Verstappen's third title, Ricciardo's return and Las Vegas – The key moments of the 2023 season
What a year 2023 has been in Formula 1, with records broken, spectacular races and – of course – the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
As we close out another chapter in this sport, and with the 2024 season approaching quickly, it’s time to look back on all the key moments that played out this last year. Whether it was McLaren’s return to form, Ricciardo’s comeback, or Red Bull’s utter brilliance, there was plenty to write home about. Here are the key moments from the 2023 season…
Alonso and Aston Martin’s eye-catching start
Arguably the story of the early stages of the 2023 season was the performance of Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin. The two-time world champion was operating at a sumptuous level as he took six podiums in the opening eight races, aided by Aston’s phenomenal jump in performance compared to the previous year.
Alonso must have thought he'd hit the jackpot after switching from Alpine, with the AMR23 acknowledged as Red Bull’s closest challenger. A race victory could well have been on in Monaco, had there been a better strategy when rain fell, but – as we know now – that performance faded as the season wore on.
With other cars developing, and Aston Martin’s relative performance taking a dip, the team had to settle for fifth in the constructors’ title, while Alonso was fourth in the drivers’. But despite that, it still marked a hugely positive year, with Alonso calling 2023 his best season since 2012.
Mercedes’ Bahrain reality check
With Mercedes so used to winning in recent years, the Bahrain Grand Prix represented another gut punch after the misstep that was 2022. The team entered the year aiming to right the wrongs of the W13, but the revised W14 offered little hope after they initially stuck with the ‘zero sidepod’ concept.
On that day in Bahrain, they were firmly behind Red Bull, Ferrari and Aston Martin in the pecking order and Team Principal Toto Wolff was less than happy, calling it “one of the worst days in racing.”
Since then it has been an uphill task as, while the team reverted to a more familiar concept, there has been a lot of catching up to do with their wildly inconsistent car. One week it would have the drivers in podium contention, the next it would be languishing down the order, with more striking language used to describe it.
However, with 2024 on the horizon, Lewis Hamilton believes the squad have a "North Star" now to follow. Time will tell whether the team’s latest creation can help banish the memories of the last two efforts.
Perez’s qualifying drop off
Following the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, though it was clear Red Bull’s car was a step ahead of the rest of the competition, it at least looked like there would be a championship battle between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, with each driver holding two wins apiece.
Perez was particularly impressive in Baku with a Sprint victory to boot, and that tussle between the two continued in Miami despite Verstappen roaring back from ninth on the grid to win ahead of his team mate.
But then the wheels almost literally came off Perez’s title charge, with his qualifying performances taking a massive hit. First it was Monaco, where a Q1 crash left him 20th on the grid and gave the whole world a chance to look at the masterful RB19’s floor as his car was lifted away.
That blip became a trend as the Mexican missed Q3 for four further Grand Prix weekends – the recovery drives hampering his ability to score points while Verstappen opened up an insurmountable lead.
Those poor qualifying performances continued on occasion throughout the year, with Christian Horner in no doubt as to what the Mexican needs to work on in 2024: “He’s just got to sort his Saturdays out”.
McLaren’s phenomenal rise
While Aston Martin started as one of the stories of 2023, McLaren essentially elbowed them out of the way with a stunning performance increase of their own. The much-heralded upgrade brought in Austria, and introduced on both cars from Silverstone, helped to elevate Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri into being in regular podium contention.
From there, they were often Red Bull’s closest challengers, and went on to claim fourth in the constructors’ standings – something that seemed unfathomable at the start of the year, with McLaren scoring just three times in the first eight race weekends.
In the end, Norris would take seven podiums in the year (six of them P2) while Piastri would score two podiums as well as that Sprint win in Qatar. Many eyes are on them to take another step forward in 2024.
Ricciardo is drafted in…before having to step out
If you could pick out one driver to have had the wildest ride in 2023 then perhaps Daniel Ricciardo is that person. Having started out the year as Red Bull’s reserve – after losing his McLaren seat, with Piastri replacing him – the Australian was quickly brought back in at AlphaTauri when things were not working out for Nyck de Vries.
Ricciardo’s testing performance in Red Bull’s RB19 impressed many and, after hitting the track in the two races prior to the summer break, he was eager to keep the progress going once racing returned.
Except, in Zandvoort, another spanner was thrown into the works as Ricciardo hit the barrier in a practice crash in an attempt to avoid the similarly stricken Piastri. The result was the broken hand that saw Ricciardo sit out the next five events as Liam Lawson was drafted in to temporarily take his place.
The New Zealander made headlines of his own in F1, particularly his points-scoring effort in Singapore as he also knocked a certain Verstappen out in qualifying, but AlphaTauri soon committed to Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda for 2024.
Ricciardo returned to racing from Austin onwards and went on to land AlphaTauri’s highest finish of the year – a P7 in Mexico.
Alpine’s managerial shakeup
Perhaps the team that made the most noise off the track, Alpine have had a serious shakeup in terms of team personnel in 2023. First it was Laurent Rossi, who was moved to a ‘special projects’ role with Philippe Krief replacing him as CEO of the Alpine brand.
Then came the news ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix that Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer and Sporting Director Alan Permane would be leaving after the completion of that weekend. Pat Fry would also leave the team in order to join Williams as Chief Technical Officer while Bruno Famin took the reigns as Interim Team Principal.
The changes have also continued, with Director of Racing Expansion Projects Davide Brivio leaving in December after three years with the team.
But, while there has been upheaval within the team itself, there has been an influx of star investors, including Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds, NFL star Patrick Mahomes, Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold and golf star Rory McIlroy – among many, many more.
Verstappen’s record-breaking 10th win in a row
Perhaps one of the defining images of the year is that of now three-time world champion Max Verstappen holding both hands aloft, signalling the number 10, after breaking the record for the most consecutive wins with victory in Monza.
It signalled the kind of season Verstappen and Red Bull were having, one of utter dominance, and there’s every chance this could be beaten again if he starts 2024 where he left off.
Of course the only reason he hasn’t already stretched that number out even further is because of…
Sainz’s smooth operation in Singapore
The only race Red Bull didn’t win this year, and one of just three Verstappen didn’t take victory in. Seemingly the only weak spot the RB19 had in its armour were the streets of Singapore and, as a result, it was an unfamiliar top four battling it out for the win.
In the end it was Carlos Sainz who took the victory as he cleverly aided second-placed Norris by giving him DRS in the closing stages – thus allowing him to fend off the chasing Mercedes pair of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
In the end, Russell would crash out on the last lap as he fought in vain to gain a position, Hamilton inheriting third place as a result of that mistake. Singapore delivered a thrilling finish for the fans and a truly smooth operation for the Spaniard.
Verstappen seals his third title
Yes, we've had a lot of storylines from 2023 (otherwise this article wouldn’t exist!) but Verstappen undoubtedly has to be the story. Every record in the book was seemingly rewritten, but from the moment he sealed his third title he unequivocally could be counted as an F1 legend, if he wasn’t already.
Now that he is a three-time world champion, he can include himself among the likes of Ayrton Senna, Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet. And, at the age of 26, there is likely to be so much more to come.
Last but not least we come to Las Vegas, an event that produced one of the best races of the year but also a spectacle that was unlike anything else. From the sphere, to racing down the strip, to Elvis-inspired race suits, F1’s return to Las Vegas produced a spectacular showcase.
Celebrities were around every corner, but our driving stars were also in top form themselves – take Charles Leclerc’s late pass on Sergio Perez as one brilliant example of the action on track.
There is still plenty of Formula 1 history to be written on this circuit and in this city – but it certainly began with a bang.