Dre’s F1 2023 Season Review – Part 2 (Alpine, Aston Martin, McLaren)

In Part 2 of Dre’s F1 2023 Season Review, an Alpine team that was a mess just about everywhere, what could have been for Aston Martin, and McLaren’s incredible in-season turnaround!

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Read time: 15 mins

And welcome to Part 2 of my F1 2023 Season Review, and welcome to what I call the Chaos section. In it, we talk about the no-mans-land of Alpine as they competed against… themselves. Aston Martin and a tale of two seasons. And McLaren… and a tale of two seasons. Hmm.

If you missed Part 1 on Haas, Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri and Williams, scroll to the bottom of the page or click here! See you on the other side!

Constructor Position – 6th (120 Points)
Head-To-Head Stats – 14-8 Gasly in Qualifying, Ocon 10-9 in Races
Highest Finish – 3rd (Monaco, Zandvoort)
Season In A Nutshell: “False Start… Everyone But The Drivers.”

No, I’m serious. Give it some thought. What about Alpine’s 2023 went well? Pierre Gasly was good?

This team was arguably the biggest mess on the grid. And this was a grid that had AlphaTauri in it. Everyone thought that this was going to be the driver blow-up team after Ocon and Gasly had the tea spilled that they didn’t like each other on the Interwebs. They aren’t sending each other hampers (Japan put pay to that), but it did  And the drivers were the smallest part of the problem here, and that was after Gasly speared Ocon in Albert Park like his middle name was “Goldberg”. 

By Miami, now-former CEO Laurent Rossi had already torched the team for underperforming just a quarter of the way into his infamous 100-race plan (Like the 5-year plan, but French!), Otmar Szefnauer was bickering back, in a blatant “too many cooks” situation, then Gasly’s car declared a new Pope in Baku. Even with their brilliant podium in Monaco by Ocon, by mid-season the situation became untenable. 

Alpine’s casualty list in just the last two years and change is outrageous. Budkowski, gone. Rossi, moved to special projects. Szefnauer gone, Alan Permane, a 30+ year veteran of the team, gone. Prost, gone. Fry, gone. Alonso and Piastri, gone in embarrassing circumstances. I’ve barely even mentioned the alleged 35 horsepower deficit with their power units, the poor reliability and the fact they’ve already sold a quarter of the “project” (Interim team boss Bruno Famin’s favourite word) off to raise another $200m. 

Guys, is it a good sign when Alain Prost described Rossi as a version of the Dunning-Kruger effect?

Alpine got left behind in 2023 and despite some flashes of brilliance, they feel like a completely rudderless team right now. They dropped off the midfield fight completely as everyone else, even Aston Martin, left them for dead. They’re now in this no-mans-land of P6 and I don’t think there’s any obvious way they can improve. There’s still an engine freeze in effect, their chassis is genuinely good and can lift them into results on a good day but how much more is there for them development-wise? And how good can you be if you’re rotating through staff like I change underwear?

I don’t have a good answer for you on this. The concerning part is that I don’t think they do either. At least the drivers were good. As Otmar said on the way out: “You can’t get nine women pregnant and hope you have a baby in a month.4/10

Okay, I’m going to put the drivers together here, and you’ll see why in a minute…

Pierre Gasly – 11th in Points (62), 1 Podium, 10 Top 10’s, Best Finish – 3rd, Average Finish – 10.7
Esteban Ocon – 12th In Points (58), 1 Podium, 12 Top 10’s, Best Finish – 3rd, Average Finish – 11.9

Why does this keep happening? Twice in the last three years trying to dissect Alpine’s drivers in a Top 10 has given me a headache. I think these two were incredibly close across the whole season. So much so that I’m not making it obvious which one is in which spot. Yet. 

It is no coincidence that I found them hard to separate, as both men I feel had very similar seasons. Both had outstanding peaks. Esteban Ocon was only two-tenths off of pole in Monaco and could have dictated the terms for a second win. Still, a podium to stop the public fallout between Szefnauer and Rossi couldn’t have come at a better time. Same for Pierre Gasly in Zandvoort who kept a cool head in the chaos and went from 12th to third. Had a great Sprint podium in Belgium too.

Both had their moments of silliness. Esteban tied, then broke the record for most driving penalties in a Grand Prix this season, with four in Bahrain for missing his grid box, not having his team serve the penalty in the pits properly, then speeding in the pitlane, only to follow it up with FIVE in Austria, including 30 seconds of track limits penalties. Pierre had the kamikaze Australian GP rejoin. (If anything, the fact he hit his teammate probably had him avoid a race ban, because the stewards generally call teammate clashes as a wash). And I remember Spain when he got two blocking penalties in the same session, killing a brilliant 4th in qualifying by actually starting 10th.

Gasly’s qualifying was very good, being able to translate some of that speed at AlphaTauri in a brand-new setup, which is impressive. But I also think the point totals flatter him a bit because Esteban failed to make the flag seven times this season, more than anyone in the league, with Ocon better in race trim anyway. Gasly seemed to just inch in front towards the end of the year in terms of pace too. 

Okay, I’ll give Gasly the nod. By a nose. But honestly, this was so close, if you had it the other way, I wouldn’t blame you. Both Drivers – 7.5/10

Constructor Position – 5th (280 Points)
Head-To-Head Stats: Alonso Up 19-3 In Qualifying, 17-4 In Races
Highest Finish – 2nd (x3)
Season In A Nutshell: The season doesn’t finish in September

Remember in Part 1 how I talked about flashpoints that can define a season? Aston Martin’s came almost straight away. Everyone kinda knew that Red Bull was going to be on top the moment the RB19 rolled off the truck, but didn’t want to admit it. But Aston Martin was the story of pre-season testing. Given they ended last season seventh and scrapped for minor points, the fact some pundits were talking about podiums was startling. But there’s always that niggling back-of-the-head thought of: “…But it’s testing.” Stroll breaking his wrists while training for the Tour De France didn’t help either.

It wasn’t until the middle of Bahrain’s actual GP. Fernando Alonso at the tender age of 41, sends one down the inside of Lewis Hamilton, arguably the best driver on the planet, in a customer car at Turn 10. One of the most difficult corners on the whole calendar. He then drove off and snagged a podium when Leclerc’s Ferrari had an electronics failure. Aston Martin had arrived. And we thought the rest was history. 

A salute to Dan Fallows and the aero expertise he got from being a Newey apprentice at Red Bull. The AMR23 was the show-stealer of the first half of the season. Fernando Alonso clicked immediately with it and gave the factory Mercedes a bloody nose. Six podiums in the first eight races, and that Monaco weekend. Alonso had arguably two shots at the win, only beaten by a miraculous final sector in the most important Quali session of the year, only for his team to go with the wrong tyres as the rain came down. The first Alonso win for a decade just slipped through the fingers, but a testament to the progress of the team. Wins were on the table.

But then as the season headed to the summer break, the vibes started to fade. Spain was deemed a blip, Alonso promising he wouldn’t be off the podium again after damaging his floor in qualifying. Then Silverstone unleashed the McLaren upgrade package, and all of a sudden, a different Mercedes customer started stealing the column inches. Hungary, a round Alonso thought they had a shot of winning, he limped home in ninth, 75 seconds off the win. Y’know, Max Verstappen’s biggest seal-clubbing of the season.  

It exposed Aston Martin’s biggest problem – They fundamentally didn’t understand their new weapon. And it was realised far too late to stop the bleeding as McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari all found their footing with the 2023 regulations in the back half of the year. Aston never had the resources to truly keep up with the sport’s biggest hitters, but it is startling that the moment they started reverting their upgrades around Austin, they looked like they could get on the podium again, which Alonso did at Brazil, holding off Sergio Perez to do it. Even Lance Stroll had his strongest drives of 2023 down the stretch in Brazil and Vegas.

The heightened expectations of their reboot almost came along too quickly. Their new main building was still getting a final lick of paint when they launched the car. Their new wind tunnel is still months away and it could be longer before they can fully utilise it like McLaren did earlier this year. 

A better driver in the other seat and Aston Martin is comfortably fourth. A better understanding of their car, and they’re in the mix for second. It turns an outstanding season into merely a very good one. They’ll be a Christmas party in Silverstone next week, and it’ll be a damn good time, but I fear on Christmas Eve, Mike Krack will see the ghost of Christmas Past and it’ll remind him of what this year could have been. With how fast this sport moves, this team might not ever get a better chance to penetrate F1’s elite. 7/10

By year’s end, Fernando had said that 2023 was his best season in the sport since 2012. And it’s hard to argue when you’re entering your Age 42 season and you’re in a brand new car and you finally made a career switch that’s tracked positively!

Yeah, I don’t need to go into too much detail on this, but short story, Fernando Alonso is still him. His racecraft is still superb. I gushed about that Bahrain pass, and Brazil was maybe even better. Setting Checo up for the Mexican to dump his entire battery in desperation on the final lap, only to sweep through into Turn 4, was masterful driving. 

The speed was still there, making Q3 seventeen straight times, and hitting up the points in every race until Singapore, deep in the bowels of the season. Even when the car wasn’t the Top 3 contender, he still extracted the maximum out of his car week in, week out. It’s about as much as you can ask out of your team leader, and Alonso over-delivered. 

Look, I need to put a small disclaimer here, Alonso is one member of a four-driver club between #2 and #5 on my Top 10 list where you could argue for any man in any of those four spots and I’d have no problem with it. And don’t forget, Alpine was worried he’d be too old to commit to for more than a year. Ha. And he didn’t even need to be Taylor Swift’s boyfriend. 9/10

And this right here, was Aston Martin’s second biggest problem. The excuses are over, Lance Stroll is now holding this team back.

He stemmed the tide a little bit when the team was struggling towards the end of the season and genuinely stayed with Alonso at the end, but even so, this was a piss poor year. 

It’s doubly frustrating too because Lance earned some goodwill from coming back so soon from cracking his wrists in a cycling accident. Even finished fourth in Australia. No one’s expecting him to beat Fernando, and he didn’t have to. Keep it close and no one’s complaining. But that middle of the season… phew, man stunk.

Five straight scoreless weekends after the Summer Break summed up the worst of it, including snapping at Qatar and shoving his trainer on a live camera, after one of his many, Q1 eliminations. Six in a row from Monza through Mexico, including a nasty smash in Singapore that took him out of a race. By any measure, there’s no way he should have been fighting Alpine for most of the season. 

He’s been better than this and should be better than this. This was the best car he’s ever had and he’s probably had his worst F1 season. I said it on WTF1 after Canada and I stand by it, if Aston Martin wants to take that next step, this is a weakness it needs to address until proven otherwise. They have a car worth driving now too. There is still a good driver here, but this can’t keep happening. 4/10

Constructor Position – 4th (302 Points)
Head-To-Head Stats – Norris Up 15-7 In Qualifying, 17-5 In Races
Best Result – 2nd (x7), a Sprint Win (Qatar)
Season In A Nutshell: …Finish Strong

There’s going to be some serious questions asked about this team’s season. It is one of the weirdest stories I’ve ever seen in an F1 season.

I remember Bahrain’s pre-season testing. It was a pile of misery. The Race had them ranked ninth on paper and it wasn’t hyperbole. Their brakes weren’t working, they looked slow. Lando Norris looked miserable in the back. Zak Brown was already tempering expectations by saying they knew they were going to suck going into the season, but Baku would have a B-Spec car to be excited about. By Saudi Arabia, the team had two DNFs, a fight with Williams for P15, and James Key was given his P45 as the team had its third technical reshuffle since Brown became CEO at the end of 2016. 

That Baku package ended up debuting in Austria, and by then, things were bleak. Just 17 points in the first eight race weekends, and a rough weekend in Canada when they were beaten by Williams straight up after Albon’s heroics and Norris got a silly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Austria, you could play down to chance as Norris got 4th. There’d been flashes of McLaren’s form before, like when he qualified third in Spain, but Norris has always gone well in Austria.

Then Silverstone happened. 

The McChrome car and the upgrade package turned the Woking team from chumps to the top contenders. Norris was beating Hamilton straight up. Oscar Piastri was amongst the leaders after qualifying in the Top 3. I remember being at the WTF1 Clubhouse for Quali that day, and when Norris briefly went fastest, you could hear the roar from the 100,000+ crowd over a mile away at the track itself. It was so wild it briefly drowned out the Matt and Tommy Tannoy announcements! (Ba-Dum-Tiss)

No doubt though, McLaren was a different team after the break. Look at it:

First Eight Weekends: 17 Points / Last 14 Weekends: 285 Points

If they had kept their post-Austria form through the whole season, they’re comfortably second in the standings with 445 points (And likely a bigger swing due to taking more off their opposition). They developed an incredibly fast car very quickly. Lando Norris got to grips with it almost immediately and had six runner-up finishes with the upgraded package, including the nearest shot yet to win a race in Singapore. More on him in a minute, but without a doubt his strongest-looking season in F1.

Oscar Piastri has become the second scorer that McLaren needed in life after Carlos Sainz. We’re going to forget the Daniel Ricciardo era, ever happened! But Piastri ticked a whole lot of positive boxes in his first season with the team and has the upside to be an extremely exciting talent in the future. And given the average age of McLaren’s drivers is just 23, still heaps of room and time to improve. By any measure, it’s a driver lineup that can trade punches with the very best in F1 now.

And they’ve made some punchy statements of intent in the back too. Rob Marshall, Red Bull’s Chief Designer is heading over, as is David Sanchez, who designed some very solid cars in Maranello too, come January 1st. If you asked me which of the four teams in the fight for second are primed to make a run at Red Bull, it’s hard to argue McLaren isn’t leading the race right now.

McLaren to me, pulled off quite possibly the greatest in-season turnaround in F1 history. I think they’re tracking to be Red Bull’s #1 contender next year. The question will be, is this sustainable over a full year? 7/10

Oscar Piastri – 9th In Points (97), 2 Podiums, 11 Top 10’s, 1 Sprint Win, Best Finish – 2nd, Average Finish – 10.9
Dre’s Top 10 Drivers of the Year – #8

And to think, this man had to sit in Alpine’s simulator for a year. No wonder Zak Brown smelt blood. Multiple podiums as a rookie for the first time in F1 since Lewis Hamilton in 2007. 

I can’t believe I’m about to say what I’m going to say here, but bear with me – I think Oscar’s 2023 was a little overrated. Some people had him in the Top 5 for Drivers of the Year and I don’t think he was on the level of the four men in that class (Remember that, it becomes important later). 

Ranking Piastri boiled down to one straightforward question – How high can you rate a guy for still getting beaten in all aspects by his teammate? Of course, being a rookie gives you a fair amount of mitigation, but it still limits how high you place a guy. 

And I need to stress, this is still outstanding for a rookie, in a good team, who had Lando Norris as a teammate this season, coming off a seat where Daniel Ricciardo got molly-whopped. Piastri was doing a solid job staying in range of Norris when the car was bad and clicked well after he got the British GP upgrade package. 

I’ve made this analogy in other places, but what impressed me the most about Piastri was his traits on F1 Manager’s video games coming true. In the original game in 2022, he came out of the box with a 91/100 stat in pace, and it showed here. His speed is insane for his age and development. At his best, he is 98% of what Lando is and that’s awesome. It’s no coincidence that’s where he’s shined brightest this season, like the Sprints in Belgium and Qatar, the latter in which he won, and then went on to finish second and run Max within five seconds of the win. And as Karun Chandhok pointed out, if you counted Sprint Shootouts as qualifying sessions, Piastri only lost 8-7 after the break. 

I still have some concerns. I think his racecraft is a little on the softer side right now, where he wasn’t defending as well as he could have done like in Hungary. And I think his biggest is his tyre management. He’s struggled in the more intensive tyre shredder races. Hungary was one of them, and Japan stood out too. Despite a podium finish, Piastri finished 17 seconds behind Norris and wasn’t actually that happy with his race, despite a first career podium. I like that. These are all things that I think just general experience can fix. 

Despite all the shit we’ve given Zak Brown for his shady driver-hiring practices (Barring Alex Palou, you silly boy), it’s hard to argue he didn’t get this one right. If Lando Norris fails to resist the allure of a title-winning team in blue, they have a potential franchise driver in Piastri ready to go. And that for McLaren, is a huge dub. 8/10

Lando Norris – 6th In Points (205), 7 Podiums, 16 Top 10’s, Best Finish – 2nd (x6), Average Finish – 8
Dre’s Top #10 Drivers Of The Year – #4

It’s not a fair statistic, and it isn’t reflective of Norris’ quality as a driver, but with the seven podiums he scored this season, he now ties Nick Heidfeld for the most podiums without a win in F1 history – 13 in total. Bummer.

But this isn’t fair on Lando Norris, who’s had yet another exceptional season leading from the front of the Papaya. Given the known reputation of McLaren’s being tricky customers to maximise, I’m not sure how much more you could have reasonably asked from him. 

In race trim, Norris was insanely good at his best this season. The Mexico comeback after the Q1 elimination. Brazil where he dumped everything to try and stay with Max. Singapore and coming so close to the win. By the end of the season, I was gushing about Lando as the #1 Verstappen contender in the field by season’s end. Very few were putting together races like he was.

And amazingly, there’s still shit I can nitpick with Lando. The man is still a bit too error-prone to crack the Top 3. The start of Catalunya. Mexico, Qatar, Brazil and Abu Dhabi Qualifying, too. The man’s good enough in races to make up for it, but there’s no need to make life harder for himself. 

If he lowered himself to 97% of his maximum and stayed there without pushing for 100 all the time, I think it would make him a better driver. A part of me respects and appreciates Lando is his own biggest critic, he knows this is an issue. I get that in elite sport you chase perfection, but sometimes you do have to play the percentages. He’ll crack it, I’m sure (We are still dealing with a guy in his Age 23 season let’s not forget), but this is Year 5 for Lando and he did miss out on a Top 4 Championship spot through those minor mistakes. 

Again. I’m nitpicking. The man is a missile and World Championship quality. He’d have been second in the standings if he had his Abu Dhabi car the whole season. The fact there’s still more to improve makes me excited for his future, rather than worried. 9/10

In Part 3, the battle for the Silver Medal between Mercedes and Ferrari, two different messy seasons, Red Bull pulling off arguably the greatest single-season ever, and some closing thoughts on the year that was 2023. Until then, sayonara. 

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Somehow can now call himself a Production Coordinator at the Motorsport Network, coming off the back of being part of the awkward Johto Era at WTF1. All off a University Project that went massively out of hand. Weird huh?

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