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Analysis

What if Red Bull/Verstappen never raced in F1 2023?

Max Verstappen and Red Bull dominated the 2023 Formula 1 season in a way never before seen. But remove either the Dutchman or his team entirely and how would things have played out?

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, the remainder of the field for the restart

Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Fernando Alonso humbles Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz in wheel-to-wheel combat, then profits from Charles Leclerc’s engine failure to win the opening race of 2023. The two-time Formula 1 world champion’s Bahrain success marks his first victory since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.

Aston Martin sporting director Andy Stevenson earns his pay cheque by successfully protesting a 10-second penalty to cement another Alonso triumph in Saudi Arabia. What a winter recovery for a team that finished seventh in the 2022 constructors’ points!

But then Hamilton emerges unscathed from the late carnage down under to get off the mark aboard the capricious W14. Does this signal a blockbuster title fight lies in wait between the two ex-McLaren team-mates?

That’s what the narrative might have looked like after the first three rounds of the 2023 season in a hypothetical world where Red Bull does not compete in F1.

Of course, simply wiping Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez from the results of 22 GPs only paints a two-dimensional picture. It doesn’t, for example, restore Esteban Ocon to the points in a Qatar sprint race from which he was eliminated in a multi-car collision involving Nico Hulkenberg and Perez. Nor does deleting the RB19s turn back the clock for Lando Norris to alter how he attacks Turn 1 in Brazil when it’s no longer pointless to burn through his Pirelli tyres if Verstappen will inevitably surge back past.

But it does indicate how tight the field was behind the Milton Keynes attack. Theoretically, remove the Red Bulls and there are six different GP winners (Alonso, Hamilton, Leclerc, Sainz, Norris and Oscar Piastri), rather than the actual three (Verstappen, Perez, Sainz).

Without Verstappen and Red Bull in the title equation, Hamilton and Alonso would have been title rivals

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Without Verstappen and Red Bull in the title equation, Hamilton and Alonso would have been title rivals

The drivers’ championship is decided by just 17 points rather than the true 290-point chasm that opened between Verstappen and Perez, with Hamilton a further 51 points in arrears. The constructors’ crown also goes down to the wire, with only seven points settling the spoils.

Cla   Driver   Points  Grands Prix
      BH SA AU AZ Mi MC ES CA AT GB HU BE NL IT SG JP QA US MX BR LV AD
1 Lewis Hamilton 331 15 15 25 16 12 16 26 19 9 18 19 22 12 12 16 12 5 8 26 12 10 6
2 Fernando Alonso 314 25 26 18 23 26 25 10 25 21 10 6 15 26 6 - 6 12 - - 18 6 10
3 Charles Leclerc 289 - 10 - 33 10 10 2 15 25 6 10 30 - 18 12 15 12 7 18 6 25 25
4 Lando Norris 287 - - 12 6 - 4 - - 20 26 25 14 10 8 18 26 26 31 12 34 - 15
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. 283 18 12 2 21 15 6 15 12 20 4 8 6 15 25 25 10 4 23 15 15 12 -
6 George Russell 248 10 18 - 16 18 12 18 - 13 12 12 14 - 15 - 8 21 18 10 7 8 18
7 Oscar Piastri 145 - - 8 3 - 2 - 2 - 15 15 8 6 2 8 18 33 1 6 1 5 12
8 Lance Stroll 131 12 - 15 13 1 - 12 6 14 - 4 6 2 - - - 2 10 - 15 15 4
9 Pierre Gasly 107 6 6 - - 8 8 4 1 4 - - 9 18 - 10 2 2 16 1 10 2 -
10 Esteban Ocon 102 - 8 - - 6 18 8 8 4 - - 9 4 - - 4 8 - 2 4 18 1
11 Alexander Albon 65 4 - - 3 - - - 10 2 8 2 - 8 10 2 - 3 8 4 - 1 -
12 Yuki Tsunoda 47 2 2 4 4 2 - 1 - - - - 4 - - - - - 9 - 11 - 8
13 Valtteri Bottas 29 8 - 2 - - 1 - 4 - 1 1 1 - 4 - - 6 1 - - - -
14 Nico Hülkenberg 20 - 1 10 - - - - - 5 - - - 1 - - - - 2 - 1 - -
15 Zhou Guanyu 18 - - 6 - - - 6 - 1 - - - - - 1 - 4 - - - - -
16 Daniel Ricciardo 12                     - - -         - 8 2 - 2
17 Kevin Magnussen 12 - 4 - - 4 - - - - - - - - - 4 - - - - - - -
18 Liam Lawson 9                         - 2 6 1 -          
19 Logan Sargeant 9 1 - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - - 4 - 2 - -
20 Nyck de Vries 0 - - - - - - - - - -                        
Cla  Constructor  Points 
1 Mercedes 579
2 Ferrari 572
3 Aston Martin/Mercedes 445
4 McLaren/Mercedes 432
5 Alpine/Renault 209
6 Williams/Mercedes 74
7 AlphaTauri/Honda RBPT 68
8 Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 47
9 Haas/Ferrari 32

As per reality, Aston Martin still endures a second-half drop-off after an overly flexible wing is outlawed and it gets dragged down the wrong development path by trying to run 2024-spec componentry (although, is the team so experimental if Red Bull is out of the picture and it’s in the title hunt?).

Hamilton would have wrapped up an eighth title were Red Bull not on the grid this year

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Hamilton would have wrapped up an eighth title were Red Bull not on the grid this year

By the time the scores tail off, Alonso has six wins to his name to keep himself in contention versus Hamilton. But, heading into the Abu Dhabi finale, to wrap up a third title, he needs to win, and the Mercedes racer to fail to nick a point. Instead, Alonso only outscores the Briton by four, thus confirming Hamilton as an eight-time champion.

The Spaniard, by contrast, rues his latest near miss. He’s fewer than 30 career points away from having been a six-time title winner.

Leclerc is a further 25 points further back in third, but Ferrari is buoyed heading into the Christmas break after winning the final two rounds in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi. Norris fills a tightly packed Scuderia driver sandwich, as his 287 points plays the 289 of Leclerc and Sainz’s 283. George Russell is cut adrift on 248, albeit with almost a century more than Piastri.

Despite Russell dropping behind both Ferraris, Hamilton’s heavy lifting enables Mercedes to return to the top of the constructors’ tree. The Three-Pointed Star ties Williams for second in the all-time winners’ list on nine titles.

Maranello loses out on a 17th crown by seven points, having narrowly outperformed its German rival in Brazil before thumping it in Vegas. Alas, Leclerc’s season finale triumph was not enough to change the tide as Sainz bookended Ferrari’s campaign with further engine trouble.

All told, to the surprise of no one, it’s a much more hotly contested campaign - albeit probably not in that top tier reserved for the 1982, 2012, and 2021 epics. One that might just keep a TV audience engaged for longer, potentially even help it begin to grow again.

Given how imbalanced the Red Bull driver pairing was in 2023, consider also what happens when only Verstappen is removed from the picture.

Without Verstappen racing, team-mate Perez would have taken top honours

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Without Verstappen racing, team-mate Perez would have taken top honours

In this version of events, Perez counts six GP victories - including three wins from the first four rounds - to become Mexico’s first F1 world champion, even if he doesn’t top the podium again after Monza and, on home soil, he still potentially clatters Leclerc into Turn 1 to wipe out. It’s a fine showing as he stretches 55 points (a smidge more than the real-world 51) clear of runner-up Hamilton.

Cla   Driver   Points  Grands Prix
      BH SA AU AZ Mi MC ES CA AT GB HU BE NL IT SG JP QA US MX BR LV AD
1 Sergio Pérez 353 25 26 13 33 25 - 16 11 27 10 18 25 15 25 6 - 2 20 - 22 18 16
2 Lewis Hamilton 298 12 12 25 13 10 16 25 18 6 18 16 19 10 10 16 12 5 8 26 9 8 4
3 Lando Norris 270 - - 10 4 - 4 - - 16 26 25 12 8 6 18 26 26 31 12 34 - 12
4 Fernando Alonso 266 18 18 18 16 19 25 8 25 17 8 4 12 26 4 - 6 12 - - 18 4 8
5 Charles Leclerc 261 - 8 - 25 8 10 1 15 25 4 8 23 - 15 12 15 12 7 18 5 25 25
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. 246 15 10 - 20 12 6 12 12 17 2 6 6 12 18 25 10 4 22 15 12 10 -
7 George Russell 220 8 15 - 13 15 12 18 - 10 12 10 12 - 12 - 8 21 14 10 6 6 18
8 Oscar Piastri 127 - - 6 1 - 2 - 1 - 15 12 8 4 - 8 18 33 - 6 - 3 10
9 Lance Stroll 101 10 - 15 10 - - 10 4 10 - 2 4 1 - - - 1 8 - 12 12 2
10 Pierre Gasly 88 4 4 - - 6 8 2 - 2 - - 8 18 - 10 2 1 13 1 8 1 -
11 Esteban Ocon 83 - 6 - - 4 18 6 6 3 - - 7 2 - - 4 8 - 2 2 15 -
12 Alexander Albon 46 2 - - 1 - - - 8 1 6 1 - 6 8 1 - 3 5 4 - - -
13 Yuki Tsunoda 30 1 1 2 2 1 - - - - - - 2 - - - - - 7 - 8 - 6
14 Valtteri Bottas 18 6 - 1 - - 1 - 2 - - - - - 2 - - 6 - - - - -
15 Nico Hülkenberg 13 - - 8 - - - - - 4 - - - - - - - - 1 - - - -
16 Zhou Guanyu 12 - - 4 - - - 4 - - - - - - - - - 4 - - - - -
17 Daniel Ricciardo 10                     - - -         - 8 1 - 1
18 Liam Lawson 6                         - 1 4 1 -          
19 Kevin Magnussen 6 - 2 - - 2 - - - - - - - - - 2 - - - - - - -
20 Logan Sargeant 4 - - - - - - - - - 1 - - - - - - - 2 - 1 - -
21 Nyck de Vries 0 - - - - - - - - - -                      

 

 

 

Cla  Constructor  Points 
1 Mercedes 518
2 Ferrari 507
3 McLaren/Mercedes 397
4 Aston Martin/Mercedes 367
5 Red Bull/Honda RBPT 353
6 Alpine/Renault 171
7 Williams/Mercedes 50
8 AlphaTauri/Honda RBPT 46
9 Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 30
10 Haas/Ferrari 19

Most notable is what happens behind the top two.

Would Perez have gone for his bold move on Leclerc at the start in Mexico without Verstappen there too?

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Would Perez have gone for his bold move on Leclerc at the start in Mexico without Verstappen there too?

In an alternative world without Red Bull, the drivers’ standings retain the same order but everyone else moves up two places - albeit Daniel Ricciardo and Zhou Guanyu swap.

But by only taking away Verstappen’s scores, Norris leapfrogs Alonso and Leclerc to score third place. With Verstappen out the way, the McLaren driver breaks his topflight victory duck to win five GPs aboard the upgraded MCL60.

Perez flying solo slots Red Bull into the middle of the pack, ending the year fifth in the constructors’ pile. Mercedes again edges Ferrari, while McLaren - like in real life but not in the non-Red Bull - gets the better of Aston Martin. Alpine retains its slot in no-man’s land, and Williams, AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo and Haas are unchanged.

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