It was quite the week in Formula 1.
After yet another win from Max Vertstappen and Red Bull at the British Grand Prix, the grid woke up Monday to the shocking news that Daniel Ricciardo was not only coming back, but he was back with “immediate effect.” Nyck de Vries was out at AlphaTauri, and the Honey Badger was in.
Sometimes a shocking bit of news like that offers a good time to step back, and take stock. To that end we are looking at the biggest questions facing each team, as well as the sport, as F1 looks ahead to the Hungarian Grand Prix.
For the ten teams, the questions are addressed in more detail at the links provided.
Is F1 headed into a Red Bull dominant period?
It certainly looks that way.
But if F1 is heading into a years-long stretch of Red Bull dominance, what will that mean for the sport itself?
Dominance is nothing new to F1, and fans have seen extended runs from multiple teams over the years. Ferrari won six-straight Constructors’ titles from 1999-2004. Most recently Mercedes won eight-straight titles, from 2014-2021. That first title actually broke a run from Red Bull themselves, as the Bulls won four-straight Constructors’ Championships from 2010-2013.
But this potential period of Red Bull dominance comes at a more precarious time for the spot. As has been documented here and elsewhere, under new ownership F1 is looking to grow and expand, pushing into emerging markets for the sport and seeking out new fanbases.
That of course includes the United States. Thanks in part to the success of the Netflix docuseries Drive to Survive, F1 is enjoying new growth in the United States. Seeking to build on that growth, the sport has added new races in the states, including the Miami Grand Prix last year and the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix for this season.
However, would a period of Red Bull dominance act as an anchor around that growth?
While established F1 fans have lived through similar periods of dominance, fans in the United States can be a fickle bunch. The parity fans in the States have grown accustomed to in sports like the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, and even Major League Baseball may see some newer fans turn away.
Especially when there are other motorsport options, options which do see battles at the top of the field. While F1 has seen just four different drivers win titles over the past ten years — Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, and Sebastian Vettel — in IndyCar five different drivers have won titles during that stretch, without a driver winning in back-to-back seasons. In NASCAR, seven drivers have won titles during that same ten-year stretch, again without a driver winning in back-to-back seasons.
In recent years, in an effort to level the playing field somewhat, F1 imposed a cost cap. The move was made towards preventing teams with near-unlimited resources simply spending their way to a title. Beyond that, the sport implemented a new sliding scale for aerodynamic testing, based on how teams finished in the prior season.
Implemented for the 2022 season, teams are now limited in terms of how much time they have to spend on aerodynamic testing. The better you finish in the standings, the less time you have.
All of this is well and good, and F1 has outlined that it will take some time for the full impact of these rules and regulations to level the playing field, but at least at the front of the field, everyone is still trying to catch the Bulls.
Making matters perhaps worse, has Red Bull found a way to defeat the cap? Team Principal Christian Horner has already outlined that the team is beginning work on their 2024 car. If a team — Red Bull in this instance — can build such a big lead in a season and shift their focus to the next year by July, will that give them an advantage year-to-year.
The team will still be adding some upgrades to the RB19, and reports over the weekend indicated that the team will be bringing some upgrades to the Hungarian Grand Prix that may shave as much as “two-tenths” off their lap times.
Has Red Bull found a way to, for lack of a better term, beat the cost cap? Thereby potentially extending their period of dominance?
Again, if that does happen, what will that mean for F1’s desire to continue growing into new markets. Will new fans stick around, or will they look elsewhere in search of fights at the front of the field?
Because if you look behind Verstappen, there is exciting racing to be found. In this season you are seeing the rest of the field bunched up rather tightly, so that on any given week multiple teams are fighting for points behind Red Bull. But is that enough to hold interest throughout the season? Maybe for some, but not for all.
Something else to consider is recent reporting out of Italian media, that F1’s ownership group, Liberty Media, is pushing for a Red Bull “Dream Team.” According to Formu1a.uno, the ownership group would love to see a driver such as Charles Leclerc or Lando Norris in place next to Verstappen at Red Bull.
The reason? If a title fight cannot take place between Verstappen and a non-Red Bull driver, then perhaps one could be found between Verstappen and a teammate:
“There is in fact a strong will on the part of Liberty Media to try and convince the top teams to have two truly competitive riders in the team, in order to revive the show even if only one team dominates. The American giant has understood that it is very complicated to repeat seasons like 2021, even by frequently resetting the technical regulations and with the impossibility of extending their life too much. The manager of the top Motorsport series therefore wants to try to improve the show by working on a more sporting side.”
If there is any truth to that report, it could be a sign that Liberty Media is worried about these issues as well.
Of course, there is an argument to be made that Red Bull’s dominance will eventually subside for a few reasons. The cost cap as well as the testing regulations will eventually have an impact. Plus, the other teams are not sitting still. As Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff said recently, when one team is dominant, the others fight even harder to get back to the front.
“We have had those years where we were as strong, but it is a meritocracy,” Wolff said back in March. “We shouldn’t talk it down because I remember hearing voices like that between 2014 and 2020. What makes the sport so special is that you need to work hard to win, and you deserve it, and that is matter of fact.”
“Even if it is not great for the show that the same guys win all the time, it is because they have done a good job and we haven’t. We all hope for good entertainment and it is our duty to catch up and fight these guys,” he added. “We will do everything in our power to fight back and we will look at areas of weakness that they may have.”
Still, the issue of Red Bull entering a period of dominance is a huge question facing the sport.
Both its present, and its future.
Just what can AlphaTauri expect from Daniel Ricciardo?
Now that we have looked at the sport itself, what about the ten teams.
We work through the grid in reverse order of the standings, outlining the biggest question facing each constructor. Thankfully, that gets us to the big story first.
In a shock announcement, AlphaTauri and Red Bull announced that the Honey Badger would be coming back to the grid with “immediate effect,” taking Nyck De Vries’ seat at AlphaTauri starting with the Hungarian Grand Prix.
But now that Ricciardo is back, what can we expect to see from the F1 veteran?
Can Alfa Romeo get something out of this upgrade package?
It has been a difficult year for Alfa Romeo, who currently sit ninth in the Constructors’ standings, ahead of only AlphaTauri.
A team that has just made a driver switch.
There were hopes that an upgrade package the team brought to Silverstone would provide a solution, but as the team left the British Grand Prix behind, they left without any points to show for their efforts. That was largely due to technical problems on Saturday that forced Bottas to start at the back of the field and saw teammate Zhou Guanyu limited in Q1, qualifying only 18th.
While they made up some ground on Sunday, they have yet to see the full effort from their work at the factory. Can they finally deliver with their upgrades going forward?
Can Haas fix their reliability woes?
There are two big questions facing Haas, but right now one seems more glaring than the other.
One is their race pace. But perhaps a more pressing issue for the team right now? Reliability. Over the past few grands prix, reliability woes have been a massive problem. Hülkenberg experienced a power loss that knocked him out of the Austrian Grand Prix, and last weekend it was Magnussen’s turn, as he lost power midway through the British Grand Prix, after also experiencing a failure on Saturday.
And when you consider the fact that Hülkenberg also had a power loss during practice ahead of the Canadian GP, that is three race weekends in a row with a problem. Is this a problem they can fix?
Was Silverstone a fluke, or a sign of things to come for Williams?
The British Grand Prix was by far the best weekend of the 2023 season for Williams.
Not only did Alex Albon finish in the points, finishing eighth at Silverstone two races after finishing seventh at the Canadian Grand Prix, rookie Logan Sargeant finished 11th. While it was not good enough for the rookie to earn his first points of his debut F1 campaign, it was by far his best finish of the season.
Can Alpine find some consistency?
Or perhaps the more accurate question: Can they find any luck?
Now admit, you were probably expecting something regarding Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney, and Michael B. Jordan. Which, I understand. But the biggest question facing the team right now does not involve their new Hollywood owners, but rather consistency.
Has McLaren figured it all out?
The big winners of the British Grand Prix?
With both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri having upgraded MCL60s for Silverstone — after the team debuted a new package for Norris alone at the Austrian GP — the team posted their best weekend of the year, vaulting ahead of Alpine in the standings.
Both Piastri and Norris qualified in the top three, with Norris in P2 and Piastri in P3. While they could not get both drivers on the podium in the Grand Prix, Norris managed a P2 in his home race, while Piastri came across the line fourth.
Has anything really changed at Ferrari?
After a change at the top, strategy decisions are being called into question yet again.
Did Aston Martin squander their early advantage?
Aston Martin had three advantages heading into the 2023 F1 season.
Have they squandered two of them?
Will Mercedes solve “Diva 2.0,” or will that answer come in 2024?
Stop me if you have heard this before.
Mercedes has a problem with their car.
But are the Silver Arrows going to keep working towards a fix for the W14, or are they already moving on to the W15, and 2024?
Will Red Bull lose, and if not, what does that mean for F1 itself?
This is perhaps a two-part question, looking at a micro-level question, and then a macro-level question.
First, will Red Bull lose this season? Second, if they do not, what does that mean for F1 itself?