I’m torn between considering the 2023 season of the Formula 1 World Championship good or bad for the sport. We saw utter dominance, where one team has won all but one race in the season, and specifically one driver declassing the entire field. And this to an extent we have never seen before and are likely never to see again. But what does that mean heading forward? Is it good or bad for F1 and its popularity down the line? I have no idea and I lack a crystal ball to predict the impact, but I can say this; the drivers behind Max Verstappen gave us some really intense battles, and witnessing the level of perfection Max delivered race after race was unbelievable in its own right. And with that in mind, after 22 races all across the globe, it’s time to look back at the 2023 Formula 1 season.
It’s impossible to deny the impressive performance of both the Max Verstappen and the Red Bull team, but behind the sheer dominance there was tons of drama and excitement. We’ve seen drain covers causing major issues for Ferrari and in particular Carlos Sainz during the Las Vegas Grand Prix. We’ve seen record-breaking pitstop times, as the McLaren crew managed to change all four tires and send out Lando Norris to racing at full speed again in a ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ 1.80 seconds. We’ve seen torrential rain causing chaos during the Dutch Grand Prix. We’ve seen closely fought qualifying battles and a mid-season return for the Honey Badger (Daniel Ricciardo). We’ve been to new race tracks, have seen new drivers emerge, seen seasoned drivers make a comeback and so on. Truth is, if you look past the obvious, there has been a lot to root for!
All but one
This year has been a masterclass by the Red Bull team and in particular the combination of Red Bull and Max Verstappen. The proof is in the statistics basically, even though one Toto Wolff stated those are for Wikipedia, and no one reads that anyway, right? But winning all but one race in a season that’s this long has never been done before. Most F1 enthusiasts will vividly remember, or at least know about the McLaren dominance in the 1988 season and this year it’s been along the same lines. Exactly 35 years ago, it was McLaren drivers Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna battling it out in every single race. With the exception of the Italian Grand Prix, every race victory was shared between the McLaren boys.
Back then, the season was only 16 races long but the dominance McLaren had in 1988 seemed something impossible to repeat or best, at least statistically. But this year Red Bull has achieved just that, and more. The team, fielding Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen have won all but one race during the course of the year. Just like in 1988, only one race was won by another team, and just like in 1988, that team was Ferrari! Spaniard Carlos Sainz managed to fend off McLaren’s Lando Norris and Mercedes’ George Russel for the majority of the race, cleverly using the DRS regulations to his advantage. But how did things go down between Perez and Verstappen? Pretty one-sided as it turns out.
A barrage of records
I said it before, and I’ll say it again; Red Bull, and particularly Dutchman Max Verstappen have outclassed the entire field this year. In the process of winning 21 out of a possible 22 races as a team, a huge number of records have been set, reaffirming just how good the team was performing. Not only does it set a new record by number, but also percentage-wise. McLaren pulled off a winning rate of 93,75%, while Red Bull has achieved a staggering 95,45%. The only way to improve on that is to win them all, simply put. But it didn’t end there, as the team also hauled in the most constructor’s points ever in a single season (860 in total), setting a new record of consecutive race wins if you include the final streak of 2022 (15 in a row) and has achieved a 1-2 for the first time in the team’s 19 years of competition.
Zooming in on Max Verstappen only outlines how special this season was even further. Max has won a record 19 out of 22 races this year, has collected the most points as a driver in a single season with 575, has won the most consecutive races in a single season ever with 10 in a row, had the most podiums in a season with 21 out of a possible 22, has a won a record 12 times from pole position over the course of the year. But to me, the most staggering statistics are the fact he had a bigger margin of points over this year’s runner-up, teammate Sergio Perez, than Perez managed to score himself. The gap between Max and Checo was 290 points, while the Mexican scored 285 points. Max Verstappen is also the only driver to have completed every single lap in every race during the year, indicating he suffered no technical issues nor got involved with crashes and such. And to top it all off, he has been in the leed for a total of 1,003 laps out of a possible 1,383. Not only has no other driver ever come close to the 1,000-lap barrier (Vettel held the record before Max with 739), but it’s coincidentally also the number of laps the McLaren team led in the 1988 season! Talk about coming full circle….
Revelations, comebacks & Future stars
We can go on and on about how good the Red Bull team was but there are other elements to talk about to. For instance, this was the first ever season where no British Formula 1 driver has won a race. It’s also the year we raced in the United States three times; the US Grand Prix in Austin, Texas (Circuit of the Americas) and of course the Miami Grand Prix and, new to the calendar, the Las Vegas Grand Prix. The only years this was also done were in the US in 1982 (Long Beach, Ceasers Palace, Detroit) and the Covid years of 2022, 2021 and 2022 (Monza, Imola and Mugello).
Statistics are fine and all, and a good indicator of how well a driver or team has performed, but there’s more to what makes F1 exciting than that. It’s the arrival of new talent, the class of ‘old’ talent and the odd shock performances that can happen. Take Fernando Alonso for instance, the oldest driver on the grid at 42 years of age, has had a mighty impressive season! Despite the fact the Aston Martin team couldn’t sustain the same level of performance throughout the entire season, it was Alonso who followed close to the Red Bulls in the first half of the year. He managed to land on the podium 8 times! For Mercedes, it was exactly the other way around. Following a dismal 2022 season, the team managed to turn things around midway through the 2023 season and regularly competed for podiums in the second half. But again, ups and downs in performance meant that they were in a tight battle with Ferrari for the majority of the season for second place in the Constructor’s Championship.
But above all else, it’s down to the drivers who can make or break this sport. Oscar Piastri for instance, a rookie in F1 and new to most of the tracks on the 2023 calendar, had an incredibly strong debut year! Alexander Albon, driving for Williams, also had a strong year, out-qualifying his teammate in every single race and often showing a blistering pace compared to previous years. We’ve seen great racing and close battles in every single race from a great number of drivers so there was genuine excitement in every weekend. And since regulations will change very little for next year, the battles will likely be just as close and potentially thrilling as this year! And to be honest, as much as I am a fan of Red Bull and Max Verstappen (as a fellow Dutchman), it would be nice to see them being challenged more from the get-go next year, now that they’ve rewritten the record books.
The first race of the 2024 season is scheduled for March 2nd, as the F1 circus settles in the Bahrain desert once more. So will we see Red Bull and Max Verstappen dominate again? Will Lewis Hamilton find his way back to winning races and potentially an eighth title? Will we see McLaren continue to improve and battle for race wins? Who knows! But I can already tell you that one record will be broken for sure, as the calendar is extended to an unprecedented 24 races!
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