Following the end of the 2022 season, where Red Bull’s Max Verstappen earned his second world championship title, Formula One has finally returned. Though just five races have sped by, the defending world champion has made his current standing at the top of the sport—with the RB19, this year’s Red Bull car, in his hands—all too clear.
This season has gotten off to a ferocious start for defending Constructors’ Champions Red Bull, with the Milton Keynes-based team winning all of the first five races of the season. Though Ferrari was Red Bull’s main challenger in 2022, the Italian team has struggled so far this season to make a serious impact. Instead, Aston Martin has risen up as a surprising frontrunner with the help of Fernando Alonso’s skills behind the wheel.
Ahead of the first race of the year, major changes before the start of the season shook up the grid. The retirement of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel allowed two-time champion Alonso to make his move to the Silverstone-based team to partner Lance Stroll. Mick Schumacher was unable to secure a seat for the 2023 season and was replaced by Nico Hülkenberg at Haas.
Mercedes and Ferrari kept their driver pairings the same, though other teams brought newcomers to the world of F1. With three rookies in 2023—Australian Oscar Piastri at McLaren, American Logan Sargeant at Williams, and Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri—the 20 drivers on the grid this year are sure to give fans a show. From what the standings show in the World Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships so far; however, it will take a monumental effort from the other teams to meaningfully challenge the seemingly insurmountable Verstappen and this year’s Red Bull car.
To kick the season off, the grid headed to Bahrain for the first race of the year: the Bahrain Grand Prix. Red Bull locked out the front row in a dominant display at the first qualifying session of the year, with Verstappen on pole ahead of Sergio Pérez. The two Ferraris sealed the second row, with Charles Leclerc in P3 and Carlos Sainz Jr. in P4. Alonso’s P5-qualifying position was a shockingly strong start to the year for Aston Martin, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton behind him for Mercedes.
As the lights went out, Verstappen got away to a comfortable start, though Pérez was overtaken by Leclerc. Contact between Stroll and Alonso meant both Aston Martins lost positions, though Alonso would fight back over the course of the Grand Prix. Leclerc suffered a mechanical failure that brought the first race to a disappointing end for the Monegasque driver.
Following Leclerc’s retirement from the race, Alonso managed to seal third place in an amazing finish for Aston Martin and take his first podium since the 2021 Qatar GP. Red Bull sealed its first win and first 1–2 of the year with Verstappen, who was seemingly unstoppable during the entire race, finishing just under 12 seconds ahead of his teammate.
This season opener was certainly an eye-opener for teams like McLaren, who found both their experienced driver Lando Norris and rookie Piastri struggling, as Norris finished in P17 and Piastri retired on lap 13 with an electrical failure. The final three points finishers, Valtteri Bottas for Alfa Romeo, Pierre Gasly for Alpine, and Alexander Albon for Williams, showed the diversified strength of the midfield and pointed to an exciting season to come, though no team was able to truly stand up to Red Bull in the opening weekend.
Saudi Arabian GP
After Red Bull’s victory kicked off the season, the teams headed to the first street circuit of the season in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for the Saudi Arabian GP. As the drivers took to the streets for qualifying, a shocking issue with Verstappen’s driveshaft meant he went out in Q2 and lined up in P15. Pérez took pole position ahead of Leclerc, though after the Ferrari driver received a 10-place grid penalty for a power unit change, Alonso’s Aston Martin would line up on the front row.
On Sunday, Alonso was able to take the lead off the start, but the Mexican driver soon retook first. Behind Pérez, his teammate was also recovering from his poor qualifying, making his way through the midfield with ease. Verstappen soon made his way into the top four, and passed Russell and Alonso to slot into second place. Despite having the defending world champion behind him, Pérez kept his teammate at bay for the remainder of the race.
The two Red Bulls were easily able to take another 1–2 finish, with Pérez in first and Verstappen in second this time around, though Verstappen’s extra point for the fastest lap allowed him to keep the lead of the Drivers’ Championship. Alonso’s third-place finish in Saudi Arabia made him the sixth driver in F1 history to score 100 career podiums. The two Mercedes of Russell and Hamilton finished just behind him to take P4 and P5 in the race.
The two Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc came in sixth and seventh while, in a good showing for Alpine, Esteban Ocon and Gasly were fin P8 and P9 respectively as Kevin Magnussen’s Haas rounded out the points positions. The unmatched pace of the Red Bull became clear by the end of the weekend in Saudi Arabia, setting the scene for the next few races to come.
The grid then traveled to Melbourne, Australia for a drama-filled race weekend on the streets of the city for the Melbourne GP. A lockup for Pérez in Q1 brought about a pit lane start for the Red Bull driver. Verstappen took pole by over two tenths from the Mercedes cars of Russell and Hamilton in P2 and P3, while Alonso continued his great performances for Aston Martin as he would start P4 on the grid ahead of Sainz’s Ferrari in P5, Stroll in P6, and Leclerc in P7. Albon also had a strong qualifying as he sealed P8, ahead of Gasly in P9 and Hülkenberg in P10.
When the lights went out, the grid immediately saw a dramatic start as Leclerc spun into the gravel after contact with Stroll, bringing about the Ferrari’s retirement and the safety car. Russell was able to pass Verstappen to take the lead, with Hamilton overtaking the Red Bull just moments later. As the race restarted, Albon crashed at turn seven, bringing out the safety car again. Sainz and Russell came in to change his tires, giving Hamilton the lead in a move that would prove unfortunate just moments later as the race was red-flagged.
On the second restart, Verstappen overtook Hamilton into turn nine and went on to comfortably hold the lead of the race. As the race reached its closing stages, Magnussen touched the wall and detached his right rear tire, bringing out a second red flag. When the grid got back to racing on the next restart, Sainz made contact with Alonso and pushed the Aston Martin into a spin, while the two Alpines collided and went into the wall. Rookies de Vries and Sargent went into the gravel and out of the race, and Stroll also ran into the gravel but managed to continue.
This third and final red flag made the Australian GP the first in F1 history to feature three red flags, leaving even the end of the race embroiled in drama. As it was restarted with a rolling start at the end of the final lap of the race, the checkered flag immediately came out. Verstappen earned his first win in Australia and tied Ayrton Senna’s career podium total of 80, while his teammate was able to climb back up to fifth after starting from the pit lane. Hamilton came in second, earning his and Mercedes’ first podium of the season, while Alonso took third and another podium for Aston Martin.
Lower in the field, McLaren scored their first points of the season with both Norris and Piastri in the points. In another disappointment for Ferrari, Sainz was given a five-second penalty for colliding with Alonso on the second restart, dropping him from fourth to P12 in the final race classification. Australia was undoubtedly the most suspenseful race of the year so far, with eight cars retiring before the checkered flag was brought out.
F1 returned after a break for race week in Baku, Azerbaijan for another street circuit race with the Azerbaijan GP. Qualifying for the race was stalled when de Vries crashed into the wall at turn three, bringing out a red flag in Q1. Moments after the restart, Gasly hit the wall at the same corner, bringing out another red flag. When Q3 concluded, Leclerc was able to secure pole position ahead of the two Red Bulls of Verstappen and Pérez in P2 and P3, with Sainz in P4 and Hamilton in P5. Both Alonso and Stroll had drag reduction system (DRS) issues, leaving them in P6 and P9 at the end of qualifying.
This was the first race of the year to feature a sprint race and to debut the new sprint format, which now includes a separate sprint shootout for the sprint ahead of the sprint race on Saturday. Leclerc took pole for the sprint race as well, but couldn’t defend from Pérez once the Red Bull had DRS. Verstappen took third in the sprint after attempting to catch up to Leclerc’s Ferrari, finishing less than a second behind him.
When the Grand Prix got underway on Sunday, Verstappen was able to quickly pass Leclerc on lap 3, with Pérez then making the same move three laps later to pass the Ferrari as well and show the pace of the Red Bull compared to the other cars on the grid. As Verstappen came into the pits, a safety car as de Vries retired after touching the wall allowed Pérez to take the lead.
The two Red Bulls remained at the front for the rest of the race, giving Pérez the chance to earn his second win in Baku and take his sixth win overall. Leclerc finally managed to earn Ferrari’s first podium finish of the year in P3, marking a bright spot in what had so far been a disheartening season for the Scuderia. Alonso’s P4 finish was another great showing for Aston Martin and showed that the Silverstone team could be relied upon to finish near the front.
For the fifth race of the season, F1 headed to the U.S. for the first of three American races scheduled this year. The second-ever Miami GP saw another intriguing qualifying session as Leclerc went into the wall at turn seven for the second day in a row after doing the same thing in a practice session. The incident brought out a red flag and ended qualifying, meaning that Verstappen was able to secure only P9 after being unable to set a time, like Bottas. Pérez took his third career pole ahead of Alonso in P2 and Sainz in P3, while Magnussen took a surprising P4 for Haas. Leclerc was able to seal P7 on the starting grid despite his crash.
As the lights went out, Pérez got away well and kept the lead up until his pit stop. Verstappen was on a different tire strategy than his teammate and the other frontrunners as he started on hards rather than mediums, but this strategy would prove to be the key to his race.
Verstappen was able to go long on his first stint and make crucial overtakes on the midfield, showing his strength as a driver. Though Pérez pitted and switched to fresher hards on lap 20, Verstappen wouldn’t pit until lap 45 and came out just behind his teammate with a new set of mediums that allowed him to comfortably overtake Pérez and settle back into the lead.
Alonso earned his fourth podium of the season as he took the checkered flag in P3, highlighting how great of a start to the year the Spanish driver has had for Aston Martin. Mercedes also saw a strong finish from Russell in P5 and Hamilton, who started in P13, in P6. Unlike Verstappen, however, the Ferraris were unable to make up much ground during the race, with Leclerc finishing in P7 and Sainz dropping to P5.
After the first five races of the season, Verstappen currently leads the Drivers’ Championship with 119 points, with Pérez at 105 behind him. Alonso sits in a strong third for Aston Martin with 75 points, ahead of Hamilton in fourth with 56. Ferrari drivers Sainz and Leclerc are currently in a disappointing fifth and seventh place in the championship respectively, and will surely be hoping that serious changes and updates will be happening in Maranello for the rest of the season.
In the Constructors’ Championship, Red Bull now sits at the top with a massive lead of 224 points to Aston Martin in second with 102. The Silverstone-based team has made incredible leaps from their performances over the past two years, which will be disappointing for fans of the recently retired Vettel but good news for followers of Alonso. Behind the top two teams, Mercedes sits in third with 96 points, while Ferrari is in a disillusioning fourth with 78.
As the grid gears up for the rest of the packed 23-race season, highlights to look out for include classic races like Monza, Singapore, and Japan, as well as the debut of the Las Vegas GP in November. The drivers will now head to the Emilia Romagna GP in Imola, Italy to kick off a string of European races. It’s a long way to go till Abu Dhabi, but F1 fans have lots to look out for as the 2023 season continues.
Jem Shin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.