It’s become one of the most-repeated phrases of the 2023 Formula 1 season: this would be a great championship fight if it wasn’t for Max Verstappen.
The Dutchman has won all but two of the 12 races so far this season, has helped Red Bull set a record for consecutive wins and is now closing in on the best-ever win streak by a driver too.
But if, for some reason, Red Bull had only been able to field one car for 2023 and Sergio Perez had got the gig, how different would things look?
Maybe Verstappen sitting out the season was a part of their punishment for breaching the cost cap, but it would’ve returned a much more nail-biting affair and produced five different winners and ten drivers scoring a podium.
20th: Daniel Ricciardo – 0 points
Ricciardo was oh-so-close to scoring points at the Belgian Grand Prix – Verstappen‘s removal means he was just 0.4s away from eighth place in the sprint – but for now he stays behind Nyck de Vries.
19th: Nyck de Vries – 0 points
Even with one less driver in the field, De Vries still finishes the season pointless: coming just one position away from scoring at the Monaco GP.
18th: Logan Sargeant – 1 point
Our first point gained, Sargeant‘s best race of the season was at Silverstone and now he’s been rewarded with a 10th-place finish there. How far behind Alex Albon is he though? Read on to find out…
17th: Kevin Magnussen – 4 points
Magnussen doubles his points tally for the year after gaining two moves from tenth to ninth place in the opening five races of the season. Like in real life, it’s been a barren run from there though.
16th: Zhou Guanyu – 8 points
Zhou drops a place in the order, like Magnussen his two points finishes in 2023 score double. He still doesn’t get his fastest lap point from the Bahrain GP though (remember that?), as he finished 15th when Verstappen‘s removed.
15th: Yuki Tsunoda – 9 points
A big winner from this exercise, Tsunoda moves into the points on three races to leapfrog Zhou in the standings.
14th: Valtteri Bottas – 10 points
Promise it gets more interesting soon. Alfa Romeo‘s best result of the season is now Bottas‘ seventh at the Bahrain GP.
13th: Nico Hulkenberg – 12 points
That Canada penalty for Hulkenberg would’ve been even more heart-breaking, as it would’ve meant he missed out on just his second pole position in F1 – 4606 days after his first at the 2010 Brazilian GP.
12th: Alex Albon – 19 points
There’s a noticeable gap after Albon, unlike the real championship where he’s only 11 points behind Pierre Gasly. His now-sixth place in Canada is Williams‘ second-best result since 2017.
11th: Pierre Gasly – 34 points
That second place in the Belgian sprint is Gasly‘s joint-best points haul of the season alongside the Monaco GP – impressive considering he didn’t score any points in the actual grand prix at Spa.
It’s now his best finish of an F1 race of any length since his memorable 2021 victory at Monza.
10th: Oscar Piastri – 45 (1 podium)
Piastri gets his podium! The first (of many, no doubt) came at the British GP on an even more successful race for McLaren than in real life, while he also won the Belgian GP sprint race in almost a lights-to-flag victory.
Would McLaren still have had the nerve to pit him before the first racing lap if he was starting from pole?
9th: Esteban Ocon – 50 (1 podium)
Ocon‘s Monaco podium gets upgraded and he extends his gap over Piastri from one point to five, but things get more exciting from here on down.
8th: Lance Stroll – 65 (1 podium)
Stroll earns the fourth podium of his career, but at what cost? He’s now even further behind Fernando Alonso and battling Ocon for ninth place, while his teammate fights for the championship lead.
7th: Lando Norris – 97 (2 wins, 1 podium)
Norris becomes F1‘s newest race winner, and joins Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc in having won his first two races consecutively.
He was tenth ahead of McLaren‘s upgrades in Austria, but since then has been the second-highest points-scorer in F1 with just one less than Perez.
All of that means he’s now sat just 18 points behind Carlos Sainz for sixth in the championship.
6th: Carlos Sainz – 115 (1 podium)
One of the biggest losers of this exercise, in real life Sainz hasn’t managed a single podium in 2023 but still sits just seven points behind Leclerc and George Russell thanks to a string of top-six finishes.
Here, those two have stretched ahead with improved headline results and Sainz‘s only upgrade to the podium comes at the Bahrain GP.
5th: George Russell – 125 (3 podiums)
Another who’s slipped back from Leclerc, Russell is bumped onto the podium twice here but it remains perhaps an underwhelming start to the season especially compared to his Mercedes teammate.
Russell’s over 100 points behind the championship leader and will need to improve in the second half of the season if he’s to make a late title charge.
4th: Charles Leclerc – 127 (1 win, 3 podiums)
Leclerc marked a year since his last F1 victory by returning to the top step of the podium at the Austrian GP, quietening his doubters.
The difference to Sainz is a bit more pronounced than in real life too, but it looks like it’ll be another year without a championship in Maranello unless Leclerc can make up serious ground after the summer break.
He’s 63 points behind Hamilton – compared to 49 in real life.
3rd: Lewis Hamilton – 190 (2 wins, 5 podiums)
Hamilton notched up career wins 104 and 105 at the Australian and Spanish GP, further extending his record over Michael Schumacher.
With no Verstappen there’s much less chance of that tally getting chased down anytime soon, and he can focus on also breaking the German’s world championships total too.
Amazingly, his one-point gap to Alonso echoes real life but he’s a bit closer to Perez here and has outscored the Red Bull driver since Monaco.
2nd: Fernando Alonso – 191 (2 wins, 5 podiums)
Be honest, who didn’t shed a tear when Alonso won his first race in over a decade – and at the Monaco GP of all places too!
That result moved him just five points behind Perez in the championship and he took the lead two races later in Canada, where Alonso won his second race of the season.
However, it’s been downhill from there as Perez has outscored him two-to-one since then and Alonso will need a big second half of 2023 to win title number three.
1st: Sergio Perez – 229 (5 wins, 3 podiums)
And despite all of that, it’s still a Red Bull leading proceedings. He started the season in devastating fashion scoring 122 points in the opening five races but has only managed 107 since, allowing the chasing pack to remain in the hunt.
Like in real life, he’s around 40 points ahead of Alonso and Hamilton, and overall it’s striking how little the championship changes when Verstappen‘s removed.
It’d be a lot tighter at the top, would Aston Martin and particularly Mercedes be focussing so much on 2024 if they were this close to the title? Doubt it.
And seeing five different drivers take race wins – one for the first time and two after long barren runs – and ten different people appear on the podium would be pretty cool.
However, Tsunoda overtaking Zhou was the only actual position change across the whole exercise. And there were only two lead changes in the championship too – Perez to Alonso and back again.
Where is the next F1 2023 race?
F1 will return from its summer break with the 2023 Dutch Grand Prix from Zandvoort on August 25-27, where championship leader Max Verstappen will be racing on home soil.