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9 things we learned during the 2023 F1 season

From Max Verstappen’s dominance, to a Williams resurgence, here are the lessons from the 2023 F1 season

F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi Photo by Qian Jun/MB Media/Getty Images

The 2023 Formula 1 season is in the books. The final 58 laps of the year, in Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, settled all outstanding business for the 2023 campaign. We saw the battle for P2 in the Constructors’ Championship between Mercedes and Ferrari come down to the final lap of the season, and we saw something similar play out in the fight for seventh between Williams and AlphaTauri.

But before we start thinking about the 2024 campaign, we thought it would be worth a moment to address some of the things we learned during the 2023 season.

Fernando Alonso still has the juice

F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi Photo by Kym Illman/Getty Images

Veteran driver Fernando Alonso finished the season in fourth place in the Drivers’ Championship.

Yes, he finished level with Charles Leclerc, as both drivers ended the year with 206 points, but how Alonso managed to secure the position through tiebreakers speaks to his strong 2023 campaign.

Three different tiebreakers were required to settle matters between the two drivers. The first tiebreaker — Grand Prix victories — finished level as neither driver won a race this season. The second tiebreaker — second-place finishes — also finished level, as both drivers notches a trio of P3 finishes this year.

That required a third tiebreaker, which finally broke the deadlock. Alonso had five different third-place finishes this year, compared to only three for Leclerc.

That was the difference: Alonso’s consistency this season.

Sure, a majority of those results came early in the year, when the AMR23 was the surprise package. That dated back to pre-season testing in Bahrain, where Aston Martin truly shocked the entire F1 world.

Alonso’s fourth-place finish in the Drivers’ standings is his best finish since the 2013 campaign, where he finished second to Sebastian Vettel. But in his mind, this was one of the best years of his career.

Even topping years when he won the title.

“It feels a bit unexpected and I would not have put any money on myself finishing fourth this season, so it is like a gift to finish ahead of the Ferraris and [McLaren’s] Lando Norris!” said the veteran driver following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. “Together with 2012, I consider this to be my best season ever and better than 2005 and 2006 for sure.”

“The level of performance, the consistency... I am very happy with how I connected with this team with the car,” said Alonso. “I am very excited for next season.”

Aston Martin got the initial development right, given how strong the AMR23 was at the start of the year. A lack of upgrades down the second half of the season perhaps hurt them in the fight with McLaren for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship.

But if the team takes another step forward, Alonso could have yet another career-best season in 2024.

The future looks very bright at McLaren

Speaking of McLaren ...

When McLaren’s CEO Zak Brown sat down with SB Nation for an exclusive interview a few weeks ago, the team boss called the pair of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri the best driver duo on the grid.

A reason for that? The talent — and youth — in that pairing. That talent helped push McLaren from the back of the field up into P4, a finish that seemed impossible at the start of the year.

Think back to preseason testing, when it was clear at the outset that McLaren got some things wrong with the MCL60. Early-season struggles, along with a management shakeup, led some to wonder if it was panic time for the Woking outfit. And when Norris talked with me ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, he admitted that “fighting for points” was a more realistic scenario for the team at that time.

They ended the year fighting for podiums instead.

Piastri is just 22, and Norris celebrated his 24th birthday days before the Las Vegas Grand Prix. The upgraded MCL60 was one of the more impressive cars on the grid down the stretch, and when you put it all together, the future certainly looks bright ... bright orange, that is.

The RB19 was special

We may never see another like it.

The RB19, that is.

Red Bull’s challenger for the 2023 season was one for the record books. With victories in 21 of 22 grands prix this season, the RB19 was victorious in 95.45% of races this season, surpassing the mark set by McLaren back in 1988, when the MP4/4 captured 15 of 16 races.

It helped the team accomplish a first in their history, as they saw their drivers finish 1-2 in the Drivers’ Championship.

The legendary Adrian Newey and company laid down the marker this season, and it was clear back in Bahrain last February that the field would be playing catch-up the entire season.

And that was certainly the case, as Red Bull and Max Verstappen locked up their respective titles early in the year. How early? The team was in position to forgo major upgrades to the RB19, and start focusing on next season’s challenger, by the summer. As Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner said ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix:

“With the handicap that we have [wind tunnel penalty], we have to really swing our focus over to next year, because we have a significant deficit of wind tunnel time compared to our competitors, and we have to be very selective in how we use it.

“We have that [cost cap] penalty until October this year, so particularly in terms of the amount of runs that you can do per week, we’re significantly down compared to second and third place.

“And we are massively down once you get back to teams that are fourth or fifth. And if you compare McLaren’s amount of runs they can do in a wind tunnel versus ourselves, it’s a huge, huge difference.

“So, of course, we have to be very, very selective in the running that we’re doing. And that’s why the engineering team back in Milton Keynes are doing an incredible job in the way that they’re effectively and efficiently developing the car.”

The RB19 was so dominant, it allowed Red Bull to shift their focus to next season ahead of the Summer Shutdown.

That is truly special.

James Vowles is the right person at Williams

It came down to the final laps of the season, and in the end the margin was just three points, but Williams managed to hold off AlphaTauri, and secure seventh place in the Constructors’ Championship.

For the Grove-based outfit, it is their best result since 2017, when they finished fifth.

And it comes in the first year under new Team Principal James Vowles.

Sure, the glory days of Williams seem like a lifetime ago — because they are — but the team certainly seems headed in the right direction. Their success largely came on the back of Alexander Albon, who scored 27 of the team’s 28 points this year and unqualified teammate Logan Sargeant in every race this season. However, Vowles’ leadership, and his message of patience, and aided a stunning turnaround.

While the matter of Sargeant’s seat remains outstanding, Vowles offered a massive hint at the conclusion of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and provided a window into his message of patience at the same time:

Vowles went further when speaking with the media at Yas Marina:

It certainly seems like that confirmation is coming soon.

This message of patience from Vowles is almost refreshing. Generally speaking, patience is not something associated with sports, including F1. Fans, owners, and players across the sporting spectrum expect immediate results. But Vowles continues to stress patience, and insists that we judge him and Williams not now, but after they have been given a few years to get things right.

You can see something similar playing out with Sargeant, and how the team is approaching the young driver.

Sure, there is a long way to go for Williams to get back to their glory days. But at the moment, it seems like they have the right person at the helm to guide that journey.

Sergio Pérez’s seat at Red Bull will remain a talking point

F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi

Sergio Pérez had by almost any standard a successful 2023 season. He finished second in the Drivers’ Championship, his best result in the sport. He helped Red Bull secure their second-straight Constructors’ Championship, and also helped the team see their drivers finish 1-2 for the first time in their storied history.

Yet, questions about his future with the team lingered deep into the season.

How deep?

Some questioned whether the result that secured him that P2 in the Drivers’ Championship, a third-place finish at the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix, was yet more evidence that he was not the best option at Red Bull. After all, Charles Leclerc did pass hin at the end to take second away from him ...

The second seat at Red Bull has often been described as the “second seat of death,” and this year illustrated that point on a weekly basis.

And you can be sure the first time Pérez makes a mistake in 2024, the discussion will be renewed.

Alexander Albon might deserve a big seat again

To that point ...

As outlined above, Williams climbed to seventh in the Constructors’ standings this year largely on the back of Albon. He secured 27 of the team’s 28 points, and outqualified Sargeant every single race weekend.

His performance has opened the door to a debate about where his F1 future will take him.

This year’s “Silly Season” was a rather underwhelming affair, due in large part to the fact that many drivers were already locked up for the 2024 campaign, including Pérez at Red. Bull.

But 2025 is shaping up to be a different story.

A number of drivers are set to see their contracts run out at the end of the 2024 campaign, including both Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. at Ferrari, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon at Alpine, Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda at AlphaTauri, Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hülkenberg at Haas, Zhou Guanyu at the soon-to-be Sauber, and Albon himself at Williams.

That could mean for a lot more movement next season, and if Albon continues his strong form, another big seat could be in his future.

And, should he continue that form, a big seat should be in his future.

Mercedes and Ferrari probably cannot wait for 2024

While Red Bull will be sad to see the 2023 season come to a close, and thus the retirement of the RB19, their two closest competitors probably cannot wait for 2024.

Partly because the RB19 will be a showpiece. but also because they can turn the page from the Mercedes W14, and the Ferrari SF-23.

Both teams struggled with their 2023 challengers, for various reasons through the year, and that led to some frustrated drivers, and even more frustrated supporters.

It was so bad at times that the social media team at Mercedes leaned into that a few weeks ago:

But for both teams, the inconsistency with their 2023 challenger was an issue throughout the season. Mercedes began the year with their zero-pod design, which they debuted for the 2022 campaign with the W13, but they eventually scrapped that design early in the year.

At Ferrari, tire degradation was the main issue this year, and it showed up at various points during the campaign.

But you can be sure about one thing: Both teams — and their drivers — cannot wait for nexst season’s challenger.

Verstappen in a class all by himself

As noted above, the RB19 was in a class by itself this season.

So too was Verstappen.

Let’s start here: Verstappen broke a mark set back in 1952 set by legendary Italian driver Alberto Ascari, when he won six of the eight races held that year. That was good for a 75% winning percentage, a record which stood until Verstappen this year, when he finished the season having won 19 of 22 races, good for a winning percentage of 86.36%.

Verstappen also broke the record for wins in a season, which was his own mark set in 2022. A year ago Verstappen won 15 grands prix, but he shattered that mark with those 19 victories, culminating in Sunday’s win at Yas Marina.

He also set a new standard for consecutive victories, breaking the mark of nine set by Vettel back in 2013. When Verstappen won at Monza in the Italian Grand Prix, it was his tenth-consecutive victory, a new F1 record.

Verstappen also ended the year with the most podium finishes (21), the highest points total (575), and largest championship-winning margin (290) in the history of the sport.

Also, consider this: Verstappen led 1,003 laps this year. Not only does that make him the first driver in F1 history to lead more than 1,000 laps in a given year, but that equals the amount of laps led by the McLaren duo of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna during their remarkable 1988 season.

Yes, the season we noted above when the MP4/4 won 15 of 16 races.

Verstappen was simply on another level this year, and we may never see anything like it in the sport again.

However, we all probably thought something similar at the conclusion of his 2022 campaign so ...

I love this sport ... and my job

Finally, let’s end on a more personal note.

I am insanely lucky that I get to do what I do.

Everyone here at SB Nation, starting with my incredible editor Ricky O’Donnell, gave me the chance to turn my love of F1 into something more. I was given the chance to focus in large part on F1 coverage this past season, beyond my stated job title of “Writer, NFL,” and we turned an idea into something much, much bigger.

Before I knew it, I was sitting down with Norris. With Piastri, with Valtteri Bottas, and with McLaren’s CEO. I was interacting with fans all over the world, turning a passing into a new calling.

It has been an incredible ride, and believe me when I say, we are truly just getting started. We have some huge things planned for F1 next year, and I cannot wait to get back to work.

Starting tomorrow ...