But that's also part of the reason why I didn't rank him higher. Even though he is already winning titles, I suspect he is still young enough that he hasn't matured to his peak form yet and his best seasons are likely ahead of him. Furthermore, I have the sneaking suspicion that if eight-time WRC champion Sébastien Ogier hadn't suddenly dropped down to part-time competition for 2022, Rovanperä might not have won a title yet. The weird thing about rally racing in the 21st century is that after Sébastien Loeb's power run of nine championships in a row from 2004-2012, for the most part nobody was ever dethroned. Loeb quit competing full-time and it was only then that Ogier started winning titles and Rovanperä did not start winning titles until after Ogier left. It leads me to the conclusion that Ogier was no replacement for Loeb and Rovanperä again is no replacement for Ogier, although admittedly he has already won rallies and titles at a much younger age than Ogier ever did, so I think Rovanperä will eventually be more like Loeb than Ogier, but I'm not convinced he's better than Ogier yet. Yes, he had the better season simply because he entered all the rallies and Ogier didn't, but both drivers drove for Toyota's powerhouse factory team and they both won 3 rallies even though Rovanperä drove all 13 and Ogier only drove 8. Admittedly, Rovanperä was the more consistent finisher as he finished fourth or better in every rally he finished and he only had one retirement. If you extrapolated Ogier's points per rally average to the entire schedule, he still would have lost to Rovanperä by almost 34 points. But in 2022, Rovanperä was unambiguously better than Ogier and his other major teammate Elfyn Evans with 6 wins to Ogier's 1 and Evans's 0, while all three drivers tied with 3 wins in 2023. Rovanperä's advantage over Evans significantly declined as well. In 2022, he nearly doubled him in points 255-134; last year, they were much closer at 250-216. Given all that, I have to rate Rovanperä much lower, but it'll still be a rare year when I don't include the WRC champion in the top ten since I realize a lot of people think WRC, not F1, requires the most versatility in terms of handling different terrains even if the competition level usually isn't there. The fact that he has still won his second championship at an age four years younger than the next youngest-champion also indicates he should still be in the top ten, but I think we haven't seen his best yet. I suspect he will be #1 on a future list if I keep making these, but he hasn't quite had that killer year yet. I do think he is capable of it.

7. (58) Thomas Preining

Preining won the DTM championship in 2023 with three wins and although it would be too much to say he dominated the season, he did lead the series in almost every category, including natural races led (4), lead change record (1-0; there were hardly any lead changes in this series), wins (3), TNL (4), lead shares (4), races with the most lead shares (4), races with the most laps led (3), poles (3), fastest laps (2), and speed percentile (77.68). The only categories he did not lead were CRL (where Mirko Bortolotti beat him 2.88-2.67) and fastest races (where Luca Stolz had 3 to his 2.) But the main reason I ranked him in the top ten was because he was the overall leader in my touring car model for 2023 with a rating of .595. He utterly dominated his teammate Dennis Olsen, who finished 7th with barely half as many points (Preining beat him 246-129); he also beat him 11-3 in shared finishes. And Olsen is not a bad driver. In 2017, Olsen won the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany championship when he and Preining were teammates and that year Olsen blew out him by a margin of 273 points to 130 with Preining finishing sixth in points despite the fact that Olsen missed two races while Preining ran them all. After Preining lost to Olsen 10-3 in Porsche Carrera Cup Germany and also 4-0 in their shared Porsche Supercup finishes that year, this is a rather sudden about-face. Admittedly, in 2017 Olsen was 21 and Preining was 19, so it shouldn't necessarily be surprising that Preining overtook him last year when they were both six years older since it is fairly typical for younger drivers to improve at a faster rate. Still, Olsen remains very highly rated in my touring car model because of his great results in the Porsche feeder system (he was also the fastest driver in his class in the 24 Hours of Daytona once) and for Preining to beat a driver this badly who had dominated him before is definitely worthy of praise.

6. (C) Norbert Michelisz

Michelisz had a nearly identical season to Thomas Preining in every way. Just Like Preining in DTM, Michelisz won the TCR World Tour with 4 wins in 20 starts, essentially identical to Preining's 3 wins in 16 starts. Like Preining, he didn't win the title by a large margin; indeed, he only beat Yann Ehrlacher by 10 points (1/3 of the point total of a single race), while Preining beat Mirko Bortolotti by about an entire race's worth of points. Like Preining, Michelisz led in almost all but not quite all statistical categories with 3 natural races led, 4 wins, 4 TNL, 3.67 lead shares, 4 races with the most lead shares, 3.73 CRL, 4 races with the most laps led, 3 poles, and 4 fastest races. Like Preining, he had only one pass for the lead but his 1-1 lead change record was a little worse than Preining's 1-0. The only categories Michelisz did not lead were fastest laps (where his defending champion teammate Mikel Azcona shockingly had 7 fastest laps to Michelisz's 1 despite being otherwise mediocre) and speed percentile (where Michelisz's 78.24 was narrowly behind Ehrlacher's 78.93.) Like Preining, Michelisz was the highest-rated driver in the TCR World Tour in my model with a rating of .414, but that only ranked 6th overall. However, Michelisz trailed four DTM drivers in my model, which indicates that the DTM drivers in general (not just Preining) were overrated, probably because DTM does not do field inversions while other series do, which allows superior teammates to dominate by a larger margin. Although on the surface it seems like I should have taken Preining over Michelisz because Preining's teammate Dennis Olsen finished 7th in points and didn't win a race while Michelisz's teammate Mikel Azcona won once and finished 5th in points in addition to DTM having greater competition, Preining ranking higher in my model, and Preining having a better lead change record, I chose to go with Michelisz mainly because Azcona was the defending champion of international touring car racing, having won the World Touring Car Cup in 2022. This wasn't technically the same series as the TCR World Tour as international touring car racing seems to cycle through different sanctioning bodies every few years, but it was contested by the same drivers and teams. Meanwhile, Olsen hadn't quite really proved himself at the major league level and wasn't really one of the big DTM stars. Azcona had long since proven himself as one of the big touring car stars and Michelisz beat him 11-6. It was actually the first time in Azcona's career he had ever lost to a teammate and Michelisz did that while Azcona was effectively the defending champion. Okay, that decides it. But Preining and Michelisz still had virtually identical seasons in all other ways.

5. (69) Álex Palou

The general consensus around the world seemed to be that Palou was the second-best driver globally in 2023 behind only Max Verstappen, but I just could not get there as there were three other drivers who impressed me more than him: two of them won multiple major league titles in the same season and the other one tied an all-time win record in a series that has been around for 65 years. When you compare him to those three drivers, I think Palou's accomplishments were actually rather modest and I actually think I might be overrating him at fifth. He was certainly the best IndyCar driver in 2023 and he definitely had the best season in a while, probably since Will Power's 2011 (yes, I know Power lost the title, but his performance was amazing that year.) Palou became the first driver to clinch a title since the CART/IRL split ended, although one major reason for that is the fact that IndyCar got rid of its double points races (for example, Simon Pagenaud probably would have clinched a race early in 2016 had the double points races not existed.) Yet there are still several things that feel hollow about Palou's dominance and as dominant as he was, Palou's 2023 would not even come close to topping a list of best IndyCar seasons ever were I to construct one. (The best IndyCar season ever will likely always remain A.J. Foyt's 1964 when he won ten races and started the season with seven consecutive wins including the Indy 500.) The four main things that give me pause when evaluating Palou's season were:

Let's take these one at a time. For many years, IndyCar has prided itself on having the most versatile drivers because it races on both ovals and road and street courses but admittedly, IndyCar is going through a real identity crisis right now and I think part of it is that with IndyCar continuing to bleed ovals (even losing their once-marquee race at Texas for 2024) and NASCAR suddenly adding a bunch of road and street courses and even a dirt track, you could make a very real case at this point that NASCAR drivers are the most diverse since the percentage of road courses on the NASCAR Cup schedule is getting rather close to the percentage of ovals on the IndyCar schedule. Furthermore, NASCAR clearly has the best oval drivers in the world while IndyCar drivers for the most part are neither the best on ovals nor on road courses. When IndyCar drivers enter with so much less oval racing experience (and the IndyCar minor leagues barely even race on ovals anymore), it's hard to make the versatility claim anymore. You don't need to do anything on ovals anymore to dominate as both Pagenaud in 2016 and Palou last year proved, but there have been plenty of drivers in the past who have shown the capacity to dominate on all tracks. Palou hasn't yet. He certainly has been fast at Indy all three years at Ganassi and I acknowledge that, but it's worth pointing out that he got outdueled by an otherwise-washed-up Hélio Castroneves in a Michael Shank car in 2021 and while he had some bad luck in both 2022 and 2023, it's hard not to argue Marcus Ericsson outperformed him in 2023 as well and Ericsson is a barely above average driver in general. At all other tracks, he's pretty much been a non-factor with washed-up Jimmie Johnson passing him at both Texas and Iowa in his first open wheel season on ovals in the same equipment. Sure, I realize a lot of that wasn't last year and I also realize that Johnson is one of the best oval drivers in history but by 2022, he was far off his peak. And honestly I think Palou was faster on ovals in both 2021 and 2022 than he was in 2023 when he was pretty much a non-factor on them in the year Josef Newgarden almost swept them. For this to have really been the second-best season in the world in 2023, I think he needed to do more on ovals than the little he did. I realize IndyCar drivers have fewer opportunities to compete on ovals these days, but it's still worth noting that with Newgarden's Indy 500 win, that leaves Palou as the only IRL/IndyCar champion since 1999 who has yet to win a 500. I do think it'll eventually happen if he doesn't get an F1 ride first - I'm old enough to remember how slow Dario Franchitti, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud were on ovals initially, but I do think it's worthy of criticism for a driver who had the fastest cars last year. Furthermore, Ganassi's dominance on road courses was unusual even for recent IndyCar history with Palou, Scott Dixon, and Ericsson combining to win eight of the twelve road/street events; it's been a while since one team has had that degree of an advantage on those tracks. Not only did Palou clinch the title a race early, their cars were so fast that Dixon clinched second place a race early even though he was nowhere near the second-best driver of 2023. How absurd was Ganassi's road course speed last year? Rookie Markus Armstrong in the 4th Ganassi car actually had a faster speed percentile than Josef Newgarden on road/street courses in 2023 and was ahead of him in overall speed for most of the season. A Penske veteran widely regarded as the best driver of his era should not be slower than a rookie coming off three straight 13th place finishes in Formula 2 points. I think Ganassi made all their drivers look better than they were. Not to the point that Palou wasn't the best driver in the series (he probably was), but enough so that I don't think Dixon was anywhere near 2nd and Ericsson was anywhere near 6th, where they finished in points. Additionally, I take a look at passing numbers frequently. Palou's were fine but that was an area of weakness for him. While Palou led every single category that was not necessarily dependent on passing (5 wins, 3.77 CRL, 5 races with the most laps led, 2 poles - tied with 7 other drivers, 4 fastest laps, 5 fastest races, and a speed percentile of 83.46), he only led one passing category (6 natural races led), while Newgarden beat him in almost all passing categories despite he and to a lesser degree the Penske team in general being way slower: Newgarden had a 13-8 lead change record to Palou's 14-13, 5 TNL to Palou's 3, 3.51 lead shares to Palou's 2.93, and 4 races with the most lead shares to Palou's 3. This clearly indicates that Newgarden was better on the ovals than Palou was on the road/street courses if Newgarden could beat Palou in almost all passing categories despite doing next to nothing on the road/street courses which dominate the schedule, while Palou couldn't lead any of those categories even though there were far more road/street courses than ovals. Ultimately, I still decided Palou was better than Newgarden because Newgarden's road course mediocrity was a lot worse than Palou's oval mediocrity - Palou still finished 8th or better in every single race while Newgarden was randomly way off the pace on road courses several times. But deciding between Palou and O'Ward was much harder. Palou was the 2nd highest IndyCar driver in my open wheel model in 2023 with a rating of .378, 8th overall among open wheel drivers, but O'Ward at .446 (3rd overall) was a lot higher despite failing to win while Palou won five times. Considering Palou was extremely lucky all year and O'Ward was extremely unlucky all year, it's not hard to imagine both of them ending up with three wins if not much was different. Furthermore, O'Ward was only barely slower than Palou (82.86-83.46) in speed percentile despite what was likely a much slower car and he was the fastest driver on ovals; O'Ward has proven in the past to be equally strong on ovals and road courses, which can't be said about Palou yet. But ultimately I decided I had to evaluate based on what actually happened rather than woulda-coulda-shoulda arguments. I do think O'Ward has more raw talent than Palou without question, but I will grant that Palou has the better racecraft: his ability to strategize jump people on in-laps and out-laps already seems to match Dixon even though 2023 was only his fourth year yet he now regularly has a lot more speed than Dixon. If it was like F1 where O'Ward's McLaren literally had no shot at winning, I think I'd have gone with O'Ward over Palou. But O'Ward did have some chances to win and didn't, so I guess that decided it.

4. (5) Johan Kristoffersson

Probably the only driver who can rival Max Verstappen right now in terms of consistent dominance over an extended period, Kristoffersson won his record sixth World Rallycross championship in seven years. The only year in that time span he failed to win the championship was 2019, when he switched to the World Touring Car Cup instead. In addition to his six rallycross titles, he has also won the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship twice, the Porsche Carrera Cup Scandinavia twice, and now his second championship in Extreme E, the electric off-road series where various rally and rallycross stars compete. Kristoffersson is one of only two drivers last year to win multiple major league championships in the same season (the other driver comes up next.) Not only has Kristoffersson won the aforementioned twelve titles in twelve years - seriously, he averages a title a year - but 2023 marked the fourth season he won multiple titles in a season by winning the World Rallycross and Extreme E championships simultaneously. He had previously doubled up on both of those championships in 2021, a year when I ranked him 6th, but I think last year was better. In 2021, he won 3 World Rallycross races and 3 Extreme E races; last year, he won 5 and 3 respectively. In 2021, he only won the World Rallycross championship over Timmy Hansen in a tiebreaker while in 2023, he utterly dominated winning 5 out of 7 races (although admittedly, three races were canceled and there were only usually ten cars per race, so the competition wasn't great.) Extreme E had better competition as he had to beat DTM champions Mattias Ekström and Timo Scheider, brothers Timmy and Kevin Hansen, Tanner Foust, Andreas Bakkerud, and in certain races rally stars Sébastien Loeb and Nasser Al-Attiyah (who both ran full-time and weren't really competitive.) As with Verstappen, his dominance is getting so predictable it's boring to talk about. He just keeps delivering top ten caliber seasons every year even if some people don't recognize it when you consider his series don't tend to get a lot of attention either nationally or internationally. When he has competed with other major league drivers in events like the Race of Champions, he's been quite successful as he did beat Josef Newgarden in a head-to-head match in 2018 before he and nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen teamed up to win the Nations Cup the following year. I might be overrating him a bit due to the lack of competition, but he's still clearly one of the best drivers of the last decade regardless.

3. (C-) Ritomo Miyata

I think Miyata was both the best sports car driver and the second-best open wheel driver of 2023. He indeed impressed me more than either Álex Palou or any F1 driver other than Max Verstappen. Miyata won both major league champions in Japan, the Super Formula open wheel series and the Super GT sports car series simultaneously. Most of the top drivers in Japan compete in both at the same time, but winning both championships in the same year is rare. Since the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship (the series that eventually became Super GT) debuted in 1993, only four other drivers prior to Miyata won both championships in the same season: Pedro de la Rosa 1997, Satoshi Motoyama in 2003, Richard Lyons in 2004, and Naoki Yamamoto in 2018 and 2020, but even that doesn't properly state the magnitude of his accomplishment. With two wins in Super Formula and three wins in Super GT alongside his teammate Sho Tsuboi, Miyata's five combined wins are more than any of those drivers managed in those respective seasons except for de la Rosa, who had 7 and that year directly propelled him into his Formula One career, yet Miyata achieved this at a younger age since he was 24 when he completed his sweep while de la Rosa was 26. Miyata and Tsuboi's three wins in Super GT's premier GT500 class were the most since Satoshi Motoyama and Benoît Tréluyer won three times in 2011 but they didn't win the championship. In addition to winning the Super GT title together by 26 points over Katsumasa Chiyo and Mitsunori Takaboshi (the largest margin of victory ever), Miyata and Tsuboi were also the two highest rated Super Formula drivers in my open wheel teammate model in 2023 as well. I narrowly included Miyata in my top 200 list for 2022 because he was actually the highest-rated Super Formula driver in my model that year as well, which really did age nicely considering his vast success last year, but even I was not expecting a year like this. Admittedly, Miyata's Super Formula season was not nearly as dominant on the surface despite winning the title. He only beat rookie Liam Lawson by 8 points and two-time defending champion Tomoki Nojiri by 8.5 points (and when you consider that Nojiri missed the Autopolis race with a collapsed lung, he actually had a higher average points per race than Miyata did.) However, I think Nojiri and Lawson's Team Mugen had substantially faster cars than Miyata's TOM'S team, as evidenced by the fact that Miyata scored 114.5 points and got a top five in all eight races while his two teammates who split the other TOM'S car (Jean Alesi's son Giuliano and Ukyo Sasahara) combined for 3 points and both finished 20th in the championship or worse. Not only did Miyata sweep his teammates, but his worst finish of fifth in the season opener at Fuji, was better than the best finish for the other car (Alesi's eighth), and Alesi and Sasahara are both recent winners with Alesi winning a race in 2021 and Sasahara winning two races in 2022. Granted, the competition in Super Formula isn't as strong as that of the other three major league open wheel series and Alesi and Sasahara were so low rated in my model that Miyata sweeping them was only enough for him to rank 15th overall in my open wheel model at .284, but I actually think this understates the level of his performance, and when you throw in his even greater Super GT dominance, I really do think he was the second-best open wheel driver and best sports car driver of the year, and I took him over Johan Kristoffersson because the two titles where he won the championship were in my opinion both more prestigious and competitive than the titles Kristoffersson won. But there is one more thing that really puts Miyata over the top. While winning two major league championships in the same season is probably worthy of top ten placement by itself, you might think third is a little too high for this. The final element about Miyata that impresses me and led me to rank him this high is that he is as far as I know the first-ever autistic driver to win a major league championship (no, I don't think Cody Ware's Asian Le Mans Series title counts since I don't consider that a major league series and I doubt he was the leader of that team anyway.) You might think autism is merely a social disorder but it has a lot of physical symptoms that are much more obscure. One of them is struggling with coordination and gross motor skills. It is very common for people with autism to not know how to drive. I myself have autism and don't know how to drive (which makes me a very hypocritical person to rate race car drivers; yes, yes, I know.) Sure, not all people with autism have the exact same strengths and deficiencies but there is a strong tendency for autistics to be incompetent at motor skills. Miyata somehow overcame this to not merely simply make it as a professional racer itself but to post the best season in domestic Japanese racing since at least 1990 when Kazuyoshi Hoshino won the Japanese Formula 3000 championship (now Super Formula) with six race wins while simultaneously winning the no longer extant Japanese Touring Car Championship with five more wins. One of the most experienced and successful iracers with over 500 wins in 1,000 starts, he somehow converted a surfeit of raw gamer nerd energy into real world racing success. In a world where most autists have significant deficiencies in gross motor skills, he nonetheless overcame this to develop some exceptional motor skills regardless. That's some real Alex Zanardi shit right there.

2. (37) Ashley Sutton

Should've been Ashley Sutton.

It's so weird that I, an American, rate your domestic drivers higher than you do...

— Sean Wrona (@racermetrics) December 5, 2023

In only his eighth full-time season, Sutton won his fourth British Touring Car Championship placing him already in a tie with Andy Rouse and Colin Turkington for the most championships in BTCC history, and he achieved this at both a way younger age and a way faster rate than either of them. It took Rouse 11 seasons to win his 4th championship and Turkington 15. Both Rouse and Turkington were 37 at the time while Sutton was still only 29! I don't think enough people are talking about his dominance. For all the hype Supercars drivers get, Sutton has been pretty obviously the best touring car driver of the last decade but nobody seems to care. Autosport ranked him 36th, which is honestly insulting. I know I keep repeating myself and last year isn't the first time but how does a British publication consistently fail to properly acknowledge its own domestic drivers? Sutton has now been the highest-ranked BTCC driver in my touring car model five times, and the series's all-time win leader Jason Plato has already called him the GOAT. It's already getting hard to argue with that. Sutton ranks third among BTCC champions in my touring car model: the only two he's behind are F1 champion Jim Clark (for whom his BTCC title is really kind of a footnote) and Laurent Aïello (who with his French Supertouring championship, Super Tourenwagen Cup championship, BTCC championship as a one-and-done rookie, and DTM championship might be the greatest touring car driver of all time.) But unlike Clark and Aïello, Sutton at least has some longevity in the series. Of all Sutton's seasons, 2023 was by far the best as he won twelve races, tying Alain Menu's all-time BTCC win record from 1997. Considering the series has existed since 1958, that's a big freaking deal. Admittedly, Menu did it in 24 races while Sutton started 30 races, but on the flip side, all races in 1997 had starting grids determined by qualifying while only 20 BTCC races from 2023 were decided by speed while the other ten were determined by field inversions. Only two of Sutton's wins came in reverse-grid races, so his winning percentage in races where the starting grid was determined by speed (10/20) was exactly the same as Menu's, so I do think his season was at least comparable (even though Menu won the championship by a much larger percentage and his teammate rating that year was better than Sutton's.) Sutton led every single statistical category that I track in BTCC except for lead change record (his 6-4 was a little worse than Jake Hill and Tom Ingram's 3-1). He had 12 natural races led, 12 TNL, 11.33 lead shares, 12 races with the most lead shares, 10.19 CRL, 11 races with the most laps led, 6 poles, 12 fastest laps, 13 fastest races, and a speed percentile of 90.81. In all the single-driver series I tracked, Sutton was one of only two drivers to post a speed percentile greater than 90. He also likely had the most impressive race of his career in the second race at Silverstone, where he started 23rd and drove all the way up to take the lead from Árón Taylor-Smith on the 24th and final lap; he essentially passed a car a lap, at Silverstone no less. This wasn't some NASCAR race at Talladega. What's even wilder is that even though this season was clearly the pinnacle of Sutton's career, his rating of .321 was actually only his sixth best in eight seasons, which makes me think that even though I rate him consistently higher than everyone else, I've still been underrating him. Since few people seem to respect the series either domestically or internationally as much as they should, I think people will be surprised by this. But I put Shane van Gisbergen in this same position in 2022 when he broke the all-time Supercars win record with 21 wins and he wasn't even the highest rated driver in Supercars that year! Admittedly, van Gisbergen's touring car rating in 2022 was higher than Sutton's in 2023, but I think it's worth noting that Sutton has the higher career rating at .328 to van Gisbergen's .288 and that is in spite of my model likely being biased against BTCC drivers because the field inversions make it harder to dominate than in Supercars, where all starting grids are determined by speed. If you forced me to pick, I'd probably say van Gisbergen had the better season, but I'd have to think about it and it's basically a wash to me. What I will say for Sutton in comparison is that SVG's championship was kind of a cakewalk as Scott McLaughlin had just defected to IndyCar and Jamie Whincup had just retired and was replaced by Broc Feeney while Brodie Kostecki was not good enough to pose a challenge yet. Sutton by contrast was competing against drivers like Tom Ingram, Jake Hill, Josh Cook, and Colin Turkington who were certainly in their prime and he had a veteran teammate in Dan Cammish who was maybe the best minor league driver in history as opposed to a nineteen-year-old rookie teammate in Feeney. Not only do I think Sutton was the second-best driver of the year, I honestly don't even think it's really close yet he does not get that respect. If you wanted to take any of the drivers I rated in the 3-5 positions over him, I would understand. Anyone else? I wouldn't really understand.

1. (1) Max Verstappen

While Ashley Sutton was interesting to talk about because he does not get the respect he deserves, this really is not. It went without saying that Verstappen would top my list for the third year in a row. I already ranked him first both in 2021 when it was controversial and in 2022 when it was not. Last year, Max maxed out all statistical categories to a level that had never been seen before and likely never will be again. Not only did he lead every statistical category I track, he also set all-time records innearly every statistical category I track. In 2023, he had 20 natural races led, an 11-3 lead change record, 19 wins, 20 TNL, 18.07 lead shares, 20 races with the most lead shares, 16.18 CRL, 19 races with the most laps led, 12 poles, 9 fastest laps, 16 fastest races, and a speed percentile of 97.77. As far as I can tell, these are all all-time records with the exception of lead change record (currently held by Nigel Mansell's 5-0 in 1989), poles (Sebastian Vettel had 15 in 2011), and fastest laps (Michael Schumacher had 10 in 2004 and Kimi Räikkönen surprisingly did so twice in 2005 and 2008). Sure, you can argue that Verstappen had one major advantage over a lot of drivers in the past simply because F1 seasons are currently longer than they used to be, but his 19 wins in 22 starts gave him a winning percentage of 86.3%, the best in F1 history. Verstappen was also the first driver to double all other drivers in points and the first driver to lead 1,000 laps in a season. His advantage over the field was so massive that he intentionally chose an inferior strategy to maximize his laps led count to go for the 1,000 laps led in the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP and still won. He was the highest-rated driver in my open wheel model with a rating of .523 thanks to beating his teammate Sergio Pérez 18-2. That actually isn't even his best teammate rating in his career as he has swept both Pérez and Alex Albon before, but this was still probably his best season ever. The bigger question is whether or not this was the best single-season racing performance of any driver in history. I'm guessing it has to be since most of the other seasons that come to mind come from a time period when cars were not nearly as reliable. Finishing a race if you don't crash is now an expectation in most races while it wasn't before, which means most drivers who had anything approaching this level of dominance before likely had some retirements due to attrition, which isn't really a thing anymore. I would guess this is probably the best season in motorsports history, but I still think I need to do more research before confirming that.

Now that I've finished this (and as usual it was exhausting), I'm probably going to take a break for a few weeks, but I do have some other columns coming down the pike. I recently used my teammate models to calculate competitive depth for every Formula One, CART/Champ Car, and IRL/IndyCar season. I would've done NASCAR too and I do still intend to, but I need to edit my model and re-iterate it at some point before I do that since I erroneously entered David Gilliland as Michael McDowell's teammate last year instead of Todd, which may have skewed some things. I may or may not do preseason predictions in a couple weeks, even though I realize some series like Formula E will have already started by then. More likely, I'll post the updated results for active drivers only for all three of my models (open wheel, stock car, and touring car) to make projections for what percentage of the time each teammate will finish higher as I did last year, but my focus for the remainder of the offseason will probably be non-racing stuff. I'll still try to put a few more columns out before the Daytona 500, but since I've already pretty much calculated everything I previously discussed in this paragraph already, they will take nowhere near as long to write as these did. Thank you and good night.

Sean Wrona is the Managing Editor of racermetrics.com, the Webmaster of race-database.com, the winner of the 2010 Ultimate Typing Championship at the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, and the ratings compiler and statistician for the Mensa Scrabble-by-Mail SIG. He earned a master's in applied statistics from Cornell University in 2008 and previously digitized several seasons of NBA box scores on basketball-reference.com. He is the author of Nerds Per Minute: A History of Competitive Typing. You may contact him at sean@racermetrics.com.