In the closest race of the season, Red Bull finishes first and third with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc earning runner-up honors.

Up To Speed: Drama in Las Vegas Leads Up To Yet Another Max Verstappen Victory

Editor’s Note: Welcome to Up to Speed, an ongoing blog on Aramco LIFE that will follow the 2023 Formula One race season and highlight the fast-paced action of the sport. Check in after race days and share your comments on the blog, on the season, or the sport in general.

Nov. 20, 2023

Formula 1 achieved something incredible just by making its new Las Vegas Grand Prix — a Saturday night street race on a super-fast circuit encompassing the city's famous Strip — happen. And the epic race that ensued more than lived up to the expectation created by a week of glitzy build-up.

Any new street race is a logistical challenge, and Thursday night practice running was halted and delayed by the need for rapid attention to water valve covers set within the surface after one was dislodged and damaged two cars.

From there, though, the event proceeded without a glitch — and immediately looked like it might be a tough one for champion combination Max Verstappen and Red Bull to win given the pace of the Ferraris in every session.

A penalty for the component changes required after being one of the cars damaged in first practice meant Carlos Sainz's second place on the grid became 12th, but his Ferrari team-mate Charles Leclerc had pole ahead of Verstappen.

Although Verstappen surged into the lead at the start, he did so by running wide into the first corner and taking Leclerc off the road with him.

The stewards awarded a five-second time penalty to be taken at Verstappen's pitstop, which he and his team felt he'd easily be able to shrug off. He couldn't -- before their first stops Leclerc came back at Verstappen and successfully reclaimed the race lead.

The penalty delay dropped Verstappen deep into the midfield among cars on alternative strategies and behind podium contender George Russell's Mercedes.

Ironically a collision between them -- for which Russell was penalized —turned the race in Verstappen's favor. Both were able to continue with minor damage, but debris from the incident prompted a safety car at the perfect time for Verstappen to adjust his strategy and make a pitstop with minimal time loss.

It also helped his team-mate Sergio Perez, who'd picked up damage in a first corner tangle and was also on an off-sequence strategy that the safety car timing played into perfectly.

So though Leclerc took the restart in the lead, he soon had both Red Bulls — with slightly fresher tires — right behind him.

The greatest lead battle of the year ensued, as first Perez overtook Leclerc only for the Ferrari to doggedly fight back and repass him a few laps later, then Verstappen overtook them both.

He eventually managed to edge away, and when Leclerc made a small error that allowed Perez through too, Red Bull looked set for a 1-2 finish after all — only for Leclerc to catch back up yet again and steal second for good with a move at the very last corner of the race.

It may have been Verstappen's 18th win of the season, but his dramatic route to it created all the drama Las Vegas and F1 deserved as this incredible event made its debut.

Just one more round remains in the season, with the 2023 campaign wrapping up on the more familiar ground of Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina circuit for another evening race next weekend.

Nov. 6, 2023

Max Verstappen's run to two more Formula 1 race wins at the Brazilian Grand Prix was made harder than usual by Lando Norris and McLaren.

But the big hero of the event ended up being Fernando Alonso, who defeated Sergio Perez's Red Bull in an epic battle to earn the resurgent Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One Team a podium finish.

Though Norris had pole position for Saturday's sprint race, he lost the lead to Verstappen at the start and then second to an opportunistic pounce from George Russell's Mercedes.

Once he'd reclaimed second, Norris chipped away at the gap to Verstappen in a way that suggested a challenge for victory would have been on had his first lap been stronger.

Norris faced a tougher challenge on Sunday as the storm that hit at the end of qualifying for the grand prix left him only sixth on the grid.

Yet he instantly surged to second at the start, and held that spot at the restart required after a midfield pile-up forced a red flag.

Norris mounted several strong challenges on Verstappen through the opening laps, getting alongside the Red Bull without quite being able to complete a pass. Though Verstappen ultimately edged away to win yet again, Norris ensured he was never able to relax.

Not far behind them, sprint race third-place finisher Perez was hounding Alonso for third place.

Given the speed of the Red Bull, a pass looked inevitable. Yet in a drive of incredible tenacity, Alonso managed his pace and car positioning perfectly to keep his rival at bay.

Even when Perez swept ahead on the penultimate lap, Alonso clung close enough to set up a dramatic retaliatory pass when Perez made the slightest of errors.

Coming out of the final corner of the race, Perez drew alongside Alonso again but missed out on third place by just 0.053 seconds.

Lance Stroll completed a superb weekend for Aston Martin by taking fifth place, defeating recent frontrunners Mercedes — which was baffled by its poor race pace in Brazil - and Ferrari, which only had one car in the race after an electronics problem sent Charles Leclerc into the barriers on the formation lap when he had been due to start second.

After its frenetic spell of five races in three weekends, F1 takes a short break now before commencing its final run-in with its eagerly awaited debut on a new Las Vegas street track for a Saturday night race in a fortnight.

Oct. 30, 2023

Max Verstappen broke another of his own records in the Mexican Grand Prix by winning a 16th GP in a single season, but the drama of the weekend was such that this achievement was overshadowed by everything that went on behind him.

Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez was the focus of the crowd's adulation at his home race, and for a few seconds it looked like he might make their dreams come true as he made an incredible start from fifth on the grid and inched into the lead on the outside approaching the first corner.

But Perez turned in when still three-abreast with polesitter Charles Leclerc's Ferrari and Verstappen. Contact with Leclerc pitched Perez's car into the air and ended his race.

That blow for Perez was particularly badly timed given a breakthrough performance by AlphaTauri's recent F1 returnee Daniel Ricciardo, who has made no secret of his desire to convince Red Bull to take him back to its senior team at Perez's expense.

Ricciardo stunned by qualifying fourth - between Verstappen and Perez - for the team that started the weekend last in the constructors' championship. That he finished “only” seventh in the race was mainly down to how the timing of a mid-race red flag for a big crash by Haas driver Kevin Magnussen reset everyone's strategies.

That stoppage — under which everyone was allowed to take fresh tyres as per the regulations —also meant Verstappen had an easier time beating Leclerc to victory than might have been the case. The Red Bull was two-stopping compared to the Ferrari's single stop, and though Verstappen was ahead at the time of the red flag, had the race played out as originally expected, he would have dropped back behind Leclerc when he pitted again and had to fight past for victory.

Instead Leclerc ended up third, as Lewis Hamilton took medium tires for the restart and demoted the Ferrari.

Ferrari had struggled in practice but the track temperature in qualifying played to its cars' strengths, allowing Leclerc and Carlos Sainz to claim an unexpected front row sweep. Sainz finished fourth, ahead of an incredible charge from 17th to fifth by McLaren's Lando Norris.

Though Verstappen still prevailed in Mexico, Red Bull's rivals will see next weekend's Brazilian GP as a prime contender for pulling off an upset. Traditionally unpredictable weather, a sprint format weekend and the fact Mercedes won at Interlagos in an otherwise tough 2022 season add up to making Brazil a highly-anticipated event.

Oct. 23, 2023

Max Verstappen took two more race victories — including his 50th in a grand prix - during Formula 1's United States GP weekend at Austin.

But his route to that success was far from straightforward, as Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari all looked like they had a shot at causing an upset at different points and there was a big post-race shock that changed the result too.

Verstappen ended up only sixth on the grand prix grid having had a lap good enough for pole position deleted for going beyond track limits. That was no minor technicality — the speed Verstappen had carried by running wide over the crucial white line had been key to him being fastest, and the fact he wouldn't have otherwise been showed Red Bull wasn't quite at its best at the Circuit of the Americas.

On Saturday, he fended off a close qualifying challenge from GP pole-winner Charles Leclerc's Ferrari and early race pressure from Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes to win the sprint from pole, suggesting Red Bull's problems were solved.

And sure enough, on Sunday, Verstappen made quick progress past the fading Ferraris, jumped Hamilton at the first pitstops and then hunted down Lando Norris's leading McLaren to hit the front mid-race.

It wasn't easy from there, though. Verstappen had been struggling with a brake-feeling problem all race, limiting his pace. Hamilton had only dropped behind him when Mercedes left him out too long while wavering over its strategy, and he put a spectacular pass on Norris for second then charged back towards Verstappen in the closing stages before the Red Bull won by just two seconds.

Then later in the evening, both Hamilton and Leclerc were disqualified. F1 cars all run a piece of high-density wood laminate on their floors that must remain at a minimum 10mm thickness. That's to stop them running too low, which can have aerodynamic advantages but creates safety concerns.

The Mercedes and Ferrari's 'planks' had worn too thin at Austin, meaning instant disqualification. Mercedes felt the bumpy Austin circuit and lack of practice time in the sprint weekend format to make sure set-ups didn't mean cars ran too low led to it getting this wrong.

Verstappen was among the cars checked at random that passed, and Red Bull is particularly wary of this rule because the way its design generates its speed is based on normally running lower ride-height — within legal limits — than rivals. That makes it conscious of the plank being worn too thin, so at Austin it ran a higher ride-height — which ironically meant its performance versus its rivals was less dominant than usual, hence the tough weekend, but meant it passed the post-race checks.

Red Bull's disappointed rivals don't have long to wait to make amends, as America was race one in a triple-header in the region, with Mexico and Brazil coming up across the next fortnight.

Oct. 9, 2023

Formula 1's (F1) return to the high-speed and highly demanding Lusail track for the second-ever Qatar Grand Prix created an extremely dramatic backdrop to Max Verstappen clinching the 2023 world championship.

Verstappen's coronation had long been anticipated given his absolute domination of the season so far, and it became official once his last remaining mathematical title rival - Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez — crashed out of the Saturday night sprint race in a three-way tangle with Esteban Ocon's Alpine and Nico Hulkenberg's Haas while fighting to get into the points-scoring positions on another tough weekend.

But Verstappen couldn't celebrate sealing his third F1 title with yet another race win, as he was held at bay by rising star Oscar Piastri — the rookie driver brilliantly securing his first F1 race win and the first for his McLaren team in two years.

Piastri and McLaren team-mate Lando Norris had qualified on the front row for the sprint ahead of Verstappen, but all three chose the medium-compound tyres for the race, leaving them vulnerable at first to those on the less durable but initially much faster softs.

While Piastri held onto first place, Verstappen and Norris were swamped by soft runners. Mercedes' George Russell was one of them, and he later dived past Piastri to take the lead.

Even with the shorter duration of the sprint and three safety car periods for midfield crashes to ease the tyres' workloads, the softs wore before the finish, allowing Piastri, Verstappen and Norris to surge back into the top three positions ahead of Russell, whose Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton used mediums to charge from 12th to fifth.

The Mercedes team-mates were center of attention in the grand prix itself on Sunday night, as they collided going into the first corner while both trying to challenge Verstappen for the lead. Hamilton - who accepted full responsibility — was out immediately, while Russell had to pit for repairs and rejoin at the back.

Concerns about tyre damage from how drivers were using the circuit's unique kerbs led to a one-off rule that tyres could not be used for more than 18 laps. That changed the complexion of the race, as rather than treating the tyres carefully to try to minimise pitstops as is usually the priority in current F1, drivers could push flat-out knowing they'd be pitting anyway.

That plus the heat and demanding high-speed corners made Qatar the most physically punishing race for the drivers in years, with most utterly exhausted afterwards.

Verstappen managed it all best and kept Piastri at arm's length to claim another victory, while Norris charged through from 10th on the grid to third and Russell produced a masterful recovery drive from the back to fourth ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 team driver Fernando Alonso.

F1 goes straight to another sprint race weekend and its second of three United States rounds at Austin in a fortnight, kicking off a run of three grand prix contests in as many weekends.

Sept. 4, 2023

Ferrari gave it everything to try to halt Red Bull's winning streak at its home Formula 1 round — the Italian Grand Prix. It resulted in one of the best races of the season so far, but despite some very spirited driving by Carlos Sainz in particular, Red Bull's Max Verstappen still took a record-breaking 10th straight Grand Prix win.

The Monza circuit rewards straight-line speed more than anywhere else on the F1 calendar, so Ferrari's settings were all geared towards maximizing that — including a very slender rear wing. While the 2023 Ferrari has plenty of shortcomings, slow-corner balance is one of its strengths, so it was also very comfortable in the tight chicanes that punctuate Monza's long straights.

That meant it set the practice pace and secured first and third on the grid, Sainz and team-mate Charles Leclerc either side of Verstappen.

The downside of Ferrari's low-downforce wing settings was that the tires were consequently likely to wear quicker, a problem Ferrari has regularly faced this season. That proved to be the case, and meant an afternoon of heroic rear-guard action from Sainz as he deployed skilful race craft, car positioning, and late-braking to try to hold off faster opposition.

Sainz kept Verstappen at bay for 15 laps before the Red Bull finally got ahead and then edged away for yet another win.

There was another Red Bull coming too — Sergio Perez making progress from fifth on the grid and overtaking Leclerc for third before attacking Sainz.

Once again Sainz made it very, very difficult for the Red Bull to get ahead, and even once it did the excitement wasn't over as now Leclerc had much more pace than his team-mate, who had taken all the life out of his tires in his Red Bull battles.

The two Ferraris went side by side time after time in the closing laps, sometimes even off-track, as the team trusted Sainz and Leclerc to race incredibly hard. There was no ill feeling afterwards either, both having thoroughly enjoyed themselves as Sainz narrowly held Leclerc off and claimed his first podium of the year behind Verstappen and Perez.

Ferrari is likely to find life much harder when F1 2023 continues at a very different circuit in a fortnight — the sinuous Marina Bay street track in Singapore.

August 27, 2023

Max Verstappen made it nine Formula 1 wins in a row — tying a record set by fellow Red Bull dominator Sebastian Vettel — in front of the adoring Dutch Grand Prix crowds, which got to see their hero tested considerably.

Rain arrived at the end of the opening lap and teammate Sergio Perez took the opportunity to pit for intermediate tires that Verstappen had passed up. This meant that once Verstappen did pit a lap later, he was double-digit seconds behind his teammate.

But Verstappen was lighting fast on the wet track, easing past the cars between himself and Perez and taking huge chunks out of his teammate's lead. Such was his progress that, when the track had dried enough for slicks and Red Bull called in Verstappen, he was close enough to Perez to end up ahead once Perez swapped to the dry tires the following lap.

After a crash for Williams driver Logan Sargeant effectively reset the race by bringing out the safety car, the race took a more conventional turn — and Verstappen looked to be en route to the straightforward victory the local fans will have hoped for. Likewise, a Red Bull 1-2 seemed assured, Perez having fought off a surprisingly stern challenge from Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team driver Fernando Alonso.

Rain, however, had other plans once more. It arrived again, in full force, requiring a suspension of the race — but not before Perez went off at the Tarzan corner, promoting Alonso into second.

When rainfall abated again and the race restarted for a six-lap dash to the flag, Verstappen remained in control, while Alonso kept Perez at bay for Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team's seventh podium of the season.

Alonso holding firm also helped out Alpine and Pierre Gasly, running fourth but suddenly made aware that Perez would receive a time penalty for pitlane speeding (which came after a wild pit entry from a rain-hit track). Gasly finished well within five seconds of Perez, allowing him to grab his first F1 podium since 2021.

F1 teams will need to get over the emotions and fatigue of the Zandvoort rollercoaster quickly - because it's the iconic Monza next up, offering a very different kind of track layout, its long straights calling for the lowest downforce levels of the season.

Can Verstappen make the consecutive win record all his own with an easy triumph No. 10 in Italy, or will a track that hasn't always been the kindest to him in F1 see his dominance challenged?

July 23, 2023

Even constantly changing weather and a grid penalty didn't stand in Max Verstappen's way as he continued his and Red Bull's incredible Formula 1 winning streak at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Verstappen was comfortably fastest in a wet-dry Friday qualifying at Spa — the session that set the starting grid for the main race on Sunday — but going over the limit of gearbox components for the season meant he was demoted five places to sixth.

Having won at Spa from 14th last year, he was very relaxed about how achievable a victory would be from sixth this time and was right to be so confident.

Up to fourth after the first corner, Verstappen overtook Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes and Charles Leclerc's Ferrari in quick succession then hunted down his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez before sweeping past him with ease too soon after the first pitstops.

He was unstoppable from there, often lapping faster than his exasperated engineer Gianpiero Lambiase felt was wise ("use your head," was Lambiase's blunt warning!) on the way to winning by over 20 seconds in Red Bull's first 1-2 finish since Miami in May.

Leclerc held off Hamilton for the final podium position, ahead of lead Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula One team driver Fernando Alonso.

Beyond Verstappen, the other hero of the weekend was McLaren's rookie driver Oscar Piastri. Though his grand prix ended almost immediately in a collision with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, Piastri had starred in the sprint race on a damp Saturday.

He came close to beating Verstappen to pole position and then led early in the race as his McLaren team switched him from wet to intermediate tires one lap before Verstappen made the change.

Verstappen soon reclaimed the lead from Piastri, but he had made his mark. Pierre Gasly rounded out the top three for Alpine in the shorter race.

F1 now has a well-deserved month off before the season resumes with the Dutch GP at Verstappen's home track Zandvoort, where yet another victory the world champion would be spectacularly popular.

July 23, 2023

Another Max Verstappen victory wasn’t a huge surprise, particularly once he beat Lewis Hamilton off the starting grid and overtook the Mercedes fairly easily into Turn 1 of the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix, but behind Formula 1’s runaway championship leader there was another enthralling battle to be best of the rest.

This fight was ultimately won — for the second race in a row — by McLaren’s Lando Norris. He finished almost 34 seconds behind Verstappen’s Red Bull, but successfully fended off a late charge by the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez to ensure McLaren left Budapest with another trophy for the cabinet.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Verstappen — whose trophy was accidentally broken by Norris during the podium celebrations!

The key for Norris in this race was a brave overtake around Hamilton’s outside at Turn 2 on the opening lap, then when McLaren gave Norris priority over Oscar Piastri (who went from fourth on the grid to second by the exit of Turn 1) at the first round of pitstops it ensured McLaren’s star driver had the track position and enough breathing space to hang on.

He admitted to thinking it was “game over” once Perez got up to third at the second round of pitstops, but the Mexican — who pulled off some incisive overtakes as he recovered to the podium from ninth on the grid— ran out of grip towards the end so was forced to give up the chase.

That brought Hamilton back into the picture. He apologized to Mercedes over team radio for converting his first pole position since 2021 into fourth place after just three corners of racing, and struggled to make much impression in an ill-handling car during the early phase of the race, but as the fuel loads burned off and the track gripped up the Mercedes came alive again and Hamilton wasn’t far shy of catching Perez for third place at the end - finishing just 1.5s behind the Red Bull.

Behind Oscar Piastri’s damaged McLaren, George Russell’s Mercedes (up from 18th on the grid) and the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc (who finished ahead of Russell on the road but was penalized five seconds for pit-lane speeding) and Carlos Sainz, the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team rounded out the points scorers, with Fernando Alonso ninth and Lance Stroll 10th.

Team boss Mike Krack described this result as a “reality check” for a team that hasn’t finished on the podium in any of the past three races, after a race in which Alonso had targeted a return to the top three and possibly even a victory.

Next comes the legendary Spa-Francorchamps before F1 enters its three-week August shutdown. Given how incredibly dominant Red Bull was around this circuit 12 months ago, it’s very difficult to foresee anything other than another Max Verstappen walkover, but the race behind him should be as fierce as ever.

July 9, 2023

Max Verstappen's 2023 Formula 1 winning streak is now up to six straight victories — seven if you include sprint races — and his championship lead stands at 99 points after another commanding performance at the British Grand Prix.

But behind him it increasingly feels like absolutely anything can happen in this F1 season, as Silverstone produced a host of surprises in the battle for second place.

Recent upgrades have started paying off in earnest for the previously-troubled McLaren team. Its drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri started in the top three behind Verstappen in Britain and Norris even managed to beat the runaway championship leader off the line and lead the first few laps.

The timing of a late-race safety car and its effect on pitstop strategies later thrust Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes into the podium mix. He had softer tyres than Norris going into the final laps and mounted a series of attacks, all of which were rebuffed in an epic battle between present and future British F1 heroes, both chased hard by Piastri in the best performance of his rookie season so far.

Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez had yet another difficult qualifying session and had to come through from 15th on the grid to sixth behind the second Mercedes of George Russell and just ahead of Fernando Alonso of the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 team.

Both Ferraris started in the top five but their tyre choices and pitstop tactics backfired in the cooler and blustery conditions of race day. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz fell back to ninth and 10th, which put them behind another of the stars of the event: Williams driver Alex Albon. He was in the top three throughout practice as his team had its most competitive weekend in years.

The big question now is how many of these surprise performance swings will hold up when F1 swaps the ultra-fast sweeping corners of Silverstone for the comparatively sinuous confines of the Hungaroring near Budapest in a fortnight.

July 2, 2023

Formula 1's Austrian Grand Prix weekend produced another two comfortable victories for runaway championship leader Max Verstappen, but beneath that headline result were two extremely dramatic and varied races.

This was the second F1 sprint weekend of the 2023 season, meaning an additional shorter race on Saturday - a day defined by rain showers.

Verstappen was joined on the front row by Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, who was clearly determined to make up for a difficult recent run as he surged past the championship leader into the first corner at the start and then inadvertently edged his team-mate onto the grass on the corner exit as he defended his position.

Their battle raged on for half the lap before Verstappen claimed a decisive advantage and underdog star Nico Hulkenberg capitalized on Perez going wide to slip his Haas between them.

It took half the race distance for Perez to find a way past Hulkenberg and by that time Verstappen was far ahead, leading Perez home as they gave Red Bull a 1-2 on the track it owns.

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz was third and Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant team-mates Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso had a thrilling battle of their own as they completed a top five that stayed on intermediate tires as the track dried, while Hulkenberg was best of those who'd changed to slick tires in sixth.

Sunday was dry but no less eventful. Ferrari followed up its encouraging Canadian GP by emerging as Red Bull's biggest threat in Austria, with Charles Leclerc attacking Verstappen on lap one of the main race and then leading a Ferrari 1-2 from Sainz for a spell as the teams' strategies diverged amid an early virtual safety car period.

Verstappen had the pace to fight back past them both and rack up another win, and the focus turned to Sainz's bold efforts to resist Perez as he came through from 15th on the grid. Though he couldn't hold onto third in the end, resisting the Red Bull for lap after lap meant Sainz made sure team-mate Leclerc was able to stay safely clear of Perez and earn second.

Sainz later dropped to sixth because he was one of eight drivers who received penalties for track limits infringements after a review of the result amid a large number of offences that could not be processed during the race itself.

That meant Lando Norris moved up to fourth as the upgraded McLaren showed the team's best form of the season, with Alonso taking another top-five finish for Aston Martin just behind him.

Mercedes was puzzled to fall back after two strong races, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton ending up only seventh and eighth. Both are eager to understand that loss of pace and atone for it as F1 moves onto their home race in Britain next weekend.

June 18, 2023

Max Verstappen equalled the great Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 Grand Prix victories by dominating the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix from start to finish.

In so doing, Verstappen chalked up Red Bull’s 100th victory in Formula 1, placing that team in elite company. Only four other F1 constructors - Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Williams - have claimed more than a century of wins since the world championship was inaugurated in 1950.

Verstappen’s fourth consecutive victory, his sixth from eight races so far in 2023, was made easier by Fernando Alonso struggling to get away cleanly from the starting grid.

The Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team brought a significant upgrade package to the AMR23 for Canada, including new sidepods, engine cover and floor, and Verstappen himself felt Aston Martin closed the pace gap to Red Bull with this update.

But Alonso was bottled up behind Lewis Hamilton’s improving Mercedes for the first 22 laps of this 70-lap race - so we never got to see a straight fight between Verstappen and Alonso.

Alonso was instructed to back off to save fuel in the second half of the race, which left him vulnerable to a counter-attack from Hamilton that never quite materialised.

But had Alonso been permitted to drive the last part of the race flat out, Verstappen was most likely managing the gap and holding pace in reserve. He won comfortably by 9.570 seconds from Alonso, with Hamilton a further 4.6s back - creating a podium that Hamilton called “iconic”.

Behind the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez’s Red Bull, the rapid Williams of Alex Albon, and the wobbly-winged Alpine of Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll recovered from a difficult qualifying session and a grid penalty to finish ninth - adding two extra points for Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team, closing the gap to Mercedes by five points as the fight for second in F1’s constructors’ world championship now heads to the hills of Austria.

June 4, 2023

While Max Verstappen's unstoppable 2023 Formula 1 form continued with a dominant Spanish Grand Prix victory, the battle in his wake took some new twists over an intriguing Barcelona weekend.

Cool and initially slightly damp conditions led to a chaotic qualifying session and a surprise grid order - bar Verstappen on pole position, of course. Carlos Sainz's Ferrari alongside him and the startling Lando Norris' McLaren in third were far less expected, as was Verstappen's Red Bull team-mae and title rival Sergio Perez struggling to 11th. He was in good company, though - George Russell's Mercedes was right beside him on the grid and a baffled Charles Leclerc reported bizarre handling problems with his Ferrari after only managing 19th.

Once he'd fought off a first-corner challenge from Sainz, Verstappen controlled a race where high tyre degradation for most of the field prompted a wide variety of pitstop strategies and pace fluctuations.

The recently-upgraded Mercedes made the tyres last better than most, allowing Lewis Hamilton to make rapid progress to second place and Russell to surge up the order to not only reach third but successfully keep fellow charger Perez's Red Bull at arm's length and give Mercedes its first double podium of the year.

By contrast, Ferrari slumped - Sainz drifting back to fifth position and Leclerc not even able to get into the points, his recovery drive peaking at 11th place. They at least fared better than Norris, though. A first-lap brush with Hamilton triggered an immediate stop for repairs and he finished only 17th.

The Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant team was another to find it tough to maintain tyre performance, but it still kept its points-scoring run going with Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso sixth and seventh. Stroll pulled off a bold early move on Hamilton to run third in the opening laps, while Alonso had to come through from ninth on the grid in front of his adoring home crowd after a mistake early in qualifying left him grappling with floor damage. He closed on Stroll in the final laps but reassured his team-mate over team radio that he'd stay behind and take no risks as they worked together to ensure their double points finish.

Mercedes' strong performance has raised hopes that it can now close the gap to Red Bull, though the team itself insists that's still a long-term project. The quirky, wall-lined Montreal circuit that hosts the Canadian Grand Prix in a fortnight will be a revealing test of whether Mercedes' breakthrough this weekend is the start of a trend.

May 30, 2023

Max Verstappen extended his Formula 1 championship lead by keeping his cool in a rain-affected Monaco Grand Prix.

Verstappen earned a last-gasp pole position for F1’s most prestigious race ahead of Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team’s Fernando Alonso and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.

Verstappen and Alonso raced away from the field at the start of the race, Verstappen settling into a comfortable race lead that was then threatened by a sustained rain shower halfway through the race.

The rain shower forced the teams to make difficult strategic decisions — with the degree of rain varying from corner to corner - and put the drivers under intense pressure to keep their cars on the road.

Alonso had pitted for fresh dry tyres as the rain came, while Verstappen stayed out on his worn dry tyres and tried to maintain his lead.

Both Verstappen and Alonso then pitted for intermediate tires to better cope with the conditions. Verstappen survived two brushes with the wall and a continuing threat from Alonso behind to claim the race win.

It marked Verstappen’s fourth grand prix win in six races and allowed him to extend his championship lead as his team-mate and neatest title Sergio Perez finished outside of the points, after contact with both Lance Stroll and later Kevin Magnussen stunted his recovery from a qualifying crash that grounded him to last place on the grid.

Alonso’s second place was his and his team’s best result of a tremendous 2023 so far where the team is second in the constructors’ championship - an improvement of five places on where it finished last year.

Ocon held on for an excellent third place finish for Alpine — the team’s first of the year — with Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell completing the top five.

The next race takes place in a few days’ time at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, a popular testing venue for teams and one that will revert to the original high-speed final two corners for the first time since 2006.

May 8, 2023

Even having to start from ninth on the grid didn't stop Max Verstappen coming through to a Miami Grand Prix victory that reasserted his control on the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship battle.

A week after being defeated in Azerbaijan by Red Bull team mate and title rival Sergio Perez, Verstappen looked imperious through practice and the early part of qualifying for the first of F1's three visits to the United States this year, holding a comfortable margin over all his rivals on the street track creatively arranged around Miami's Hard Rock stadium.

But he abandoned his first run in the pole shootout after a minor error and then didn't get a chance for a second flying lap because Charles Leclerc crashed his Ferrari and prompted a red flag. That left Verstappen only ninth, with Perez on pole position.

The reigning champion made rapid progress on race day, taking just 15 laps to hack a path through to second place — including a stunning two-at-once pass on Kevin Magnussen and Leclerc along the way.

Perez was only four seconds ahead of Verstappen when his nemesis reached second place, and the gap was soon dwindling. Verstappen had started on the harder compound tire with the aim of leaving his pitstop as late as possible to help him recover ground, and with overnight rain that cleaned up the track surface, plus a drop in temperatures making that a much stronger tire over the race distance than the medium with which Perez started, the race was now really falling into his hands.

In the 24 laps between the Red Bull drivers' pitstops, new leader Verstappen couldn't quite pull out enough of an advantage to stay ahead of Perez when he came in for his late tire change, but it didn't matter. Though the large Mexican contingent in the crowd roared with hope when Perez regained the lead as his team mate pitted, Verstappen was soon right on Perez's tail and shrugging off his team mate's best defensive efforts to retake the lead and secure victory.

The Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 team notched up a fourth podium finish in five races with Fernando Alonso third after chasing Perez early on and then staying clear of the Mercedes versus Ferrari battle behind, which was won by a hard-charging George Russell.

Mercedes and Ferrari will be the focus of attention at the next race in a fortnight — as Ferrari tries to give its home crowd something to cheer at Imola and Mercedes brings the first of the upgrade packages it hopes will start to revive its fortunes. Fourth for Russell and sixth from 13th on the grid for Lewis Hamilton in Miami showed Mercedes doesn't lack fighting spirit, but also how much it needs those car changes to close the gap to its old arch-rival Red Bull.

May 1, 2023

Sergio Perez breathed fresh life into Formula 1’s championship battle by taking advantage of a safety car intervention to beat Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen to victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc’s shock pole position on Friday suggested a possible challenge for victory in this race, but the Red Bulls had far too much pace for Ferrari to handle on race day and Leclerc finished more than 21 seconds behind race winner Perez after 51 laps of the challenging Baku street circuit.

After both overtook Leclerc with relative ease early in the race, using the power of Red Bull’s potent Drag Reduction System (DRS) on Baku’s long main straight, Verstappen held a narrow lead over Perez - who looked quicker and more comfortable on his car’s medium compound Pirelli tires during the race’s opening stint.

Verstappen complained about a lack of grip and was called into the pits by Red Bull to fit hard compound tires at the end of lap 10. This happened just before a safety car was called while marshals retrieved the stranded AlphaTauri of Nyck de Vries, who clipped the wall and broke his car’s front suspension.

Perez was able to pit under the safety car, gaining him track position over his team-mate. Red Bull later admitted it slightly misjudged the situation, thinking de Vries would be able to continue and the safety car wouldn’t be needed.

Verstappen overcame Leclerc’s Ferrari easily again after the restart, but could find no answer for Perez, who won this race by just over two seconds to cut Verstappen’s championship advantage to just seven points.

Leclerc finished a distant third, less than a second clear of Fernando Alonso - who produced a brilliant drive from sixth on the grid for the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 Team, including an opportunistic pass on Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz just after the safety car restart.

The next race is less than a week away in Miami. Will Verstappen hit back, or will Perez carry his winning form over from Baku? Can Alonso get back on the podium again after his near-miss in Azerbaijan or will Ferrari’s improved pace stand in his way again? And will Mercedes be able to regain their Melbourne podium form after a really disappointing outing in Baku?

Miami is another temporary circuit comprising local roads, so it is sure to present yet more unpredictability and drama.

April 3, 2023

Reigning Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen overcame the early threat of a resurgent Mercedes team and the excitement of three red flags and two restarts to win a spectacular Australian Grand Prix for Red Bull.

With his Saudi Arabian GP-winning team mate Sergio Perez starting at the back having crashed in qualifying, Verstappen found himself reprising his old rivalry with the Mercedes team in Melbourne — and falling rapidly behind both its drivers as George Russell jumped him off the start, and Lewis Hamilton overtook him further around the first lap.

Verstappen wasn't down in third for long. Russell lost the lead by making his first pitstop just before the race was red-flagged, after Williams driver Alex Albon’s high-speed crash from sixth place. Everyone else was able to change tyres while the race was stopped, so Russell was left down in seventh and retired with a fiery engine failure soon afterwards.

Hamilton led from Verstappen at the restart, but the Red Bull driver's sheer speed was too much for the Mercedes for now. Verstappen was soon surging around the outside of his old adversary to take the lead and pull away.

The final hurdle for Verstappen to overcome was a pair of late red flags. The first, caused by Kevin Magnussen crashing, set up a restart with just two laps to go, but a series of collisions when racing resumed meant another instant red flag and effectively the end of the race.

The order was reset to how it stood just before that last stoppage, meaning the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 team took third and fourth with Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll — ahead of the charging Perez — despite both being caught up in the final crashes.

F1 now has a four-week break before its next round in Azerbaijan — which will also be the first 2023 appearance of the sprint race format. Red Bull's pace advantage is such that it will surely still be the team to beat when the season resumes, but might its main 2022 opponent Ferrari be closer? Though a first-lap collision for Charles Leclerc and penalty for Carlos Sainz meant Ferrari didn't score in Melbourne, Sainz's strong race pace hinted that the team's optimism that it might have made a set-up breakthrough in Australia could be justified. And even if Red Bull is still unbeatable, the challenging Baku street track always serves up incidents and surprises.

March 20, 2023

Red Bull took its second straight one-two finish as the 2023 Formula 1 season continued with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but this time had to work harder for it - with world champion Max Verstappen needing to come through from 15th on the grid to take second place behind team-mate Sergio Perez.

The Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 team was again Red Bull's closest challenger, leading at the start and earning third with Fernando Alonso.

Bahrain GP winner Verstappen looked like he'd be unstoppable again through practice at the super-fast Jeddah Corniche circuit, but a broken driveshaft meant an early end to his qualifying session and left him 15th on the grid while Perez took pole with Alonso next to him on the front row.

And it was Alonso who made the best start and immediately thrust Aston Martin into the lead at its strategic partner Aramco's home race.

The sheer speed of the Red Bulls was soon apparent, though. Perez managed to overtake Alonso on lap four, and Verstappen was quickly breezing past rival cars in the middle of the pack.

As the race hit half-distance, Verstappen overtook Alonso for second place. Could he close the five-second gap to Perez and challenge his team-mate for victory?

Both drivers tried their utmost — causing some nervous moments for the Red Bull pitwall - but Perez was able to hold his champion team-mate at a safe distance. Verstappen did snatch the bonus point for fastest lap away on the very last lap, though, meaning it's him not Perez who leads the championship now.

Alonso pulled away from the Mercedes of Russell and Lewis Hamilton and the two Ferraris behind them, securing his 100th F1 podium and a second third-place finish from his first two races with the Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant Formula 1 team.

The next round on the 23 race Formula 1 calendar starts on Friday, March 31 with Free Practice sessions, Qualifying will take place on Saturday, April 1, and the Race on Sunday April 2 at Albert Park in Melbourne, Australia.

What say you?

So who do you think will win in Melbourne? Will Red Bull continue their dominance, or can Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant break their stranglehold? Log in to Aramco LIFE and make your voice be heard in comment section below.


— The Arabian Sun: November 20, 2023