Mid-season analysis: Things we learned from the first half of the 2023 F1 season

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We're halfway through the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship and we have runaway championship leaders in form of double world champion Max Verstappen and five-time constructors' champion Red Bull. F1Technical’s senior writer Balázs Szabó reflects on the first half of the 2023 F1 season.

Sprint – For 2023, F1 has doubled the number of Sprints from three - as held in 2021 and 2022 - to six. The Azerbaijan, Austrian and Belgian Grands Prix hosted the first three sprint races of the season with the Qatar, the US and the Sao Paulo Grands Prix set to sport the remaining three special sprint format.

While the points system for the Sprint in 2023 remained unchanged from 2022, there were significant tweaks to those race weekends that include the sprint race. The Sprint no longer sets the grand prix grid, but it is determined by the Friday’s qualifying session.

The Sprint grid is decided by a new, separate shorter qualifying session - the Sprint Shootout – that takes place on Saturday morning. The first sprint race was won by Sergio Perez while his team mate Max Verstappen proved fastest in the two other sprint races.

In the Baku Sprint won by Perez, Charles Leclerc and Verstappen completed the podium. In the Red Bull Ring Sprint won by Verstappen, Perez finished second ahead of third-placed Carlos Sainz. The Spa 100km dash was won by Verstappen while the rest of the podium was filled by McLaren’s Oscar Piastri and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly.

Interruptions – Max Verstappen took victory at the Australian Grand Prix, but the race in Down Under made history for other reasons as it broke the record for most red flags, with three. The first red flag was deployed after Alex Albon endured a heavy crash with his Williams from sixth place. The red flag was called again when Kevin Magnussen crashed his Haas on the exit of Turn 2 near the end of the race. In the end, the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly came together at the exit of Turn 2 and slammed into the wall.

Records – Williams have completed their 800th grand prix start at the Hungarian Grand Prix. The Grove-based team celebrated this milestone at the previous race weekend in Silverstone with a showcar, simulator and with tweaks to its livery in Budapest.

Thanks to his eye-watering run of success, Max Verstappen has now an impressive tally of results: 45 wins, 89 podiums, 27 pole positions and 27 fastest laps in his 175-race F1 career.

With Verstappen’s victory in Hungary, Red Bull recorded 12 consecutive wins, besting the previous record of 11, set by McLaren back in 1988. The record than broke again in Spa when Red Bull won that race, too. The Miton Keynes team achieved their 100th F1 win in Montreal, and with having won every race since then, they have now a total of 104 victories in their history.

Although Lewis Hamilton has been unable to challenge for the championship title for the second successive year, he managed to score his 104th career and first pole position his first since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. It marked his ninth pole position in Hungary, a record for most poles at a single circuit.

Following a series of difficult years, Fernando Alonso scored his 100th podium at the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, by finishing third, becoming one of six drivers in the series' history to achieve that feat. The Spaniard, who made the shock jump from Alpine to Aston Martin for 2023, has collected a total of six podium finishes this year with his best result achieved in Monaco and Montreal where he finished runner-up behind Max Verstappen.

Qualifying – Although Red Bull’s dominance usually gets more prominent in race trim, their qualifying pace is impressive as well. Max Verstappen put his RB19 on pole in six races while his team-mate Sergio Perez lined up first on the grid on two occasions in Jeddah and Miami. Lewis Hamilton took a sensational pole position in Hungary while Charles Leclerc proved fastest in qualifying in Baku before inheriting the pole position in Spa from Verstappen, who was dropped down to P6 on the grid due to a gearbox penalty.

Surprises – Following his bicycle incident just days before the only pre-season testing, Lance Stroll refused to miss the season-opening grand prix in Bahrain. The Canadian raced with a broken wrist and toe and finished sixth, registering his best ever start to his season since he joined the F1 field back in 2017.

In qualifying at the Canadian Grand Prix, Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg secured the second starting position in difficult rainy conditions only to then get demoted to fifth following a penalty.

Track limits saga – During the Austrian Grand Prix weekend, a number of drivers fell foul of track limits penalties with 47 lap times being deleted in qualifying alone. The biggest victim was Sergio Perez, who lost all his three timed laps in the second qualifying segment, and thus failing to progress into Q3.

During the race, the FIA reported that there were "well over 1,200 instances where a car was reported as potentially leaving the track". Multiple drivers were given time penalties after the race including Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz.

Blanket-free tyres – It has been a hot topic since the start of the season. Following criticism over the raceability of its full wet tyre in previous seasons, Pirelli has produced a new full wet tyre in the hope of reducing the need for safety car and red flags in wet race conditions. The new product does not require pre-heating, and made its debut at the Monaco Grand Prix. Although the new wet weather tyres led to lap times that are five seconds quicker, the visibility remained a significant issue which still makes racing difficult in rainy conditions.

Pirelli also wanted to introduce blanket-free intermediate tyres in the second half of the current season, but that has now been postponed to next year. The anticipated introduction of the blanket-free slick tyres for 2024 has also been called off and can make their debut in 2025 at the earliest.

Financial regulation – Formula One introduced a cost cap in 2021 with budget cap having been reduced to 135 million US dollars for 2023. Due to the sprint events and the addtitional races, the cost cap is set at $138.6 million, but it is likely to approach $140 million if there is an inflation adjustment as well.

ATA – Formula One’s sole tyre supplier Pirelli debuted a special tyre allocation at the Hungaroring. The new rule meant that the number of tyre sets available for each car is reduced to 11, instead of the 13 available for a normal race weekend. Each driver has three sets of hard tyres, four sets of medium tyres and four sets of soft tyres. More importantly, drivers had just one mandatory slick compound for each qualifying session. Teams must use the hard compound in Q1, medium in Q2 and soft in Q3. If qualifying is wet, teams have a free choice of compounds as usual.

The alternative tyre allocation had a huge impact of the Friday running of the Hungarian Grand Prix as drivers were forced to save tyres during the first two free practice sessions which heavily limited the on-track actions. The full effect of the limited number of dry-weather tyres is yet to be seen as the opening session of the Hungarian Grand Prix took place in damp conditions, meaning that drivers could not even run slick tyres in the majority of the first one-hour practice.

After the Hungaroring, the ATA rules will be trialled again at the Italian Grand Prix during the first weekend in September.

Fastest laps – In the first 12 races of the current season, five different drivers have managed to set the fastest lap and score a point with that. Double world champion Max Verstappen delivered the fastest race lap on six venues including Jeddah, Miami, Barcelona, Red Bull Ring, Silverstone and Hungaroring. The other drivers to have set the fastest race lap at least once this season are Sergio Perez, George Russell, Lewis Hamilton and Zhou Guanyu.

Tyres compounds – Pirelli has designed a new C1 compound for this year with the previous hardest compound having been renamed C0. The addition of the brand-new C1 compound that slotted in between last year’s C1 and C2 compound has created to a six-compound tyre range. Interestingly, the C0 compound has not been used yet – Pirelli nominated the second hardest compound, the C1 even for the high degradation tracks such as Bahrain or Silverstone.

For each grand prix, Pirelli provides three different compounds of slick tyre. The trio of C1, C2 and C3 was used in Bahrain, Barcelona, Silverstone while the trio of C2, C3 and C4 was selected in Jeddah, Melbourne, Miami and Spa. The trio of the three softest compounds was chosen in Baku, Monaco, Montreal, Melbourne and Budapest. The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was called off due to local flooding, but this latter trio would have been used in Imola as well.

Power units - Over the course of the 2023 season, a driver may use no more than four ICEs, MGU-Hs, MGU-Ks and turbochargers. Furthermore, drivers are restricted to two energy stores and control electronics, and eight of each of the four elements that make up a set of exhaust systems (comprising primaries left-hand side, primaries right-hand side, secondary LHS and secondary RHS).

Up to the Belgian Grand Prix, three drivers have picked up a power unit-related grid drop penalty. Charles Leclerc was first penalized in Jeddah for using a fresh control electronics before receiving further two penalties in Barcelona for another new CE and a fresh energy store.

Sergio Perez exceeded his pool of power unit components in Melbourne, having used a new CE and ES, the third of each component. The already-ousted Nyck de Vries also received a grid drop penalty at the Austrian Grand Prix after his former team AlphaTauri equipped his car with a fresh energy store and control electronics, the third of each component.

Rookies – Formula One welcomed three new faces to the grid for the 2023 season with McLaren's Oscar Piastri, AlphaTauri's Nyck de Vries and Williams' Logan Sargeant having joined the field to make an impact.

While Sargeant and de Vries have failed to score points in the first part of the season, Oscar Piastri has made an encouraging start to his F1 career. The Australian scored first scored points in Baku, then in Monaco before McLaren debuted a heavily-updated car in Austria.

The former F2 and F3 champion finished fourth at the British Grand Prix before adding further valuable points to his tally with a fifth-place finish at the Hungaroring. He led the Spa F1 Sprint before finishing second and scoring seven points. His weekend in Belgium ended, however, in tears after making contact with Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari in a Turn 1 incident which forced him to retire from the ultimate race before the summer break.

Mid-season change – Following his eye-catching performance at last year’s Italian Grand Prix where he collected two points on his debut as a substitute for Alex Albon, Nyck de Vries joined the F1 field as a full-time driver at the AlphaTauri squad. However, the former F2 and Formula E champion was relieved of his driving duties for AlphaTauri after underperforming in the first ten races. His seat was filled by Daniel Ricciardo from the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards, who raced with the team in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, being known at the time as Toro Rosso.

Cancellations – The original 2023 F1 calendar included 24 races which would have set a new record in the history of the championship. However, two races were called off which means that this year’s championship is being contested over 22 races.

The Chinese Grand Prix was initially due to be part of the calendar after last being held in 2019, but it was cancelled for the fourth consecutive year due to the ongoing difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Thereafter, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, which was scheduled to take place on 21 May as the sixth round of the championship, was cancelled on 17 May due to flooding in the area.

It’s far from the first time race cancellations have happened, with around 50 races thought to have been dropped over the course of grand prix history.

Just to pick out a few of those races, the 1957 Dutch and Belgian Grands Prix were cancelled for the indirect consequences of the Suez Crises while the 1969 Belgian Grand Prix was called off for safety reasons. The 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix was also cancelled due to anti-government protests. The 2021 Australian Grand Prix was called off at the 11th hour due to the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.

Constructors’ Championship – After having won all races so far in 2023 and having clinched five one-two finishes, it is no surprise that Red Bull Racing are the runaway leader in the Constructors’ Championship, sitting atop of the table on 503 points. Mercedes are second on this list, but they have less than half of the points of Red Bull.

Aston Martin are still third in the teams’ standings, but their low-key performances in the last four races mean that fourth-placed Ferrari have closed in on them with only five points separating the Silverstone- and Maranello-based outfits.

McLaren have been on a real march recently, having collected two podium finishes at Silverstone and the Hungaroring. However, the Belgian Grand Prix saw Oscar Piastri retire after a Turn 1 incident with Carlos Sainz while Lando Norris finished only down in P7.

In Spa, AlphaTauri managed to add a point to their two-point tally thanks to the tenth-place finish from Yuki Tsunoda. In fact, the Japanese has scored all of AlphaTauri's points in 2023.