I was in Madrid on a business trip this week and my local business partner took me to experience the Wednesday bull fighting, something I’ve never done before. He had asked very carefully before if I was up for it, and in meetings the subsequent days it became clear that Madrilenes aren’t used to foreigners thinking highly of this local tradition, which has been banned notably in Barcelona.
I won’t claim that I found it particularly exciting, but although I don’t really see the point of making a show out of killing the bull (the meat of which is by the way not wasted but processed and sold), I’m an omnivore and respectful of local traditions. What was amazing though was the aggressiveness and persistence of the bulls (the Spaniards would call it courage), going for the banderilleros and picadores time after time after time, like there was no tomorrow. Which of course there isn’t if you’re the bull.
So what does my bull fight have to do with F1? Actually I wasn’t primarily thinking about the team with a red bull as symbol that leads the championship and will most probably take the title, but rather of this year’s surprise driver Fernando Alonso, the grand old man of the F1 circus. Alonso is not only from Spain, he charges like a bull in every race and drives like there is no tomorrow. Which for Fernando, there hopefully is!
If you read this the Sunday it’s published, you may also have seen the most legendary race of the season on the narrow streets of Monaco earlier today. It sums up the first third of the season and in spite of the chaos caused by heavy rain in the last 20 laps, was pretty much in line with the season so far. The first third was however one race shorter than planned, as the Emilia Romagna GP in Italy had to be cancelled last week because of the severe flooding that hit large parts of northern Italy. Luckily the situation there has improved now, so let’s go back over the previous races that did take place and look a bit closer at what has characterized the season so far.
Starting with Red Bull, the team is as dominant, if not more, than last year, with Verstappen and Perez winning all the races so far. To the difference of last year however, Checo Perez is giving Max a run for the money, so far winning two races against Verstappen’s four. The fact that he hit the wall in training and thus started last in today’s Monaco GP meant he didn’t score any points, but otherwise Perez has very much been breathing down Verstappen’s neck and is currently the only real contender to Max claiming another title. Or is he?
If most people expected the Red Bull dominance, not many expected Alonso to do as well as he has. He’s currently third in the overall ranking and has been on the podium in five of the six races so far, four times as third and today in Monaco as second. We knew before the season that Aston Martin had invested heavily in developing a competitive car but that it would be this good, and so clearly ahead of Mercedes and Ferrari was certainly unexpected. It’s also a bit surprising how far ahead Fernando is of his team mate Lance Stroll, at least so far. After today’s race, he’s only 12 points behind Perez in the rankings, so it will be very interesting to see if he can keep it up!
Ferrari on the other hand is clearly less competitive than last year, and Mercedes hasn’t made much progress either, although changes before today’s race may improve the situation going forward. The respective drivers make up places four to seven in the overall rankings with not much between them, but they’re far behind Red Bull and third placed Alonso.
Cédric Vasseur, Ferrari’s new team principal should be given a bit of time to sort things out as he only joined this season (from Alfa Romeo Racing), but Ferrari has only scored one podium this year, when Leclerc finished third in Azerbaijan. Mercedes’ team boss Toto Wolf looks increasingly tired and confused, as does Lewis Hamilton to be honest. In summary, both for Ferrari and Mercedes, things can thus only get better.
Lance Stroll rounds off the top 8 and behind the top four teams, the remaining have scored 69 points – taken together. And that’s only after today’s race, as before that, it was only half. Then again Alpine did really well in the Principality, with Ocon taking third place and Gasly coming in as seventh. That still shows that the distance to the top teams is huge, but also that the difference between the teams in this group is also far relatively small, as fifth-ranked Alpine is only 34 points ahead of Williams, that ranks last with so far only one point. Alex Albon does impressive things in terms of driving, as much as the car allows for. Then again, when he had the chance to race a capable car at Red Bull, he didn’t take it. The question is whether he gets a second one in a better team?
McLaren may be slowly improving, with important changes/improvements having been made to the car ahead of Monaco. Alpine looks quite promising as well, especially if today’s race is anything to go by. For Alfa Romeo Racing, Haas and AlphaTauri, this will most probably be another season to forget.
So there we are after seven races (actually six given the cancelled Emilia Romagna GP) of the 2023 season, and with another 16 to go. Can Sergio Perez really challenge Max for the title, and will the team allow him to do so, should we come to that? Will Ferrari and Mercedes find some speed again, or will the distance to Red Bull continue to grow? And just how far can Fernando “the bull” Alonso take Aston Martin’s renewal? As the European summer nears the end, we’ll check in again to see where things stand!