The F1 race calendar for 2023 was set up to be a packed schedule, featuring a record 24 races. However, the Chinese GP and Emilia-Romagna GP were both dropped from the calendar, for different reasons, leaving a still busy 22 races in place.
The first grand prix of the 2023 F1 season took place in Bahrain, on March 5, while the final round at Abu Dhabi took place on November 26.
The returning venue of Las Vegas was the penultimate round, on an all-new street circuit. Unusually, the Vegas race took place on a Saturday evening.
The Chinese GP was dropped from the schedule due to ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, and in January the FIA said there are no plans to reschedule or replace it. That meant there was a four-week gap between races in April.
The Emilia-Romagna GP in Imola was cancelled at the 11th hour due to catastrophic flooding in the region, with not just problems of logistics — there was flooding at the circuit itself, and fans and teams would have found it tricky to reach the venue — but also tragedy in terms of a number of deaths and many families displaced.
August featured just one race, as the traditional summer break remained, though some events were moved around. Because the Belgian GP was shifted to the end of July, the Dutch and Italian GPs ran back-to-back.
2023 F1 calendar
Here’s the full schedule of grands prix for the 2023 Formula One season. Click on the links to read a report of each race.
|February 23-25||Pre-season testing||Sakhir|
|March 5||Bahrain (read race report)||Sakhir|
|March 19||Saudi Arabia (read race report)||Jeddah|
|April 2||Australia (read race report)||Melbourne|
|April 30||Azerbaijan (read race report)||Baku|
|May 7||Miami (read race report)||Miami|
|May 21||Emilia Romagna (CANCELLED)||Imola|
|May 28||Monaco (read race report)||Monaco|
|June 4||Spain (read race report)||Barcelona|
|June 18||Canada (read race report)||Montreal|
|July 2||Austria (read race report)||Spielberg|
|July 9||Great Britain (read race report)||Silverstone|
|July 23||Hungary (read race report)||Budapest|
|July 30||Belgium (read race report)||Spa|
|August 27||Netherlands (read race report)||Zandvoort|
|September 3||Italy (read race report)||Monza|
|September 17||Singapore (read race report)||Singapore|
|September 24||Japan (read race report)||Suzuka|
|October 8||Qatar (read race report)||Losail|
|October 22||United States (read race report)||Austin|
|October 29||Mexico (read race report)||Mexico City|
|November 5||Brazil (read race report)||Sao Paulo|
|November 18||Las Vegas (read race report)||Las Vegas|
|November 26||Abu Dhabi (read race report)||Yas Marina|
Bahrain GP report, March 5
As the 20 F1 drivers lined up on the starting grid for the first time at the season opener in Bahrain, as expected, world champion Max Verstappen was in pole position with teammate Sergio Perez alongside, writes Dave Humphreys.
The Ferrari pair followed, led by Charles Leclerc, but Fernando Alonso’s fifth place on the grid was one of the main talking points. After being the big surprise of the pre-season test, Aston Martin appears to have made a significant step forward with its 2023 car and Lance Stroll, despite suffering two broken wrists and an injured foot only weeks before, managed to secure eighth on the grid, sandwiching the Mercedes pair of Hamilton and Russell.
A lacklustre start from Perez allowed Leclerc to slot in behind Verstappen in the opening laps. Aston Martin narrowly avoided disaster when Stroll, late on the brakes, steamed into an apex already occupied by his teammate. Despite the contact, both carried on — it seems the Aston is not only fast but also robust.
As things settled, it wasn’t long before Russell was on the radio to this team asking for them to give Hamilton a hurry-up. The seven-times champion complained that he was struggling with his Mercedes, which hasn’t seen as much improvement over the 2022 model as the team had hoped.
Alonso wasn’t long reeling in the Mercs, with Russell claiming his tyres were worn out by lap 11. Two laps later, the Spaniard dove down the inside of turn one, though Russell wasn’t letting the place go without a fight as the pair diced through the following corners.
At the front, Verstappen and Perez pitted and re-joined, both having an easy run of things at the head of the pack though the Ferraris continued to split them. Things weren’t so rosy for McLaren, with Piastri forced to retire on lap 12 of his debut race and Norris suffering from a pneumatic leak that would see him make multiple pit stops to replenish the car’s onboard system.
Alpine driver Esteban Ocon’s day was equally frustrating. He first received a time penalty for an infringement at the start, followed by a further 10-second penalty due to him not correctly serving the initial infringement. Breaching the pit-lane speed limit on his exit nabbed Ocon yet another time penalty before ultimately retiring later in the race.
Sergio Perez gradually began to reel in Leclerc. Once in the DRS zone, he quickly got past the Ferrari, providing a valuable buffer to Verstappen, who was now 14 seconds clear and managing his race pace.
Alonso continued his stellar drive and by lap 37 was embroiled in a thrilling dice with Lewis Hamilton. The pair may be the elders of the grid but they demonstrated a masterclass on close but fair racing, with neither giving quarter. Alonso made a move stick with a supreme pass at one of the circuit’s most technical corners.
The hearts of the tifosi broke on lap 41 when the Ferrari of Leclerc lost power, forcing him to retire, leaving Sainz the responsibility of earning points for the Maranello team. Closer racing further down the grid saw decent performances from Tsunoda in the Alpha Tauri and the Alfa Romeos.
Towards the end of the race, things settled down with the Red Bulls cruising comfortably and unchallenged towards the chequered flag. Few seemed to notice, though, as Fernando Alonso was steaming his way towards the third step of the podium for the biggest story of the weekend.
Sainz brought the remaining Ferrari home in fourth ahead of Hamilton, Stroll and Russell. Valtteri Bottas bagged a solid eighth place ahead of Gasly, who debuted in the Alpine, securing the team’s only points following Ocon’s retirement. At the same time, Alexander Albon got his and Williams’ championship off to solid start with 10th place.
The next round will take place in Saudi Arabia on March 17-19, where many will be keen to see if Aston Martin’s form is more than a one-off.
Saudi Arabia GP report, March 19
A drive shaft failure for Max Verstappen in Saturday qualifying and an engine penalty for Charles Leclerc set the scene for an exciting midfield battle under the floodlights at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit on the Red Sea writes Dave Humphreys. There were no issues for the Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who started in pole position with the on-form Fernando Alonso alongside in the rejuvenated Aston Martin.
And it was Alonso that would lead the pack into the first turn thanks to a brilliant start, the first time he has done so since 2012. It was a clean opening lap for most of the pack, but rookie Oscar Piastri sustained damage to his front wing, losing an end plate that then damaged the wing of his teammate, Lando Norris, requiring both McLarens to pit for new noses, further compounding their poor start to the season.
Alonso’s perfect start soon lost its shine when he received a five-second penalty for a start line infringement for being incorrectly positioned in his grid box. The rapid Red Bull of Perez slipped through by lap four and began to build a lead. The Mercedes cars showed signs of improvement though Hamilton was struggling to keep both Leclerc and Gasly behind, appearing to weave on the straight to defend his position.
Having started in 15th place, Max Verstappen cruised past Hamilton on lap 11, with the Red Bull appearing to have a significant speed advantage over every other car on the track.
Lance Stroll’s strong race pace in the second Aston Martin came to a premature end on lap 18 with the team telling him to stop the car on track due to a mechanical issue. Despite pulling into an access road, the position of the Aston Martin triggered race control to send out the safety car, bunching the pack up and, crucially, allowing teams to pit without compromising strategy — including Alonso serving his penalty before tyres were changed.
With the race resuming on lap 21, Perez got a clean jump on Alonso as the safety car pulled into the pits. Hamilton, running on medium compound tyres out of sync with the rest of the field, passed Sainz to move up a place. There was disappointment for Williams though as Albon suffered brake issues on lap 29.
The hard-charging Verstappen was up to second position by the halfway point in the race, illustrating how dominant the Red Bull car is so far this year. However, his teammate Perez maintained a consistent gap. Verstappen then radioed to the team that he had concerns about a noise from the car — clearly the drive shaft issue that blighted his Saturday qualifying efforts was on his mind. Meanhwile, Perez communicated that his brakes were giving him trouble. Alonso continued to hold third ahead of the Mercedes pair of Russell and Hamilton.
With victory in sight, Red Bull reminded Perez over the radio that he was free to fight with Verstappen. The Mexican, who had set the fastest lap — which brings with it an additional championship point — began questioning the strategy call, suspicious of whether he could lose out on victory. Verstappen, however, seemed to settle for second place, though he did set the fastest time on the final lap, ensuring that he remains in the championship’s lead.
A ding-dong battle between the sole Williams of Logan Sargeant and the McLaren duo provided some late-race entertainment — though outside the points. Alonso crossed the line in third, followed by the Mercedes of Russell and Hamilton, respectively. The Ferrari team had little impact on the race, with Sainz finishing a distant sixth ahead of Leclerc in seventh.
There was some drama following the race as the FIA deemed Aston Martin and Alonso did not serve the five-second penalty correctly, initially demoting him to fourth, but Russell’s third place was short-lived following an appeal from Aston Martin.
The next round is in Melbourne, Australia, from March 31 to April 2, at a circuit where Red Bull hasn’t traditionally performed well.
Australian Grand Prix, April 2
The parkland circuit in Melbourne’s Albert Park traditionally hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Red Bull but Max Verstappen helped break that run by qualifying in pole position. His teammate, Sergio Perez had a less enjoyable run up to the race, as he struggled to get to grips with the car and went off in qualifying, meaning he would start from the pit lane after changing his car’s power unit.
A resurgent Mercedes surprised many with Russell starting the race in second and Hamilton in third, just ahead of Alonso. The Ferrari of Sainz would start fifth, followed by Stroll, Leclerc, Albon, Gasly and Hulkenberg, respectively.
When the lights went out, George Russell got the jump on Verstappen and led into turn one as the grid funnelled through, with Hamilton squeezing Verstappen out in turn three. This corner signalled the end of the unfortunate Leclerc’s race as he tangled with Stroll, leaving his Ferrari beached in the gravel and triggering a safety car.
The resumption of racing on lap seven would be short-lived as Alex Albon spun out in turn seven, sprinkling the track with gravel and debris, bringing out another safety car that quickly turned into a red flag. This turned the strategies of those who pitted during the safety car on their head, including Russell and Sainz.
With the cars lining up on the grid once more, this time in order of when the red flag was thrown, it was the turn of Hamilton to make a strong start from pole, though it wouldn’t be long before the rapid Red Bull of Verstappen would cruise by with the assistance of the Drag Reduction System. Albert Park featured four DRS zones in 2023, making it a massive advantage to be following another car by less than one second.
Some of the optimism in the Mercedes garage was dashed on lap 18 when Russell’s engine expired in flames on the pit straight, bringing out a Virtual Safety Car period that momentarily neutralised the race. With the Mercedes recovered, racing resumed and the real action was further down the grid; Perez was now scything through the pack. By lap 23, he was into a points-scoring position.
At the front, Verstappen was steadily clearing off into an unchallenged lead, with Hamilton focused on keeping Alonso, in third place, out of the one-second DRS window.
What looked to then be a straightforward race took a dramatic turn when, four laps from the end, Magnussen clipped the wall exiting turn one, showering debris all over the track and even injuring one fan with a piece of carbon fibre. Once again, the red flag came out, bringing all the cars back into the pits.
With only two laps of racing remaining, the cars lined up on the grid for the third time in what would be a Netflix-worthy racing showdown (some have even accused the race director of pandering to the TV audiences by bringing out the red flag on this occasion).
Yet when the lights went out, with just two laps left to run, the excitement proved too much for some and chaos reigned. The Williams of rookie Logan Sargeant collided with fellow rookie De Vries in turn one; the sole remaining Ferrari — that of Sainz — pitched third-placed Alonso into a spin; and, in the ensuing scrabble, the Alpine of Gasly came together with that of teammate Ocon, sending both into the wall and ending what had been a strong race for the French team.
An immediate red flag was thrown yet again and, as the shards of carbon fibre settled, the dwindling pack returned to the pit lane. As the stewards thumbed through the regulations book, it became clear that the pack had not completed even one sector of the lap before the red flag. Under the rules, this would mean that the grid would once more line up in the previous starting order, minus the cars since eliminated.
This move would suit many, except for Sainz, who was handed a five-second time penalty for his clash with Alonso. That penalty would effectively end the Ferrari driver’s race, as the pack would be brought around the field behind the safety car for one lap before peeling into the pits, allowing the cars to take the chequered flag without the chance to race. With the field streaming over the line in close formation — unable to pass due to the safety car line — Sainz tumbled down the timing order and out of the points.
It was, in the end, an easy win for Verstappen, but the second place for Hamilton gave him and the Mercedes team a much-needed lift. Alonso’s third place is a further boost to Aston Martin, which also took fourth place with Stroll ahead of Perez and Norris. A points finish for Piastri at his home race gave McLaren something to celebrate following a poor start to the season.
There is now a long break until the next race in Baku, Azerbaijan, due to the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix.
Azerbaijan GP, April 30
The street circuit of Baku in Azerbaijan was the setting for Formula One’s latest experiment with the race weekend schedule, with a sprint race on Saturday that would be separate from Sunday’s grand prix, writes Dave Humphreys. Unlike sprint races last year, the results didn’t determine the grid for the main GP on Sunday — effectively making it an event in isolation. It was an attempt to make the weekend’s on-track action more exciting by doing away with some practice sessions that aren’t very interesting for fans to watch.
Qualifying for Sunday’s grand prix took place on Friday afternoon, with Charles Leclerc edging the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez respectively, with teammate Sainz posting the fourth fastest lap time ahead of Hamilton and Alonso.
But to determine the grid for the sprint race there was a separate qualifying session on Saturday morning, leaving only a few hours before the race start, so any accidents on the street circuit would be even more impactful.
Repeating his dominance on Friday, Leclerc clinched pole position for the sprint, this time ahead of Perez, Verstappen and Russell. Not everyone was a fan of the trial format: Williams’ Alex Albon, who showed good pace in Baku, was highly critical. Meanwhile Lando Norris was left ruing poor judgement and would start tenth after being unable to participate in the sprint qualy session as he had no more sets of new soft tyres — a requirement to take part.
At lights out for the first time in the weekend, Leclerc led with Russell and Verstappen going two abreast into the second and third corners, resulting in a coming together and sidepod damage to the Red Bull. Verstappen moaned about it over the radio but most commentators pointed out that he’d have done exactly the same as Russell if the tables had been turned.
Tsunoda glanced the wall on the second lap, breaking his right rear wheel and sending it rolling down the track, resulting in a virtual safety car, then the full safety car for three laps. When racing resumed, Perez soon cruised past Leclerc’s Ferrari, demonstrating Red Bull’s clear speed advantage on the straights.
Crossing the finish line after 17 laps, Perez confirmed his skill at street circuits with an easy win ahead of Leclerc and Verstappen, who could not challenge due to car damage sustained in the tangle with Russell. In parc fermé, Verstappen remonstrated with Russell, who had apologised for the collision citing lack of grip from cold tyres, but the Dutch driver was having none of it.
The grand prix
With a reset grid taking Friday’s qualifying order, when Sunday’s main race got underway Leclerc once again maintained his lead at the start, but it was to be short-lived as Verstappen’s slippery Red Bull cruised past on the start-finish straight, and Perez would do the same one lap later. The Ferrari driver knew there was nothing he could do to prevent it, and even when he gained the advantage of being able to open his rear wing’s DRS, his car was still no match for his rivals’ in a straight line.
The racing further back was more interesting, with Alonso demonstrating why he remains one of the most exciting drivers to watch. The Spaniard also revealed over the radio how much of a team player he has become; when Lance Stroll told the Aston Martin team he wouldn’t attack his teammate, Alonso said Stroll was welcome to try. He then volunteered that he suspected Hamilton’s tyres would soon begin graining and even offered his own brake balance suggestions for Stroll to try, as he believed them to be advantageous.
A disastrous weekend for Nick De Vries ended when he damaged his front wheel against the wall, prompting Red Bull to pit Verstappen. Any potential advantage from that move was neutralised when the safety car was deployed, giving Perez a more advantageous pit stop, along with much of the field, including Aston Martin and Ferrari, who double-stacked their cars.
When green flag racing resumed, Verstappen tried to hunt down Perez for the lead but he had little answer for the Mexican’s swift pace. Leclerc fell back further into third, and it was from there that the race became somewhat processional.
Behind Ocon, a lengthy DRS train had developed, with passing opportunities being rare on the Baku track. Ocon and Hulkenberg had been hoping for a late safety car to give them a better pit stop opportunity, but it never arrived. Alonso could not catch Leclerc, and Sainz staved off the Mercedes of Hamilton to claim fifth place.
Last-lap drama occurred when FIA stewards had begun allowing media to enter the pit lane despite Ocon still having to pit. The sight of his Alpine accelerating towards a group of people in the pits was met with severe criticism of the organisers.
A dominant weekend for Perez puts him right into championship contention with Verstappen. How long that will continue without Red Bull intervening with team orders remains to be seen, but as the Formula One circus flies to Miami this week to another street circuit of sorts, all eyes will be on Perez to see what he can do.
Miami GP, May 7
The regular race format resumed for the Miami Grand Prix, writes Dave Humphreys. However, the shape of the grid was determined by a mistake from Charles Leclerc, spinning his Ferrari into the barrier towards the end of Q3 on Saturday resulted in a starting grid that was anything but ordinary.
With pole position secured, Sergio Perez scored another psychological point over Verstappen, who would start in ninth. Fernando Alonso continued his dream season, starting second ahead of Sainz, Magnussen, Gasly, Russell and Leclerc. Lewis Hamilton could only secure thirteenth on the grid, having been eliminated in Q2.
Once the pre-race build-up’s oh-so-American, over-the-top razzmatazz subsided and the lights went out, Perez retained his lead on the opening lap. Magnussen, who started in fourth, expectedly began to drop back down the running order in the Haas. Piastri hustled his way up to fourteenth but McLaren team-mate Norris was less fortunate, shunted from behind by De Vries into the first corner.
By lap four, Verstappen had passed Magnussen and Leclerc for sixth place. The Red Bulls soon began trading fastest lap times, demonstrating that the RB19 is in a class of its own. Despite fewer Drag Reduction System (DRS) zones at Miami, Verstappen chipped away at the competition, picking one car off at a time and by lap 22 he took the lead of the race as Perez pitted for fresh tyres.
In his efforts to make up time, Sainz steamed into the pits too quickly, locking up his Ferrari’s tyres trying to scrub off speed. He failed to slow enough before the speed trap, though, and incurred a five-second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
The subsequent laps would provide little in the way of entertainment and brought frustration for Leclerc, who languished in thirteenth position. Lewis Hamilton appeared to have an equally challenging race, with his Mercedes teammate passing on lap 33 in a neatly choreographed move.
Given the street-style layout of the Miami circuit there were no incidents to disrupt the race flow, and by lap 40 George Russell had moved up to fourth place as Hamilton finally broke into the top 10.
Careful tyre management meant it was lap 46 before Verstappen pitted for fresh rubber, returning Perez to the lead a mere 1.2 seconds ahead. With Alonso in a distant third place, the race for victory would be a straight fight between the Red Bulls, with no talk of team orders on the radio.
One lap later, the gap between the Red Bulls was under half a second, enabling DRS and leaving Perez with little defence. Verstappen made his move into turn one on lap 48, with Perez offering some resistance, although both drivers were obviously looking to avoid any contact. As Verstappen pulled away, Perez didn’t have an answer.
Further back in the field, Hamilton out-braked Leclerc with three laps remaining, putting him into sixth place, marking a good recovery drive given his qualifying performance.
After a disastrous weekend in Azerbaijan, having both Alpines finish in the points was some consolation for the team.
Local driver Logan Sargeant came home in 20th place and one lap down, which didn’t make for a great weekend in his Williams.
Ultimately, Verstappen’s performance was another dominating one as he retained his lead in the world championship, with crucial points for Perez in second and Alonso in third place.
Following a short break, the teams return to Europe for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix at Imola in Italy on 21 May.
Monaco GP, May 28
Like it or loathe it, the Monaco Grand Prix remains the jewel in Formula One’s crown, and based on Saturday qualifying alone it was shaping up to be one of the Principality’s better races, writes Dave Humphreys. Throughout the preceding practice sessions, several drivers had varying degrees of contact with the unrelenting Armco barriers, including Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.
During qualifying, the shock exit was Sergio Perez. He carried too much speed into turn one, possibly distracted by another car leaving the pits, and clattered his Red Bull against the barrier. Red Bull’s frustration was intensified by the stricken car being lifted away by a crane, giving the world a detailed look at its underfloor design, which is credited with making the RB19 such a competitive car so far this season.
Towards the final session, several drivers traded fastest laps to get that crucial pole position. It looked as if Fernando Alonso had it in the bag until Max Verstappen came from behind in the first two sectors to seal the first spot on the grid with a sensational final sector. There was disappointment for Charles Leclerc, who had qualified third fastest, as he was later found to have impeded Lando Norris in the tunnel, landing him with a three-place grid penalty. The session’s surprise was Esteban Ocon, who recorded the fourth fastest time in his Alpine, putting him third on the grid just ahead of Sainz and Hamilton.
After the celebs and dignitaries were ushered away from the grid on Sunday and the lights went out, Verstappen led the snake of cars through the opening laps in what was a relatively uneventful start by Monaco standards. Stroll and Hulkenberg managed to tangle, landing the Haas driver with a time penalty, while Perez pitted after the first lap to make his mandatory tyre compound switch as he attempted to salvage a result.
As Verstappen and Alonso stretched into an early lead, Sainz was in a hurry to overtake Ocon in the Alpine, though the Spaniard’s impatience resulted in him tapping the rear of Ocon’s car, damaging the Ferrari’s front wing in the process.
Over the subsequent laps, the field began to spread out. The main round of pit stops began on lap 32, with Hamilton stopping early to try for the undercut advantage. Verstappen’s eagerness to build a lead didn’t play well for his tyres, unlike Alonso, who seemed to keep them in better condition. Meanwhile, a slow stop for Ocon dropped him back down to seventh, hurting his strong performance.
Perez’s weekend continued from bad to worse. He collided with Stroll on the entry to the swimming pool chicane before making contact with the rear of Magnussen a few laps later, resulting in front wing damage.
Confusion over the Ferrari team radio revealed an angry Sainz, questioning the team’s strategy call as he emerged in seventh place from the pits.
The growing threat of rain saw several drivers stay out as late as possible to potentially rule out having to make additional stops later for wet tyres.
It was becoming something of a processional race until reports of raindrops around the circuit created some excitement as the teams tried to predict the next strategy call. Aston Martin pulled in Alonso on lap 55 for a gamble on dry tyres, despite the rain in one section of the track, but it would prove to be a big mistake. The heavens opened, and a deluge came down and drivers desperately tried to maintain control of their cars.
All drivers who hadn’t already done so then headed to their pit box for inters, but not before several drivers hit the barriers. Alonso had to pit again for intermediate tyres, and he was able to do so without losing second place but the wrong tyre call before ruined a chance of victory. Russell avoided the barriers by taking to an escape road at Mirabeau but collided with Perez as he re-joined the track, landing him with a penalty and no doubt leaving Perez wondering what he had to do to catch a break.
Stroll made his best impression of a pinball through the Fairmont hairpin, losing his front wing. He would eventually retire on lap 63. Sainz also had another lucky escape after sliding at Mirabeau and kissing the wall. Both Mercedes drivers put in solid recovery drives to clinch fourth and fifth, including the fastest lap for Hamilton, ahead of Leclerc, Gasly and Sainz.
The McLaren pair secured some points, with Norris taking ninth and Piastri tenth. Ultimately, it was a lights-to-flag victory for Verstappen, who had the upper hand from qualifying to the end. Alonso’s second place is the team’s best result of the season but the Spaniard will be left ruing what could have been if he’d made the right tyre call, while Ocon’s third place was richly deserved and will be a lift to the Alpine squad.
Back-to-back races will see the teams head to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix on June 2-4.
Spanish GP, June 4
Back-to-back race weekends didn’t give the teams much opportunity to rest and the return to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya saw many teams introduce significant upgrade packages, writes Dave Humphreys.
Mercedes had already made changes to its car at last weekend’s Monaco GP, but the Spanish circuit — traditionally one of the most-used pre-season test tracks — would prove a better opportunity to validate the new rear wing and sidepod design. Ferrari also brought a new sidepod and floor design in a bid to catch up to Red Bull. But the current championship leaders also had a new floor design.
The updates proved to be hit-and-miss for Ferrari, with Charles Leclerc having a dismal time in the damp qualifying session — a shock departure in the first part of the session. Ferrari opted to make significant changes to the car’s setup, resulting in him starting the race from the pit lane.
Sergio Perez in his Red Bull also struggled, going off the track in Q2 and failing to reach Q3. There was also an unusual situation with the two Mercedes cars colliding on the straight, apparently due to a lack of communication. But it was a dominant pole for Verstappen, with Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) starting alongside on the front row of the grid at this home race.
Another big surprise was Lando Norris (Mclaren) securing a third-place starting position, just ahead of Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin), Esteban Ocon (Alpine) and Nico Hülkenberg (Haas).
Fernando Alonso seemed to struggle to get the best from his Aston Martin, qualifying in eighth — the updates to the green Astons seemingly not working as well as expected.
Rain threatened to appear before the race but never materialised. As Verstappen headed the pack into turn one, a collision between Hamilton and Norris would ruin the McLaren driver’s race early on, requiring him to pit for a new front wing.
George Russell (Mercedes) started 12th and took to the outskirts of turn one to avoid any contact, and escaped penalty as he made up places just prior. Hamilton passed Stroll for third place on lap 8, with Russell coming up through the pack, too.
Further back, Perez began to make progress with some easy overtakes and was soon into the points places.
After his pit lane start, Leclerc continued to struggle, languishing in 16th place on lap 25. One lap later, Verstappen made his first pit stop, switching to hard tyres.
Tyre compounds would prove a significant factor in the race, with the Mercedes cars going well on the softs, and able to run longer than expected on them. Hamilton passed Sainz for second on lap 28 around the same time Russell passed Stroll for fourth place. It wasn’t long before Russell was on the rear wing of Sainz and he soon made a pass stick, bringing both Mercedes cars into podium positions.
Sainz began to drop further back as the race progressed, with Perez passing him to round off a decent recovery drive from the back to secure fourth place. Having started on the front row, finishing fifth wasn’t the result Sainz would have wanted, leaving Ferrari with more questions than answers about its upgrade package.
Despite a clear lead, Verstappen continued to push and was shown the black-and-white flag late into the race for exceeding track limits. His engineer assured him that there were “no risks required” given his commanding lead, to which Verstappen responded by asking who had the fastest lap, which it turned out was Perez. Rather than let that one extra championship point go to his teammate, Verstappen promptly stuck in another fastest lap time before the end of the race, much to his engineer’s chagrin.
There was a close battle between Oscar Piastri (McLaren) and the two AlphaTauri cars further back. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) forced Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo) wide at Turn 1 and would subsequently receive a time penalty, promoting Pierre Gasly (Alpine) into the points.
The Aston Martins of Stroll and Alonso secured sixth and seventh, respectively, ahead of Ocon. Ninth place for Guanyu compensated for a lacklustre performance from Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo), who finished 19th.
Norris didn’t fare much better, ending up 17th, a long way from his third-place starting position. It was an equally disappointing day for the Haas and Williams teams, but every driver finished the race, proving how reliable the cars have become.
After a short break the teams will once again cross the Atlantic to the Canadian Grand Prix on June 16-18, at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal.
Canadian GP, June 18
Formula One returned to North America, this time north of the border and on the island circuit of Montreal, writes Dave Humphreys.
The build-up to the Canadian Grand Prix didn’t go according to plan for the organisers, with the first practice session failing to run in its entirety due to technical difficulties with the camera system used for the circuit.
Heavy rain then beset the following sessions resulting in a few surprises on the starting grid, including a stellar drive from Nico Hulkenberg in his Haas to clinch second — only to be pushed back down to fifth on the grid after stewards deemed him to have not reduced speed sufficiently when the red flag was deployed immediately after his hot lap.
Local boy Lance Stroll spun his Aston Martin in the challenging conditions and rookie Oscar Piastri, who had been showing good pace in his McLaren, hit the wall to bring out the red flag that Hulkenberg was to rue. Red Bull’s Sergio Perez had a bit of a shocker and didn’t make it out of Q2, while the usual chaos at Ferrari meant Carlos Sainz and Charles LeClerc failed to get the most out of Qualifying. Alex Albon in the Williams had a cracker in Q2, topping the timesheets on slicks during a very short dry spell, but the red flag in Q3 scuppered his quick lap and he was forced to start from 10th.
The mixed up grid left fans with an exciting start to the race that saw Max Verstappen and his Red Bull lead the pack into turn one, followed closely by Hamilton in his Mercedes, who beat second-place Alonso (Aston Martin) off the line. The experience trio have 11 world championships between them, so fans were thrilled to see the maestros go up against each other in rival machines.
Sainz (Ferrari) and Perez (Red Bull) battled it out further down the field for eleventh place. The Haas of Magnussen clipped the wall at the end of the opening lap, but his car survived.
The close confines of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve are always a challenge and can be unforgiving. On lap four it was Alonso’s car’s turn to kiss the concrete wall and, like Magnussen, escaped without damage to continue chasing Hamilton.
The first yellow flag came out on lap eight as the Williams of Logan Sargeant suffered engine failure, triggering a brief ‘virtual safety car’. Racing quickly resumed, as did a DRS train covering drivers from seventh to sixteenth.
George Russell’s Mercedes became the next to meet the Canadian circuit’s walls, with a severe collision that left parts of his car strewn across the track, bringing out the Safety Car. He did manage to limp the car back to the pits and, to much surprise, the team were able to replace the wheels and get him back out into the race. In the intervening safety car period, leader Verstappen made an easy pit stop to remain in the lead.
It was close running throughout the field as the race reached its halfway point. On lap 35 Magnussen and AlphaTauri’s Nyck De Vries tangled into turn one and continued to tussle towards turn three, resulting in both running off down an escape road and losing several places as they struggled to rejoin the circuit.
Six laps later and Hamilton was the first of the leading pack to pit, switching to medium compound tyres. Alonso stopped one lap later, while the leading Red Bull stopped on lap 43 for an easy, trouble-free visit to the pits.
By now, the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz had made their way up to fourth and fifth places, respectively. It appeared that team orders were issued, as Leclerc was told over the radio that Sainz would not attack him for position. A great recovery drive from Russell came to a premature end on lap 55 when he was forced to retire the car with brake issues, while Alex Albon (Williams) continued an impressive and defensive drive in seventh place.
In the end, it was a straightforward lights-to-flag victory for Verstappen, continuing the incredible dominance of the Red Bull RB19 this year — no other team has won a race so far this season — and recording the team’s 100th victory. It was also the 41st win for Verstappen, equalling Ayrton Senna’s career total.
Alonso’s late move on Hamilton saw him regain second place, while Leclerc, who was running a tribute helmet to Gilles Villeneuve, came home in fourth place ahead of Sainz. The other Red Bull of Sergio Perez finished in sixth but did clinch the fastest lap to net the Mexican an additional championship point.
Now the championship moves back to Europe and to Red Bull’s home track in Austria, where they already look like favourites to take another victory unless significant updates from other teams can upset their dominant run so far this season.
Austrian GP report, July 2
As Red Bull’s dominance of the 2023 season continues, the team returned to its spiritual home in Austria for the first time since the passing of its founder Dietrich Mateschitz for a packed weekend of racing including a Saturday sprint race, writes Dave Humphreys.
A welcome mixed starting grid lined up for the sprint, with the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton starting further down the pack than they’re used to, in 15th and 18th places respectively. Red Bull locked out the front row, while Nico Hulkenberg (a stunning effort in the Haas) and Lando Norris (McLaren) occupied the second.
Persistent rain resulted in almost the entire grid starting on intermediate tyres, but Valtteri Bottas in the Alfa Romeo opted to gamble by starting on slicks. That decision proved to be the wrong one during the formation lap, with Bottas pitting for more suitable tyres as the rest of the grid lined up to take the start.
Both Red Bulls got away cleanly, Sergio Perez edging ahead after turn one and appearing to run Max Verstappen wide as he defended, with the Dutch driver putting a wheel on the grass. The championship leader responded by braking deep into turn three, pushing Perez out wide retaking the lead.
Hulkenberg seized the opportunity to steal second place. Norris had a less successful start, falling back to 10th place in his McLaren.
Hamilton was in a close battle with Kevin Magnussen (Haas) for 12th by lap 11. The Danish driver gave the Brit a good run for his money around the damp circuit. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) was doing an equally solid job of holding off Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) while further up the field, the other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz passed Perez for 3rd place on lap 13.
With a dry line beginning to appear, Russell was one of the first to pit for slicks and on lap 17 race control enabled DRS (this is disabled in wet conditions). The intermediate tyres were beginning to lose grip in the drying conditions, demonstrated by Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) passing Hulkenberg. The German Haas driver then dived into the pits, as did Hamilton, for a tyre change to slicks.
Those changing to slicks made the right call but none had the time to catch the leaders. Verstappen had built and maintained a massive lead out front, with Perez trailing 21 seconds behind in second place as the chequered flag dropped. Sainz put in a decent performance to come home in third place ahead of Stroll and Alonso, the pair securing more points for Aston Martin.
The weather couldn’t have been more different on Sunday as the grid lined up for the Grand Prix, with Verstappen on pole position ahead of the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz. An updated McLaren package for Norris saw him qualify in fourth, ahead of Hamilton, Stroll, Alonso and Hulkenberg.
The experienced Hamilton overtook Norris at the start, and further back in the pack, Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) ran wide into the gravel, having previously made contact with Ocon in turn one. That tangle left debris on the racing line, resulting in a safety car deployment to lead the field through the pit lane while marshals cleared the track.
With racing resumed, Verstappen managed to maintain a one-second advantage over Leclerc, preventing him from being able to open the Ferrari’s DRS rear wing flap for a speed advantage on the straights.
As the battle between Sainz and Hamilton intensified, so did the track limit violations that plagued the entire race weekend. When both wheels of a car go beyond the track boundary’s white line, drivers receive a warning, which turns to a black and white flag after repeat offences and eventually a time penalty. Hamilton was the first to receive this warning on lap 13 before receiving a five-second penalty.
A virtual safety car on lap 14 to allow the recovery of the stricken Haas of Hulkenberg saw numerous drivers dive into the pits to maximise any advantage, first with Hamilton and Piastri, then the two Ferraris. Verstappen stayed out and didn’t pit until lap 25.
As Verstappen rejoined the track, he did so behind the Ferrari, thus ending his run of 249 consecutive laps in first place. It would be short-lived though as he soon re-passed Leclerc to retake the position.
The race began to settle at the front, though further back there was intense battles for positions and Nick De Vries (AlphaTauri) forced Magnussen wide and into the gravel.
Sainz pitted on lap 46 to serve the next time penalty for track infringements, and rejoined behind Norris before a close battle to regain his position in front of the McLaren. Perez, who started back in 15th was now up to 5th and going well in his far superior Red Bull, and it wasn’t long before he reeled in Norris and Sainz, passing them both with clean moves.
So large was Verstappen’s lead over Leclerc towards the end of the race he opted to pit for fresh soft tyres on the penultimate tour (against his team’s wishes, who felt it was an unnecessary risk) to go for the fastest lap and score one additional point. Leclerc crossed the line in second, scoring the 800th podium finish for Ferrari, while an impressive recovery drive from Perez was rewarded with the third step of the podium.
The race didn’t end there, though, as the stewards waded through more than 1,200 instances of cars leaving the track. Additional punishments were dished out after the race, with some drivers receiving multiple penalties and altering the finishing order and final classification.
That promoted Norris up to 4th, Alonso up to 5th and demoted Sainz to 6th (from 4th). Hamilton was also demoted to 8th, and Gasly dropped one place to 10th. The FIA has called for the circuit to make changes ahead of its return next year to prevent a repeat of this fiasco.
The next race is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on July 7-9.
British GP report, July 9
Despite inclement weather at times, some 480,000 fans over the weekend were treated to top-tier racing at Silverstone, writes Dave Humphreys.
There was little surprise when current championship leader Max Verstappen (Red Bull) clinched pole position for the British Grand Prix. Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull had a less enjoyable Saturday, only managing 15th place on the grid. The McLarens were a big surprise, as updates to both cars resulted in a thrilling qualifying showdown, with Norris securing 2nd and Piastri 3rd, ahead of Leclerc and Sainz in the Ferraris and Russell and Hamilton in the Mercedes. Credit also to Albon in the Williams, who qualified in 8th.
The charged crowd erupted as the start lights went out and Norris edged into the lead ahead of Verstappen as the pack made its way around the first lap mostly without incident. Hamilton ran wide, dropping a handful of places as Russell moved up to 5th. Piastri, in 3rd, held onto the back of Verstappen, showing the McLaren’s pace, but when DRS was enabled, it took Verstappen only until lap five to reclaim the lead from Norris.
Further back, Russell battled with Sainz as Hamilton began to make up the places he lost at the start. Hulkenberg lost the front wing endplate as Perez barged through, prompting him to pit for a new front wing and sending him to the back of the pack.
Alpine’s weekend suffered an early blow as Ocon retired on lap 10 with hydraulic issues. That helped Perez, who was now up to 12th; meanwhile, his teammate reported how high winds affected his car’s handling in some corners. Regardless, by lap 18, Verstappen was four seconds clear of Norris as the first round of pit stops began.
Leclerc (Ferrari) was the first of the front runners to stop, taking on hard compound tyres as part of a strategy gamble, though he failed to make much progress. Sainz made a similar pit stop for hard tyres and rejoined 12th on lap 27. As more drivers pitted, the pack shuffled around, and Russel on medium compound tyres cruised past the Ferrari of Leclerc, who had no answer for the pace of the Mercedes.
A poor weekend for Haas was made worse on lap 31 as Magnussen’s car came to an abrupt and fiery stop with engine failure, initially signalling a virtual safety car, then a full safety car deployment as the marshals recovered his stricken car. That brought a flurry of pit stops that helped some and hindered others, but Hamilton was one of the winners, rejoining in 3rd.
Some questionable driving standards from Stroll (Aston Martin) saw him pass the remaining Alpine of Gasly off-track. A few laps later, the pair again met, this time with Stroll running off, rejoining and colliding with Gasly, damaging his rear suspension and ending his race. Stroll received a five-second penalty, which seemed lenient given Gasly’s position. By then, Perez is up to 6th, while the Ferraris languished just within the points positions.
Hamilton charged down Norris, but it would prove to be too much for the rear tyres of the Mercedes, forcing him to back off and settle for 3rd place. Verstappen cruised over the finish line, but Norris in 2nd place got the fans most excited. Sadly for Piastri, 4th place was all he could manage, mainly due to the safety car period not suiting his pit stop window. Nevertheless, it was a superb drive from the young Australian. Albon also put in an excellent performance, staving off Leclerc in the race’s final stages to secure 8th.
The next race is the Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring on 23 July.
Hungarian GP report, July 23
Red Bull stood on the verge of setting a new record in Hungary, writes Dave Humphreys. Up to this point the season proved to be a masterclass in dominance by Red Bull Racing, and with 11 back-to-back wins prior to the Hungaroring it had equalled the record set by McLaren, and its drivers Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna. A dozen would see the Milton Keynes-based team go one better.
However, Red Bull’s record run was put in doubt when Lewis Hamilton set a scintillating time in qualifying to put his Mercedes on pole position. The Hungaroring is one of Hamilton’s best circuits, and the seven-times world champion set a record of his own this year as the first driver to record nine pole positions at a single track.
Hamilton’s Saturday performance also made up for a disastrous call on the other side of the Mercedes garage that would leave Geroge Russell starting in a lowly 18th position.
But as the lights went out to start the race on Sunday, Hamilton fell behind as Max Verstappen put his Red Bull into the lead going into the first corner. It was an important move by the Dutch championship leader as the fast-starting McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri had filled the second row of the grid — the successful car upgrades introduced at Silverstone clearly working well on slower, twistier courses, too. It was Piastri that managed to slot in behind Verstappen, in fact, as the rookie continues to show the talent that everyone has expected from the former F3 and F2 champion.
Further back, Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo), who’d had a mega Qualifying to put himself fifth on the grid, suffered anti-stall at the race start, then outbraked himself into turn one to hit the rear of an Alpine and trigger a chain reaction of incidents. Both Alpine cars ended up retiring.
Sergio Perez, who started ninth in the sister Red Bull after yet another torrid start to his race weekend, was driving hard to make up places, keen to put in a good performance to remove any doubt over his future at the team.
The McLaren drivers swapped places after the first round of pit stops as Verstappen ran for longer before stopping for fresh tyres. As in Austria, Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari was harried by Perez, who soon passed to make up another place. However, he could not beat Hamilton on track, resorting instead to using a pit stop strategy to overtake the lead Mercedes.
A slow stop for Piastri saw him lose some of his gap to Perez, who eventually overtook a few laps later. As much as the McLaren car has improved, it could not match the Red Bull’s outright pace.
The Ferraris struggled for speed further down the field, with Charles Leclerc remonstrating with the team once again over the radio about its strategy decisions. A pit lane speeding infringement also landed the Monegasque driver with a five-second time penalty to add more woes to his weekend.
Towards the end, a recovering Russell split the Ferraris and closed the gap sufficiently to jump Leclerc in the overall points standings, after the time penalty was served. The return of popular Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo in the AlphaTauri, after rookie Nyck De Vries was dumped by the team, saw him finish in 13th, crucially beating his teammate.
Victory rarely seemed in doubt for Verstappen as he cruised round the Hungaroring, stopping for fresh tyres to ensure he scored an extra point for setting the fastest lap and securing that new consecutive race wins record for Red Bull. A second podium visit for Norris shows how much the McLaren car has improved, while Perez making his way back to third was another fine display of damage limitation by the Mexican. If only he could avoid trouble on Fridays and Saturdays.
Belgian GP report, July 30
The Belgian Grand Prix was moved forward in the calendar to avoid the poor weather conditions that have affected it in the past, writes Dave Humphreys. But of course Mother Nature had other ideas and rain affected the entire weekend.
Saturday’s sprint race was delayed by 30 minutes as a result of downpours and when proceedings eventually got underway, Max Verstappen (Red Bull) led the field behind the safety car. It remained that way for five more laps until conditions sufficiently improved for drivers to begin pitting for intermediates, starting with Oscar Piastri (McLaren), who’d raised eyebrows with stunning speed around Spa, in second place. Verstappen made the mistake of staying out for another lap, which gave Piastri the advantage and the rookie ended up leading after the stops.
The potential upset was short-lived, however. An off-form Fernando Alonso made an uncharacteristic mistake on lap 6, causing him to retire his Aston Martin and bringing out the safety car, and on the restart Verstappen blasted past Piastri after Eau Rouge.
A tangle between Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Sergio Perez left a gaping hole in the Red Bull’s bodywork, who later had an off ending his race. The stewards took a dim view of the collision and awarded Hamilton a five-second time penalty for the collision, demoting him down to 7th.
That moved Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) up to 4th, with teammate Charles Leclerc in 5th, while Lando Norris (McLaren) secured 6th place.
Piastri held on to take 2nd place and Pierre Gasly (Alpine) earned a welcome 3rd place on a challenging weekend for the French team, which had announced the departure of team principal Otmar Szafnauer, sporting director Alan Permane and chief technical officer Pat Fry.
The weather did show signs of improvement for Sunday’s grand prix, and Leclerc would start on pole position due to Verstappen serving an engine penalty that dropped him down to 6th.
In the sister Red Bull, Perez lined up in 2nd ahead of Hamilton, Sainz and Piastri. As the field funnelled into turn one, Piastri collided with Sainz ending his race and leaving the Ferrari worse for wear with damage to its side that severely affected its aerodynamic performance.
At the front, Perez cruised past Leclerc’s Ferrari to take the lead as his teammate Verstappen made his way up to fourth before the end of lap one.
Norris was the first to pit as Verstappen made his way past Hamilton, while further back, the Mercedes of Russell overtook the struggling and damaged Ferrari of Sainz.
On lap 9 Verstappen overtook Leclerc leaving only his teammate Perez in his sights. As the rest of the field cycled through their pit stops, Perez resumed the lead but he had no answer for Verstappen, who was operating on another level from the rest of the field.
Rain began falling on lap 22 but wasn’t enough to warrant tyre changes. Verstappen did have a big moment going through Eau Rouge but it was easily held. As the track began to dry on lap 24 Ferrari called it a day on Sainz’s race and retired his damaged car.
From there on it was a masterclass by Verstappen as he stretched out an unassailable lead over the other Red Bull as the rest of the field spread out. There was little more that Leclerc could do from 3rd place, but Hamilton pitted on the last lap for fresh medium tyres before setting the fastest lap of the race, stealing back the extra point from Verstappen.
As the teams go into the summer break, Verstappen has a massive 125-point lead over Perez in 2nd place in the championship standings, while Red Bull enjoys a 256-point advantage over Mercedes, having won every race thus far.
The next race will be the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on August 25-27.
Dutch GP report, August 27
Following the summer break, racing resumed for the second half of the F1 season at the Dutch circuit of Zandvoort. The tight and fast-flowing circuit caught some drivers out during the practice sessions, but the returning Daniel Ricciardo (AlphaTauri) fared the worst, suffering a broken bone in his wrist following a crash to avoid Oscar Piastri (McLaren), who had hit the barrier just ahead of him at the banked turn three. That gave Red Bull junior driver Liam Lawson his debut, replacing Ricciardo for the rest of the weekend.
Inclement weather resulted in a mixed-up starting grid. However, continuing his form, it was Max Verstappen (Red Bull) who would begin from pole position just ahead of Lando Norris (McLaren), George Russell (Mercedes) and Alex Albon (Williams), with the Williams team as surprised as everyone else that their low-drag car was working so well on a tight track like Zandvoort.
Rainclouds ominously formed as the lights went out at the start. Verstappen maintained his lead while the fast-starting Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) held the low line around turn three to pass Russell. At the end of lap one, the heavens opened with a deluge of rain. Almost the entire field carried on, except for Sergio Perez (Red Bull) and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), pitting for wet tyres. Leclerc’s team wasn’t ready for him, leaving him stuck in the pit box for what must have felt an age while they scrambled for tyres.
Once it became clear that the rain would not pass soon, a flood of cars came in to switch tyres. In one lap, the lead changed three times, but it would be Perez who was at the front once the stops had been completed. His early stop put him in a strong position, but Verstappen was closing the gap and, on lap 12 as the track was drying out, the Dutch driver pitted early, ultimately resulting in his resuming the lead once Perez came back in to switch tyres.
Logan Sargeant’s Williams suffered a hydraulic failure, causing him to crash into the barrier, bringing out the safety car. As racing resumed, Verstappen bolted to create a large gap to Perez, now in second place ahead of Alonso.
Pierre Gasly (Alpine) and Sainz battled for fourth, but the other Ferrari of Leclerc wasn’t faring as well, having suffered some damage in a minor collision with Norris. Despite being further down the field, Piastri put in some great driving with superb overtakes as he progressed up the pack.
On lap 42, Sainz pitted once more to rejoin in 11th, and one lap later Leclerc came in to retire the car. More rain was coming, this time with more intensity and on lap 60 it arrived, prompting everyone to pit for intermediate tyres.
However, the rain was too much for that tyre as evidenced by multiple drivers losing control of their cars. Zhou Guaynu in the Alfa Romeo aquaplaned on turn one, colliding heavily with the barrier and with visibility reduced, the race was red-flagged.
The Dutch GP would eventually resume behind the safety car as a rolling start with only seven laps remaining. Verstappen got away nicely, with Alonso now in second ahead of Perez. However, the Mexican driver’s luck worsened as he received a five-second penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Russell tangled with Norris, puncturing his Mercedes and ending his race.
Verstappen was uncatchable as the track began to dry again, though that didn’t stop Alonso from setting the fastest lap as the chequered flag fell. The time penalty for Perez promoted Gasly into third place for a sorely needed podium finish for Alpine. It was a record-equalling ninth successive victory for Verstappen, matching Sebastian Vettel. Sainz claimed fifth ahead of Hamilton (Mercedes), Norris, Albon, Piastri and Ocon (Alpine).
The next race is the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, on September 1-3.
Italian GP report, September 3
The tifosi were ecstatic to see the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz clinch pole position for the Italian Grand Prix, with his team-mate Charles Leclerc in third — the rampant Red Bull of Verstappen unable to get the upper hand and was sandwiched between them.
Following a delayed race start due to the AlphaTauri of Tsunoda grinding to a halt on the formation lap to the grid, Sainz held off the hard-charging Verstappen to maintain his lead, soon stretching his lead to half a second.
Sainz was never going to have an easy run despite the Ferrari’s high top speed throughout the weekend and on lap six Verstappen almost collided with the leader into the first chicane. A few places further back Sergio Perez (Red Bull) and George Russell (Mercedes) only just avoided tangling at the same section, leaving the track and swapping positions when they rejoined.
As the race progressed Sainz maintained his lead to Verstappen but the Red Bull driver was heaping on the pressure, and on lap 15 Sainz overcooked his brakes going into the first corner, giving the Dutchman enough of an opportunity to get past and take the lead. Perez was able to replicate the move one lap later and would take over the lead of the race as Verstappen and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) pitted for fresh tyres.
The pit stop brought Leclerc right into the path of Sainz, giving the Spanish driver no let up in the pressure to maintain his position.
It was the first corner that provided much of the action, with Russell and Esteban Ocon (Alpine) narrowly avoiding a collision, which would land the Mercedes driver with a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage.
There was little let up in the action at the front, with Perez and Leclerc almost coming together on lap 31, the Ferrari driver hampered by a lack of DRS from his teammate ahead. Perez made the move stick one lap later, releasing him to hunt down Sainz.
A few places further down the grid, Alex Albon (Williams) was putting in a strong performance at a track Williams had been expected to do well at, due to its long high speed sections, ahead of Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) who was struggling at this phase of the race with a harder tyre compound.
By lap 41, Hamilton was rediscovering pace and began charging down Piastri, lining up a pass into turn three, but as he moved into the braking zone he collided with the McLaren driver, damaging Piastri’s front wing and forcing him to pit. Hamilton received a five-second penalty for the incident and apologised for the incident after the race.
It was a less impressive performance at this stage from the Aston Martin pairing, with Alonso unable to pass Norris in the other McLaren.
As the race entered the final stages Leclerc smelt a podium finish and began heaping the pressure on his team-mate, with the pair almost coming together on the entry to the third corner. The team called for the pair to hold position but that message didn’t seem to get though to Leclerc, and on the final lap the Monegasque locked up his front tyres and came within inches of taking out both Ferraris.
Ahead of the battling duo it was cleaner sailing as Verstappen rounded the final corner to claim victory and set a new record for 10 consecutive wins in Formula One, with Perez crossing the line in second place. A solid drive from Russell to finish 5th was the best that could be expected from the Mercedes’ performance this weekend.
The next race will take place under the lights on the streets of Singapore on September 17.
Singapore GP report, September 17
Street circuits always throw up added excitement and surprises, and Singapore came one of the season’s highlights so far, writes Dave Humphreys.
A reduced grid lined up under the floodlights of the Singapore Grand Prix, as Lance Stroll sat out the night race on medical advice following a massive shunt in qualifying. The Aston Martin driver wasn’t the only one to get a shock on Saturday — championship leader Max Verstappen struggled to extract any meaningful performance from his Red Bull, with both he and his teammate, Sergio Perez, exiting the session before the final shootout for the fastest ten drivers. Verstappen was notably out-qualified by Liam Lawson (AlphaTauri) — in his third F1 start, standing in for the injured Daniel Ricciardo.
Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) would start from pole position for the second race running, ahead of George Russell (Mercedes), Lando Norris (McLaren), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes). As the field funnelled into the first turn, Hamilton took to the escape road to avoid a collision, gaining an advantage in the process. He would have to cede the places to his teammate and Norris over the following laps.
A coming together between Sergio Perez (Red Bull) and Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) brought a premature end to the Japanese driver’s race as he stopped with a reported puncture. At the front, Sainz and Leclerc pulled out a modest lead. The team soon began a careful management strategy, asking Leclerc to fall back to maintain a gap that would help with the Ferrari’s temperature control.
On lap 16, Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) achieved a new record of surpassing 100,000 kilometres (62,137 miles) of racing laps in Formula One.
On lap 19, Logan Sargeant (Williams) understeered into the wall, wrecking his front wing. He managed to reverse out of the situation and drive back to the pits, though he was dragging his wing along the way and sending shards of carbon fibre all over the track. That was enough to bring out the safety car, prompting a slew of pit stops. Ferrari’s attempt to double-stack its cars backfired as Leclerc had to be held longer in the pit box as other cars streamed down the pit lane.
The Red Bull duo stayed out on hard tyres, but Verstappen began to complain as the race progressed, liking the experience to driving on ice.
Esteban Ocon’s birthday celebrations were dampened on lap 43 when his Alpine ground to a halt at the end of the pit exit, triggering a virtual safety car. This time, the Mercedes pair double-stacked in the pits, taking advantage of having an extra set of new medium-compound tyres carried over from Saturday.
Russell and Hamilton were back in contention on fresh, softer rubber and quickly reeled in the leaders. Russell passed Leclerc on lap 53, with Hamilton doing the same a lap later. The race was lining up for a thrilling showdown, and with four laps remaining, the top four covered by just 1.7 seconds. While Norris seemed unable to pass Sainz, the McLaren driver also had his work cut out to keep the fast-charging Mercedes behind.
Sainz used this to his advantage by dropping back slightly to reduce the gap to Norris to below one sceond, which give the McLaren driver a DRS advantage. This meant the Mercedes’ found it trickier to get past Norris, and helped maintain Sainz’s grip on the lead. It was extremely smart driving.
This made Russel’s job much harder and, perhaps frustrated, the Brit clipped a wall on the final lap, which send him off into a tyre barrier. That ended Russell’s race and promoted Hamilton to the final podium place. It was Sainz who ruled the Singapore streets, though, breaking Red Bull’s season-long run of wins in dominating fashion.
The next race is the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka on September 24.
Japanese GP report, September 25
The Suzuka circuit regularly produces some of the most thrilling F1 races and once more was the setting for a championship decider, writes Dave Humphreys.
We may not fully understand what caused Red Bull’s stark drop in performance at the Singapore Grand Prix, but championship leader Max Verstappen dispelled any doubts as to his and his car’s competitiveness when setting a blisteringly past qualifying lap for yet another pole position in Japan. The bigger surprise was that directly behind him was rookie Oscar Piastri (McLaren) in what was his first time at the track, while team-mate Lando Norris lined up third.
Piastri enjoyed a strong start, almost getting ahead of Verstappen into the first corner, but Norris edged ahead of his McLaren teammate. There was contact further back between Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo), Alex Albon (Williams), Esteban Ocon (Alpine) and Zhou (Alfa Romeo). Further up the pack, Perez (Red Bull) also suffered front wing damage following a collision with Hamilton (Mercedes) as the Mexican driver swerved to avoid Carlo Sainz (Ferrari). It was enough to bring out the safety car at the end of the first lap, neutralising the race as the track was cleared.
As racing resumed, there was less action as Verstappen judged the restart well, building a slight lead. The Mercedes duo were clearly racing, with Russell passing Hamilton into the last chicane, only to be re-passed going into turn one. Bottas’ race didn’t get any better when he was tagged by Sargeant (Williams), spinning him into the gravel at the hairpin, subsequently ending the Finnish driver’s day. Having only received a new front wing, Perez collided with Magnussen (Haas) going into the chicane, breaking yet another wing, earning him a five-second penalty as the team radioed for him to retire the car.
The Mercedes duo continued to battle hard, with Russell asking on the team radio who he was really fighting. Verstappen maintained his lead following the first round of pit stops. Alonso was less than happy with Aston Martin’s pit strategy, telling his engineer that they had “thrown him to the lions” and demanded they come up with a solution. Lance Stroll retired the other Aston Martin due to a rear wing failure.
McLaren swapped its drivers around on lap 27, but Verstappen was still pulling away into what seemed like an unassailable lead. One lap later, the second Williams of Albon retired, ending a disastrous weekend for the team.
The Ferrari duo were racing Mercedes on pace all weekend. On lap 40, having apparently retired the car, Red Bull made some repairs, put Perez back into the car and sent him back out. He completed one lap, pitted to serve his time penalty to avoid it being carried over to the next race, and then retired again.
A strong performance from Russell began to fade towards the end, with Leclerc getting past. As the laps ticked down, Russell started to hold up Hamilton as Sainz in the Ferrari closed in on fresher tyres. Mercedes swapped its cars under team orders as Hamilton was the quicker of the two. In a repeat of the previous race, where Sainz gave Norris a DRS assistance, Russell called for Hamilton to do the same, but it was unsuccessful and Sainz overtook, causing Hamilton to push on to maintain the position.
As the chequered flag dropped, it was yet another relatively easy victory for Max Verstappen, and despite Perez failing to score a point, it was enough for Red Bull to seal the Constructors’ title, the sixth time it has done so. Norris crossed the line in second, and it was a super result for Piastri, finishing on the third step of the podium, proving that his contract extension at McLaren was a wise move by the team.
The next race takes place in Qatar at the Losail International Circuit on 8 October.
Qatar GP report, October 8
Under the floodlights and in the searing heat of Qatar, F1 returned to the Loasail International Circuit with the prospect of seeing Max Verstappen clinch his third world championship, writes Dave Humphreys.
The Losail Circuit is predominantly used for motorcycle racing, but it suits today’s F1 cars where the fastest corner is taken at 160mph. However, right from the outset, it was clear that the issue of track limits would once again rear its head, and throughout qualifying for the race and the Saturday Sprint drivers struggled to keep within the limits, with lap times being deleted accordingly.
Sprint Qualifying saw Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) go out in SQ2 after his lap was deleted for exceeding limits. The two McLarens were going well all weekend, and rookie Oscar Piastri clinched pole position ahead of his teammate Lando Norris and Max Verstappen (Red Bull), with George Russell (Mercedes) starting fourth.
Piastri made a better start than Norris and Verstappen, who were challenged by Russell and the Ferrari duo of Sainz and Leclerc, starting on soft tyres. Liam Lawson (AlphaTauri) spun into the gravel creating a Safety Car period. As racing resumed, Piastri was harried by Russell, who passed moments before another Safety Car period following a spin from Logan Sargeant (Williams).
Verstappen picked up his pace as racing again got underway and soon slipstreamed past the two Ferraris. Things didn’t go as smoothly for Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull, colliding with Hulkenberg (Haas) and Ocon (Alpine) in Turn 2, ending their races and triggering a third Safety Car. By this stage, Russell was struggling with his tyres, but the team ruled out a pit stop, allowing Piastri to extend his lead and he crossed the line to take his first victory in F1. Verstappen chased him down to secure second place and guarantee his third world championship title, while Norris out-raced Russell to take the third podium spot.
Before the race proper even started, a curve ball was thrown following a safety concern from Pirelli about how the harsh kerbs impacted its tyres on the circuit. Officials altered the track slightly and imposed a mandatory 18-lap limit per set of tyres.
Verstappen led the field away on Sunday with drama occurring in the first corner when Hamilton turned in on his teammate Russell. It was an immediate retirement for Hamilton, while Russell was able to recover from the spin and make it back to the pits before rejoining at the back of the field. That collision opened the door for Piastri to slot into second place ahead of Alonso in the Aston Martin as the Safety Car was introduced.
Piastri couldn’t quite keep up with Verstappen at the restart but kept his position. The first of many pit stops began with Ocon on lap 11. Albon (Williams) was among the last to stop and briefly lead the race before pitting. Russell was already battling his way back through the field, dicing with Gasly (Alpine), who gave no quarter.
The revised circuit created several issues for drivers, including Perez, who was one of many to receive a five-second penalty for exceeding the limits on multiple occasions. The race conditions were also taking their toll on some of the drivers as the intense heat and high-speed nature of the track proved challenging. Logan Sargeant retired from the race after becoming unwell in the car, while Ocon also struggled. The additional pit stops didn’t provide much comfort for the drivers, and Alonso complained of a burning sensation from his seat.
Verstappen had a safe victory in sight as the laps ticked down, though the McLaren duo didn’t let him gain too much of a lead. Russell’s recovery drive to secure fourth was impressive, while Leclerc in the sole Ferrari (due to an issue preventing Sainz’s car from starting the race) crossed the line in fifth place. While it was Verstappen’s weekend, the McLaren performance was impressive, indicating a team that has found its form again.
The next race takes place in the United States at the Circuit of the Americas on 22 October.
United States GP report, October 22
Formula One returned to the United States for the second of three race weekends, this time at the Circuit of the Americas with the added spectacle of a Sprint weekend, writes Dave Humphreys.
Double-header weekends that include a Sprint race tend to throw up a few surprises. However, it was a familiar sight at the front of the grid on Saturday as Max Verstappen (Red Bull) led the field into the steep rise of the first corner at the Circuit of the Americas, forcing Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) into the far left of the track, which in turn opened up an opportunity for Lewis Hamilton to pass in his Mercedes.
As the pack snaked through the circuit Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) found himself sandwiched between the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri. However, Sainz passed Norris while Piastri defended from Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.
At the front, Hamilton was keeping Verstappen in close range as the Red Bull driver began to complain on team radio about the driveability of his car. By lap 10 Norris moved on Sainz to retake his position as Hamilton began to drop back from the leader. Piastri was shown the black and white flag for exceeding track limits as the laps ticked down.
Further back, Daniel Ricciardo (AlphaTauri) on his return from injury was battling with Stroll (Aston Martin) for a place just outside of the points. Stroll’s race ended prematurely with brake issues.
Verstappen took a relatively easy Sprint victory in the end, having stretched out a 9.4-second lead over the 19 laps, with Hamilton taking second place ahead of Leclerc.
With qualifying for the US Grand Prix having been settled on the Friday, Leclerc lined up in pole position for Sunday’s race with Norris just behind, followed by Hamilton, Sainz, George Russell (Mercedes) and Verstappen. Both of the Aston Martin and Haas cars opted to start from the pit lane following set-up changes after Saturday’s Sprint race.
As the lights went out, Norris made the better start and edged out Leclerc into the first corner. Hamilton lost a place to Sainz while further back Ocon (Alpine) collided with Piastri. That damage would prove too much for both cars and they were forced from the race as a result.
Strategy would play a major role in this race, and the first round of pit stops began on lap 11 for those further down the field. By now Verstappen had also caught up with Leclerc and forced his way up the inside of the turn 12, running the Ferrari off the track. Hamilton was flying, closing down Norris, while the other Mercedes of Russell battled with Perez.
Following the first round of pit stops, Verstappen was managing a brake issue and was quite vocal about it on team radio (in fact he described his car as “a piece of shit”). Even so, he was able to close in on Norris and pass the McLaren driver, indicating just what an advantage over the rest of the field the Red Bull has had this season.
Mercedes had hoped to offset the Red Bull strategy by running long, on a one-stop strategy, to leapfrog Hamilton ahead of Verstappen, but it didn’t quite pay off due to the Dutchman’s dominant pace.
However, Hamilton was reeling in Norris and Verstappen towards the end. As the Mercedes closed in, Norris defended well but eventually the advantages of the drag-reduction system (DRS) and fresher tyres would be too great, freeing Hamilton to hunt down Verstappen. With only a handful of laps remaining, Hamilton caught up to Verstappen, but there wasn’t enough time to attempt a move, giving the Red Bull driver yet another victory.
Meanwhile Ferrari once again appeared to have made the wrong strategy call, with pole sitter Leclerc dropping back down the field. Adding insult to injury, towards the end Ferrari instructed Leclerc to let teammate Sainz past.
And the drama didn’t end there, as both Leclerc’s and Hamilton’s cars failed scrutineering tests for plank wear underneath the cars, leading to their disqualification from the race. That promoted Norris to second and Sainz to third, while Logan Sargeant scored his first championship point for Williams.
The next race is the Mexico City Grand Prix on 29 October.
Mexico City GP report, October 29
The high-altitude, high-speed Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez provides one of the most energetic settings for any grand prix; its long straights, tight stadium section and passionate fans make it a perfect home for the F1 race in Mexico, writes Dave Humphreys.
The Mexico City Grand Prix doesn’t always throw up some big surprises, but a mixed qualifying session on Saturday provided a starting grid with some more potential for Sunday entertainment. The big shock was the early exit in Q1 for Lando Norris (McLaren), leaving him starting from 19th. Both Aston Martins also struggled, with Stroll starting from 18th and Alonso 13th — a significant drop in performance from where Aston Martin was in the early stages of the season.
Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) pulled out a great lap to take pole position, just ahead of his team mate Carlos Sainz, while Verstappen (Red Bull) could only manage third fastest. Another surprise was Daniel Ricciardo (AlphaTauri) nabbing 4th place on the grid, ahead of local driver Perez (Red Bull) and Hamilton (Mercedes).
The long run down to turn one saw Verstappen slip in between the Ferraris and then to the right of Leclerc, while Perez, benefitting from a slipstream moved to the outside of Leclerc as they headed towards the braking zone. A mixture of optimism and pressure to perform in front of his home crowd saw Perez then turn in on Leclerc, who had nowhere to go with Verstappen on his other side, and the pair collided, causing significant damage to Perez’s car and breaking the Ferrari’s front wing end plate.
Verstappen now leading, gained a further advantage by avoiding the melee at turn one, while Leclerc hung onto second position despite part of his front wing hanging off.
That end plate snapped off the car a couple of laps later triggering a brief virtual safety car while marshalls recovered the part from the track.
Despite some frantic repair efforts by the Red Bull team, the damage to Perez’s car was too severe to carry on, ending the Mexican driver’s home race.
Hamilton was now chasing down Ricciardo and passed on lap 11. Nine laps later Verstappen was the first of the leading pack to pit for new tyres, as Hamilton was now reeling in Sainz. Keen to get the advantage of an undercut, Hamilton pitted on lap 25.
Sainz opted to stay out and do a longer run but was passed quickly by Verstappen four laps later as the Dutch driver hunted down Leclerc who was seven seconds up the road.
A quick Ferrari pit stop on lap 31 saw Sainz rejoin in 4th, and one lap later Leclerc came in for fresh rubber, giving Verstappen the lead.
A big shunt for Magnussen (Haas) in turn 9 initially brought out the yellow flags and with a potential safety car imminent, Red Bull pitted Verstappen. However, the damage to the barrier was too severe and the race was red flagged at half distance. Magnussen made it out of the car unscathed.
As the lights went out for the second standing start, Verstappen made a solid start and led into the first corner as Hamilton pressured Leclerc. Norris, who had been making progress, had a poor start, losing several places.
As Verstappen pulled away, the battle between Leclerc and Hamilton heated up, and on lap 40 the Mercedes driver pulled out all the stops on the run down to the first corner, putting one wheel onto the dirt to pass.
Alonso retired from the race on lap 48, ending a poor weekend for him. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) was having a great race in the points until he came together with Oscar Piastri (McLaren), after numerous close passing attempts, spinning in the first corner and dropping well down the order, but escaping serious damage.
Norris was the faster of the two McLarens and the team switched him and Piastri’s order, to let him go after Ricciardo. On lap 61 Norris made the pass work with a beautiful move, and six laps later he also passed George Russell in the second McLaren, marking an incredible recovery drive.
In the closing laps, Lanec Stroll and Valtteri Bottas collided in the stadium section, ending Aston Martin’s dismal race weekend and landing the Alfa Romeo driver with a five-second penalty.
Verstappen sailed to another victory, breaking his own record for most wins in a season, and Hamilton nabbed the fastest lap on his way to second place, earning a valuable extra point as he targets beating Perez for second in the championship.
The next race is the Brazilian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace on 3-5 November.
Brazil GP, November 5
As the 2023 season nears its end, the final sprint weekend of the year was at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace, better known as Interlagos, writes Dave Humphreys.
Few races in the world bring in such an enthusiastic crowd as Brazil and the fans got value for money this weekend. The Saturday Sprint format continues to divide opinion, and even those within the sport are uncertain about how to improve the spectacle. However, the track at Interlagos consistently ranks highly in terms of the number of overtakes, and this weekend proved that the Sprint races can deliver really exciting entertainment for the crowds in place of the usual Qualifying.
That GP qualifying instead took place on Friday, but the session was cut short in Q3 when a severe storm rolled in, with thunder, lightning and torrential downpours. This resulted in a mixed grid for Sunday that, in a return to form from earlier in the season, saw the Aston Martins qualify third and fourth. But first, there was the final Sprint race of the year to tackle.
Throughout the earlier sessions, the McLaren looked fast. Lando Norris clinched pole position ahead of the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, followed by the Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
As the lights went out, Norris made a good start initially, but in the second phase, Verstappen reclaimed ground and slipped down the inside of the McLaren into the first corner, followed by Russell in the Mercedes.
Hamilton was also able to make a move on Perez, but on lap four, the Mexican driver cruised past Hamilton with some DRS assistance. One lap later, Norris took back second place from Russell, who was then overtaken by Perez three laps later, highlighting a lack of pace from the Mercedes.
Verstappen maintained a steady gap to Norris as the laps ticked down. On lap 21, Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) successfully overtook Hamilton, who seemed to be struggling with tyres, as Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) began closing in and soon made his move.
Ultimately, it was an easy win for Verstappen, Norris coming in four seconds behind with Perez in third place, picking up valuable points in his effort to secure second place in the Drivers’ Championship.
There was drama before the start of Sunday’s race as Leclerc spun out on the formation lap, damaging his Ferrari and ending his race before it even began. Hydraulic failure of the car, it transpired, was the cause. That gave Verstappen an easier run down to the first corner, but chaos further back resulting from a collision between Alex Albon (Williams) and the two Haas cars triggered a chain reaction that also damaged the cars of Daniel Ricciardo (AlphaTauri) and Oscar Piastri (McLaren), and brought out the red flag.
A lengthy wait as the barriers were rebuilt played into the hands of AlphaTauri and McLaren, who could both repair their cars in time for the restart.
The second standing start of the day was something of a repeat of Saturday, with Verstappen charging ahead of Norris while Hamilton chased them down with Alonso close behind. Perez and Russell battled for fifth and sixth places, but the Red Bull was the faster car, and this weekend Perez was determined to make a better impact than he did in his disastrous Mexican Grand Prix (see above).
Mercedes was the first of the front runners to pit on laps 19 and 20, with Perez following one lap later. Even on different tyres, the Mercedes cars didn’t appear to have the speed this weekend as they struggled to maintain position. Some feisty team radio chatter from Russell did little to ease the tension within the team. On lap 35, Sainz, in the sole remaining Ferrari, cruised by Russell and quickly did the same to Hamilton.
Norris was keeping Verstappen honest at the front, though he was unable to close in enough to take advantage of DRS. When pressured, Verstappen seemed to find extra pace without too much difficulty, suggesting he was able to run at 90 per cent and still cruise to victory.
Further down the field, what had looked like a promising weekend for Alfa Romeo on the strategy front turned into a double retirement with power unit issues.
Another round of pit stops did little to lift Mercedes’ pace, and on lap 58, Russell, running in 13th, was told to retire the car to avoid a mechanical failure. The Alpine of Gasly also overtook Hamilton, who could not extract any more performance from the car.
But the best action of the race came towards the end as Perez harried Alonso for the final podium position. It was a masterclass in defensive driving from Alonso until lap 70, when Perez managed to get ahead. Alonso wasn’t ready to give up and launched one final assault on the last lap, reclaiming the position thanks to some DRS assistance and careful deployment of his hybrid power in the final drag uphill towards the finish line. The Spaniard was just able to pip Perez to the finish, with only a 0.053-second gap separating them.
Further up the road, it was a relatively easy win for Verstappen and another well-deserved second place for Norris.
The next race, the penultimate of the year, is the Las Vegas Grand Prix on November 18.
Las Vegas GP, November 18
The penultimate round of the 2023 Formula One championship has been one of the most-hyped races in living memory, but would Las Vegas be an entertainment jackpot, writes Dave Humphreys.
Few sports are as strong at self-promotion as Formula One; even so, there hasn’t been a hype train quite like it since it announced its return to Las Vegas.
The disruption in building the street circuit caused consternation among locals, and in FP1, it proved just as unpopular with Ferrari. A dislodged water valve cover came loose nine minutes into the session, severely damaging Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari.
It prematurely ended the session and delayed the subsequent FP2 session so much that fans were forced to leave the track despite having tickets due to its delayed 2:30am start and insufficient staffing.
Ferrari would have to replace Sainz’s chassis, leading to a 10-place grid drop for the race before qualifying began.
The high-speed nature of the circuit, akin to Monza, suited some teams more than others.
Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) nabbed the pole ahead of Max Verstappen (Red Bull), followed by George Russell (Mercedes) and Pierre Gasly (Alpine). Both Williams made it through to Q3, with Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant qualifying 5th and 6th respectively.
Sainz was quick throughout the practice sessions but would start in 12th due to that grid penalty.
Once all the celebrities ranked from A to Z and other hangers-on were cleared from the grid, the low track temperatures and fresh tarmac were bound to contribute to some exciting racing.
Leclerc led the relatively short charge into turn one, but Verstappen once again pulled one of his now signature moves by running wide, forcing Leclerc off the track and moving himself up into the lead of the race.
Further back, a touch of over-enthusiasm saw Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) understeer into the first corner, spin and collect Valterri Bottas (Alfa Romeo), who sustained some damage in the incident.
Debris on the track resulted in a virtual safety car period. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) used this opportunity to make a strategic early pit stop. No sooner was racing underway when Lando Norris (McLaren) lost the back end of this car at the high speed turn 12, colliding with the wall and careering down the escape road in a shower of sparks. He was unhurt but was taken to the medical centre and, subsequently, the local hospital for checks.
The race stewards decided to punish Verstappen this time for his block pass on Leclerc at the start with a five-second penalty.
A stellar start from Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) saw him go from last to 10th. There was more great racing between the two Alpine and Williams cars as they tussled between 4th and 8th places. On lap 17, Leclerc had finally caught back up on Verstappen and made a successful pass before the Red Bull driver pitted and served his penalty.
Further back, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and Oscar Piastri (McLaren) made contact in one of the braking zones, resulting in both developing punctures, but the McLaren rookie could make it into the pits before passing the entry point. Hamilton had to do one further slow lap before pitting.
As the pit stops shook out, Perez was in 2nd place thanks to his early stop.
Another collision on lap 27 between Verstappen and Russell brought out the safety car as marshals cleared the debris. Both cars could continue, albeit with some light damage, and once the safety car went in, Piastri made a fantastic overtake on Gasly to move up to 3rd place.
At the front of the pack, Perez was now leading, with Leclerc trying to recover ground, having been disadvantaged by the earlier safety car. On lap 36, the Ferrari driver outbraked Perez to take the lead, and soon after, Verstappen, now back up to 3rd place, would also make a move on his teammate. One lap later, he made a similar move on Leclerc for the race’s lead.
Five laps hence, Leclerc ran too deep into one of the corners, allowing Perez to gain a position, putting the Ferrari driver again on the back foot.
As the laps ticked down, Leclerc faced a challenge to catch up to Perez, but gradually began to reel him in.
Further back, Russell progressed through the pack despite Mercedes having a poor weekend. Russell also received a five-second penalty and, having completed his pit stops, that time would be added to his race time. That prompted him to push harder to retain a decent finish.
Hulkenberg was the second race retiree and was soon joined by Tsunoda, who reported gearbox issues.
With two laps remaining, Leclerc was now cruising up on the back of Perez. Red Bull asked Verstappen to slow down to give Perez some aerodynamic help with a slipstream. It seemed enough, but then, at the end of the straight, Leclerc pulled off an impressive late-braking manoeuvre to dive inside Perez to reclaim second place, leaving the Mexican driver with no chance to fight back before the finish line.
It was yet another victory for Verstappen, and while there were some teething problems earlier in the weekend, Las Vegas delivered some exciting racing for fans.
The next race, and the final round of the championship, is the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit on 24-26 November.
Abu Dhabi GP, November 26
As the 2023 season drew to a close, there were still valuable constructors’ championship positions to be decided. The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi was once more the setting for the end-of-season showdown, writes Dave Humphreys.
No matter which side of the fence you sit on, any motorsport fan has to marvel at the sheer dominance that Red Bull and Max Verstappen have been able to produce throughout the 2023 season. The RB19 will go down as one of the greatest F1 cars of all time and in Abu Dhabi it was no real surprise when Max Verstappen put the car on pole position once more.
But all eyes were on the battles between Ferrari and Mercedes for second in the constructors’ championship, while Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) and Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) were tied on 200 points and battling it out for fourth in the drivers’ standings. Lando Norris (McLaren) and Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) found themselves just five and twelve points behind respectively, and keen to see if they could change the game in the showdown.
As the red lights went out one last time in 2023, Leclerc starting in second gave Verstappen a decent challenge into the first corner. However, it was clear that the Ferrari driver wasn’t willing to get too close to Verstappen and damage Ferrari’s chances of second place in the constructors’ championship. He was also fully aware that team-mate Sainz had a difficult qualifying and started the race in a lowly 16th. The Spaniard failed to make an impact early on, however.
Oscar Piastri and Norris in the McLarens were charging down Leclerc as George Russell (Mercedes) kept up in fifth.
By lap three, Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez passed Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) to move up to ninth place, as Norris overtook Piastri, who will have been briefed to help out his team-mate in the championship battle, for third.
Four laps later, Piastri was coming under pressure from Russell, who was keen to play his part to secure that crucial second place in the constructors’ championship for Mercedes. The rookie Australian driver wasn’t easily fazed by Russell, fending off several overtaking attempts, though by lap 11, the Mercedes driver managed to pull off a move.
A few laps later, Piastri made an early pit stop to cover the charge from Alonso, emerging from the pit lane just ahead of the Aston. A flurry of pit stops followed, including one for Norris who suffered a short delay that brought him out just behind Russell.
Out on track, Pierre Gasly misjudged a tight left-hander and Hamilton bumped his rear under braking, damaging the Mercedes’ front wing and the Alpine’s diffuser. Hamilton made a pit stop after but didn’t replace the wing.
Verstappen made his first pit stop on lap 17, soon followed by Leclerc, promoting Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) into the lead of the race. Although he was there due to not yet making a pit stop, it still marked only the second time that a Japanese driver has ever led an F1 race, and no doubt was a proud moment for AlphaTauri Team Principal Franz Tost, retiring at the end of this season.
As the race settled, Perez continued to make up positions, passing Piastri for fifth place on lap 28. Meanwhile, Russell had his thinking cap on and, over team radio, was working on a strategy to secure second place in the constructors’ championship.
On lap 48, Perez and Norris collided in the chicane at turn six, with Perez deemed by the stewards to have been at fault. The Mexican driver received a five-second time penalty and, as he had already completed his planned pit stops, the five seconds would be added at the end of the race.
That was positive news for Russell, who was closing down the gap, but in a surprising move, Leclerc, running in second place, radioed to the team that he could slow down to give Perez a slipstream to get past and help him build a gap to Russell. That could have helped to secure Ferrari second place in the championship, and in the dying stages of the race, the Ferrari slowed up to let the second Red Bull cruise by.
However, Leclerc did not attempt to block or slow a charging Russell, either, and that allowed Russell to close the gap to Perez to under five seconds. Leclerc still held onto second place on the podium, with Russell joining him and Verstappen, who crossed the line to clinch his 19th victory of the season, but Mercedes had done enough to secure that second place for the Mercedes team.
If Sainz had had a better weekend it might have been a different story, but in the end the Spaniard was running around out of the points, and the team brought him towards the end of the race for a DNF.
Ultimately, it was a phenomenal season for both Red Bull and Max Verstappen. He led set new records, leading more 1,000 race laps, winning 19 out of 22 races, scoring more points than any other driver in a season (575) and made 12 pole position starts. Red Bull’s phenomenal RB19 won all but one race.
The 2024 Formula One season will kick off with pre-season testing on 21 February and one week later racing will commence at the Sakhir Circuit in Bahrain from 29 February to 2 March.
Were there F1 Sprint races in 2023?
Sprint races made their debut during the 2021 season and until this year were races that determined the grid position for Sunday’s Grand Prix. However, in 2023 a different format was trialled (see below).
For 2023 the teams agreed to up the number of sprint locations to six, as follows.
- Azerbaijan GP, April 30
- Austrian GP, July 2
- Belgian GP, July 30
- Qatar GP, October 8
- United States GP, October 22
- Brazilian GP, November 5
F1 CEO and president Stefano Domenicali said: “The introduction of the F1 Sprint has created a race weekend that includes three days of competitive racing action and brings more entertainment to fans of the sport as well as additional value for key stakeholders including teams, broadcasters, partners, and host venues.”
How does Sprint Qualifying work?
The starting grid for the sprint race on Saturday used to be determined on Friday afternoon with the weekend’s sole three-session knockout qualifying session. The final order from the sprint race was then the grid for Sunday’s GP. However in 2023, things were different.
Drivers started the sprint race from grid positions set by its own condensed qualifying session on the Saturday morning — still three parts but with sessions lasting 12, 10 and eight minutes respectively, making them more frenetic as drivers scrabble to get their quick lap in.
Making it trickier, drivers could only use medium tyres in the first two sessions, and softs in the final session, and could only use a single new set of tyres per session.
Teams needed to make all their set-up changes before the Friday qualifying session; parc ferme rules stated that any settings made after that result in the car having to start both the sprint race and grand prix from the back of the grid.
At 62 miles long, sprint races were shorter than a normal 190-mile grand prix. Though the rules were almost the same, drivers did not have to pit for tyres.
Importantly, the sprint race was made an isolated event; the grid for Sunday’s GP is set by a separate full fat qualifying on the Friday. That was to try to encourage drivers to be a bit less cautious in the sprint race, knowing that they would still start from their Friday grid spot the following day, even after a disaster on Saturday.
However, penalties carried over so bad behaviour on or off-track could result in being pushed down the order for the start of the race on Sunday, and any damage meant the engineers had their work cut out to get the car ready again for the GP.
The top eight drivers received points for the sprint race: eight points for the win, seven for second, etc.
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