In light of Max Verstappen claiming his third consecutive World Driver’s Championship (WDC) in last weekend’s race at the Qatar Grand Prix, join us for a recap of the 2023 season. Though the Charging Bulls’ dominance may be the headline story, this year has brought us mid-season driver swaps, epidemic dehydration and even lizards on the race track.
Fair warning: we will not be giving a best Driver of the Year award (we all know who that is).
SURPRISE TEAM OF THE SEASON: McLaren Racing F1
Initially, this award was going to go to Aston Martin for their efficient AMR23 car design and clean strategy decisions, which earned them 175 points in the first nine races. The team is currently standing at 4th in the constructor’s championships, with both drivers in the top 10 for the driver’s championship.
After the British Grand Prix, however, Aston Martin fell back, allowing McLaren to come back swinging. In the last seven races, Lando Norris has been on the podium four times, all of them in second place, looking closer than ever to getting that first win. His teammate, Oscar Piastri, has also displayed a strong performance with five-point finishes since Silverstone. The Papayas have hit their stride after a lukewarm 2022 season that saw them shell out a $15 million dollar buyout to end veteran Daniel Ricciardo’s contract early.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Oscar Piastri
The 2023 season started with three rookies — Oscar Piastri, Logan Sergeant and Nyck De Vries. We are now down to two after De Vries was substituted by Daniel Ricciardo mid-competition, although the latter is now recuperating from a broken arm. Piastri has been the shining star of his class, achieving two podiums and winning the Qatar Grand Prix Sprint Race in his first season.
He joins the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher in setting strong first-year performances. What else could we expect from the author of the iconic “I will not be driving for Alpine next year” tweet?
DISAPPOINTING TEAM OF THE SEASON: Scuderia Ferrari
Ferrari began the 2023 season looking to improve from its 2022 season, when it scrapped out a second-place finish in the constructors despite mistake-ridden strategy calls that cost driver Charles Leclerc a fighting chance at his first WDC title. The Prancing Horses came into this year with a new team principal, Fred Vasseur, although they have been plagued by mechanical issues from a car that performs well in qualifying but falters during the actual race. Their post-Spain updates have allowed them to substantially improve results, with Carlos Sainz clinching his second career victory in Singapore. There is still a long way to go for Ferrari to break its 15-year titleless run.
TROUBLESOME DRIVER PAIRING: Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon
Childhood friends to racing rivals to teammates sounds like a movie trope, but for the French duo of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, this was the backdrop for their 2023 Formula One season. Expectations were high for a season of continued clashes, and their on track battles have not disappointed. Partially motivated by Alpine’s lack of driver preference, Gasly and Ocon have been at each other's rear wings for the better part of the season — with eyebrow-raising confrontations in Australia, Hungary and Japan.
However, it may not be entirely bad news for French hopes and dreams in F1. Having two equally matched drivers, who are each race winners in their own right and have demonstrated their steady abilities to make it into the points, provides Alpine with a good opportunity to push for a better constructors’ standing.
BEST TEAM STRATEGIST: Hannah Schmidt
Many pundits have waxed lyrical about Verstappen’s generational talent and his unbeatable performances in the past two years. We must, however, give credit where it’s due, and in the case of Red Bull's dominance, it could not have happened without Principal Strategy Engineer Hanna Schmitz.
Her thirteen-year tenure at Red Bull has had many high points, but our personal favorite occurred during Monaco 2022 — Schmitz was responsible for making the crucial strategy call to pit three times that led to Sergio Perez’s victory, even earning praise from notoriously hard-to-please Helmut Marko.
UNDERRATED TALENT: Alex Albon
Alex Albon was thrown into the lion’s den, partnering Max Verstappen at Red Bull as a rookie in 2019. After a decent stint in the second half of 2019 but a lackluster 2020 season — finishing with 109 points less than Verstappen — Albon was forced to sit out of the 2021 season. For many drivers, this would be the end of their F1 careers; however, Albon proved to be tenacious in fighting for his F1 dream.
As a Red Bull reserve driver, his simulation work was credited by the team for helping Verstappen secure the 2021 driver’s championship, as well as earning himself a drive for the Williams F1 team. In his second year at Williams, Albon has proved to be a valuable team leader, scoring all of the team’s 23 points. Williams will most likely take seventh in the constructors, an improvement from dead-last finishes in the last couple of years.
BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE SEASON: Fernando Alonso
Age is just a number — at least for Fernando Alonso. The 42-year-old Spaniard hit the ground running this season with three podium finishes in the first three races of the season (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Australia), reassuring critics and supporters alike that “El Plan” is alive and well. He’s risen from a rather uneventful 2022 season, achieving only a best race finish of 5th place in Interlagos, Spa and Silverstone,
to being fourth in the driver’s championship and having a real chance to claim his long-awaited 33rd win. His consistent performance has allowed Aston Martin to challenge the modern-time hegemony of Mercedes and Redbull. Our eyes are on the battle for third place between Alonso and long-time rival Lewis Hamilton as we move into the final stretch of the season. His reputation has never been better.
BEST BATTLE OF THE SEASON: Saint vs. Perez vs. Albon
While spectators’ eyes were focused on the front of the field at Silverstone 2023, the best battle of the season so far (in our humble opinion) was Sainz, Perez and Albon’s brawl for seventh place. On the 43rd lap, Perez and Albon pounced on a struggling Carlos Sainz, with Perez pulling an inside overtake on the Ferrari driver to claim seventh. Albon capitalized on the opportunity to use Williams’ surprising straight-line speed to knock the Spaniard down to ninth place.
IT AIN’T OVER YET
Though Max Verstappen and Redbull have emerged victorious in both title races, there is still a lot to be excited about for the remaining five races of 2023. We will be biting our nails watching Perez, Hamilton and Alonso fight for vice-champion, as well as Ferrari’s and Mercedes’ sparring match for second in constructors. Naturally, we will also be tuning in for Zak Brown and Toto Wolff’s proposed boxing match at the first Las Vegas Grand Prix.