What a year of racing. Or rather following Max Verstappen around each race track. Despite the 2023 season being relatively drama-free, with no spectacular fights for the championship titles and the grid remaining the same from the end of 2023 into 2024, it was filled with exceptional driving and battles further down the field that still made the season exciting and worth the watch. We’ve picked out our top moments of this year in Formula 1 (whether a high or a low) which should hopefully remind you of how rousing this season truly was.

Max Verstappen’s Dominance

It cannot be avoided – this year, Max Verstappen was phenomenal. Never before in Formula 1 have we seen such a dominant season for one driver. Winning 19 out of 22 Grands Prix is a truly exceptional achievement, and it required masterful driving from Verstappen. Yes, he was in a very speedy Red Bull, but all the credit can’t be given to the car – Verstappen’s racecraft was spectacular. I think this is best shown through his qualifying lap at Monaco. Fernando Alonso had just set an impressive time of 1:11.706 and was on provisional pole. Verstappen was on a flying lap when Alonso set his time, and was three-tenths down on the Aston Martin driver. With only the final third sector remaining (the shortest third sector on the race calendar), he had to make up those three tenths. Thus followed one of the most expert drives of the season – he took his car to the very edge – a single millimetre further and the Dutch driver would have been in the wall. Of course, he managed to take pole position. Verstappen has broken record after record, with most consecutive race wins, most wins from pole in a season, and most consecutive races as a championship leader among a plethora of others.

It’s undeniable that Verstappen has made Formula 1 history with his performance in the 2023 season. Whether or not we will ever see such a dominant season again is unlikely, but his successes must be commended.

The Singapore Grand Prix (the whole thing)

Singapore was in very many ways the standout race of the season, and not just because it was the sole exception to Red Bull’s dominance. True, it did break Verstappen’s record-breaking winning streak, and true, it did prevent Red Bull from achieving an unprecedented lockout, but it was also so much more than that. It is as close as we can get to a preview of next season, and an illustration of how entertaining the 2023 season was, if you looked beyond first place. Statistically speaking, 2023 was one of the most competitive seasons in recent history for everything except the championships.

Six teams got a podium, and more importantly, for most of the second half of the season, five teams were directly competing for podiums: apart from Verstappen on the top plinth, it was difficult to predict who would join him on his break-room ‘podcast’. The gaps from second to tenth were often very small, the battles for podiums intense and varying, the number of competitive cars remarkably high. In the Driver Standings, just 34 points separated Hamilton in third from Sainz in seventh, with four teams represented in that interval. Ferrari, Mercedes, Aston Martin and McLaren were all in very close competition with each other, and produced some exceptional racing, perhaps nowhere more so than in Singapore. 

It was here we saw that when Verstappen is nerfed a little, the racing is incredibly entertaining. It was a race of high drama and higher strategy: as the race entered its final period there were four cars in contention for the win – Sainz led, Norris behind, and the two Mercedes of Russell and Hamilton were closing in quickly. With Sainz seemingly unilaterally creating a Ferrari strategy in the absence (and to the apparent surprise) of central command, he manipulated the DRS to pull along the slower McLaren of Norris as a block to the Mercedes duo. Capped off by the last-lap crash of a distraught Russell, and the debates surrounding Ferrari’s sacrifice of Leclerc to help Sainz, it was truly a fantastic race because of how uncertain the outcome was. Even behind the leaders, Gasly finished a strong sixth for Alpine, and Piastri made a fantastic comeback from a poor initial grid position. 

In my view, this is potentially the best model for how next season will look. It seems difficult for Red Bull to improve their car much further under the current regulations, and the off-season will give the other teams a chance to learn the lessons of 2023 and begin to close the gap. Ferrari and Mercedes will want to be challenging for the championship once more, McLaren and Aston Martin will want to capitalise on the momentum of successful breakout seasons. Perhaps, hopefully, we will see many more races like Singapore in 2024. 

Alpine’s Rollercoaster Season

Alpine can claim to have had one of the strangest constructor seasons in recent history. A car that was often competitive, yet with nothing to compete for; results that ranged from the highs of podiums to the lows of double DNFs; a driver line-up that seems ideally balanced yet with so much latent hostility just below the surface; a mid-season leadership change that seemingly changed nothing: they were often overlooked by commentators and journalists but they have had a remarkably dramatic season. 

Their recent seasons have been spent in tight contest with rivals for fourth or fifth in the Constructors Championship. Alpine won their coveted fourth position in 2022 by just 14 points on the last race over McLaren; in 2021 they pipped a very competitive AlphaTauri to fifth by just 13 points. Far from the leaders, but far from the back markers, they enjoyed a very healthy competition with the midfield teams. Yet the dynamics of this season changed all that: for suddenly there were no midfield teams anymore. McLaren started out at the back and ended up often on the podium; AlphaTauri were dead last for a long while; Aston Martin were either challenging at the front or languishing at the back. 

This left Alpine in the bizarre situation of genuinely having no one to compete with. Finishing on 120 points left them sixth, but languishing 160 points behind fifth placed Aston Martin, and yet 92 points ahead of seventh placed Williams. They were, for the vast majority of the season, nowhere near the crowded backfield battle, or their competitors in front. 

Yet this midfield isolation was not made up of endless ninth and tenth placed finishes, but a rollercoaster mix of spectacular podiums such as Ocon’s blazing qualifying run which allowed him to hold off Carlos Sainz’ attacks and retain third in Monaco, and Gasly’s superb strategy in the rain of Zandvoort to outcompete faster cars. However, these came alongside disasters such as the double DNF in Australia when the two Alpines crashed into each other, or another double DNF in Hungary. The car was competitive enough that both drivers could overtake an (albeit struggling) Mercedes team in Brazil with ease, yet unreliable enough that the team’s seven retirements across the season was second only to Williams. 

Their two French drivers of Gasly and Ocon were very well balanced – at 62 and 58 points respectively, with 11 head to head race wins each, one podium each, and 11 and 12 points finishes, it was arguably the most even driver pairing of the grid. This, however, seemingly only aggravated the underlying tension between the two, with multiple instances of angry radio messages and contested team orders – on many occasions this season Gasly was told by his race engineer that “we will talk about this after”, never usually the best indicator of a healthy team dynamic. 

The last interesting feature of Alpine’s season is their major leadership change – Otmar Szafnauer was fired along with Sporting Director Alan Permane, but were replaced only on an interim basis. CEO Laurent Rossi was replaced too, while Chief Technical Officer Pat Fry defected to Williams. Despite this extraordinary turmoil in their leadership, and ongoing uncertainty about the future, with still no announcement over a new Team Principal, it does not seem to have affected on-track results: Alpine remained consistent in the second half of the season.

As an ardent and moderately deluded Alpine fan (Thomas, who has tried to avoid being too biased) it has been a difficult season, but with glimpses of great hope. There is much at stake in 2024 to see whether Alpine can retain its midfield status, or even advance forward. 

Magic Alonso

Who would have ever thought that a 42-year-old retired, and then unretired, Formula 1 driver would perform as incredibly as Alonso did in 2023? Taking eight podiums across the season, he had the highest number of non-Red Bull trophies, beating out Norris with seven.

His season started out spectacularly, with five podiums in the first six races, along with further second place finishes in Canada and Zandvoort. His season then took a dip as Aston Martin struggled a bit with the car, but come Brazil, he appeared to be back on the pace. After a dramatic scrap with Pérez to the chequered flag, he managed to claim third place, making a much-welcomed return to the podium.

Despite the team’s difficulties in the middle of the season, there was only one Grand Prix where Alonso failed to score in the points (not including DNFs due to mechanical issues at Austin and Mexico), that being Singapore.

I might be biased (Hannah is), but I do think that Alonso has had one heck of a debut with Aston Martin. He ended up placing fourth in the Driver Standings with a whopping 206 points, and finished six places ahead of his teammate, Stroll, who had 74.

The numbers don’t leave much to the imagination – Alonso drove spectacularly this season. Despite his car troubles, he made a brilliant recovery towards the end of the season, and proved to us all that age doesn’t always slow you down.

Piastri’s Rookie Season

The best rookie season since Hamilton? The points don’t lie – one of the standout narratives from 2023 has to be Piastri’s fantastic entry into Formula 1, capped off by his first ever victory at the Qatar sprint race. Though his debut season could well have been marred by the drama surrounding his last-minute switch from Alpine to McLaren, and the intense, public, and fairly hostile negotiations and legal action between the two teams to sort out the situation, he managed to successfully place off-season drama behind him and prove himself on track. 

His pairing with the experienced Norris seemed to work well for both drivers, Norris acting not only as a mentor but also as a competitor, but rarely with any bad feeling between the two. The partnership also worked very well for McLaren: with both drivers very competitive and capable of scoring high points the duo propelled the team to a healthy fourth-placed finish, even despite their atrocious start to the season, and they will be looking even higher in 2024. 

Questions still remain over Piastri – he managed a second and third place finish during the season, but finishing on 97 points was much closer to the likes of Stroll, Gasly and Ocon than Russell, Sainz and Norris. Perhaps in his rookie season it is unfair to expect him to compete at such a high level, but he will certainly be expected to do so next year, and so will need to step up his game once more, especially in terms of consistent qualifying, which has been one of his chief weaknesses. 

Of course, like Hamilton after his outstanding first year, Piastri will not want to be a number two driver much longer, and how his relationship with Norris and McLaren develops will be of interest. This is exacerbated by his Qatar sprint win that only serves to highlight Norris’ unwanted record of the driver with most points without a win. If Piastri continues to compete at such a high level, and a win continues to evade Norris, this partnership could easily come under strain, and one or both might have to look elsewhere. That, however, is all speculation – what really matters for now is that Piastri is by far the standout rookie of the past few years, and looks certain to be one to watch in 2024 and beyond.

McLaren’s Comeback

Keeping in the same vein of being extremely complementary towards McLaren drivers and the team (unbiased as always), something has to be said for the Woking-based team’s astounding recovery from being a back-marker to being consistent podium placers from Silverstone.

After a deluge of disappointing results at the start of the season, with Norris and Piastri earning an average finishing position of 13.125 and 12.428 respectively, the Austrian Grand Prix saw McLaren bringing upgrades to Norris’ car. Suddenly, he placed a very respectable fourth, regaining the pace he and the team had displayed in previous years. The same upgrades were applied to Piastri’s car at the British Grand Prix, and the McLaren drivers placed in second (Norris) and fourth (Piastri) – Norris even got to lead a few laps of his home Grand Prix, which must have felt pretty cool.

While never quite able to clinch a victory from the hands of Verstappen, McLaren’s successes continued into the second half of the season, with highlights such as a double podium at Suzuka, Piastri’s win in the sprint race at Qatar and then another double podium in the Grand Prix the following day. McLaren finished the season with nine podiums (seven for Norris, two for Piastri) and 302 points in the Constructors’ Championship, popping them into what I am sure was a very welcome fourth place.

Musical Chairs

Though 2023 was in many ways a fairly quiet season in terms of grid changes, this was very much not the case for Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri, who went through four drivers through the course of the season, with even more rumours of changes between the two Red Bull teams. Starting the year with veteran Yuki Tsunoda and much-hyped rookie Nyck de Vries, results were poor, with the team scoring only two points in the first ten races. However, while Tsunoda was often close to the points – finishing 11th on three occasions, de Vries was well off the pace. Never finishing higher than 12th and with an average finishing position of 15.9, along with frequent penalties, including two for forcing Magnussen off the track in successive races, de Vries was under intense pressure and Helmut Marko made the decision to dismiss him halfway through his rookie season. 

Thus began the Red Bull organisation game of musical chairs, as Red Bull reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo was loaned to AlphaTauri to much media fanfare and delight from fans that he once again had a chance to prove himself. Yet the drama was far from done – sustaining a wrist injury after just two races, Ricciardo himself was temporarily replaced by AlphaTauri reserve driver Liam Lawson, who unexpectedly massively overachieved, achieving the team’s highest position until that point at Singapore, where he also knocked Verstappen out in Q2, contributing to Red Bull’s only loss in the whole year. 

Lawson’s success, combined with endless swirling rumours about the status of Pérez at Red Bull, who was seen as under-performing since his two wins in the first four races, led to the situation of Red Bull having five drivers for four seats. Media speculation was intense, with virtually every possible combination seen as possible. Ricciardo returning to Red Bull was championed by many nostalgic fans, Tsunoda to Red Bull was suggested too. Some thought Lawson should be kept at AlphaTauri and Tsunoda replaced; others that Ricciardo was too expensive and too old and should be allowed to retire. While in the end nothing changed – Pérez retains the Red Bull seat (for now) and Lawson gave way to Ricciardo when the latter recovered, there are clearly big decisions for the Red Bull organisation to make. I doubt it will be very long until we see Lawson back in an F1 car: if Red Bull don’t want him, I’m sure many other teams will. 

Australian GP Chaos

There were a lot of pretty chaotic races in 2023, but the one that really takes the biscuit is the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park. In lap one, Leclerc went zooming off the track into the gravel after making contact with Stroll at turn three, bringing out a safety car. Albon then subsequently whizzed into the barriers after oversteering on lap seven, bringing out another safety car. Race leader (at that time), Russell, took the opportunity to pit, but to his dismay the race was red-flagged, dropping him into seventh. The disappointment for Russell didn’t stop there though, as on lap 18, his car had a failure and caught fire. Not fab.

It was quiet for a few laps, but then Magnussen hit the wall on lap 54, sending his tyre carcass flying through the air. The race was red flagged yet again. At the restart, Alonso was sent pirouetting off the track by Sainz, and in an effort to avoid the chaos unfolding around them, Gasly, unaware of his teammate behind him, rejoined the pack and made contact with Ocon. Both Alpines binned it into the wall, and yet another red flag was waved.

The Australian Grand Prix was absolute madness – entertaining to watch, sure, but absolute carnage. Nonetheless, Verstappen came home to take victory, saying “yeah, well, it took a while. But a win is a win. We’ll take it.” Our thoughts exactly, Max.

On-track Battles (Brazil, Vegas, Austin)

Last but not least, we come to the best battles of the season. I don’t think we need to explain what happened in each one, just watch them – the videos should tell you enough about how much fantastic racing went on this season.

  1. Alonso vs Pérez, Brazil.
  2. Leclerc vs Pérez, Las Vegas.
  3. Four-way battle for the victory, Singapore.
  4. Leclerc vs Sainz, Monza.
  5. Gasly vs Ocon, Las Vegas.

Bring on 2024!