For Red Bull, 2023 has been a season of F1 dominance, completing a clean sweep of the year’s first half, with reigning world champion Max Verstappen winning 11 out of the 13 races.
Both drivers and constructors’ championships are seemingly destined to stay put in Milton Keynes, but behind Red Bull, the battle for second in the constructors’ championship is starting to heat up.
Currently, Mercedes lie second, 51 points clear of the fast-starting Aston Martin, who have been the surprise package of 2023, whilst Ferrari is a further five points back after a mixed beginning to the year.
Here’s why Sunday’s Dutch Grand Prix could be vital as to who finishes best of the rest.
Will Aston Martin’s slump continue?
During the opening rounds of the 2023 season, Aston Martin shocked many as new signing Fernando Alonso rolled back the years to secure six podiums in the first seven races.
Alonso even came close to toppling Verstappen in Monaco, holding provisional pole before the Dutchman denied the Spaniard his 23rd career pole position on his final lap.
Since his Monaco near-miss, Alonso and Aston Martin have only been on the podium once and with Lance Stroll struggling, the Silverstone-based outfit have lost second in the constructors’ championship.
Medium-speed circuits such as the Hungaroring have seen Aston Martin struggle to reach the top six, and with Zandvoort being a stop-start circuit, Alonso and Stroll may need rain to find a way to row two.
Can Mercedes repeat their 2022 near-heroics?
Aston Martin’s drop in form has benefited Mercedes, who refound theirs after a troubling start to the year, which saw the team abandon their infamous ‘no’ sidepod concept.
Since bringing a revisited W14 to Monaco, Mercedes have had at least one car finish on the podium in three of the last six races, helping them overtake Aston Martin into second.
Lewis Hamilton has been the primary beneficiary of the upgraded W14, finishing on the podium three times and moving within a point of overtaking Alonso for third in the drivers’ championship.
Mercedes had come close to victory last year in Zandvoort after a race-long battle with Verstappen, only for an ill-timed safety car to cost him dearly.
With the W14’s predecessor, the W13, sharing similar characteristics, Mercedes have a reasonable chance of ending Verstappen and Red Bull’s reign of dominance if the local hero hits trouble.
Could McLaren cause Ferrari further headaches?
Although Mercedes have overcome early-season teething troubles, McLaren’s meteoric return to the front has added further spice to the battle for second.
Lando Norris returned to the rostrum with excellent drives at Silverstone and the Hungaroring, while Oscar Piastri finished an excellent second in the Sprint at Spa.
With McLaren’s morale raised at a track that should suit the MCL60, pressure will be on Ferrari to try and replicate its Spa heroics, which saw Charles Leclerc finish a distant third after starting from pole.
Strategy has been Ferrari’s achilles heel, and after two botched calls hampering both Leclerc and Carlos Sainz’s races, another slip-up could be a gift from heaven for McLaren.
Red Bull may secure another victory, but Mercedes and McLaren should run them close with their pace on slower speed circuits.
Mercedes, in particular, seems the more likely to challenge, considering last year’s near miss, whilst Aston Martin or Ferrari may need cold or wet weather to cause an upset.