It’s that time of year again – no, not the end-of-season review time, but mid-season review time. Red Bull has dominated but every team has its own stories to tell, so as factories go quiet for two weeks as part of a mandatory summer shutdown, tradition states I should take stock of where each team has done well in 2023, and where it needs to improve.
The good: Tough one this… Red Bull has put together the most dominant run ever seen with 12 straight wins to start the season and 13 dating back to Abu Dhabi last year. It’s the mix of everything that is so good – the car is excellent, but Max Verstappen is getting absolutely everything out of it, and the team just doesn’t slip up on execution or reliability. A genuinely stunning campaign being put together.
The bad: OK picking something bad actually is tough. But I’ll flag up the indifferent form of Sergio Perez as not ideal, with plenty of qualifying woes and a few errors hurting his chances in many races before the break. He was extremely strong in Jeddah and Baku though, and seemed to turn a corner recently, plus is still comfortably second in the drivers’ championship. So the biggest ‘bad’ is probably just the fact that dominance is boring.
The good: Consistency. That might seem odd given how congested the chasing pack is behind Red Bull, but Mercedes is the most consistent of the lot. Second quickest might fluctuate between four different teams, but only on three occasions has Mercedes failed to have a car in the top four. It’s regularly at least third quickest while the others move around more, and Lewis Hamilton is looking that bit more at home in this year’s car.
The bad: It is nowhere near the level of Red Bull and hasn’t looked like winning a race at any point so far. For a team with the resources and ability of Mercedes, that’s just not good enough.
Last year it could write off as getting it wrong once, but to slip even further back from Red Bull despite having the chance of completely redesigning its car – and failing to do so originally – is a major surprise.
The good: The fact that Aston Martin is third in this list; at the same time last year, it was ninth! And not only that, it was hard to find good points then, whereas there’s just so many now.
The car is a huge step forward, continuing its impressive development from last season, and in Fernando Alonso it has a driver who was superb in maximizing every opportunity at the start of the year. He hasn’t lost that ability either, but the car competitiveness has slipped back slightly.
The bad: The lack of development compared to rivals. Aston Martin spoke at the start of the year of having a new car that it had to learn about and that was opening up far more development routes, but then Mercedes and McLaren have both clearly outdeveloped it.
Lance Stroll’s deficit to Alonso is proving costly too, but then he did start the season with two broken wrists (also a bad thing).
The good: The fact that you’d say Charles Leclerc hasn’t had a great season so far and he’s still not totally out of the running for best of the rest behind the Red Bull drivers. Two podiums in the past four races are a good way to go into the summer break, and Ferrari does have a quick car in the right conditions. Before his retirement at Spa, Carlos Sainz was also being consistent enough to lead Leclerc in the standings.
The bad: This is Ferrari, and being fourth in the constructors’ championship is poor after being Red Bull’s closest challenger last year. The way it faded from contention in 2022 risked overshadowing a good step forward, but now is proving to be more of a trend. Strategy still doesn’t instill confidence either, and there have been some reliability issues too.
The good: The turnaround in form from the opening races to now has been remarkable. McLaren was really struggling in Bahrain with so many issues, but it solved them quickly enough to be right in the mix for fourth in the constructors’ championship. Lando Norris has continued his excellent form too, and updates seem to have brought the team a bit more consistency.
That was LAST YEAR’S entry, how spooky is that? Let’s be honest though, the turnaround is even more remarkable this time around, with McLaren struggling in a similar way early on but making huge strides with upgrades from Austria onwards. Now properly in the pack chasing Red Bull, it’s the biggest in-season step seen in a long time. Oh, and Oscar Piastri has been a revelation.
The bad: Maybe the fact that the season started so badly in the first place? I mean, the step forward is pretty stunning, but it’s also the result of McLaren knowing it had missed something big even before the car ran for the first time, and needing to make personnel and structure changes. It might have left itself too much to do to overhaul one of the four teams ahead.
The good: The car has potential. There were races early on where you could group Alpine with the Red Bull-chasing group, and Esteban Ocon picked up a very impressive podium in Monaco. Pierre Gasly has also settled in well and performed strongly, even if he hasn’t had the overall results to show for it.
The bad: All the off-track stuff. Sometimes the team hasn’t taken its opportunities or executed properly, but that’s not all that surprising given the turmoil taking place behind the scenes. There’s no clear direction from the top, and now there’s nobody permanently in charge of the day-to-day running of the team following Otmar Szafnauer’s departure.
The power unit is also flagged as a weakness, so after finishing fourth last season, sixth appears the best it can hope for this time around.
The good: This is a far more competitive Williams under new leadership in the form of James Vowles. The new team principal can’t take credit for the car, but he can for the feeling that Williams is building something and the addition of Pat Fry only added to that impression ahead of the summer break.
In Alex Albon it has a driver that will take opportunities and has delivered some standout drives – they’re all his points that have Williams up in seventh place.
The bad: Perhaps for the first time, Williams was uncompetitive when it expected to be competitive at Spa-Francorchamps, that suggests the car isn’t easy to get into its ideal working window.
It’s a bit harsh to put Logan Sargeant in here as he’s shown flashes of his potential as a rookie, but you feel he does need to pick up a big result for his own confidence, and a point or two if Williams is to hold onto that P7.
The good: The raw pace of the car is very good, with Haas reaching Q3 with at least one car in seven of the 12 races so far this season. And six of those have been for Nico Hulkenberg, who appears to be an even stronger driver since returning after a few years out, fitting seamlessly into the Haas set-up and ensuring the team knows its issues are not the drivers.
The bad: The race pace of the car is very bad. Well, the tire usage is, meaning that while it switches its tires on quickly for one flying lap in qualifying, it all falls apart come high fuel long runs.
It’s not just a case of slipping out of the points from promising grid slots, but slipping to the very back of the field with alarming regularity. It also just seems to lack the growth plan of some of its rivals, and that could be a concern in future seasons.
The good: Audi is coming, and Andreas Seidl was a good hire to partly replace the outgoing Fred Vasseur. Can you tell I’m struggling a bit here?
Zhou Guanyu’s development has continued and there have been some eye-catching race weekends for him, keeping Valtteri Bottas on his toes this year. And the team isn’t last.
The bad: Alfa Romeo has really slipped a long way from where it started 2022, as other teams have got on top of these technical regulations. The car just seems to lack the pace to be a contender for points on most occasions, and raw speed is also lacking as it has managed to reach Q3 on just three occasions this season so far.
The good: Yuki Tsunoda has definitely evolved and progressed as a driver, marking himself out as the team leader for the first part of the season despite the team expecting more from Nyck de Vries. In getting Daniel Ricciardo back at the Hungaroring, the two races since have hinted at a stronger overall line-up and certainly a more marketable one that brings interest despite the team’s form.
The bad: Ah yes, about that form… Three points from three P10 finishes are all AlphaTauri has to show from the year so far. The car is the poorest on the grid, and has actually felt like it’s getting less competitive – prior to Spa at least – after Tsunoda started the season finishing either 10th or 11th in the first five rounds (and then 12th in the next two).