2023 Season Review

Overview

Any regular reader of GPRejects’ race and season reviews will have received quite a clear picture of the last few years and how it feels to be a Formula 1 fan. In short, it’s exhausting. For another year, Liberty Media served up the championship’s audience with another 22+6 races in under a nine-month period. It meant that just about every weekend was scheduled with Formula 1 Grand Prix programming, sometimes on more than one day, all to watch one particular driver win all but a few of them.

A scene done to death in 2023.

Of these 28 or so races (depending on your definition), Max Verstappen won 19+4 of them. Like Sebastian Vettel ten years before him, he won the constructors’ championship single-handedly, embarrassing his teammate Sergio Perez to the point where, despite an excellent start with two wins and a season-ending runner-up position in the standings, the Mexican looks to be out of a drive in the immediate future. Suddenly our heavy-handed criticism of Max’s teammates of yore seems a little harsh.

Teams and Drivers

There is of course more to a grand prix than the winner, although we would all probably prefer some variety in who does it. While Red Bull finally took their first-ever 1-2 overall, their main competition let them get away with it, as none of Mercedes, Aston Martin, or Ferrari, were able to consistently be that main competition.

Two top teams battling ineptly to be best of the also-rans behind Verstappen…

Mercedes, having apparently provided Sir Lewis Hamilton with his most difficult challenge yet, still managed to grab second in a tight battle with Ferrari. Hamilton seemed much more confident behind the wheel despite his loudly vocalised desires for more balance and a race-winning car, and seemed to quite confidently lead the team and get his qualifying back to its usual best. George Russell, on the other hand, had a typical sophomore slump, and for the first time looked like a regular mortal racing driver. While Hamilton at his lowest was complaining about the car, Russell at his worst was crashing out of potential race wins. It makes Mercedes’ future all the more interesting: Lewis is not getting any younger, and as Mike Elliot and other key staff leave the team, is their future direction down rather than up?

Behind them, in a battle decided by just a few points, lay Ferrari. Season after season these same three teams occupy those positions, and season after season Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. sit right next to each other with a hair’s breadth between them. Leclerc had the higher highs on Saturdays, and had a season calling back to Juan Pablo Montoya’s 2002 for Williams. On Sundays, Sainz seemed like the smarter driver, and even took the only non-Red Bull win all year at Singapore. While the debate is still up for who of the two is better, it is clear that both drivers are absolutely committed to the project, whether in their wisdom or their foolishness.

People laughed at his team choice, by the end of 2023 Piastri was laughing into his Fosters.

Rather surprisingly for anyone who has been here since Bahrain, McLaren finished the year fourth. Indeed, after the opening round their devoted fans heaved a great groan at yet another false alarm from 2022. But, that was not the case: the team improved, and after some brilliant upgrades for Lando Norris at Spielberg, he and teammate Oscar Piastri left competitors Alpine in the dust a race later at Silverstone. It proved that, even in spite of the budget cap and the engine freezes, it is possible for a team to improve and even take a win half a year after starting at the back. Take notes, Haas! The driver pairing was one of the strongest on the grid, with debutant Piastri mostly falling behind Norris through inconsistency and the occasional cases of bad luck.

It is hard to rate Aston Martin as a whole, or to discuss their season, without understanding the sheer chasm in performance between their drivers Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll. The former has been racing so long that Oscar Piastri wasn’t yet born when he made his debut. The latter has gone from an inconsistent but promising young pay driver to an anchor on a team with great promise. It has made the situation very uncomfortable, as the team owes its growth due to Stroll’s father Lawrence’s cash injections and general rule of law. For them to finish fifth was Lance’s fault entirely, for aside from a mid-season slump, the team and Fernando did excellently. Indeed, the season’s main highlight was watching a 42-year-old former champion driving with the precision and energy of someone half his age. They are another team whose future is entirely up in the air.

Despite two podiums, Alpine felt a bit too much like “Lpine” in 2023.

Behind them, making a change from their usual fourth or fifth place, were Alpine in an unusual sixth place! Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly were one of the most interesting pairings going into the season (after their well-publicised and shared animosity for one another), but by season end their supposed rivalry faded into the same old banality that Alpine just seems to exude. Their contentedness to finish somewhere in the middle saw them get eaten up by teams with actual ambition by halfway through the year, and the gigantic gulf between them and all the teams behind meant that neither Ocon nor Gasly needed to try very hard to achieve what was always going to be their fate. After all that criticism though, both Frenchmen took podiums, the former at Monaco and the latter at Zandvoort, so it wasn’t entirely doom and gloom.

Alex Albon was one of the stars of 2023.

Much like Aston Martin, Williams found themselves moving up the grid after continuous large cash injections, and in the hands of one of their drivers, took seventh in the standings. Alex Albon proved that his comeback year in 2022 was not a fluke and took all but one of the team’s points. Logan Sargeant got roundly defeated in the same way that his predecessor Nicholas Latifi had, but in his debut season it is more understandable. The rare disqualification that took place for Hamilton and Leclerc in Austin bumped the American to the points in a first for the nation since Michael Andretti’s Monza podium, while Albon regularly took Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race, punching himself and his team above their weight. As with Latifi, however, Albon got a free pass in the teammate department for a second consecutive year.

Yuki Tsunoda found himself in a similar, if less heroic, position as Albon. The Japanese driver has kept himself in Formula 1 for a third (and soon to be a fourth) season in the championship, partly because the superior Gasly left, and partly because the Red Bull Junior Programme seems not to trust any of its junior drivers to step up to the top series. Tsunoda at least has improved over time, and with the occasional decent points finish towards the latter half of the year, he proved he wasn’t totally indispensable. His rotating circle of teammates – the hapless Nyck de Vries, the defending Reject of the Year Daniel Ricciardo, and the remarkable Kiwi Liam Lawson – probably provided the necessary buffer to keep Yuki in the good books. De Vries was out before even his home race, Ricciardo broke his wrist in Zandvoort, and Lawson was able to likewise jump at some points opportunities. This disorder at least resulted in some points far above even the team’s own predictions.

We think Alfa Romeo took part in the season, but they certainly weren’t competing in it!

Far behind even them were the anonymous Alfa Romeo. At a few points Valtteri Bottas held up Lance Stroll, while Zhou Guanyu was presumably also there.

And then in last place were the miserable Haas. Nico Hulkenberg’s grand return to F1 was a little underwhelming in the grander context of his career, even if we are happy to see an enthusiastic driver fight his way back onto the grid. He defeated the incumbent Kevin Magnussen with relative ease, and one wonders just how bad Nikita Mazepin must have been when Mick Schumacher roundly defeated him, Magnussen roundly defeated Schumacher, and now Hulkenberg has roundly defeated Magnussen. Pointless conjecture aside, Haas managed to do what they always do, which is nothing over the long-term of the season. Their second last-place finish in three seasons – it’s the seat definitely bringing the strongest franchise value to Formula 1 right now.

Not a plucky Reject team nor a frontrunner, once again we wonder: what is the point of Haas?

Reject of the Year

Some of the most rejectful things about this year have been obvious. Alfa Romeo’s anonymity has been just another factor flying in the face of the precious franchise value Liberty Media is trying to maintain. It becomes harder for the likes of Toto Wolff to rail against Andretti’s potential diluting of the series when Alfa Romeo has done nothing of interest in its driver choices, its in-race professionalism, or in its overall business habits, to deserve a spot on the F1 grid any more than the Americans. The team did a grand total of nothing in 2023, will be renamed for next season, and forgotten quickly. It remains impressive how such a feat would be possible in seasons numbering 28 races!

Grand Prix Rejects in its current guise has been relatively harsh on the rookies in recent years, and we have not held back from our criticism of Logan Sargeant, whose abilities were greatly tested against a decent teammate and a promising package. However, he was simply not up to snuff, and proved no faster than Latifi before him. His most notable adventure (aside from his personal ode to Riccardo Rosset at Melbourne) was his retiring from the Qatar race from exhaustion. He will need to do a lot more next year – how high is his ceiling?

There was just a bit too much of this from Logan Sargeant in 2023.

Haas, Haas, Haas, Haas always gets a mention in these parts at this time of the year. They did their best to grab another award, but less competent groups got in the way. Hulkenberg and Magnussen are impressively uninspiring as a line-up (which continues unchanged into 2024, by the way), while the duo would do their best to occasionally impress on Saturday and end up in the final positions come Sunday evening. No progress in eight seasons.

In a round-about way, what our ambivalence to Alfa Romeo, dislike of Haas, and scepticism of Sargeant all stem from, is fatigue. We are tired of marathon seasons, featuring races with extended red flags in at least one major session, occurring at least every other weekend. We have had triple headers through the nose, and the kind of forced glitz and glamour that has even the drivers rolling their eyes. When one driver wins just about every race, there’s little to get excited about, and a lot to get tired of.

Third place: Everyone Except Max Verstappen and Red Bull

This is because of the incredible dominance of Red Bull. While we have dedicated very little type to the team in 2023, that is because there has been very little to comment on. Those stats again: the team won 21 out of the 22 official races, while also taking 5 out of the 6 sprint victories. Max Verstappen led over a thousand laps, and beat the in-season win record and the win streak record. After Abu Dhabi, he has seven on the trot that he could hypothetically carry over into 2024.

The idiotic second restart at Albert Park just about summed up the season for everyone bar Max.

Even Sergio Perez comes under the umbrella group of “everyone except Max Verstappen and Red Bull”, because after being passed by Max in Miami, his season unravelled at an impressive pace. He was continuously outgunned by Alonso, Hamilton, and even the Ferraris, and without that excellent start to the season, would have alone been easily on this Reject of the Year podium. He escapes simply due to the combined incompetence of everybody else. When the audience is being told over the global feed that the driver in second place is not fighting the leader, we know that a boring race is in order. Hopes in Aston quickly faded as they fell back on pace; Ferrari were Ferrari; Mercedes were just not fast enough, even if their ship was as well-oiled as ever; and McLaren were only there for half of the time.

There was just no real consistent, or any, competition against the Red Bull juggernaut, and it gave us the most dominant season by any team since the McLaren-Honda steamroller of 1988. And even that season had some intra-team interest.

Second place: Lance Stroll

After seven full seasons in Formula 1, we would hope that Lance Stroll would have developed at least into a consistently mediocre driver. Sadly, he’s not there yet. He broke his arm pre-season and rushed his return to the sport. A near-takeout of his teammate Alonso in Bahrain did not overshadow the good news story that was Aston’s success in the early part of the season. Only problem was, while Alonso took constant podiums, Stroll avoided the top six for twelve consecutive races, with only four finishes that in the old days would have gifted points.

Cheer up Lance, it didn’t happen!

He cost his team at least fourth overall in the championship, and his most notable moments included getting stuck behind backmarkers and struggling his way into the top 10 by race-end. When his teammate was successively in Q3 for almost every race, Stroll was a regular Q1 dropout. Three quarters of the way through his torrid year, there were rumours that he was going to leave his entire F1 career for tennis!

Alonso would have been driver of the year if not for Verstappen, while Stroll would have been Reject of the Year if not for our elusive winner.

Reject of the Year: Nyck de Vries

This is to reiterate: Grand Prix Rejects has been harsh on the rookies over recent years. However, it is hard to justify one’s place on the grid when they come into a team as a 28-year-old world champion from two FIA series (having won the 2019 Formula 2 season and the notorious 2021 Formula E championship) with a multi-million euro salary, only to look as amateur as the likes of the aforementioned Latifis, Sargeants, and Mazepins of this world.

De Vries had a lot of hype going in, mostly spurred on by his status as a Formula E champion and his well-earned points position when standing in for the sick Alex Albon at Monza in 2022. He was a rare import from a rival series (if we can call FE a rival series) and he should have been on the ball from the beginning. However, a difficult first few races were followed up by a decidedly worse middle patch. As his performance worsened and he continuously crashed in practices, qualifyings, and races – all of his own making – he only came under more pressure from the notorious Red Bull driver management.

Monza 2022 seems like a different geological epoch entirely for Nyck!

It was a season not unlike Giorgio Pantano’s: a heavily hyped driver with plenty of credentials to precede him, but no performance on the day. The FIA’s hollowed-out superlicence points system has favoured drivers in its subpar expensive feeder series, and perhaps de Vries is the result of that development: while his FE championship was won through an endless string of post-race penalties, his F2 championship was the result of defeating an underwhelming driver pool (other graduates from the 2019 yearbook were Mazepin, Schumacher, Zhou, Jack Aitken, and Latifi).

What more to say than that? De Vries’ time in F1 came and went. Red Bull replaced him with a burned-out 34-year-old Ricciardo, and all of this in what is supposed to be the junior team. After all this, Nyck didn’t even get to drive in front of his home fans! A season to forget, and frankly, we’ve all already forgotten it.

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