Autocar's 2023 motorsport review

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Virtuoso performances and one-driver domination were running themes in the world of motor racing this year

Another year of motorsport has flown by, and 2023 was as action-packed as ever. 

From Brazil to Brands Hatch, challengers in Formula 1, the World Rally Championship and the British Touring Car Championship fought to finish the year at the top of the standings, with many surprises along the way. 

So: without further ado, read on for our top moments from this year’s motorsport calendar.

Formula 1

World champion: Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing – Entitled and petulant but a seemingly unstoppable force 

Was this a dull Formula 1 season, given the throttling domination displayed by Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing? It’s easy to write it off as such.

Yet while the relentless Dutchman set new records for the number of wins in a season, 10 of them consecutively, somehow each race threw up enough intrigue to keep F1’s balloon of hype inflated – and still rising: look no further than the glitz of the Las Vegas GP.

The best stories came from the unpredictable swings in form of those trailing in Verstappen’s wake, as the 26-year-old stroked all too easily to a third consecutive world crown. Behind him, predictions were often futile.

Early on, Sergio Pérez matched and even outscored his team-mate, snatching a couple of wins. But talk of the Mexican mounting a real challenge was just a mirage, and his subsequent spiral into mediocrity – driving a Honda-powered RB19 that should now be considered among the greatest F1 cars yet seen – accelerated questions about his future.

Partnering Verstappen is a thankless task, but Pérez too often proved unworthy of the seat. Behind Red Bull, Aston Martin exceeded expectations – not least its own – with a flying start, the evergreen Fernando Alonso relishing six podiums in the first eight races at the age of 42.

But the team slumped after the summer break as Alonso and Lance Stroll, who surely only remains in F1 because his father owns the team, slipped back into the midfield. Both Mercedes and Ferrari failed to find the key, in this sophomore year of the ground-effect technical regulations, to challenge Red Bull. But as Adrian Newey’s elite band of engineers turned their attention to preparing for next season, both had their moments.

Carlos Sainz Jr ended the consecutive run, and what had looked like a possible unbeaten Invincibles’ season for Red Bull, with a beautifully judged win in Singapore. Lewis Hamilton, meanwhile, batted away talk of retirement to show he’s still got a record eighth world title in him – as long as his team can rediscover its mojo.

The 38-year-old comprehensively outperformed team-mate George Russell, too, even if he was to blame for their awkward Turn 1 collision in Qatar. But the most surprising and impressive narrative arc of the season had to be McLaren’s, which started the season by admitting how slow it would be. So it proved, technical director James Key paying the price as he headed back from whence he came to Sauber-Alfa Romeo.

But under the steady hand of new team principal Andrea Stella, McLaren pulled off a mid-season Lazarus act, following a significant aerodynamic upgrade introduced at the Austrian GP.

Lando Norris and accomplished rookie Oscar Piastri leading Verstappen at the British GP (before bowing to the inevitable) was no flash in the pan. Norris displayed his A-list credentials throughout, while Piastri scored a sprint race win in Qatar as McLaren bounded past Aston Martin to re-establish itself as Fl’s fourth-best team. 

World Rally Championship

World champion: Kalle Rovanpera, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT – The WRC is at his mercy–for as long as he remains motivated to rack up more titles 

Kalle Rovanpera took some time to find his groove in 2023. The previous season, the Finn won six times at just 22 years old to become by far the WRC’s youngest champion.

But this time he was finding himself overshadowed by Toyota team-mate and eight-time champion Sébastien Ogier, despite the 38-year-old insisting on rallying only part-time.

Still, with Ogier resisting a bid to equal Sébastien Loeb’s record of nine titles, it always felt only a matter of time before Rovanperä found his rhythm – as he did with his first win of the season, in Portugal, the fifth round of the series. He never relinquished top spot, even it he added only two more victories.

What marked Rovanperä’s second consecutive title was his maturity in recognising a need for consistency rather than searing pace over every stage (although he retained plenty of that, too).

It led Toyota team boss Jari-Matti Latvala to make comparisons to the great Juha Kankkunen as Rovanperä clinched his title with a round to spare, having quelled his natural instincts by backing off on the Central European Rally to finish second when a victory was in his hands.

Elfyn Evans deserves credit for emerging as the only driver to keep Rovanperä in sight, Thierry Neuville remained a class act for Hyundai and Ott Tänak grabbed a win in Sweden for M-Sport Ford, only to be frustrated by a lack of reliability.

But a dark shadow loomed large over the WRC this year: the death of Irishman Craig Breen in a freak accident on a pre-event test in Croatia devastated the close-knit rally world. His loss was a reminder that, while motorsport is safer than it has ever been, the worst can still and will happen from time to time. 

British Touring Car Championship 

Star driver: Ash Sutton – He’s not yet 30. Jason Plato’s record of 97 wins is far from safe 

Twelve wins and 20 podiums from 30 races. This was as close to domination as it gets in the BTCC – and as close as series boss Alan Gow would want, too.

But Ash Sutton’s masterclass, as he claimed a record-equalling fourth crown in Napa Racing’s Ford Focus ST, didn’t squash the life out of Britain’s premier motor racing series. 

Far from it. In the second year of its pioneering hybrid era, the BTCC continued to offer the best bang for buck of any series, arguably anywhere in the world.

Reigning champion Tom Ingram at least took Sutton all the way to the final weekend at Brands Hatch before relinquishing his crown. Jake Hill led the BMW attack with a winning smile and edged out Colin Turkington – but dismiss the Northern Irishman at your peril.

And the likes of Josh Cook, Dan Cammish and Dan Rowbottom displayed a heartening strength in depth at the sharp end of the BTCC. It bodes well for the rest of the decade as they all chase the new king of the tin-tops.


Champion: Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing – On his way to Indycar greatness – but that contract flip-flop has left a tarnish 

His career management is a bit of a car crash, but there’s no doubting Álex Palou’s place as the benchmarker of US single-seater racing. The Spaniard scored five wins on his way to clinching his second Indycar crown in three years – and it was all achieved with a round to spare.

And he did so despite the summer distraction, for the second year in a row, of an ugly tug of love for his future services. Last season Palou tried to leave Chip Ganassi Racing to join McLaren, only to remain in an uneasy alliance with the best team on the grid for 2023.

This time, having agreed terms to finally make his move to McLaren with his eye understandably on a future in Formula 1 – he about-turned again and chose to stay exactly where he 1s. Sensible for his future Indycar prospects but less so for his reputation as a contract negotiator.

Palou took pole position for the ‘Big One’, the Indianapolis 500 in May, but once again came up short as the race fell to a shootout between Ganassi’s 2022 winner Marcus Ericsson and Josef Newgarden. The American edged it to clinch a record-extending 19th Indy win for his boss Roger Penske.

World Endurance Championship 

World champions: Sebastian Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa – Toyota Gazoo Racing

Star driver: Alessandro Pier Guidi – Anchored Ferrari’s Le Mans victory, justifying AF Corse’s faith in its GT graduate 

Win the Le Mans 24 Hours or claim an umpteenth world championship? For Toyota, as for any WEC manufacturer, there’s a quick and obvious answer to that.

The 100th-anniversary running of the world’s greatest endurance race was the motorsport occasion of the year, as manufacturers flocked back to Le Mans thanks to the well-devised Hypercar regulations that have finally brought a convergence of rules in global sports car racing.

These are thrilling times. The Ferrari versus Toyota battle that raged for almost the duration of the full 24 hours backed up the hype, proved utterly absorbing and only lengthened when a further was entirely befitting of the grand post-Le Mans tweak appeared to occasion.

Toyota would argue that the late tweak to the Balance of Performance formula that governs this form of racing was less so, and it did appear that politics had handed a vital edge to Ferrari. 

Make no mistake, this was a hard-earned and deserving victory for the new 499P and a driving crew that included Briton James Calado, as Ferrari relished a 10th Le Mans win since its last way back in 1965, on its full-factory return to a race it has sidestepped for 50 years.

But the BoP row cast a shadow, which only lengthened when a further post-Le Mans tweak appeared to neuter the red cars for the rest of the WEC season. Regulations thwart the teams from speaking out, but it’s a worry that threatens to undermine the broader optimism that otherwise surrounds Hypercar. 

Porsche’s new Penske-run 963 only played a supporting role in the WEC, which was a surprise and a disappointment. Peugeot continued to struggle to unlock front-running performance from its radical 8XC; Cadillac upstaged both on an intrepid adventure away from its US heartland; and Jim Glickenhaus bowed out with his head held high, leaving the field to the big manufacturers after his self-made and self-funded equipe made its point as a plucky privateer – in the best and true spirit of endurance racing. 

Source: Autocar

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