It’s not too early to start thinking about when Max Verstappen can clinch the 2023 Formula 1 title.
Verstappen won for the 10th time over the first 12 races of the season in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix. He had to start sixth thanks to a five-spot grid penalty for a gearbox change but was fourth just seconds into the first lap and easily got to first before driving away from teammate Sergio Perez.
The two-time defending champion has 314 points so far this season and when you remove the points he’s scored over the three sprint races he’s averaging a staggering 24 points per race.
A season ago, Verstappen clinched the title with four races to go and scored 454 points over the entirety of the 22-race season. He’s well ahead of that pace in 2023 and it’s not impossible that he could clinch the title before the month of September is over.
F1 returns Aug. 27 in Verstappen’s home country of the Netherlands before three races over the month of September in Italy, Singapore and Japan. Another Japan clincher 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 clear of teammate Sergio Perez in the points standings with six races to go in the season. If Perez fails to score points in one or more of those four races, the gap could be even larger.
If we were betting on when Verstappen will clinch the title, we’d pick the Qatar Grand Prix on Oct. 8 with five races to go. All Verstappen has to do to clinch by the end of the Qatar Grand Prix is be 146 points ahead of Perez or whoever is in second place.
Here are some more of our takeaways from the first half of the 2023 Formula 1 season as the series enters its annual summer break.
Is the Red Bull sweep really going to happen?
It’s a foregone conclusion at this point that Verstappen will win the driver’s title and Red Bull will win its second consecutive constructor’s title this season. Red Bull currently has more than twice the points as second-place Mercedes in the constructor’s standings and Verstappen alone would have a 67-point lead on the point totals of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell combined.
Thanks to a Verstappen win at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2022, Red Bull now owns the longest win streak in F1 history at 13 races with wins in every race so far this season. And every Red Bull … err, Verstappen … win makes it more and more likely the team could pull off the improbable feat.
Right now, we’d still guess that someone from another team will get a win. Verstappen has been incredibly dominant but has also had some very good luck. He’s bound to have an incident with another driver or a poor qualifying effort he can’t overcome, right? And Perez is too inconsistent on a week-to-week basis to count on. The over/under for Red Bull wins this season should be at 19.5 and the over would be a tempting pick even if you don’t believe the sweep is possible.
Mercedes’ steadiness 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 fight for second, third and fourth-best is really fascinating so far.
After a fourth-place finish by Hamilton and a sixth-place finish by Russell in Belgium, Mercedes is 51 points ahead of Aston Martin in the constructor’s standings. Aston Martin is just five points ahead of Ferrari in fourth while McLaren has jumped to fifth and is 144 points back of Mercedes.
It’s been a frustrating year for Mercedes as it quickly realized that the car design it struggled to capitalize on in 2022 was still a problem in 2023. But the team’s race pace has kept it in the hunt while Ferrari has strategy blunders on a semi-weekly basis and Aston Martin’s sparkling pace from the beginning of the season has faded.
Fernando Alonso opened the season with five podium finishes over the first six races and his only non-podium was a fourth-place finish in Azerbaijan. In the six races since, Alonso hasn’t finished lower than ninth, but he’s scored just one podium in that span.
As Alonso’s performance has dropped off, Hamilton’s has ticked up. Hamilton has five top-four finishes in the last six races as he’s now within a point of Alonso for third in the driver’s standings.
How real is McLaren’s surge?
McLaren had a miserable start to the 2023 season. Lando Norris had just three top-10 finishes over the first six races while Oscar Piastri had two.
But a switch flipped with the team’s upgrades at the Austrian Grand Prix and the British Grand Prix. After having the fastest non-Red Bull cars at Silverstone, McLaren kept up the pace in Hungary. Belgium didn’t go well after Piastri got pinched into the wall on the first lap, but Norris finished seventh despite having a car that had a bunch of downforce built into it in case of rain.
The standings don’t show it, but McLaren may currently be the third-best team in F1.
Will a leadership change 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 thick of the midfield battle this season. Instead, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly have combined for just 57 points so far as Alpine is stuck in sixth place in the constructor’s standings.
Both Ocon and Gasly were out of the Hungarian Grand Prix in the opening laps and the team announced ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix that team principal Otmar Szafnauer, the team’s sporting director and its chief technical officer would all be out ahead of the summer break.
Alpine showed some speed in Belgium as Gasly finished third in the sprint race and Ocon was eighth in the Grand Prix. But those are baby steps for a team that needs to take a leap to have any chance of competing with the top five. Outside of a third-place finish for Ocon in Monaco, there hasn’t been much to be optimistic about at Alpine. Especially for Gasly. He hasn’t finished better than seventh all season and has three consecutive finishes outside the top 10.