Formula One in 2023 will remembered for many things, such as the simmering tension between the FIA and Liberty Media, memorable races including Las Vegas and re-emergence of teams to the sharp end of the grid as well as multiple drivers under pressure.
Though above all, 2023 ought to be remembered too for the fact we’ve witnessed the greatest individual performances from a driver in a single season. The ad-nauseum fortnightly recitals of the Dutch and Austrian national anthems may’ve left a lasting earworm for some viewers, though there’s no denying Max Verstappen’s place as one of F1’s greats.
The 26-year-old came into 2023 already having claimed the record of most wins in a single season, romping to 15 last year en route to back-to-back championships.
Verstappen then raised his own ceiling, winning 19 of 22 races, with a thousand laps led which had never been achieved in a single season, went on a run of 10 consecutive race wins and safely secured a third straight title with the greatest points margin – being 290 over teammate Sergio Perez.
It was a crushing year for the Dutchman and his Red Bull Racing team, who also ended the year with more than double the points of the next best constructor in Mercedes.
But how much of it was down to the clever RB19? Well, if it was all the car, how does one explain the anomaly of Perez, who won two of the opening four races and then faded into the infamy of speculation as to whether he’d retain his seat at the world champions, despite his contract for next year?
There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe Verstappen’s feats this season and the question that is begging to be asked by all but his fervent fans is, when does this impressive run come to a halt? Something that can be revisited in 12 months’ time surely.
As for Perez, it was quite a bleak sight to see the veteran Mexican slump to six straight qualifying sessions where he failed to make it to Q3. As well as appearing on the podium only twice since the midseason, with the threat of Lewis Hamilton looming to snatch away what ended up being a first ever one-two in the championship for Red Bull.
The disheartening first corner DNF at his home Mexico City Grand Prix epitomised the 33-year-old’s year – as one where he was overambitious without the need to be, given the clear but hurtful reality that he’ll never eclipse the elite such as his teammate Verstappen.
Mercedes may’ve finished a distant second behind the Red Bull and Verstappen juggernaut, however their ongoing car deficiencies were spared further embarrassment by Ferrari, who again with the faster car on paper succumbed to poor reliability and lacking operational sharpness.
New team boss of the Scuderia in Fred Vasseur will have the smooth operation that was the excellent Carlos Sainz’s win in Singapore to be spared the blemish of a winless season, which is something his counterpart at Mercedes in Toto Wolff doesn’t have the luxury of.
Charles Leclerc’s five pole positions fully reinforces that he is still one of the quickest on the grid, though until all the inconsistencies on Sundays can be ironed out – there is little hope for the Prancing Horse to topple the Red Bull.
Despite going winless for a second consecutive year, it was arguably one of seven-time world champion Hamilton’s best seasons. Relying on sheer consistency through six (seven if not for the Austin disqualification) podiums, the 38-year-old had the measure of the inconsistent and reliability plagued George Russell, spare the first corner incident in Qatar which eliminated both teammates.
One of 2023’s highlights was seeing the re-emergence of McLaren as a front-running contender, as well as the meteoric rise of Aston Martin from seventh last year. However, both teams shared a tale of contrasting fortunes, where the Fernando Alonso-led Silverstone outfit started the season as the bonafide second-fastest team and fell away by the middle when McLaren took that moniker.
Six podiums from the first eight races had all pondering whether 42-year-old Alonso would win his first grand prix in a decade, though regardless of the misstep taken by Aston Martin in their development, they weren’t quite enough to match Verstappen.
Given the potential in the car, it was underwhelming to see Lance Stroll heavily beaten 206 to 74 in the points, regardless of his pre-season injuries to his hands – which arguably saw him drive faster.
While for McLaren starting the year with the indignity of being slowest in Bahrain, with neither car making it out of Q1 and then a double DNF – to Lando Norris claiming seven podiums including an emphatic home one at Silverstone and a standout rookie outing for Aussie Oscar Piastri, whose maiden couple of podiums were also celebrated with a Sprint win in Qatar.
The all-French Alpine team with their French driving duo of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, had their season characterised by further political infighting and revolving doors which saw senior names like Otmar Szafnauer, Alan Permane, Pat Fry and the individual who gave the team a public pasting of all public pastings in Miami – Laurent Rossi all dismissed.
Szafnauer, who started the season as team principal of Alpine, set the clear objective of finishing closer to the top three on points than they did in 2022. However, they regressed to sixth, with half the tally of Aston Martin ahead. Not even a podium in Monaco for Ocon, nor Zandvoort for Gasly could spare the Enstone team a dismal campaign.
There was a contrast in leadership style, however, at Williams, with former Mercedes strategy chief in James Vowles taking on the responsibility of reviving the famous family team. A more positive culture and one of accountability may take time for Vowles to fully implement at Grove, however, Alexander Albon’s heroics behind the wheel saw them rocket from the bottom of the table to seventh in the standings.
Logan Sargeant, as a rookie, did ultimately fare better than his AlphaTauri counterpart in Nyck De Vries – despite the American still seeming undercooked for Formula One. Still, the 22-year-old has secured his future alongside Albon in 2024, while former F2 and Formula E world champion De Vries was brutally dismissed with his tail between his legs after 10 races.
C’est la vie with the Red Bull driver programme and while the return of Daniel Ricciardo after his embarrassing McLaren tenure was a peculiar one, his weekend in Mexico proved the eight-time race winner is still a better choice than De Vries. That despite Kiwi rookie Liam Lawson impressing while deputising for an injured Ricciardo for five events.
AlphaTauri did as a whole suffer for their lack of development and it wasn’t until the legal hand-me-down parts from their sister Red Bull team took effect, that saw Yuki Tsunoda put in some stellar drives – including that last-ditch effort in Abu Dhabi to overhaul Williams for seventh.
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For Alfa Romeo and Haas, it was a season of anonymity ultimately. The former were spared the insult of finishing last, though despite having the slowest car in the field – were consistent enough to avoid the wooden spoon.
That prize seemed destined for Haas, who regardless of dumping Mick Schumacher for Nico Hülkenberg (who did comprehensively beat teammate Kevin Magnussen), lacked car development or better yet failing to address the issues of tyre management in races.
So even though it was the season of maximal relentlessness from Verstappen, it was still one that brought with it much discussion and intrigue.
With that, what were your thoughts on Formula One in 2023 and what has you looking forward to the next time they go racing?