The 2023 season has given us plenty of drama so far, with the upgrade battles between the teams among the most compelling.

    As we prepare to restart racing after the summer break it’s a good time to look back upon some of the key technical aspects which have established the competitive tone of the season so far. Here we analyse the best car, the best upgrade, and also the biggest disappointment ahead of the second half of the 2023 season.

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    Best Car – Red Bull RB19

    There can be no reasonable debate on this given its staggering 12 wins from 12 races record to date, even while acknowledging the brilliance of Max Verstappen as part of that dominance.

    The RB19 was very much a development of the previous year’s title-winning RB18 and it shares with that car relatively high-roofed venturi tunnels in the underbody, relatively long travel rear suspension and a high degree of anti-dive in the front suspension geometry. The combination of these features are believed to be key in how Red Bull in both seasons have been able to derive more consistent underbody downforce than rivals, at low speed/higher ride heights and high speed/lower ride heights.

    In addition, the RB19’s underbody design is even more sophisticated than that of its predecessor, it has a greater degree of anti-squat built into the rear suspension and has a more effective DRS stall. These features have enabled the RB19 to build upon the RB18’s strengths to give an even bigger aerodynamic efficiency advantage over the competition.

    The subtle kink in the roofline of the RB19’s diffuser is probably part of why the car’s DRS stall can be so effective

    Best Upgrade – McLaren MCL60, Austria

    McLaren began the season almost 2% off the qualifying pace but their car was 0.1% or less adrift in the last three races before the break. By the standards of modern F1, that’s a remarkable turnaround.

    As discussed here two weeks ago, there have been two major upgrades to the car, both of them appearing to target energising the airflow in the forward part of the floor tunnels, increasing its speed to the throat of the tunnel further back and thereby making the diffuser more effective.

    The Austria upgrade was more extreme and involved re-engineering the cooling system, with a new radiator layout allowing the forward part of the sidepod to be lifted, thus in turn facilitating a more aggressively profiled tunnel.

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    Since that Austria upgrade the car’s form has been consistently well beyond anything it had been able to achieve before. Lando Norris caught, passed and pulled away from Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes to take fourth in Austria. He followed that up with qualifying on the front row at Silverstone and leading for a few laps on his way to second place, a result he repeated in Hungary.

    Oscar Piastri was running a strong third at Silverstone before a safety car compromised his strategy, but he qualified within 0.011s of Max Verstappen’s pole for the Spa Sprint race, an event in which he finished second after leading.

    From a tail-ender racing with Williams, Alfa and AlphaTauri, the McLaren has become a serious contender for the best car which is not a Red Bull.

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    McLaren's updated front wing shown in the top image, compared to the old-spec

    Biggest disappointment – Ferrari SF23

    From the team, which last year produced the car taking the fight to Red Bull, the SF23 has to be considered a disappointment. As Red Bull pushed on for ‘23, Ferrari stalled.

    It has averaged the second-fastest qualifying car to date, but its deficit to Red Bull is significantly greater than last year and that second-fastest status is often not maintained on race day.

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    The basic philosophy of the design – with its out-washing sidepods – was unchanged from last year, but with more of an emphasis on straightline speed.

    That not only came at some cost in ultimate downforce, but the way that downforce was delivered through the different operating conditions was not consistent, giving Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz a car in which it’s been difficult to drive with full confidence. These traits have also played their part in heavier tyre degradation than the competition.

    Recent upgrades suggest the team is at least moving in the right direction in addressing the car’s weaknesses.

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    The slimmer but longer upper bodywork of the Ferrari’s Barcelona upgrade did seem to have a positive subsequent effect on the car’s consistency

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