The real dramas of F1 2023 are found far behind the title fight that never was

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The 2023 Formula 1 season has not produced the title fight we hoped for.

The constructors’ trophy is staying in Milton Keynes for another year. Max Verstappen is likely just five days away from putting the drivers’ title beyond doubt.

But we still have several battle on our hands in Formula 1. A handful of mini-championships within a championship. There is big money at stake for teams and drivers, future seats to be decided and the unending battle for the balance of power within the paddock. Ignore the team which has dominated proceedings and it’s game on for the other nine.

Ferrari has made clear gains over the last few races. Carlos Sainz Jnr became the only driver to beat Red Bull so far this season in Singapore, and his pole position in Monza helped build more confidence in the team. Thanks to his efforts and those of team mate Charles Leclerc the team has leapfrogged Aston Martin for third in the constructors’ championship.

Ferrari stunned F1 by ending Red Bull’s dominant streak
Ferrari’s progress has clearly rattled their rivals Mercedes. Team principal Toto Wolff noted they are “starting to be a really sustainable front runner”. Mercedes currently holds second place in the’ fight and will be all too aware that just 20 points separate them from Ferrari – four races ago their lead stood at 56.

The Scuderia’s upswing in form contrasts sharply with Aston Martin, who after making exceptional gains at the start of the season are slipping back. In a remarkable development, they may yet lose fourth in the championship to the team which lay last in the standings with no points after the first two rounds.

McLaren capped their remarkable turnaround with their best result of the season so far at the last race in Japan. Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri both reached the podium at Suzuka, a track which flattered the MCL60, which has become a more competitive proposition since the team’s Austrian GP upgrade, and bolstered by further developments in Singapore.

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Fifth-placed McLaren is now 49 points behind Aston Martin with six races to go as they hunt down fourth, something that seemed impossible after they scored just 17 points from the first eight rounds.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Suzuka, 2023
McLaren benefit from having two strong drivers, says Norris
Norris was taken aback by the progress his team had made since their tough start to the season. “I didn’t think it was that close,” he admitted. “If it’s 49, then I definitely think [we can beat them].

“There are not many races left. I’m sure there’s going to be a couple where Aston is going to be a bit stronger.

“But I think our advantage at the minute compared to almost every team, bar a couple, is we have two drivers who are up there fighting for these positions and fighting for these points. And not every team has that at the minute. We can help one another, we can use one another.”

After a bumpy few races, Aston suffered one of their worst weekends of the year in Singapore. Fernando Alonso failed to reach the points for the first time this year and Lance Stroll sat out the race following a crash in qualifying. In Japan, Aston picked up just four points thanks to a top-ten finish from Alonso after Stroll did not finish. Aston Martin’s

Behind Alpine, who are destined for sixth barring some unforeseen drama, there is a close fight between a quartet of teams anxious to avoid the ignominy of ending the season at the bottom of the standings.

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That place was occupied last year by Williams. They currently have 21 points, all thanks to Alexander Albon’s fine performances this season, and currently hold seventh place ahead of Haas, Alfa Romeo and AlphaTauri.

Logan Sargeant, Williams, Suzuka, 2023
Sargeant has had a rough run of races
But with just 16 points covering the lot, and around a $30 million difference in prize money covering the places, there is much at stake here.

Williams have the points lead but while they are not expected to bring more parts for their FW45 over the closing races, their rivals are continuing to make gains. Logan Sargeant’s lack of points is also a concern.

The rookie made an encouraging start to the season but has failed to stay out of trouble lately and crashed far too frequently since the summer break. He is also the only driver yet to claim a place on the F1 grid for 2024.

Albon says the fight from their rivals “is well and truly on” heading into the final six grand prix weekends, half of which will include sprint races. “We can’t take our foot off the gas, but at the same time we don’t have any upgrades coming.”

Williams’ closest threat in the standings is Haas, nine points behind. But this weekend’s race will be the last before Haas introduce a major upgrade for their car – conveniently timed for their next home race in Austin.

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Team principal Guenther Steiner said the team realised they were at a dead-end with their current car concept. “We developed the whole year and there was nothing there anymore,” he said. “At some stage, you need to decide we need to do something different here. We cannot keep on banging our head against a wall, trying.”

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Singapore, 2023
Haas pair are awaiting a major upgrade
The success of that upgrade will be key to whether Haas can overhaul Williams before the season’s end. Albon expects their car will favour some of the upcoming high-speed tracks such as Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez and the new Las Vegas Strip Circuit. But facing the threat of Haas’ experienced line-up of Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg, Williams surely need Albon’s team mate to step up as well.

Two other teams could spring a surprise on Williams. Alfa Romeo sits in ninth after improving slightly with a floor update, but have only taken a single point from the last eight races. The Italian brand is at risk of ending its final season with the team at the foot of the table.

That place is currently occupied by AlphaTauri who have had to contend with upheaval in their driver line-up over the course of the season. First Nyck de Vries was shown the door, then his replacement Daniel Ricciardo was injured, forcing the team to fall back on Liam Lawson.

However they have made noticeable gains with their AT04 in the past two races. A major upgrade came in for Singapore which included a significantly revised floor, modified sidepod inlet and new coke/engine cover. A new rear wing also came in Suzuka. The races did not go to plan for Yuki Tsunoda but Lawson’s ninth-place finish in Singapore showed the step they have taken which was even enough to concern Albon.

“They were quick in Singapore, they’re going to be quick again in every circuit, I think,” he said. “I think their step has been quite significant, and a little bit worrying.”

So Williams are gunning for their best championship result since 2017, Ferrari have ramped up pressure on Mercedes for second place and McLaren have their achievable target to beat Aston Martin. The championship title fight may be over, but there is no shortage of gripping plotlines left to play out before the curtain comes down on 2023 in Abu Dhabi.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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11 comments on “The real dramas of F1 2023 are found far behind the title fight that never was”

  1. ““There are not many races left. I’m sure there’s going to be a couple where Aston is going to be a bit stronger.”

    6 races and 3 sprint races – so you could say 7 races are left as 3 sprints can give more points to 1 team than 1 race can (25 + 18 +1 = 44 versus 8 + 7 * 3 = 45).

    Only a 49 point gap – so McLaren finishing on average 5th & 7th (they likely do better) versus Aston Martin with just 1 driver on average 6th (likely worse) is already enough. 6 races * 8 points + 3 sprint * 3 points = 57.
    McLaren has outscored Aston Martin on average by 11 points (155 versus 67 points) since upgrades came in Austria (8 races).

    I really hope that it happens and that Aston Martin finally start to accept that Lance Stroll is hurting the team badly and get rid of him.

    1. I bet that Alonso will leave the team sooner than Lance.

    2. Yes, it’d be ideal if it happened, cause as bad as stroll has been this year, the development trajectory of the car makes it so that 4th place didn’t seem realistic regardless, ending up 5th would be absolutely stroll’s fault for not even performing like perez in a decent season.

    3. Ops, I meant 3rd place didn’t seem realistic, leaving only 4th and 5th possible and stroll making the difference negatively.

    4. Careful what you wish for. I see no reason for daddy Stroll to keep an interest in AM when his son is not driving there.

  2. Interesting to see this season.
    I doubt we had much seasons with a so close competition. Almost every race it’s a fight for the podium betwee different teams.
    Yes of course max is in another league, but the fighting for the other podium places is thrilling.

    1. Yes, a shame for red bull’s dominance (I didn’t like merc’s either, so not picking sides), cause otherwise the budget cap seems to have done a good job giving us 4 cars that can fight for “wins” depending on track layout, “wins” being 2nd places if perez has a bad day, 3rd if he has a good one.

  3. Yes of course max is in another league,

    The Red Bull car is in another league. The lead driver is working quite well with a great tool.

    I think we can agree that if you subtract the RBR, the season has been interesting, and we still don’t know the outcome of either championship.

    1. Yes, it’s important to point this out, just because perez is doing so badly that there’s a remote chance someone beats him to 2nd in the championship, doesn’t mean that’s the potential of the car, so comments talking up verstappen as if he’s 1 sec quicker than anyone else don’t make sense, it’s likely he would’ve still won the championship with a red bull that was as fast as the other cars, but it wouldn’t have been a walkover.

    2. Red Bull is certainly the best car right now. But Max is also by far the best driver on the grid. I cannot recall any mistake he has done this year yet. Honestly I am unable to recall even a major lockup which Max has done this year.

  4. Isn’t this a bit early for a season review?

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