Which teams are the biggest successes and failures of the 2023 Formula 1 season so far? Who ‘must do better’ and who are the star performers who need to change very little?
Well The Race’s F1 writers have weighed in by grading all 10 F1 teams based on their performance in the first half of the 2023 season.
Our grading system is simple and inspired by school report cards. Each team will be awarded a letter grade from A to E, which reflects their overall level.
Within that, there are three sub-divisions – for example C plus, C or C minus, with the plus and minus (or absence thereof) reflecting the team’s overall execution in terms of making the most of the machinery and producing even development across the half-season so far.
And remember, we are grading teams for performance measured by expectations. That means a team expected to be at the back that’s overachieving will get a better grade than a potential title challenger that’s not producing the goods.
Alfa Romeo: Grade E
Championship position: 9th
Summary: Has gone backwards
The Sauber-run Alfa Romeo squad came into the season aiming to push on towards the front of the midfield pack, but has regressed alarmingly.
There have been occasions when the car has been genuinely quick, for example in Hungary where Zhou Guanyu qualified fifth, but they are few and far between. That Zhou’s launch was ruined by a settings glitch that put the car into a safe-start mode because he was on the brake pedal, also compromising team-mate Valtteri Bottas’s start, is symptomatic of a season when opportunities have also been missed.
The car is good in the slow corners but still has a fast corner weakness despite changes over the winter, and subsequent upgrades, designed to improve that. It’s also a little too draggy, meaning it hasn’t been strong on the straights.
Alpine: Grade D-
Championship position: 6th
Summary: A team going nowhere fast
Alpine’s on-track peaks have been as dramatic as its troughs, with a podium in Monaco and a top-three finish in the Belgium sprint race offset by disasters like the race-imploding shunt between its two drivers late in Australia and a horror show of an Azerbaijan weekend.
It’s been the quintessential Renault works team experience so far in 2023: sometimes Alpine looks like it is getting its act together, sometimes it looks utterly chaotic. There’s so little consistency across all facets of this team and it has had a hugely detrimental effect on how good its season has been.
And that’s considerably below average for a team that started the year bullishly setting the target of finishing fourth again while being closer to the top three. It is nowhere near that goal – 134 points adrift, in fact, while sitting a distant sixth in the championship.
Underlining the on-track disappointment is the huge off-track overhaul with a raft of senior leaders leaving.
AlphaTauri: Grade D
Championship position: 10th
Summary: Must do better
AlphaTauri has suffered more than most with the challenge of extracting performance from these ground effect cars across a wide range of ride heights. That’s manifested itself in a car that’s good in the fast stuff but struggles in slower corners.
In particular, it suffers from rear-end instability in the late-entry phase and then mid-corner understeer, a stubborn trait carried over from last season. A floor upgrade introduced at the British Grand Prix shortly before the August break didn’t appear to bring a big improvement in this weakness.
Given AlphaTauri can lean on Red Bull for 2022-specification parts, using its rear end, as well as benefitting from sharing its windtunnel, this isn’t good enough. That’s contributed to the intention to move much of the team to the UK and increase the number of Red Bull parts used in future.
HAAS: Grade C-
Championship position: 8th
Summary: Desperately needs race-day improvements
Were points to be awarded based on qualifying, Haas would be having a much better season despite the fact that only Nico Hulkenberg has consistently been able to extract pace from the car while Kevin Magnussen has struggled.
The trouble is that while it has an impressive turn of pace over a single lap, that usually vanishes in races owing to how hard the car is on the tyres. That appears to be the consequence of some mechanical characteristics inherited from technical partner Ferrari, along with some aerodynamic instability of its own making.
That said, the American-owned team is nonetheless ranked in the same place in the constructors’ championship as it was last year – and level on points with Williams ahead. So in terms of expectations, it would really only be expected to be in the middle of the midfield pack at best.
FERRARI: Grade C-
Championship position: 4th
Summary: Not quick or sharp enough
Ferrari has fallen well short of its title-chasing expectations and has gone backwards since 2022.
Qualifying is generally its strongest suit, although nothing like as brilliant as last year. The old weaknesses remain: poor race pace, questionable reliability, strategic mistakes and driver errors have all hit Ferrari this year.
Even in the context of falling short of challenging Red Bull, Ferrari has disappointed. It has probably the second-fastest car on single-lap pace but is only fourth in the championship. And that’s a big part of the frustration.
On the plus side, there have been signs of progress with the upgrades introduced from the Spanish Grand Prix onwards.
The team is confident this direction will yield a step forward next year, so there are some quietly positive signs that it is on the right trajectory. But we’ll only be able to judge that for sure once the 2024 Ferrari hits the track. Until that happens and either proves Ferrari right or wrong, 2023 has to be considered a disappointment.
Mercedes: Grade C
Championship position: 2nd
Summary: Profoundly average
Mercedes is underachieving against the benchmark set by Red Bull, and the team’s peaks have been fairly unimpressive. In fact it is barely the third-fastest on average, just pipping Aston Martin.
This means there’s an argument for slapping Mercedes with a failing grade here. But expectation is only part of the process. Execution is a big part of things as well. And the fact is Mercedes is still second in the constructors’ championship, as the combined package of car, team and driver line-up is outperforming teams with faster machinery.
We can’t give Mercedes a top grade given it has misfired by being in a relatively similar position to last year, and has such a big gap to Red Bull.
This team being second-best and fighting for regular podiums is a bang average return and despite multiple false dawns overall, notably when it had a brief upturn in results after introducing its Monaco Grand Prix upgrade package that ditched the zero-sidepod design, Mercedes hasn’t made the required gains.
McLaren: Grade C+
Championship position: 5th
Summary: Great effort to recover from early woes
If the judgement of any team risks being swayed by recency bias, it’s McLaren.
Although the mid-season surge is relevant because it has addressed a significant underperformance earlier in the year, we need to judge the season as a whole.
McLaren downplayed its expectations for the start of the season, but it would be too generous to say that means it was fine to be sixth or seventh best, which it was early on. Writing off the first part of the season doesn’t buy you any grace in F1.
The reality is a team like McLaren is expected to be a top four or top five contender and it fell short of that before a massively successful upgrade transformed its car into a more consistently quick one in both qualifying and race trim.
McLaren is now about where it should be in the championship, hence meriting a C grade, but we boost it to a C+ given the general effectiveness of its execution and the fact it is even slightly overachieving by picking off some underperforming bigger guns in recent races.
Williams: Grade B
Championship position: 7th
Summary: Vastly exceeded low expectations
Expectations were very low for Williams this season. It had the worst car of 2022 and ended the year shedding its team boss, technical director and head of aerodynamics.
Going into the first race, lead driver Alex Albon admitted the team’s analysis had it last after testing. What’s followed has consistently surprised those in and outside the team, for Albon has been a regular lower points threat – with a couple of great peaks thrown in.
Even though it’s still capable of being the slowest on the grid, there’s no doubt that the Williams FW45 is a better car than expected. It seems pretty well understood, and the team has generally been effective in maximising it even if not every opportunity has been grasped.
While the ultimate performance is still lacking, hence only fighting for seventh in the championship, the bottom line is that Williams is overperforming relative to expectations and in decent shape for this phase of its recovery.
Aston Martin: Grade A-
Championship position: 3rd
Summary: Largely excellent but dropoff is concerning
Aston Martin’s spectacular leap forward for 2023 has been one of the big stories of the season. And rightly so as it has leapt from seventh in the championship last year to third and has already scored more than 10 times the points it did at the halfway stage in 2022.
That represents a bigger leap forward than expected by the watching world and Fernando Alonso made the most of it with a run of six podiums in eight races. But in the last four races before the August break, its form dropped off as Aston Martin failed to keep pace with the development of its rivals.
And despite what Alonso has suggested, the team doesn’t believe the slight change to Pirelli tyre construction is the cause of that.
The Aston Martin has generally been a car at its best in the slow and medium speed corners, hence it had potentially race-winning pace at Monaco.
Improvements have been made to tackle its straightline speed weakness and make its DRS more effective, while there have also been attempts to widen the set-up window given it has sometimes been difficult to get the car working on tracks with a wide range of corner-speed profiles.
The team promises plenty more upgrades to come and is determined to hit back.
Red Bull: Grade A+
Championship position: 1st
Summary: Close to perfection
Save for missing out on pole position in Azerbaijan and Hungary, Red Bull has had a perfect season and won every single race – including the three sprints – so far.
The Red Bull RB19 is unique among the 2023 F1 cars in that it is able to produce good downforce across a wide range of ride heights while also running with a compliant mechanical platform that allows the drivers to attack the kerbs.
That’s down to it having grasped the interaction of aerodynamic characteristics of the ground-effect floor – in particular the height of the venturi tunnels – and mechanical platform through its suspension design, which features anti-squat and anti-dive characteristics.
Add to that the fact that Max Verstappen has been outstanding, particularly in qualifying on days when the front tyre warm-up struggles make life difficult, and you have one of the great packages of F1 history.