It’s that time of year again. Welcome back to Season Review Season here on Motorsport101. I’m your boy Dre Harrison, and this is my favourite time to reflect on the best, worst, and everything in-between for everything in 2023 the major series. IndyCar’s been and gone; now it’s F1’s turn to get a closer inspection.
If you’re a regular here, you kind of know the drill. Reverse Championship Order, three-parter with key stats, highlights, lowlights, prospects for 2024, grades, and as a combined feature, if a driver is in my Top 10 of the year, I’ll mention that too, bringing together another one of my yearly traditions!
The Schedule will go as follows:
Part 1 – Haas, Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri, Williams
Part 2 – Alpine, Aston Martin, McLaren
Part 3 – Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull + Closing Statements
Right, without further ado, let’s get into the fight for seventh, and the weirdness that is, Haas.
Constructor Position – 10th (12 Points)
Head-To-Head – Hulkenberg 15-7 In Qualifying, 13-7 in Races
Highest Finish – 7th (Australia)
Season In A Nutshell: Fundamentally Flawed
I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a funny stat so I’ll say it one more time – No team has ever scored 12 points in a season and still finished last in the Constructors. It’s so Haas it’s frightening.
It’s amazing how certain moments can define a season. For Haas, it was probably that crazy race in Australia. If it wasn’t for Pierre Gasly’s kamikaze rejoin before Red Flag #3 that weekend, Haas and Nico Hulkenberg likely have their first-ever podium finish, P4 at worst. Instead, that record-breaking race had to have Haas settle for seventh when the extra points would have likely taken them off the bottom and challenged Williams and AlphaTauri. No wonder Haas lodged their first of two major protests that season.
It sums up Haas’ frustrating year. Another season where you think: “Okay, maybe this time they get back to being the Top 5 challengers they so often promise to be”, only to be kicked in the junk again. Eleven times they had a car in Q3 this year, with Hulkenberg getting eight of those himself. I think they had a genuine top-five car on Ultimate Pace.
But the story repeated itself so many times, that their tyre wear let them down in race trim. So often they would start on row four or five, and end the day between fourteenth and sixteenth as more stable cars would pass them by, or be forced to pit early. Only in Austria’s sprint, their true best finish of the year in sixth, did that play into their hands when conditions changed. When they could only run the Mediums in Brazil’s sprint while the rest of the field was on Softs, it said it all about their car.
This was the first season they spent up to the cost cap limit, and there was little to show for it. They got relatively worse as the season went on, and one of their biggest ever in-season upgrade packages didn’t work, with Hulkenberg reverting to the old spec by season’s end as a “hail mary” to find some pace. Haas at this point feels like the Philadelphia 76ers’ during the Hinkie era, where they keep tanking to try and gather assets for a big push, while the audience and fans eventually get fed up with them losing all the time.
I’ve seen calls for Guenther Steiner’s head. That won’t be happening. He’s like Christian Horner at Red Bull, it’s his team in all but name, with Gene Haas signing the cheques. I know he’s doing his best with only 250 employees roughly in the trenches (For perspective, Williams has 900), but I do wonder just how sustainable all of this is, with this being their fifth straight season in the bottom three. At least, one key move they made this season worked out… 2/10
Kevin Magnussen – 19th In Points (2), 3 Top 10’s, Best Finish – 10th (x3), Average Finish – 15.6
Oh dear. This wasn’t the plan. K-Mag was meant to be part of the furniture. The safe pick. The banker. And this was probably his worst season in F1. Normally, he hits hard when the car performs well and leans on that result for most of the season. This time around, it never came. He did crack the points more than Hulk did (3-2), but you expect K-Mag to peak higher than tenth. His average finish this year was only .2 better than Logan Sargeant’s.
I put this energy out here at mid-season when I suspected Haas might have gotten rid of the wrong man at the end of last season. He’s popular and beloved in that camp, but Hulkenberg’s come in and outclassed him. Guenther himself admitted in his book that Mick beat him on race finishes last year and now Hulk’s done the same. Two different drivers, two different ends of the spectrum, have shown more promise than K-Mag has the last two seasons. Is the man coasting knowing in 2022, Guenther needed him more than K-Mag needed Gunth? I genuinely think there’s more of an argument to move on from him, than the field’s American we’ll get into in a bit. – 3/10
Nico Hulkenberg – 16th In Points (9), 1 Top 10, Best Finish – 7th, Average Finish – 14.5
God bless him, Hulk is a trier. Always has been. Came in for his first full-time F1 gig and he’s become a defacto leader and has genuinely impressed me. The speed is still there, making Q3 eight times and punching above his weight in Average Starts at a 12.2 Average (Better than Albon, Stroll and Tsunoda). And he was consistently better than Magnussen, averaging a position more over the season, and hitting hard when he had the opportunity, finishing 7th and dicing with the bad McLarens in Australia and turning their weakness into a strength in the changeable-conditions sprint in Austria.
And you know what I like about Hulk? I won’t say he’s being 100% genuine as I think he was angling for an Alfa Romeo seat towards the end of the season, but I like the fact he couldn’t hide his frustration and was pushing to see if he could find ways to improve towards the end of the season. A sense of urgency and not wanting to rest on his laurels.
Guenther ultimately made half of the right call. The experienced driver came through. Both drivers will be back next year. And I fear it’s going to need BOTH drivers on point to get them off the bottom. Fun Fact: Hulk was one of the honourable mentions I had for the Top 10. 7/10
Constructor Position – 9th (16 Points)
Head-To-Head Stats – Bottas 16-6 In Qualifying, 12-9 In Races
Highest Finish – 8th (x2, Qatar and Bahrain)
Season In A Nutshell: Participation Trophy Winners
In my time hosting the WTF1 Wrap, I joked all season long that Alfa Romeo was the “participation trophy” team on the F1 grid. Were they ever the outright worst? Nah. Were they ever good enough to have faith in them for long periods of time? Nah. Did they do much to pop a headline? Only briefly. That was Alfa Romeo this season and for most of 2023, they were just “there”.
They started the season reasonably well with points finishes in four of the first eight races, but the bulk of their points came when they used an early Safety Car to finish 8th and 9th in the extended Qatar Sprint Race. That was six of their sixteen points. They didn’t score again in 2023, and by the end of the season, they felt like they were becoming the field’s truly worst team. Must have been the Vegas livery.
There were also blown chances. Zhou Guanyu qualified fifth in Hungary and had his start ruined by his car getting electrical gremlins on the grid, which led to his overreaction into Turn 1 and compromising four people’s races. Valtteri qualified eighth in Vegas and then got collected by Alonso’s Turn 1 spin. They’ve been unlucky at times, but I don’t think even at their most optimum they’re finishing higher than they did. Must have been the Vegas livery.
And with that murkiness of a car that’s slow, not special in any major aspect and with drivers that don’t move the needle, it makes me wonder just what this team can do. Andreas Seidl is one of the best team principals in the business and was excellent at McLaren, but I wonder how much influence he now has as CEO. Is there more to extract from the drivers? Is Theo Pourchaire not good enough for you? If not, who? And it’s a bit eyeball-raising that Audi has been so quiet behind the scenes that people genuinely thought for a hot minute they were pulling the plug.
Sauber is still Sauber. And they need help, fast. I said it at the mid-season point, and I will again – 2026 can’t come soon enough. Fred Vasseur got them into a decent position and they’ve been unable to maintain it. 3/10
Valtteri Bottas – 15th In Points (10), 4 Top 10’s, Best Finish – 8th (x2), Average Finish – 14
If Val has a lucky number, it’s probably 14. That was his average start and finishing spot, which is a great metaphor for the team in general. Just stayed slightly below the points for most of the season and finished up roughly where they started.
Bottas was still largely fine. When the car was good, he’d get you in the points. When it wasn’t, it never felt like he was punching above his weight. His qualifying pace was decent, but again, nothing special. He’s had his fair share of bad luck, especially at Turn 1’s this season, with damaged floors in multiple races like Saudi Arabia, and the previously mentioned Vegas.
But that’s what makes evaluating Bottas so weird. He just doesn’t stand out as a driver to the point where I want to give him the total benefit of the doubt. Where does his leadership stop, and Alfa’s start? Would Hulkenberg be better here at the team where the German shined brightest? And as said at mid-season, shouldn’t a 10-time race winner be handling Zhou a bit more convincingly? I don’t like the amount of unanswered questions Bottas is generating here. 5/10
Zhou Guanyu – 18th In Points (6), 3 Top 10’s, Best Finish – 9th (x3), Average Finish – 14
No, I’m not joking, both Alfa’s average finish this season was 14th. Zhou’s qualifying was poor though, 18th on the board, with only De Vries and Sargeant worse on the year, only making Q3 twice all season. Bit stronger in race-trim though, so there’s a little bit of improvement that I think is worth acknowledging, especially closing the gap to Val a bit. 12-9 against a man far more experienced H2H in races is respectable.
But the other half of me is thinking: “Is this it?”. Zhou got the nod here over Antonio Giovinazzi and Theo Pourchaire. He’s earned an extension for 2024, again over Pourchaire, who just won the F2 title. He’s being backed, but what’s the ceiling on Zhou? Can he lead this team in the future? Is he just going to be another guy who bides his time until someone better comes along? Again, I think Logan Sargeant has become F1’s whipping boy for 2023, but why aren’t more people asking similar questions about Zhou? He’s one of the coolest people in F1, but it’s not for what he’s doing on track. 4.5/10
Constructor Position – 8th (25 Points)
Head-To-Head Stats – Tsunoda up 8-2 Against De Vries (Both), 4-3 on Ricciardo (Both), Lawson 3-1 in Races, Tsunoda 3-2 In Qualifying
Highest Finish – 7th (Mexico)
Season In A Nutshell – Woken Up Have You?
Feels like the end of an era at AlphaTauri. The name is going for good at the end of the year, and after 23 years in F1 (18 as Toro Rosso team principal), Franz Tost leaves the sport. A man who helped nurture Red Bull’s two greatest drivers and Top 10 all-timers Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, as well as Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly and many, many more.
Franz never got this team into the Top 5 as much as he tried, but he left the sport turning Minardi into multiple race winners, and a staple part of the sport we love, as well as sixth overall three times. Not a bad legacy to leave behind, but still a big task for former Ferrari sporting director Laurent Meikes to embrace, or for Peter Bayer, incoming CEO.
AlphaTauri’s final season as we know them was messy. They were the worst team in F1 for the first half of the season, with just two points to their name, and Nyck De Vries culled after just 10 races. That seemed to wake up the big bosses, likely embarrassed the energy drink sellers were managing the best and worst team in F1 at the same time. Remember, there were heavy rumours they were about to move or be sold to start the season. No team brought more upgrades across 2023 than they did, with a renewed focus on leaning into Red Bull’s concepts, and a big floor upgrade towards the end of the year that showed very promising results. By season’s end, AlphaTauri had cars in the points in four out of the last five. This is where they should have been all year.
And there’s still this wave of uncertainty about both them and the senior team, with four drivers in patchy form, with three seats available in the umbrella. Tsunoda and Ricciardo are back for 2024, with Lawson in reserve and Sergio Perez surviving the talks of a culling. Is this their best lineup? Sacking De Vries proved to be the right decision. The next one could define them if they plan to take full advantage and lean into their factory team’s dominance. And just what the hell are you calling this team next year, anyway? 5/10
Yuki Tsunoda – 14th In Points (17), 6 Top 10’s, Best Finish – 8th (+FL, Austin), Average Finish – 13.6
Yuki is another driver whose season is tough to evaluate. AlphaTauri wanted him to step up and lead the team going into 2024. It’s hard to argue he didn’t hold up his end of the deal, finishing 11th or 10th in the first six races, and he was unlucky not to add another 8th in Spain due to a questionable stewards call on passing Zhou. But this was against Nyck De Vries, who while harshly sacked, made Tsunoda look worse almost by proxy. I’ll go into more detail about this with the second seat, but that rotating situation makes it hard to tell if Tsunoda has truly taken a step, or whether he needs another year to see if he’s truly made gains.
I’m inclined to believe it. Regardless of opposition, I think Yuki HAS taken that step. He’s far more consistent, and his runs to open and close out the season were excellent, even if his Piastri error at Mexico might have been the kicker that stopped them from finishing seventh overall. Most drivers don’t get four years in the AlphaTauri setup though, so he needs to smash Ricciardo in 2024 to make a compelling argument for a Red Bull seat or else he’ll likely be moved on. 7/10 (Another Top 10 Honorable Mention)
The Second Seat:
Nyck De Vries – 22nd In Points (0), Best Finish – 12th, Average Finish – 15.9 (10 Races)
Daniel Ricciardo – 17th In Points (7), 1 Top 10, Best Finish – 7th, Average Finish – 12.7 (7 Races)
Liam Lawson – 20th In Points (2), 1 Top 10, Best Finish – 9th, Average Finish – 12.2 (5 Races)
And here’s where things get messy. Nyck De Vries was significantly worse than the people who eventually replaced him and there’s no getting around that. I stand by my mid-season report that it was a harsh sacking, but if you never truly believed in him to the point where culling him seemed viable after 10 races, why did you even bother hiring him to begin with? This screamed like a speculative punt out of frustration you didn’t get Colton Herta, and the heightened expectations of being 2021’s Formula E World Champion likely didn’t help matters.
Daniel Ricciardo’s return has been… inconclusive. Mostly because his return has been completely derailed by elements outside of his control. The broken metacarpal he suffered during Zandvoort left him with only seven races he took part in instead of 12. Not to mention damage to his car in Austin and rear wing damage putting him a lap down in Brazil before he’d even started. Amongst the rest, he’s been… fine.
Brilliant in Mexico, so-so elsewhere. Just one problem. If he wants a viable argument to end up at Red Bull in 2025, he needs to be spearheading the team right now and so far, he hasn’t done that. Remember, this team has considered moving on from Yuki multiple times by now and Ricciardo breaking even isn’t going to change anyone’s minds. A full off-season, then a full season against Tsunoda will be the smoking gun. The loser of that fight might end up leaving town for Liam Lawson.
Lawson came through in awful circumstances. Emergency replacement in Zandvoort, he brought the car home safely in 13th position. Then came an excellent run of 11th in Monza, 9th in Singapore, beating Tsunoda on home soil before a shitty Qatar to close his cameo. How conclusive is a five-race sample size? Not very, especially when Tsunoda’s Italy and Singapore were ruined, but it is an eyebrow-raiser.
Enough to keep him in the frame and dangle some jeopardy into their 2024 seats. Lawson has certainly got an argument, and the next team is probably too good for Lawson to now be used against them as direct competition. But he certainly made an impact. It’s a fascinating driver conundrum that Red Bull has the luxury to take its time in solving. De Vries – 2/10, Ricciardo – 6.5/10, Lawson – 7/10
Constructor Position – 7th
Head-To-Head Stats – Albon 22-0 in Qualifying, 19-3 In Races
Highest Finish – 7th (Canada, Monza)
Season In A Nutshell: The Hope Is Real
There were so many ways this could have gone wrong for Williams in 2023. James Vowles was a 20-year veteran of Brackley and was thrust into the toughest team principal gig in F1 to try and lift a team that’s spent the last half-decade basically at the bottom and who nearly didn’t make it out of the pandemic. He had no technical director, he didn’t even start the job until January and Logan Sargeant was green as grass. Within a month, Alex Albon was running sixth in Australia before he spun into the gravel trap.
Vowles has done a remarkable job of lighting the touchpaper at a team that’s been desperate for some degree of good news. He was honest, openly admitting they had facilities 20 years out of date, not having an automated system for parts on their car, and were able to convince key technical staff like Pat Fry over from Alpine. He’s getting people to believe in his direction and that’s a really promising sign going forward.
Now, before I wax lyrical about them too much, there are a couple of late-season concerns. This team ran out of gas down the stretch, non-scoring the last seven weekends. AlphaTauri on paper has a better car than they do now and they were fortunate to hold onto seventh place by years end. And you’re going to have to do well convince me Logan Sargeant is a better hire than Mick Schumacher, a push for Liam Lawson or an established veteran. Backing a driver with one point in 2023 is risky when the stakes will be higher next year. But there is genuine reason to be optimistic about Williams again. And when was the last time we could realistically say that? 8/10
As a part of my WTF1 life, I had to listen to Jake Humphrey’s High Performance Podcast. (You all owe me money). Their most recent guest was Alex Albon, and he spoke at length about his time at Red Bull. Remember, he was thrust into a nearly impossible role after just 12 career races.
“Yeah, you’ve barely debuted in F1 and have come up in the shadow of Russell and Norris, you’re about 50-50 against an experienced veteran in Danill Kvyat whose confidence we broke by demoting him for no good reason, so go off and match a generational talent we’ve gone all-in on like a drunken man at the Poker table on his last 100 bucks.”
Is it any surprise that it didn’t work out? Albon was lucky to get a second chance in F1. So many don’t. But he’s embraced this Williams team and he’s been rewarded with what was for me, a breakout season.
Albon put this team on his back. 27 points, seven times in the Top 10, including hero drives in Canada and Italy where he refused to be beaten by stronger machinery behind him. He has become the leader of this team, grown in maturity as a driver and is now metaphorically asking questions as to why Williams isn’t trying to get a second driver who can back him up. This could be a critical weakness in this team in 2024. It could have been even better for Alex when he was running sixth in Australia before that spin. If he was in the cycle of chaos that race turned into, it could have been that finishing spot or even higher for him. But it’s a blip on an otherwise excellent season.
Two years ago, many thought Alex Albon wasn’t good enough to be in this sport. Anyone still thinking that now is likely kidding themselves. For me, the breakout star of 2023. 8.5/10
Logan Sargeant – 21st In Points (1), 1 Top 10, Best Finish – 10th, Average Finish – 15.8
As I’ve alluded to, this is going to be the stickler for a lot of people and maybe Vowles’ most questionable decision since taking over.
Some say that it’s rookie teething problems that are normal and to be expected. Others have said he was flat-out terrible and that he should have been one-and-done. Like with many extremes in life, I think the reality was somewhere in the middle. Yeah, he probably shouldn’t have been swept over a lap, but I think anyone expecting him to walk in and immediately challenge Alex Albon with team experience was kidding themselves.
But this is how F1 is now. You’ve got to walk in great or you’re immediately under pressure because we’ve now convinced ourselves that the pinnacle of Motorsport is having THE 20 best drivers in the world in F1, when it’s never been that, and F2 has never been less of a meritocracy. Look, Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda are walking proof that time and patience CAN be beneficial. Both took steps forward this season, even if they were small.
Look, I’m going on a tangent here. Sargeant wasn’t great this year. He had the worst average start and finish of any full-timer this season. He led the series in crash damage after that massive Japan wreck cracked a tub and forced him into a pit-lane start and 10-second penalty via a rare quirk in the rules about “having a third car prepared”. He qualified stone-dead last on eight occasions, including three out of the last five around that Vegas Q3 appearance. There are valid reasons to move on from Sargeant here, I admit.
But I also think there’s enough here to give him one more year to see if he can improve. Part of that is down to the environment. Mick Schumacher was about the one semi-realistic name that was available due to their Mercedes affiliation, and it seems that Mick wasn’t even considered. Liam Lawson was talked about, but I’d be shocked if Red Bull would loan out a driver that could be used against their second team, which if the end of the season was anything to by, would likely be a direct competitor. It leans into the nature of what F1 academies are these days, talent hoarding.
Maybe Williams could have gone more aggressive and tried to poach a veteran like bringing Valtteri Bottas back, but is the team intriguing enough to make that kind of push? And of all the available F2 drivers, is any more enticing than what Sargeant was to do this all over again? With a likely sweepstake coming next year for Andrea Kimi Antonelli or maybe Oli Bearman, at this point Jack Doohan or Felipe Drugovich aren’t sexy.
Is Sargeant good enough for F1? Leaning towards no, but you could probably talk me into giving him a second year to make sure of that. There have been multiple races like Bahrain, COTA, Qatar (pre-illness) and Austria where over a race, Sargeant can hang reasonably close to Albon and I think that’s worth something.
But an honest question – We knew going in that Sargeant was at best a second-tier rookie (ie, not a Piastri or Russell), walking into a team that Albon had already made his own. Kevin Magnussen, who has had eight full seasons in F1 and has been outperformed by two different teammates in two years hasn’t had anywhere near the same level of criticism. Why? 3/10
In Part 2, I look at the mess and no-mans-land that was Alpine, the confusion of Aston Martin’s improved 2024, and quite possibly F1’s greatest mid-season turnaround at McLaren. See you then!