It’s never too early to start thinking about when Max Verstappen can win the 2023 Formula 1 title.
Verstappen won for the 10th time over the first 12 races of the season at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday. He had to start sixth thanks to a five-point penalty for a gearbox change, but finished fourth just seconds into the first lap and easily secured pole position before running away from teammate Sergio Pérez.
The two-time defending champ has 314 points so far this season, and when you remove the points he scored in the three sprint races, he averages 24 points per race.
A season ago, Verstappen clinched the title with four races remaining and scored 454 points over the entire 22-race season. He is ahead of this pace in 2023 and it is not impossible that he will clinch the title before the end of September.
F1 returns on August 27 in Verstappen’s home country of the Netherlands ahead of three races over the course of September in Italy, Singapore and Japan. Another decider in Japan for Verstappen is not entirely out of the question.
If Verstappen wins the next four races and scores 100 points (or more), he could be more than 144 points ahead of teammate Sergio Perez in the points standings with six races into the season. If Perez fails to score points in one or more of these four races, the gap could be even larger.
If we were betting on when Verstappen would win the title, we would pick the Qatar Grand Prix on October 8 with five races remaining. All Verstappen needs to do to win the final Qatar Grand Prix is 146 points ahead of Perez or whoever finishes second.
Here are more of our takeaways from the first half of the 2023 Formula 1 season as the series enters its annual summer break.
Will the Red Bull sweep really happen?
It is a foregone conclusion at this point that Verstappen will win the driver’s title and Red Bull will win their second consecutive constructor’s title this season. Red Bull currently has more than double the points lead as Mercedes are second in the manufacturer’s standings and Verstappen alone will have a 67-point lead over Lewis Hamilton and George Russell combined.
Thanks to Verstappen’s victory at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2022, Red Bull now has the longest winning streak in F1 history at 13 races with wins in every race so far this season. And every Red Bull…err, Verstappen…a win makes it probably more and more likely that the team can pull off this unlikely feat.
For now, we’re still guessing someone from another team will win. Verstappen was incredibly dominant but also had some good luck. He’s bound to have an accident with another driver or a poor qualifying effort that he can’t overcome, right? And Perez is very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis to count. Red Bull’s win over/under ratio this season should be at 19.5 and more than that would be a tempting choice even if you don’t think a sweep is possible.
Mercedes’ consistency is showing
Mercedes is showing that you don’t have to be flashy to be the best of the rest in Formula 1. And the competition for second, third and fourth is really cool so far.
After Hamilton’s fourth-place finish and Russell’s sixth-place finish in Belgium, Mercedes are 51 points ahead of Aston Martin in the playmaker standings. Aston Martin is only five points ahead of Ferrari in fourth place, while McLaren jumped to fifth place, 144 points behind Mercedes.
It was a frustrating year for Mercedes as they soon realized that the car design they had struggled to capitalize on in 2022 was still an issue in 2023. But the team’s racing pace kept it in the chase while Ferrari had strategic errors in the fortnight. And Aston Martin’s blistering pace has faded since the start of the season.
Fernando Alonso opened the season with five consecutive podium finishes in the first six races and was the only podium finisher with a fourth-place finish in Azerbaijan. In the six races since then, Alonso has never finished lower than ninth, but only scored one podium in that period.
As Alonso’s performance declined, Hamilton’s performance improved. Hamilton has secured five top-four finishes in the last six races as he is now one point clear of Alonso for third place in the driver standings.
How real is McLaren’s increase?
McLaren have had a miserable start to the 2023 season. Lando Norris has three top-10 finishes over the first six races while Oscar Piastri has two.
But a shift was reversed with team upgrades at the Austrian Grand Prix and the British Grand Prix. After getting the fastest non-Red Bull cars at Silverstone, McLaren kept up the pace in Hungary. Belgium didn’t go so well after Piastri went down into the wall on the first lap, but Norris finished seventh despite having a car with a built-in downforce kit in case it rained.
The standings don’t show it, but McLaren may currently be the third best team in Formula 1.
Will a change of leadership boost Alpine?
Alpine is the most disappointing team in 2023.
The French team finished a clear fourth ahead of both McLaren and Aston Martin in 2022 and looked poised to be in the midst of a midfield battle this season. Instead, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly together only accumulated 57 points so that Alpine is stuck in sixth place in the manufacturer’s standings.
Both Ocon and Gasly crashed out of the Hungarian Grand Prix in the opening laps and the team announced ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix that team principal Ottmar Zafnauer, the team’s sporting director and chief technical officer would all be out before the summer break.
Alpine showed some speed in Belgium with Gasly third in the sprint and Ocon eighth in the Grand Prix. But these are small steps for a team that needs a jump start to have any chance of competing with the top five. Outside of Ocon’s third place in Monaco, there was little cause for optimism in Alpine. Especially for Gasly. He has never finished better than seventh all season and has three consecutive finishes outside the top ten.