Let’s make one thing clear straight away: Max Verstappen is obviously the F1 2023 driver of the season and, let’s be honest, it’s not even close.
With that firmly established, we thought a better debate and discussion to have would be to pick out who we feel has been the best driver of the year, excluding Verstappen because he’s been just too damn good this year.
Let’s see who else has caught the eye for all the right reasons during the 2023 campaign.
Our F1 drivers of the season revealed
Mark: I had narrowed it down to two drivers in Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. How Lewis finished third in the World Championship standings and gave Sergio Perez a run for his money in P2, I will never know. The W14 is one for the scrapheap rather than the scrapbook.
But, for me, I have to say Alonso. This is a 42-year-old man who is driving better than ever before and he has been an absolute joy to watch this season; the way he manipulated and moulded the Interlagos track to his benefit in the podium fight against Perez will live long in the memory.
To finish P4 in the standings ahead of Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris, George Russell is a serious accomplishment in an Aston Martin car that hasn’t been the most straightforward to drive this year.
Michelle: It’s easy to look at the top of the Drivers’ standings and pick one of the leading men as the best of 2023 but let’s be honest, that has a lot to do with the car. As such my best of the best goes to Alex Albon, who did more with that Williams FW45 than seemed possible – especially when compared to Logan Sargeant’s results.
Whitewashing his team-mate in qualifying and grabbing a season’s best grid slot of P4 at the Dutch Grand Prix, Albon showed maturity, guts, and drive as he continued to rebuild himself after his Red Bull disappointment and show Helmut Marko and co what he’s truly capable of in the right environment.
That he single-handedly gave Williams P7 in the standings was the cherry on top of Albon’s best-ever season in F1.
Honourable mention needs to go to Fernando Alonso who carried Aston Martin as he showed that age is most definitely just a number. Or it is when you’re as talented and driven as Alonso. It was a joy to watch El Matador reclaim his place at the front of the field.
Also, Oscar Piastri whose maturity in the face of intense media speculation saw him emerge as one of the stars of the season. Lando Norris will need to watch his back next season.
Henry: Fernando Alonso, without hesitation. While the other contenders have had form in patches, Alonso once again relentlessly carved everything he could out of what was underneath him.
Seeing his eyes light up at being competitive again at the start of the season was just magical to see. Yes, Aston Martin’s competitiveness waned and a couple of rare spins crept in late in the year, but the sheer gap he had to Lance Stroll this year – with almost treble his points tally and a 19-3 qualifying record – cannot be overlooked.
His mastery of defence, threading the needle on an opening lap, car placement, team radio and interview politics, split-second decision-making and seemingly doing the FIA’s job for them at times, all while multi-tasking behind the wheel, shows the man remains undimmed at the highest level.
Sam: Zak Brown described F1 in 2023 as the most non-competitive and competitive season of all time. On the latter point, there is no shortage of drivers who could be picked as the best behind Verstappen but my choice is going to go to Oscar Piastri.
While Fernando Alonso is an obvious choice, he has had years in the sport whereas Piastri was new, coming off the back of a dramatic arrival at McLaren and with plenty of people hoping to see him fall.
But he has done the opposite. You would have to go back to Lewis Hamilton in 2007 to find a rookie who was so at ease at the front end of the grid. A sprint victory is his highlight but it is how close he has raced Lando Norris that is perhaps most impressive.
The battle between Norris and Piastri looks set to be the most fascinating on the grid in 2024.
Thomas: I genuinely had to think long and hard about this as there are valid reasons for pretty much every driver to be discounted as to being F1’s second-best driver in 2023. But the one driver I’ve struggled to come up with a reason for excluding them is Fernando Alonso.
Twenty years ago, Alonso was one of several bright lights to show F1 would be in good hands once Michael Schumacher’s dominance ended. While Fernando was the man to end that dominance, F1 never really got an ‘Alonso era’ the way it seemed destined to play out.
That’s why it’s very nice to see Alonso come through some years in the wilderness, where things just refused to play out well for him.
Five years ago, we knew we were losing a driver who wasn’t ready to fully leave the sport behind, and we’ve been very lucky that the driver who returned in 2021 was just as fired up about it as a young rookie eager to prove themselves.
2023 was vintage Alonso, showing every bit of canny racecraft, speed, opportunism, and sheer bullheadedness that the Spaniard has built up as weapons in his armoury over the decades. Mistakes were few and far between and, while even Alonso couldn’t do much to disguise Aston Martin’s huge dip in form, the main reason I’m giving him the nod is that, like Verstappen, he almost always maximised the result the AMR23 was capable of on any given day.
That’s all a team can really ask of a driver, and Alonso’s staggeringly large advantage over Lance Stroll has raised some obvious questions. How good would the AMR23 have been viewed without Alonso showcasing it?
And, given how much closer Stroll was to Sebastian Vettel over the previous two seasons, just how good were the previous two Aston Martin offerings?
Oliver: Alonso, the only driver other than Verstappen to be faultless throughout 2023. Honourable mention for Piastri, the most remarkable rookie to arrive in F1 since Max.