Sports Commentary: What We Have Learned From the 2023 Formula 1 Season So Far

Sofia Strohmeier, Copy Editor

March 3 marked the commencement of the Formula 1 2023 season, introducing a brand new year of highly anticipated driver changes and additions, as well as unforeseen shifts in the grid order. 

Last year, for the second time in a row, Red Bull driver Max Verstappen won the driver’s championship alongside teammate Sergio Perez; the team claimed the Constructors’ Championship for the first time since 2013. 

This year’s grid had multiple driver additions. Three past Formula 2 drivers made their rookie appearances: 2021 F2 champion Oscar Piastri debuted for McLaren, Nyck de Vries for AlphaTauri and Logan Sargeant for Williams. Last year, de Vries made his F1 debut as a one-time replacement driver for Alexander Albon — who was ill at the time — in the Italian Grand Prix, where he finished in ninth place, surprising both the team and fans and creating high expectations for this year. Australian native Oscar Piastri served as Alpine’s reserve driver last season and replaced fellow Australian and McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo. Ricciardo did not manage to secure a seat for this season but now serves as the reserve driver for Red Bull. Sargeant, the first American driver since 2015, replaced Nicholas Latifi, who did not claim a seat this season either. Also unable to find a new team was former Haas driver and current Mercedes reserve driver Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher. Nico Hulkenberg took over Schumacher’s spot in Haas after three years out of F1. Four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel retired from the sport at the end of last year.

While most remained in the same seats as last season, many returning drivers switched teams. Leaving Alpine and replacing Vettel in Aston Martin is a two-time world champion and 41-year-old Fernando Alonso. Taking Alonso’s spot in Alpine is past AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly, who will race alongside Esteban Ocon, making it a double French lineup for the French team. 

As for the rest of the grid, they either kept their lineups or one driver from last year: Verstappen and Perez for Red Bull, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz for Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell for Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu for Alfa Romeo, Lando Norris for McLaren, Kevin Magnussen for Haas, Lance Stroll for Aston Martin, Yuki Tsunoda for AlphaTauri, Ocon for Alpine and Albon for Williams. 

From March 3-5, the first race weekend of the year took place in Bahrain. The season opener allows teams and spectators to determine what may happen throughout the course of the season. Verstappen took the first pole position — first place start — of the season, as well as the victory. His teammate, Perez, scored right behind him in second place. The Red Bull one-two finish established that the team’s dominance from the past two years remains strong. The most unexpected outcome of this race was Aston Martin, a team that lagged behind in the back of the grid with 55 total constructors points last year, now taking its second podium in history with Alonso in third. This served as a shock, as the team shifted their past struggles to a quick pace and higher grid positions. Moreover, the largest disappointment was McLaren, with Norris finishing 17th due to car problems and Piastri retiring from the race after facing electrical issues. Ocon was forced to retire with an overheated engine and three-time penalties totaling 20 seconds. Also unable to finish the race after losing power was Leclerc, the 2022 season runner-up. Leclerc had a powerful start to last year’s season, making him a strong contender for the championship win, but the Monegasque faced bad luck and poor guidance from the strategists in Ferrari. However, there is still hope for Ferrari in fighting for second place in the constructors’ standings this year. 

Two weeks later, from March 17-19 the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix took place. The same top three drivers from the previous race took the positions on the podium, except Perez took first and Verstappen stayed in second. Winning his second podium, Alonso has created high hopes for Aston Martin in placing as a highly competitive team — possibly fighting for their first race victory. In fourth and fifth placed Russell and Hamilton for Mercedes, who established a promising position in the podium fight. Mercedes, after a consecutive eight-year constructor’s dominance from 2014-2021, had only one victory last year; Russell won his first race in his first year for Mercedes in the São Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil. Hamilton, a seven-time world champion, has not had a victory since 2021, the season when he controversially lost the championship to Verstappen. Behind the two Mercedes were the two Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc, bringing forth hope for the team’s fans. 

Perhaps one of the most exciting and catastrophic races F1 has seen in a while, the Australian Grand Prix, took place from March 31-April 2. In the 58-lap race in Melbourne, three red flags were directed and eight drivers did not finish the race. On the first lap, a safety car was sent out after Leclerc ended up in the gravel. On lap seven, Albon spun off, triggering the first red flag. During the red flag, the cars that had not yet pitted strategically stopped for new tires without losing position, giving them an advantage. On lap 17, Russell’s car caught on fire, bringing out a virtual safety car until lap 19. Lap 54 faced major car damage for Magnussen, and a tire rubber left on the track caused another safety car and an eventual red flag in the following lap. After the race restart on lap 56, the third red flag came out after an incident involving Sargeant, de Vries, Gasly and Ocon — all drivers retired from the race. To finish the race, the directors decided to start the closing lap with the order preceding the incident. Verstappen took the victory, Hamilton took his first podium of the season in second place and Alonso placed third once again. Norris scored his first points of the year from sixth place and Piastri earned the first points of his F1 career from eighth, putting McLaren at number five in the constructors’ championship. 

The race calendar includes a total of 23 races. For the first time, F1 will host the Las Vegas Grand Prix — the third race venue in the United States, with the others being in Miami, Fla. and Austin, Texas. The French Grand Prix did not renew its contract for another year, and the Chinese Grand Prix was canceled due to strict COVID-19 restrictions in the country.  

With three races down, much has been determined concerning the top drivers and teams to follow, but anything can happen on the track.