With the Formula 1 summer break in full swing, all teams can take a breather as they get ready to reset for the remaining 10 races. However, as is the nature of Formula 1, you never really know what’s waiting around the corner. Over the past few years, we’ve seen ‘silly season – as it’s been termed – send shockwaves through the world of Formula 1 with unsuspecting driver switches and retirements announcements that have caused the entire landscape of the grid to shift.
Although 2023 has been relatively quiet so far, we’re starting to get a few rumblings of some unrest. So, here’s a rundown of what’s happened so far and what could be on F1’s horizon.
What’s happened so far
From Red Bull dominating the entirety of the season to the ever-changing order of the midfield, 2023 has been a tale of halves. On one hand, the impenetrable success of Red Bull has rendered the season somewhat boring as it’s almost guaranteed that Verstappen will take the win on any given weekend before the first lap has even been completed in FP1. However, the battle from P2 down has been an enthralling story as the strength of the teams within the midfield seem to shift from weekend to weekend. The rapid development of teams such as Aston Martin and McLaren have proven that the potential of these teams in the new regulations is completely unknown (unless you’re Red Bull).
Perhaps the biggest news that broke before Formula 1 hit the pause button for a month was the sudden departure of Otmar Szafnauer from Alpine. The announcement came at an odd time with no warning, leaving everyone scratching their heads as to why the team, formerly known as Renault, decided to replace their Team Principal halfway through the season. It has since been suggested that Szafnauer and Alpine disagreed over the time frame of when the team would be able to join the fight at the top. The removal of Szafnauer at the halfway point has only served to add to Alpine’s growing reputation of instability and indecisiveness. It looks more and more like the team doesn’t have any clear sense of the direction or how to move closer to the goals that they have set for themselves.
Red Bull/ Alpha Tauri
Speaking of mid-season swaps, we have to mention the Alpha Tauri/ Red Bull driver saga that has become one of the biggest storylines in 2023. Nyck De Vries became the latest in a long line of Red Bull casualties, losing his seat after 10 races in the junior team. He was replaced by Ricciardo, who has made his intentions clear since rejoining the grid this year.
To understand the nuance of the Red Bull driver saga, we first have to go back to 2022 when it was announced that Ricciardo would be reuniting with his former team as their third driver in 2023. Many saw this as a deliberate move from Red Bull to apply pressure onto Perez following his failure to maximise the potential of the car. Although reassurances were given from the team that Checo’s seat was safe, there has been a general acknowledgment that if Ricciardo puts in performances that impress Red Bull, an early replacement is still on the cards.
As for Tsunoda, it’s unclear as to what his future will be in the team. He’s now in his third year at Alpha Tauri and an early move up to Red Bull looks extremely unlikely, there’s no denying that Tsunoda has improved tenfold since joining the team in 2021, but is it enough to warrant a place as Verstappen’s teammate?
What can be expected over the next 10 races?
As the remainder of the season plays out there’s still a lot to be confirmed and a whole lot that could change.
With a new Team Principal in Fred Vasseur heading up F1’s most prestigious team, it’s fair to say that this year has been a bit of a disappointment so far. Looking at the current state of Ferrari it’s become evident that a podium is the best that they can hope for in 2023 however, it only takes a short look back to the beginning of 2022 to see a team that was not only challenging for a title but were leading the champion in what was arguably the quickest car on the grid. Although Ferrari’s decline has been drastic over the past year or so, they’ve obviously done enough to retain Leclerc for now. Leclerc recently resigned with the iconic team but there were rumours that he was in discussions with several top teams exploring alternative options.
Ferrari have found themselves in a somewhat lucky position when it comes to the driver market, as whilst their drivers may be exploring other options there are not really any teams that they can immediately jump ship to. Sainz has also considered the idea of leaving Ferrari as it’s now being reported that he has signed a pre-contract with Audi ahead of their 2026 induction into the sport. Ferrari’s current driver pairing is one of the strongest on the grid, but if the rumours are to be believed, there could be a chance that this begins to slowly dismantle itself if more appealing opportunities arise over the next couple of years.
With more than a few drivers set to reach the end of their contracts this year, it’s worth looking at who will be safe for 2024 and whose F1 future will be measured over the final 10 races.
When looking at the contracts that will expire come the end of 2023, there are a few drivers, such as Hamilton, Albon, and Hulkenberg, who are almost guaranteed to remain on the grid for 2024 when you take their 2023 performances into consideration. However, not everyone has done enough to cement themselves in the future of the sport.
Those who may be feeling the pressure once the second half of the season resumes include the likes of Magnussen, Tsunoda, Sargeant, and Zhou.
Despite Magnussen’s explosive return to F1 in 2022, his 2023 campaign has been extremely lacklustre and he has been shown up by his teammate on multiple occasions. Both Hulkenberg and Magnussen share a similar pool of experience in F1, so it has been puzzling to see Hulkenberg leave Magnussen so far behind in the first half of the season. Whilst it doesn’t look like Haas is in a rush to take on any new drivers, Magnussen’s flat performances are surely starting to become a cause for concern.
Zhou Guanyu and Logan Sargeant fall into a similar category of having rather anonymous seasons, whilst Sargeant is a rookie he has had some trouble finding his feet in Formula 1 and has quite comfortably been outperformed by his more experienced teammate, Alex Albon. He definitely has a fair few mistakes in him, but the support from the team seems as though he will be afforded at least one more season to show what he can do once he’s become a bit more acclimatised to the world of F1.
Zhou on the other hand has found himself falling victim to a car that is steadily declining in performance as he improves, making it extremely difficult to judge exactly how his season has gone. He currently finds himself behind his teammate, Bottas, and whilst that may not come as a surprise, he has been able to stick quite close to the 10x Grand Prix winner.
I can’t see any major changes occurring over the remainder of the season, but with Formula 1 you never really know.