THE PALMERS: Jolyon Palmer picks his stand-out performers, best moment and biggest surprise from the 2023 season
Broken records, epic battles and a stellar world championship performance – the 2023 F1 season was one to remember. Watching every twist and turn was former Renault F1 driver and expert analyst Jolyon Palmer. Here, he gives his view on the best performers and performances from 2023.
Best driver – Max Verstappen
There is no doubt about this one. What a season from Verstappen, it has been absolutely impeccable. He’s flattened the opposition to the point nobody even thinks it’s worth fighting him anymore.
Verstappen displayed incredible skill and consistency and the most impressive thing was how he managed so many difficult situations with aplomb. Being quick in the rain in Monaco and Zandvoort on slick tyres, managing hectic and difficult wet qualifying sessions, like Montreal. His winning runs could have derailed so easily, but with Max you never felt it would.
Best team – Red Bull
There's no doubt about this one either. This is the easiest of picks as Red Bull have been absolutely relentless this season. Yes they have the best driver, but they were also the only team to have bulletproof reliability on Sundays.
They rarely miss a beat on strategy and their pitstops are still the best in the business as a season average. Mix this with the dominant beast that is the RB19 and it’s no wonder they almost completed the perfect season. Simply staggering.
Best individual performance – Carlos Sainz
This has to be Carlos Sainz in Singapore. It was the one race that Red Bull weren’t in contention and it was a wide open fight for who could take the spoils.
Two Ferraris, two Mercedes and Lando Norris all fought it out, but a perfectly managed race from Sainz claimed it. This was a brilliant example of a thinking driver claiming the most calculated of victories.
The DRS train was a nice idea, but to execute it in that fashion was incredible. There might not be anyone else on the grid who’d have pulled it off.
Feel-good moment – McLaren at Silverstone
Norris showed promise with the upgraded MCL60 in Austria, but it was at Silverstone where we saw both drivers in full flow with a transformed car and the result was amazing. Lando taking the lead on home soil at the first corner got the crowd roaring, whilst Oscar Piastri was finally able to showcase the talent we hoped he’d have.
It was a spectacular turnaround for McLaren and, like with Aston Martin’s winter revival, it’s great to have another seriously competitive team in Formula 1. Both drivers did a tremendous job in the latter part of the year, and it will be a matter of time before they are added to the list of Grand Prix winners, surely.
Best race – Las Vegas
In terms of best race, Las Vegas had it all. Drama at the start, drama at the final corner, plenty of gutsy overtakes and incidents along the way, and we didn’t even know Max would win until the last handful of laps.
What a debut for a showpiece Grand Prix. Street circuits might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and I certainly don’t want them at every event, but if a race can be as good to watch as Vegas this year, that can’t be a bad thing.
Best underdog performance – Esteban Ocon in Monaco
Pierre Gasly achieved his own underdog podium in Zandvoort with a great drive that capitalised on a strategy gain, but Ocon’s podium was on pure merit at a circuit where success is even sweeter.
Qualifying well is often enough to ensure success in the principality, but in 2023 Esteban and the team executed a chaotic race under pressure as well. Seeing where they ended up it’s amazing to think Alpine managed to get both drivers a podium in the year.
Most improved driver – Yuki Tsunoda
With Pierre Gasly departing, there was quite the void for AlphaTauri with Tsunoda being joined by Nyck De Vries. Yuki stepped up wonderfully though and, for the first time this year looked like a team leader, displaying both pace and impressive consistency.
He was their mainstay in a turbulent year, with a revolving door of teammates coming and going. Ricciardo may have had the best result for the team in Mexico, but Tsunoda still had the edge over the Aussie in both qualifying and the races.
There’s much gossip about Daniel’s links with Red Bull for 2025, might Tsunoda have something to add to the conversation with another stellar season?
Biggest surprise – Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin
This was another huge feel good story of the year and a great storyline throughout the season. Who saw Fernando Alonso returning to the front with such consistency, for the first time in 10 years, coming?
It was a brilliant achievement for Aston Martin to unleash such a weapon of a car in Bahrain and they managed to lure over just the driver to extract the very best from it. Alonso’s driving style suited the traction-strong car as well and he showed he’s still at the top of his game, even at 42.
The only thing missing from this fairytale return was that elusive 33rd victory, and it was oh so close. The team tailing off later in the year could be cause for concern, but if they can have a strong winter once again, a Fernando win could be possible in 2024.
Moment of the year – Singapore showdown
The ending of Singapore was one of the finest I can remember, maybe the best ever, with four cars fighting tooth and nail on a tricky street circuit. It was a slow, slow burner of a race, which is why Las Vegas takes race of the year for me, but Singapore 2023 will forever be an example of why it pays to sit through some of the duller races for an explosive finale.
Sainz was a genius in the cockpit, Norris was pressing all the way to get his first win, whilst Mercedes should be credited for going brave on strategy in a bid to win, rather than settle for a podium. They were both flying and Russell’s last lap crash only heightened the drama, as he looked for every inch of track to make a move that surely would have resulted in a win.
Rookie of the year – Oscar Piastri
Piastri isn’t only rookie of the year, but is also the best rookie we’ve seen in Formula 1 for quite a while. He’s so calm and methodical with his driving, but when put in challenging conditions he’s adaptable and the raw talent is certainly there, as we saw in Spa.
Norris is a tough benchmark to have in the other car at McLaren, but Oscar was able to challenge him as much as anyone has over one lap. With disappointing campaigns for both Logan Sergeant and Nyck De Vries, this wasn’t a very hotly contested category, but an honourable mention should also go to Liam Lawson who put his name on the map emphatically with his points scoring four race cameo.