In a season of 22 races, you’d expect Formula 1 to have multiple Grand Prix victors – well, not in 2023. Max Verstappen, this season’s drivers’ champion, has won 17 of the 20 races at the time of writing, claiming pole position 11 times and winning four of the six sprint races. Many fans have branded the Red Bull car as one of the fastest the sport has seen, even outperforming Mercedes’ dominance with Lewis Hamilton in the few years prior to 2022.
Regardless of Max’s rampant run, this season has actually been more competitive than you may think, and anything but boring.
To see the interesting details, we must disregard the reality of the drivers’ and constructors’ championships. Verstappen and Red Bull won their respective trophies with scarce competition, so their dominance must be ignored to see the excitement below. (And to be quite honest, we’ve heard enough about them anyway.)
Let’s start with Aston Martin. The car, which last season finished seventh, was rumoured to be rather quick during February’s pre-season testing. The team from Silverstone traded a retiring Sebastian Vettel for Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, who would ultimately get the most out of the car early in the season. Alonso seemed to love the third step on the podium, claiming the position in four of the first five races.
The main competition to Aston at the beginning of the season was Ferrari. However, due to their inconsistency in both reliability and strategy, it was Aston that snagged the spot as “best of the rest” in the early stages.
Round seven in Barcelona saw the resurgence of Mercedes, with both their drivers getting on the podium. McLaren also brought an upgrade to Silverstone (round ten), where Lando Norris claimed the team’s first podium finish of the season. Meanwhile, Aston began dropping their pace as the pack began to catch up.
Returning from the summer break, the battle between Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari reached its peak during round 15 in Singapore. Botching their set-up, Red Bull allowed an opening for one of the three teams to steal a race win from the dominant Verstappen.
Starting from pole position, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz led Norris, Russell, and Hamilton – all four drivers separated by less than a second. But with Russell dramatically crashing out in the final lap, the podium place fell to his teammate, Hamilton. For the first time all season, we had a podium free from Red Bull insignia, featuring three different teams – a fine example of what this season could have been.
William’s Alex Albon and Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda are both deserving of an honourable mention, each outperforming their respective cars’ capabilities. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly were equally surprising, the former snatching third in Monaco and the latter climbing the Dutch podium.
Let’s consider for a moment what the 2023 championship standings would look like without Red Bull. In this alternate reality, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton tops the championship with 314 points. Fernando Alonso is hot on his tail with 298.
Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris would also be in with a sniff, as only five points separate the former teammates at Mclaren, and Sainz sits just 48 points behind Hamilton.
A similar story lies in the constructors’ championship, Mercedes and Ferrari battling it out for the trophy with only twenty points separating them heading into the final two races.
Obviously, this exciting battle for the trophy isn’t the reality. But even if the Red Bull car was slightly slower, you can imagine how much closer the fight for the championships would have been.
Now we wait for the winter break to be over. A new season will begin soon enough, in which F1 will hopefully be a little more competitive. For now though, just know – even if Red Bull dominate once again, there is plenty going on behind.