F1 is back! Six burning questions as F1 returns from summer hiatus

Max Verstappen raises his arms aloft after winning the Miami Grand Prix

Max Verstappen: Can he help Red Bull go entire year unbeaten?

It’s race week, finally! It sure feels good to be typing that again.

With 10 race weekends in 14 weeks to blast through, it is set to be a busy second half of the season even if we do know which driver and team are going to be winning the World Championship titles.

But, there are plenty of other intriguing storylines to sink our teeth into and head-scratching puzzles to solve…

Will Red Bull go the entire F1 season unbeaten?

Michelle Foster: No, they may only lose one race but they will lose a grand prix this I promise you. With the likes of Singapore, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, and even the brand-new Las Vegas race on the calendar, there are too many variables in the mix that could trip them up.

I’m not saying another team is going to win a race this season, just that Red Bull will lose one. And therein lies the kicker.

Mercedes, McLaren, and Ferrari are all too far behind to catch Red Bull this season but at some point, Max Verstappen is going to crash or have a puncture or something will go wrong, and Sergio Perez has shown too many times that he may not be close enough to the front to pick up the pieces, so yes Red Bull will lose one this season. And one team will be gifted a win.

Thomas Maher: No, there will be another team that sneaks a win before season end. Even with the level of dominance, we’re seeing, it only takes one little thing to go wrong to halt the charge. If Sergio Perez was performing to a consistently higher level, my answer would be different but, if something takes Max out of the equation, Red Bull can’t rely on Sergio to definitely be there.

I simply don’t see Verstappen and Red Bull having the sheer dumb luck required to have absolutely nothing go wrong between now and season end and, for that reason, alone, I don’t see Red Bull winning every race.

But that’s not to say that, on pace alone, they couldn’t do it – they absolutely could.

Henry Valantine: I’ll stick my neck out here: Yes. You only need to look at the margins of victory from Verstappen in particular to see how easy things have been made to look at times this season and, at times, it looks like Red Bull are just toying with the rest of the field.

I’m with Michelle in saying that if, and it’s a big ‘if’, anyone else wins a race, it’ll be down to an accident or force majeure against Red Bull instead of pace. That RB19 is just too quick, and too reliable, the pit crew are rock solid, and they have Verstappen in top form and Perez on an upward trend after his two podiums before the break. This could be the first-ever unbeaten F1 season for a team.

Jamie Woodhouse: I’m with Henry, Red Bull will go undefeated in F1 2023 I reckon.

Verstappen and Red Bull’s margin over the chasing pack is so profound that realistically, it feels like an incident or reliability issue which takes the Dutchman out of the race will be needed to take victory off the table.

And even then, I think it would take further major bad luck to stop Perez from getting the bit between his teeth and coming alive with the chance of winning.

Part of me wants Red Bull to pull off the achievement so that rather than remembering this season as one where action at the front was completely lacking, we can reflect on the year where history, perhaps never to be repeated, was made.

Sam Cooper: I would say no as there are still 10 races to go and so far Red Bull have been fortunate, not from a performance perspective, but simply from an incident/reliability perspective. Also Red Bull have made it clear their focus is now on 2024 so one of the other teams could catch up come later in the year.

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Who will finish higher in the standings? Alonso or Hamilton?

Michelle Foster: One point behind Fernando Alonso despite Aston Martin’s flying start to this season, it will be Lewis Hamilton who finishes P3 in this year’s Drivers’ Championship.

I feel for Alonso in that respect as Aston Martin came storming out of the blocks, everyone waited with bated breath for the Spaniard to claim that 33rd win, but their development compared to Mercedes’ has missed the mark. Maybe it’s a case of less scope to develop or expertise, maybe Mercedes are more used to pushing the envelope, and maybe Aston Martin just aren’t used to dreaming that big. Who knows. It could even come down to a budget cap thing dare I suggest.

But when it’s all said and done Hamilton will be ahead of Alonso in the standings.

Thomas Maher: I’m going with Lewis Hamilton. Aston Martin’s slide has been too marked for them to pull the momentum back in a short enough timespan to rescue the season completely. Mercedes have been there-or-thereabouts all year and I believe Hamilton is performing at his best once again.

Alonso will finish fourth overall, that’s my guess!

Henry Valantine: Lewis Hamilton. To me, Aston Martin have had something of a 2013-esque Mercedes season, a very bright start that has seen them tail off somewhat as others who are more regularly at the front (ie Mercedes themselves and Ferrari) overhaul them. The question will be whether they can follow Mercedes’ lead in making that next step, but that’s for another time.

As for this year, that Mercedes has edged past the Aston in recent races and Hamilton looks in excellent form with it – George Russell being firmly behind as it stands – and I can see Hamilton being ‘best of the rest’ come season’s end, maybe even swiping P2 away from Sergio Perez…

Jamie Woodhouse: To add a bit of variety, I’ll go with Alonso to retain that P3 finish, and put my trust in Aston Martin’s belief that they are unpicking their confusion stemming from the Canada upgrades.

Sam Cooper: Lewis Hamilton. While Fernando Alonso started brilliantly, Aston Martin admitted they made a wrong turn in their development choice and are playing catch up while the likes of Mercedes are moving on. In the past eight races, Hamilton has outscored Alonso by 13 points and it is a trend I can see continuing.

Can McLaren catch the top four?

Michelle Foster: Next season, yes. This year, no.

McLaren have made huge strides forward of late, their upgraded MCL60 surging ahead of just about every car on the grid bar the RB19. But alas progress in Formula 1 is not guaranteed, there are bumps and jumps and even descents and that depends – and this season more than most – on the development war and where their rivals are with their programmes.

Between Aston Martin, Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren, they’ve all had a period of ascendancy in just 12 races, and there’s nothing to suggest the pendulum won’t continue to swing after the summer break.

Thomas Maher: It’s still early enough in the season, with plenty of points up for grabs between now and Abu Dhabi. If McLaren can continue where they left off immediately in Zandvoort, I see them being able to get into the top four before season end – but I don’t think they’ll go much further than that.

Next year will be the interesting one, as McLaren explore their change of concept direction more thoroughly for 2024.

Henry Valantine: McLaren’s haul in July was mightily impressive, but with an 88-point net gain to be made on Ferrari in fourth as it stands, I think it might be a bit too late for this year.

Cementing that P5 position from Alpine will be the main task at hand, and they *should* do that comfortably, but as we know, anything can happen in Formula 1, and it usually does.

Jamie Woodhouse: I’ll back McLaren to wipe out that 88-point gap to Ferrari, but P4 will be as good as it gets, with Aston Martin and Mercedes remaining out of reach.

Sam Cooper: While Ferrari continue to underperform, they have yet to hit the catastrophic levels that sees them pick up minimal points in a weekend so McLaren closing a gap that big seems a tough ask. I think the Woking outfit will continue to do well and end the season comfortably in P5.

Will Red Bull keep Sergio Perez for another year?

Michelle Foster: Sergio Perez will be Max Verstappen’s teammate in 2024. As Helmut Marko put it, he’s “woken” up from his championship dream, and his mind is now focused on the job at hand – bringing home second place.

Why would Red Bull want to upset what seems to be a largely harmonious relationship between the team-mates, except of course for those weeks when Perez wants too much and forgets his role. But as long as he’s happy to accept he’s number two – and let’s be honest it’s not like he’s number two to a mediocre driver as Verstappen is well on his way to being regarded as a legend – then Red Bull have a great number one and a solid number two.

Thomas Maher: Yes. Unless he completely falls apart to the point where he is a genuine risk to securing next year’s Constructors’ title, then there is no reason to get rid of Checo yet.

And, while he’s had a bad run of form, he’s still very capable when his mind is right and he stops making mistakes. Keeping him calm and focused on second place, rather than getting excited about beating Max, will be the key to that.

Henry Valantine: Yes, for at least the start of 2024…

We know Perez has a contract that runs until the end of next season but, unfortunately for him, we’ve also seen examples in the past of Red Bull getting itchy feet, and, if Daniel Ricciardo sticks around and delivers the goods in an AlphaTauri (2024 name TBC), the possibility of a team switch or promotion if Perez doesn’t meet their exacting standards before season’s end is not out of the question.

Jamie Woodhouse: I feel this huge Red Bull decision depends on Ricciardo’s showings through the last 10 rounds at AlphaTauri as much as it does Perez’s.

And when all is said and done, I say Red Bull show Perez the door, and hand that second seat to Ricciardo for 2024.

Sam Cooper: Yes, Sergio Perez will be at Red Bull until the end of 2024.

Will Daniel Ricciardo still be on the grid for F1 2024?

Michelle Foster: As long as he’s okay being an AlphaTauri driver then yes, he will still be Yuki Tsunoda’s team-mate next season. With this year’s AT04 probably the slowest car on the grid, AlphaTauri need a driver of Ricciardo’s experience to help them find the right development path. It’s either that or selling the team because who wants to throw good money after bad.

Thomas Maher: No. Liam Lawson is too valuable to leave sitting around for another year, and I believe Tsunoda will do enough to convince Red Bull he’s worth keeping around.

Henry Valantine: Yes. As alluded to before, I reckon he’ll either be at AlphaTauri (2024 name TBC) full-time or head to another team on a one-year deal, but perhaps on a Red Bull loan that means they can call him back if (and perhaps when) called upon, similar to Alex Albon’s arrangement with Williams in his first year there.

Jamie Woodhouse: In keeping with my last response, Ricciardo partners Verstappen at Red Bull for 2024, while at their rebranded sister team, Helmut Marko tries to win Christian Horner over on the idea of Alex Palou alongside Tsunoda, and if he fails, Lawson gets the nod.

Sam Cooper: I don’t see where there is a space for him. I think Red Bull keep Tsunoda at AlphaTauri and I think they also bring Lawson in so sorry Daniel, I think you might sit this one out.

Will Logan Sargeant keep his Williams seat?

Michelle Foster: I don’t want to condemn Logan Sargeant 12 races into his Formula 1 career, my name’s not Helmut, but I can’t see anything that inspires confidence right now. He believes he’s made “really good” progress of late but it’s not showing in his results.

And now with Nyck de Vries out of the picture, his days of flying under the criticism radar are over, the American is now the target unless he starts scoring points. Like Mick Schumacher last season, ironically the driver said to be coming for his Williams race seat, Sargeant is going to have to deal with not only the on-track times but the off-track questions. His only advantage right now is that he doesn’t have Marko or Steiner as his boss.

Thomas Maher: Logan is a good, solid, F1 driver. He’s got a good attitude, and I think he could grow into a steady pair of hands. But Sargeant has lacked the spark that sets the greats apart, even when driving lowly machinery. Alex Albon, who is probably not in the elite class himself, has comfortably had the measure of him.

Mick Schumacher, due to his Mercedes connections and Wolff’s relationship with James Vowles, is more likely to get the nod for 2024 – I believe that’s why key Mercedes personnel keep finding ways to slip in praise for the German driver.

Henry Valantine: Unless he picks it up in the second half of the year, it’s going to be tough for him. Too many people will want that seat and his record against Alex Albon in the first half of the season wasn’t sparkling.

He’s a Williams Academy product and the team will want to see it work more than anything, but with Vowles being very well-connected to Mercedes and Mick Schumacher there in reserve and a point to prove after losing his Haas seat, his phone will no doubt be ringing every time something goes awry on Sargeant’s side of the garage.

Jamie Woodhouse: I think if there was not a vulture named Mick Schumacher circling, then Sargeant would get another season in Williams colours to prove himself, but alas, Vowles is probably going to give in to the Mercedes-inflicted banging on his door and put Schumacher alongside Albon for 2024.

Sam Cooper: From the evidence of the first 12 races, it seems Logan Sargeant may have been brought into F1 perhaps a little too early, and another year in F2 would have helped his development. Now that they have pulled the trigger, I think Williams keep the faith though, and hold onto him for the start of the 2024 season at least.

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