Dre’s F1 2023 Season Review – Part 3 (Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull)

In the final part of Dre’s 2023 F1 Season Review, Ferrari fumbles the bag again, Mercedes never had the bag to begin with, and Red Bull pull off F1’s greatest ever season.

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Read time: 17 mins

And now, for the final part of my F1 2023 Season Review! In this part, we break down Ferrari and Mercedes, who both had very different messy seasons to ultimately end up in a similar spot, sum up Red Bull’s dominant, record-destroying season, and have some closing words about the state of the sport as we head into 2024 and the biggest F1 season ever. 

If you missed Part 1 on the fight for seventh (Haas, Alfa, AlphaTauri and Williams), you can click the link here, or for Part 2 on the fight for fourth (Alpine, Aston Martin, McLaren), you can do so here. Let’s wrap this sucker up.

PS: The head-to-head scores are a little different on here, I’ll be heading back and cleaning these up as I think it’s a fairer argument to go by “sessions where both finished” rather than the gross total of 22 no matter what. Massive thanks to RJ O’Connell and Keith Collantine at Racefans who do a brilliant job collating the data.

Constructor Position – 3rd (403 Points)
Head-To-Head Stats – Leclerc Up 15-7 In Qualifying, 10-5 In Races 
Best Finish – 1st (Singapore)
Season In A Nutshell: Untangling The Mess

I don’t envy Fred Vasseur. A reminder of the task at hand here. When Vasseur started he was Ferrari’s fifth team principal since the Turbo Hybrids began nine years ago. Mattia Binotto’s era was viewed disdainfully, taking a team that was second when he took the job on, down to sixth, and then back up to second again before a mid-season collapse derailed a promising 2022. The team denied it at first, only to sack the Italian JJ Abrams a month later.

Vasseur came in and like a football coach, when the leader goes, his coaching staff tends to go soon after. Sporting director Laurent Meikes to AlphaTauri to be their team boss, as well as David Sanchez heading back to McLaren. Fred immediately has to bat away the rampant home media due to murmurs of early fallouts and the likely realisation that Binotto’s final parting gift was a slow car and the previous regime. 

The result once we got going? Not bad, but not great either.

Ferrari spent the first half of the season trying to untangle the problems with Binotto’s final car. It didn’t help the goodwill stakes when Charles Leclerc had a podium denied via an electronics mismanagement so bad, that both of his energy stores for the season were gone after ONE race. Leclerc’s strong start on paper was derailed with a 10-place grid penalty in Saudi Arabia killing off what would have been a front-row start, and the man himself making his one big horlicks for the year with an off in Australia. 

I still think back to Spain, as that was a critical round that exposed Ferrari’s misunderstanding of their tyres. Leclerc complained he could barely turn his car left, which was never really explained, en route to a Q1 elimination and could only limp back to 11th. All while Carlos Sainz had a podium snatched away from him because Ferrari was so bad on their hard tyres, Mercedes swept them by. Remember this, it becomes important later. Charles would do what he does so often, steal results via sheer will, with podiums in Baku and Austria in that first half, while Sainz did a solid job of staying consistent.

And to be fair to Ferrari, they did get better as the year went on. Sainz got hot after the summer break after Leclerc made a mess of himself at Zandvoort, then held on for dear life to get on the podium at Monza and win at Singapore. And then when their final floor upgrade landed in Japan, Leclerc took over, stealing pole positions and finishing seven out of the last nine races in the Top 5. 

It all makes Ferrari the most difficult team to evaluate. They have a speedy car at their best, debatably the quickest over a single lap. When their tyres are dialled in, they can run close to McLaren and Red Bull, we saw that in Abu Dhabi, Leclerc could stay with Verstappen on softer rubber. But on the Hards, they drop off a cliff performance-wise. The floor upgrade at the end of the season gave me some hope (I’ll explain why in the drivers section), but it’s hard not to look at this season for the prancing horse and think – You should have finished second. Easily. 

You can pinpoint the moments. Bahrain’s electronics and Leclerc’s bungled start of the season. Bizarrely off the pace in Silverstone. Sainz’s DNS in Qatar due to a fuel pump failure. Leclerc’s DSQ in Austin and DNS in Brazil. Sainz making a mess out of the end of the season. Strategic goofs are still a thing, some dodgy pitstops like in Hungary. These add up. Ferrari scored 150 points less than they did last year in the same number of races, and it feels like Aston Martin and McLaren, with a lot of wasted potential. All three teams mentioned didn’t put a full season together. 

There are some genuine reasons to be optimistic here. Vasseur will likely get a pass due to the mess he inherited. He won’t get that pass a second time. The man needs to put together a genuine campaign next year or he could be next for the chop. Even Binotto beat Mercedes last year. 7/10

This was probably the most extreme Charles Leclerc season to date. I’ve never liked the narrative that Leclerc is a bottler, given his now career pole count stands at 23 with only five wins, and he went winless again in 2023. But I don’t care, Leclerc is that dude and needs to be treated as such.

One of my peers in this game who is a massive Leclerc fan reckons he could have had as many as 10 podiums for the season rather than six. Now I’m always cautious about this because measuring luck can be a dangerous rabbit hole of moving goalposts, but it’s fair to say he didn’t get the rub of the green this year in many circumstances. A lot of that rough start was due to team screwups, not so much on Charles himself. 

The upside of Leclerc still far, far outshines any of his small drawbacks. He was second in the entire field on Average Start, averaging exactly P5, scoring five pole positions spread out across the year, and beating Sainz, another quali specialist 15-7 is a whopping. Over a lap, Leclerc is this sport’s Marc Marquez, no one flirts with danger at the limit better than they do. 

And Ferrari pulled the trigger on an important upgrade that could define their future – The Japan floor upgrade favoured Charles’s driving style, liking a car with a bit more oversteer compared to the understeer setup that Sainz preferred. I’ll cover why a bit more in the Sainz section, but for me, THIS is the direction Ferrari needs to go in. Alienating the backbone of your team by going against his needs was not a clever move and Leclerc’s Japan onwards was proof of that. That was the man who was beating Verstappen on merit last year. That final lap pass on Perez at Vegas summed up why I’m a huge admirer of his talent.

Yes, he’s fifth on my list, I think the pound-for-pound strength of his car was a little more than McLaren and Aston Martin behind them ultimately, but this is still a really strong season to me, stronger than it may seem at first glance. 9/10

Carlos Sainz frustrates me. I’ve been a huge fan of his talent from the moment he debuted in the shadow of Max Verstappen. Do you know why he frustrates me? This was the big audition for leadership of Ferrari, and elite driver status and he fluffed his lines. The first year they were together, Sainz massively won the points fight, even if further inspection showed Leclerc was screwed in a lot of Sainz’s brightest moments like his Monaco podium. In Year 2, Leclerc was Championship runner-up and Sainz was beaten badly. And with Leclerc’s ropey start to 2023, Sainz had a genuine chance to make an argument for being the leader of the team… and he didn’t take advantage.

Sainz had his fair share of ropey weekends, just like Leclerc did. Awful in Baku and way off Leclerc’s pace. A very costly punt in Australia that dropped him out of the points altogether and was poor to close out the season. When Ferrari needed him most in Abu Dhabi, he was so slow on the Hard tyre that he was parked at the end of the race after being unable to move from 16th after a Q1 elimination. Yikes. 

I’ll give Sainz this, his flash was brilliant. Zandvoort was a lowkey excellent drive given how slow Ferrari was all weekend. Then he dug deep for that third from the pole in Monza, a fighting podium, even if it was arguable he went a *bit* too far in his defence. Then he won in Singapore when Ferrari put Leclerc on the wrong strategy (Only for his car to overheat). A great run. But when the Japan upgrade hit, he faded back into relative obscurity. Good, consistent drives, but ultimately you can’t help but look at their years as a whole and just go: “Leclerc’s better.”

Sainz is for me, the best “floor guy” in Formula 1. His work this season on the whole was solid. But if I need a guy to win me a Championship, I’m pointing the team in Leclerc’s direction. 8/10

Constructor Position – 2nd (406 Points)
Head-To-Heads: 11-11 In Qualifying, Hamilton 12-5 In Races
Best Finish – 2nd (x3)
Season In A Nutshell: Luigi Wins By Doing Nothing

Remember in Part 2 with Aston Martin how I described a season-defining flashpoint of Alonso’s pass on Hamilton in Bahrain? Bahrain had two of those moments. Because for Mercedes, it essentially meant their season was over before it had even started.

Why? It goes back to their last win, the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix. It gave them false hope that their zero sidepod concept was worth keeping. Then they got to Bahrain, and Hamilton got smoked, 50 seconds off the winning Red Bull. That was the final straw. Toto Wolff called it his worst day in F1, and the concept was binned entirely by Monaco.

By that point, they’d already admitted they were somewhere between 6-12 months behind Red Bull in terms of understanding the aero of this set of regulations. James Allison came back from America’s Cup duty to run the day-to-day and Mike Elliott promoted himself up out of the paint, only to leave the team altogether by year’s end. 

See what I mean? Mercedes’ season was over before it even started. Because we don’t evaluate a team that’s won eight straight Constructors titles as anything less than competing for first, and Mercedes didn’t do that this year.

Even the second-place finish of this season feels like a get-out-of-jail-free card because we all know that Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin all misfired across 2023. Ferrari couldn’t execute and didn’t understand their tyres, McLaren’s early car was so bad James Key had to make his own way back from Saudi Arabia, and Aston Martin didn’t have a second driver and didn’t know how to make their car faster.

Mercedes screwed up the least and grabbed second, but honestly felt more like the third-best car this season when you consider they only really looked like the #2 car on a handful of occasions, like Spain, or when Hamilton went God Mode in Mexico. It’s a harsh assessment on them, as they did execute better within their means than their rivals did, but being outscored 2:1 by their fiercest rivals is a beating, no matter how you slice it.

I know this team is pissed. They expected to win races, and we as an audience expected them to bounce back and win. I know in pre-season predictions in other places some folks had them as genuine contenders for the Championship. Don’t let their excellent social team fool you, they’re mad as hell. How they try and play catch up from here before 2026 is going to be fascinating. Because one win in two years is unacceptable for the sport’s best team principal and arguably the most resourceful team in F1. 8/10

George Russell – 8th In Points (175), 2 Podiums, 17 Top 10’s, Best Finish – 3rd (x2), Average Finish – 8.1

Welcome to the difficult sophomore year, Georgey boy. 2023 feels like an exaggerated version of his excellent 2022 season. Last year, he used excellent speed and great consistency to genuinely give Lewis something to think about, regardless of how much you felt Lewis left off the table when trying to solve the team’s porpoising problem.

This year, the cracks showed. Overall, I think George tried too hard. His pace is still excellent. An 11-11 tie in qualifying and the closest average difference to his teammate on the grid shows that for raw speed, he and Lewis are virtually level. But he struggled to convert that into race pace and mistakes crept in over the season. Sometimes it was poor racecraft like Baku’s Sprint and his clumsy Vegas sidepod hit on Verstappen’s car. He straight-up binned it in Canada and cost himself a possible podium in Monaco and Singapore with mistakes. 

He’s better than this. He knows he’s better than this, and I think that’s what led to half of his errors. Because the speed is there and that’s half the battle. He just needs to find a balance that works for him, get his head down and rack up those points like Lewis did. I know it’s a lofty target, but he has proven he can do it. 6.5/10

Lewis Hamilton – 3rd In Points (234), 1 Pole Position, 6 Podiums, 20 Top 10’s, Best Finish – 2nd (x2), Average Finish – 6.2
Dre’s Top 10 Drivers Of The Year – #2

Like I said with Hulkenberg earlier, god loves a trier and man did Lewis try. It’s painful that his season peaked with his 9th Hungarian GP pole, only for Max to take his soul after 400 yards when the race started. He’d never get that close to a win again all season, at least not with a legal car. (Thanks Austin floor).

Hamilton became a points-stuffer instead. In 20 out of the 22 races he got into the points, the Austin DQ and his Qatar error on Lap 1 were the only times he didn’t. Third overall on the year in average start and finish, and he was genuinely chasing Perez down for second until the end of the season. (A small part of me thinks Hamilton mentally checked out a little bit down the stretch, but with that W14, I can’t blame him, he had very little to play for.)

It was that consistency that took him just above the Alonso/Leclerc/Norris block of potential contenders for “Best of the Rest”. For me, Lewis Hamilton is still one of the very best in the world. But for two years in a row now he hasn’t been given the car to truly prove it. 9/10

Constructor Position: Champions (860 Points, New Record)
Head-To-Head: Verstappen 19-1 in Qualifying, 18-2 in Races
Best Result – 1st (x21, New Record)
Season In A Nutshell: “The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves”

What else can you say that hasn’t already been said. Welcome to the greatest F1 season ever achieved by anyone, ever. The McLaren MP4/4 of 35 years ago has finally fallen. No matter how you slice it, the RB19 is going down in history. The 2022 season was already one of the greatest ever once Red Bull really dialled up the pain after the break, but this was on a whole different level. We’ve never seen anything like this, and we’re unlikely to ever again. The moment the car rolled off the blocks in Bahrain’s pre-season, it was already over. And to think, they developed this car with restricted windtunnel access, with a trick suspension and floor layout that straight up blew the field away.

They were their most devastating at the start of the season when we were seeing them open up a 22mph advantage in DRS zones. A car that was still taking pole positions everywhere despite packing their setups with understeer so they could protect their rear tyres. It was a compromise that could afford because their race pace was so good it just didn’t matter where they were starting. With a team that had 14 pole positions on the year. FUCCC- The pitcrew was incredible, the best of the year by miles, barely putting a foot wrong all year. The strategy department, led by Hannah Schmitz, virtually perfect too. It’s not just the car and the drivers, from an operational point of view, this team was pretty close to perfection.

There are some small concerns. Sergio Perez isn’t in the most ideal of positions, struggling in qualifying and leaving a lot of points on the table across the year. A stronger field and this could be a genuine problem. But when you’re this good, and your lead driver is THAT strong, again, it just didn’t matter. 

And the most terrifying part? They didn’t touch this car after Belgium. And no one came close afterwards. What the hell is the RB20 going to be? 10/10

Sergio Perez  – 2nd In Points (285), 2 Wins, 2 Pole Positions, 1 Sprint Win, Average Finish – 5.9

It genuinely started well for Checo. He followed Max home where he could, picked up a couple of good wins in Saudi Arabia and Baku where he could, looked competitive and thought maybe, just maybe he could be a title threat. (That WTF1 video I made about it has aged like milk.)

Then Miami happened. Looking back on the season, I think this was the race that broke him and derailed his season. Miami should have been a perfect Checo win. Street circuit. From pole. Strategy not really a factor, tyre conservation race and Verstappen starting from Row 5. 

Checo got cooked. Max tore through the midfield and even after that was going faster on hard tyres that were 20 laps older than Checo was, and led to an easy win on the crossover, Max’s pass a sneaky pass of the year candidate too. I’m not sure Checo ever recovered.

That middle period of the season was rough. His average starting spot this season was nearly NINE and it came almost purely from that point on in the season, where a change in setup direction, the addition of rain and just poor driving led to early Quali exit after early exit. He recovered reasonably well in races but it’s hard not to expect that given the car he had. 

I think it’s a partly unfair comparison at times because the last half decade has made it abundantly clear that Max has a superhuman ability to extract performance out of extreme setups (Ask the row of teammates he’s destroyed), but this is a vulnerability in this team that could be exploited if the field behind him closes in. I think he did just enough down the stretch to silence some of the louder noises regarding his job status (And I don’t think it was ever really up in the air, y’know, connections and all that), but this will come up again with 2024 being a contract year and a hungry set of sister team drivers in Red Bull’s umbrella. 5/10 

Max Verstappen – Champion (454 Points, New Record), 7 Pole Positions, 2 Sprint Wins, 15 Wins (New Record), Average Finish – 3.5

So yeah, probably the greatest F1 season ever by a single driver, right? 

Oh wait, how terrible of me. I’ve only gone and posted his 2022 stats. My bad, sorry… let’s try that again…

Max Verstappen – Champion (575 Points, New Record), 19 Wins (New Record), 12 Pole Positions, 4 Sprint Wins (New Record), Average Finish – 1.3
Dre’s 2023 Driver Of The Year

What in the FUCK was that?!

How do you take one of the best F1 seasons ever and go even further beyond? I’m stunned Max didn’t walk out of his car in Abu Dhabi with no eyebrows and blonde hair down to his knees.

He’s broken so many records it’s barely even worth repeating, but a few that leap out. The average finish is me rounding UP to one decimal place, it’s actually 1.27. ONE. POINT. TWO. SEVEN. That is unfathomably great. 

In Grand Prix this year, Max lost six positions the whole season. SIX. One was Saudi Arabia where he started in 15th due to a rare RB19 technical issue with the gearbox. One was Baku where you could make a case he was on the rough end of the strategy department when the Safety Car dropped. And Singapore, where he still went from 11th to 5th with a car that wasn’t anywhere near its best (And amazingly still think could have won if the Safety Cars fell at the right times.)

The man’s on a seven-race winning streak right now and no one cares because he went nearly four months unbeaten in the middle of the season, winning 10 on the bounce from Miami to Monza. It’s one thing to have a busted car, but what Max was able to extract out of it, and the fact he just didn’t put a foot wrong for essentially the entire season was what was truly ridiculous. It passes the eye test just as much as it does on the stat sheet.

This isn’t only the greatest F1 season ever seen, it’s the hat-trick on arguably the greatest three-year run that any driver has ever had. Say what you will about the 2021 decider, Max wasn’t the one responsible for the ending on what was already a Championship-level season against Lewis Hamilton at the peak of his powers. 2022 was already a contender for the greatest season ever, and 2023 sealed that deal. Barring the pole positions and highlight reel clips, he’s had Ayrton Senna’s statistical career in the space of three years. This is the Verstappen era. We’re just living in it. AYFKM/10

And that’ll do it for the 2023 season. What did I make of it all? Not great. I think this season was the inevitable Year 2 of a regulation set that was ripe for entertainment dampening. 2022’s regs did a genuinely good job of making the cars be able to run closer and encourage more passing by moving some of that downforce below the top of the cars. But engineers aren’t here for our entertainment and as more ways to discover downforce are found, we drift more towards the end of the previous era where DRS trains were rampant.

A lot of people shit on this season. Most of it was justified. I think under the radar there was some intriguing things. I think the field is as closely matched as it’s ever been top to bottom. I think the fight for second was fascinating with Aston Martin, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes all having their moments in the sun, as well as the development race at the back of the field between AlphaTauri, Williams, Haas and Sauber. 

But I also fully admit, I’m in the minority here. We didn’t get a title fight and for many fans (understandably), that was the kicker that blunted this season from the start. It was a one-car Championship from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi. And that’s not fun. (And I suspect we as an audience aren’t as accepting of Verstappen’s dominance over Hamilton’s, but have fun debating that one at home.)

I think what this season represents to me, is a regression to the mean. We were spoilt in 2021. 2022 was always going to be more intriguing with the new regulations and the first half was genuinely exciting. 2023 is a lot closer to what we expect an F1 season to be, and the realisation that the fever pitch of two years ago isn’t coming back.

I’ve had friends in this game pose the question: “Is F1 in a flop era?”. For me, I don’t think that’s the case. It’s easy to forget that half this current grid didn’t make it back from the pandemic and the very fabric of the sport was on the brink of collapse. Culturally, Drive to Survive is still pulling in excellent figures and the sport is in as many cultural minds as it ever has. But I think it’s certainly going to face a tough test in the next two years leading up to its next regulation change in 2026. 

That DTS audience that you’ve brought in, can you keep them interested when the narratives just aren’t as interesting and the sport itself stagnant in terms of action? Is turning down an 11th team the right move? There’s a good chance Red Bull keep this up for another two years. Will people drop off the wagon? There’s already evidence that some of the new media that’s entered this game, seeing the opportunity to jump on, has pumped the brakes. You’re literally reading the evidence of that, and I’m not the only one if you know where to look, if you know what I mean. ??

I don’t think anyone needs to be panicking, but F1 is in a weird limbo state and how it handles the next couple of years will be a very interesting peek into its future. 

But as I said, 2023 was the year that cemented the Verstappen era. It’s his world. We’re just living in it. 

And on a more personal note. Thank you. In the time since I’ve started writing this post, it’s now public knowledge that I’m back to being a free agent. I need to be a little blunter in my wording here because some people understandably got the wrong end of the stick I was moving into something better. Right now, that’s not the case. WTF1 let me go back in early November. I don’t know what’s coming next, and I don’t have a hard plan as to what comes next. 

But the one thing I can say for certain is that Motorsport101 is going nowhere. It’s my baby, and it was my coverage of the sports that I love here that got me that job in the first place. I got the WTF1 gig because the right people noticed I was doing the right things. Maybe, just maybe, that can happen again. But it was your readership and support that got me over that mountain. And even though the ride was short, I’m very much grateful I got to experience it. Here’s to the next season, whatever happens next. Thanks to WTF1 and The Race as a whole for giving me a chance. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Love you all, Dre <3 x

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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