Why the 2023 F1 season is the most competitive in over a decade

Red Bull have dominated the opening three events but the battle behind them has been fierce

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A winter of optimism that the 2023 Formula 1 season could feature a multi-team fight at the front of the grid has well and truly dissipated after Red Bull have been the dominant team in the opening three races.

They’ve won every grand prix and taken every pole position so far, and led over 90% of laps, but other data suggests that the whole grid is the closest it’s been since 2009.

AlphaTauri have proven to be the slowest of all so far in 2023, although they actually sit ahead of Williams in the constructors’ championship, tied on one point.

However, they’re only 1.96% slower than Red Bull based on average laptime – around 1.7 seconds per lap. For comparison, in 2022 three teams lagged even further behind the fastest team; Haas, Aston Martin and Williams were all over 2% slower than Ferrari.

Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes leads Max Verstappen of Red Bull at the start of 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Going even further back, the 2021 season was more competitive for most teams with ninth-placed Williams 1.98% slower than Mercedes, but Haas‘ decision not to develop their car showed as they were over 2.5 seconds slower than the constructors’ champions – and 2020 wasn’t much better for the American team either.

2012 is the closest benchmark of the 2010s – seven teams were within around 1% of pacesetters McLaren compared to just three in 2023, but the cripplingly slow Caterham, Marussia and HRT teams hugely inflated the gap to the back of the grid, to over five seconds.

So we have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a more competitive season across the whole grid than 2023.

That year Red Bull were again the team to beat on pace, but Force India (now Aston Martin) were just 1.38 seconds slower, while five teams were within half a percent of the Milton Keynes outfit.

Red Bull’s Mark Webber leads the Brawn of Jenson Button at the 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix | Mark Thompson/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Monster gap at the top

The flip side of this argument is the gap from the quickest team to second-quickest is eight times as big as it was in 2022 – Red Bull were 0.05% behind but now Ferrari are 0.4% slower than the championship leaders and Aston Martin and Mercedes are over half a percentage behind.

The biggest gap at the top in recent years was 2020 (Red Bull were a whopping 0.73% slower than Mercedes, nearly half a second per lap), but 2008, 2009, 2021 and 2022 all saw the pace deficit from second to first down into the hundredths of seconds.

Adam Dickinson
Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for Total-Motorsport.com since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, and previously worked for Last-Lap.co.uk and FeederSeries.net in motorsport and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.
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