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The F1 2023 awards were dominated by Max Verstappen as his opponents failed to make an impact.

Top driver of the year

Max Verstappen could not be ignored, as he was relentless, nearly flawless, and impressively quick. His achievements speak for themselves, with records such as 19 wins out of 22 races, 21 podium finishes, a 10-race winning streak, and the first driver to lead over 1,000 laps in a season. These numbers alone do not fully capture Verstappen’s talent. He has shown himself to be a well-rounded driver, skillfully navigating an exceptional car with consistency and mastery. A comparison to his teammate Sergio Pérez, who drove the same car, highlights the difference in Verstappen’s performance. He had outstanding drives throughout the season, including a remarkable comeback from 15th to second place in Saudi Arabia, a win from ninth place in Miami (which likely broke Pérez, who had started from pole), and overcoming pressure and challenging conditions with a masterful drive at Zandvoort. While Verstappen’s dominance may have taken away some of the excitement at the front of the season, his performance cannot be criticized.

Team of the year

The midfield saw a notable resurgence for Aston Martin and McLaren, with both teams having impressive seasons. Aston stood out for their explosive start and for bringing a lively energy to Fernando Alonso. Meanwhile, McLaren’s journey from struggling in Bahrain to potentially winning races in the second half of the season was equally captivating. However, it is Red Bull that deserves recognition. Their RB19 was a remarkable car, supported by exceptional operational and strategic performance. While it is an advantage to have a clear pace advantage, they must not become complacent. They faced challenges at certain tracks, such as Monaco where Verstappen feared crashing during practice. Yet, they persevered and showed dominance on race day. Verstappen ultimately won in Monaco, solidifying Red Bull as the team to beat.

Red Bull’s pit lane engineers attend to Sergio Perez’s car in Las Vegas

Top race of the year

Singapore was a significant race for Red Bull, as it marked the end of their undefeated season due to Carlos Sainz’s victory. The Marina Bay track provided an exciting battle between drivers, showcasing the potential for close racing without Red Bull’s dominance. However, the real highlight was F1’s return to Las Vegas, which surpassed expectations with thrilling races and a stunning backdrop of the Strip. Despite a rocky start with a cancelled practice and safety concerns, the event was a success and solidified its place as F1’s premier US race. This raises the question of where the Miami GP fits in this new landscape.

The Las Vegas sky lights up after Max Verstappen’s victory

Return of the year

Following the initial race in Bahrain, McLaren faced a dauntingly long season with a sluggish car. The team publicly acknowledged their failure to meet their aerodynamic goals before the season began, and Lando Norris’ 17th place finish only added to their struggles. However, new team principal Andrea Stella remained composed and collected. Despite being sixth in the constructors’ standings and 137 points behind Aston Martin before the Austrian GP, McLaren received much-anticipated upgrades that significantly improved their performance. Suddenly, Norris and Oscar Piastri were competitive and achieved multiple podium finishes. They overtook Aston Martin for fourth in the championship and even posed a threat to Red Bull at times. This exciting turn of events has been captivating to witness, with more potential on the horizon. McLaren’s new wind tunnel and simulator are now operational, and CEO Zak Brown has high hopes for next season. He confidently stated that he would be disappointed if they were not competing for race wins at the top of the field.

Best overtake

The rejuvenated Fernando Alonso was a delight to observe, especially during his daring overtaking maneuvers. Right from the start, he displayed decisive and exhilarating driving. In Bahrain, he engaged in a thrilling battle with Lewis Hamilton, continuously exchanging positions before finally securing the lead at turn 10. This was just the first of many impressive passes that showed he has not lost his boldness. However, it was Charles Leclerc’s relentless efforts to tame his unruly Ferrari that truly stood out. In Japan, he made a daring move around the outside of George Russell at turn one, requiring both bravery and precise execution. And to top it off, in the final lap at Las Vegas, he pulled off a crucial move on Pérez, hurtling down the Strip at top speed. With immense determination, he made a late brake and dove onto the inside line at turn 14, skillfully navigating turns 15 and 16 to secure his position. His unwavering determination and spirited driving continued to impress long after Verstappen had secured victory.

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Charles Leclerc’s finishes ahead of Sergio Pérez at the Las Vegas GP

Biggest step up

Due to the limited testing in current F1, rookies face a tougher challenge than ever before. This was evident when Nyck de Vries was dropped after only 10 races by AlphaTauri. On the other hand, Oscar Piastri had a spectacular debut. Despite McLaren’s poor car performance at the start of the season, the 22-year-old Australian quickly adapted to difficult conditions. He remained focused and persevered until he had access to a better car, showcasing his true talent. Piastri’s victory in the Qatar sprint race was impressive, but more noteworthy was his ability to consistently compete with his more experienced teammate Norris on unfamiliar tracks. His race engineer, Tom Stallard, praised him for being both “calm and intense”, qualities that are sure to lead Piastri to success. He earned his first podium finishes in Japan and Qatar, displaying maturity beyond his years. If McLaren fulfills their potential this year, Piastri will undoubtedly be a formidable force in 2024, as part of one of the strongest driver lineups in the field.

Biggest disappointment

Although Verstappen had a dominant season, it cannot be ignored that he did not face any real challenges. His teammate Pérez, who initially showed promise with wins in Jeddah and Baku, ultimately disappointed with errors and poor qualifying performances. This left his season in shambles and raised doubts about his future with the team. To make matters worse, Mercedes and Ferrari were unable to put up a fight against Red Bull. Any optimism of a close competition quickly faded after the first race. Mercedes even admitted to making a mistake with their design after the first qualifying session in Bahrain. At Ferrari, it became clear that their car was fast in qualifying but struggled with tire management and lacked race pace. Even Red Bull was surprised by their competitors’ lackluster performances. Despite Red Bull halting development on their car, the gap between them and the other teams remained significant. Both Mercedes and Ferrari struggled to reach the finish line, making for unimpressive races. It is crucial for these teams to step up their game in order to improve the overall competitiveness of the sport.

Source: theguardian.com