Thursday, December 7, 2023

2023 Formula One Milestones

We are a few weeks removed from the conclusion of the 2023 Formula One season and, on the surface, it looked pretty one-sided, with one driver winning 19 of 22 races and one team going 21-for-22. However, there is a story beyond those numbers, and some should be put into proper context. There were also achievements that were lost in the hubbub of the season. 

This is the chance to pick out a few notable accomplishments from this season and give them proper recognition. 

Max Verstappen: Highest Single Season Winning Percentage
Max Verstappen made a lot of history this season. We could do a list just of Max Verstappen accomplishments. However, nobody wants that, but we do have to recognize a few of Verstappen's accomplishments. He broke records many probably never thought would be touched. 

We are going to cover three records for Verstappen.

For starters, Verstappen's 19 victories out of 22 races meant he had a winning percentage of 86.36%. That didn't just break the record, it shattered it, and it wasn't some small feat either. 

It broke Alberto Ascari's 71-year for highest single season winning percentage. Set in the third season of the Formula One World Championship, Ascari won six of eight races. A few drivers had come close to this record. Michael Schumacher was just under three-percent from matching it with 13 victories in 18 races in 2004. Jim Clark won 70% of the races in 1963. Sebastien Vettel broke 68% in 2013, as did Verstappen in 2022. 

Verstappen had to win 17 races to claim this record, which would have been two more than the single-season record he set the year before. Verstappen didn't just eek over the line to break this record, he put 11% between him and the old mark. He didn't settle for being the first in the 80% club. He went straight to the 85% club.

This record only looks touchable for Max Verstappen at the moment. Even if it isn't him, it looks it will require a near-perfect season for it to be broken again. 

Max Verstappen: Highest Single Season Percentage of Laps Led
Breaking a 71-year-old record is impressive. Breaking a record that Jim Clark has held for 60 years? You have my attention again. 

We all know Verstappen led only 1,000 laps this season, 1,003 laps to be specific, but it isn't just 1,003 laps led. It is 1,003 out of 1,325 laps run the entire season. That is 75.7% of the season. The previous record was Jim Clark, who led 503 of 708 laps in 1963, or 71.47% of the laps run that year.

Nobody else had broken 70% prior to Verstappen this year. The only other driver to break two-third was Nigel Mansell in 1992. Leading half the laps run in a season is actually a little more common than you realize. This was the 20th time a driver has led at least 50% of the laps in season, but to take the top spot, again is staggering. This is another record I am not sure will be matched for quite some time. 

Unless Verstappen goes out and breaks it in 2024.

Max Verstappen: Most Victories from Pole Position in a Single Season
This one is a little less historic, but historic nonetheless, because I don't think many people realize Verstappen set this record this season. When we look back on his 2023 season, we will probably not be surprised to see that Verstappen set the record for most victories from pole position in a single season, but in December 2023, I am not sure many realize he did that. 

For starters, qualifying was the one weak spot for Red Bull. The car was built for long-run pace. It could lose over a single lap on Saturday by a tenth or so and then crush the field by 25 seconds on Sunday. Adrian Newey built a car not focused on the battle but meant to win the war. Look at how many pole positions Ferrari won this season. 

And yet, Verstappen won 12 pole positions this season. Every time he started on pole position, he won the grand prix. Again, in a few years, probably not going to be a surprise when looking back on 2023, but at this moment, no one has mentioned that. It isn't a surprise. The Red Bull RB19 was stellar, but it goes to show when this car was on it was untouchable.

The previous record for victories from pole position in a season was nine. Nigel Mansell set it in 1992. Sebastien Vettel matched it in 2011. Verstappen went three better in 2023. 

Of the three Verstappen records listed, this feels the most attainable for another driver and manufacturer. There is a world where Mercedes turns it around, wins 19 of 22 pole positions in a season and one of its drivers wins 15 races from pole position. This one might not be Verstappen's forever, but if he wants to have better security on it, he should probably win 14 races from pole position in 2024. 

It just goes to show that 2023 was not a perfect season for Red Bull and there is still more work to do. 

Charles Leclerc: 23 Pole Positions
There is nothing really that special about 23 pole positions, but doesn't it feel weird that Charles Leclerc is already at this mark? Leclerc has had a good career so far in Formula One, better than the average driver to step on the grid. But 23 pole positions? It looks a little more startling in context.

Leclerc's five pole positions in 2023 took him ahead of Fernando Alonso, who has 22 career pole positions. He surpassed Damon Hill, Valtteri Bottas, Mario Andretti, René Arnoux and Kimi Räikkönen as well this year. 

Leclerc is now 14th all-time. With two more pole positions, he surpasses Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet. With four, he goes ahead of Mika Häikkinen. If Leclerc wins five pole positions again, he is on the door step of tenth all-time. If he wins six, he ties Juan Manuel Fangio for tenth all-time.

It feels a little unsuspected that Leclerc is already pushing tenth all-time in pole positions. Again, he has had a good career, but this good? The Monegasque driver has only five career victories. He has made his fair share of errors, but Ferrari has not been helping him. He probably should have another three or four victories easily. 

It is a strange juxtaposition to see 23 pole positions and only five career victories. But, one-lap pace is one thing and an entire grand prix is another universe. This could end up being the story of Leclerc's career.

Fernando Alonso: 20th Season
Twenty seasons does not sound like much of an accomplishment, but consider this: Fernando Alonso became the first driver to ever compete in 20 Formula One seasons. Debuting in 2001 with Minardi, Alonso appeared in 16 consecutive seasons from 2003 to 2018 with Renault, McLaren and Ferrari before taking a two-year hiatus to focus on the FIA World Endurance Championship and Dakar Rally with Toyota.

In 2021, Alonso returned with Alpine and joined Aston Martin for the 2023 season. 

Someone had to be first to 20 seasons. It makes sense it was Alonso. Rubens Barrichello was first to 19. Michael Schumacher was second, thanks to a sabbatical, same for Kimi Räikkönen. Let's hand it to Alonso. He will at least reach it to 21. We could not rule out a 22nd season. 

Another driver will reach 20 seasons someday. The closest is Lewis Hamilton on 17 seasons, due for 18 in 2024. Hamilton might call it quits before 20 seasons, and in that case it could be a while before some reaches Alonso territory.

Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton: 300 Grand Prix Finished
To finish first you must first finish. It has been a minute since either Alonso or Hamilton finished first, but they each reached previously uncharted territory this season, and they each did it in the final two races of the season. 

They became the first two drivers to successfully finish 300 grand prix in a career. Alonso reached the mark first at the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Hamilton hit 300 while Alonso went to 301 in Abu Dhabi. 

This is a longevity achievement, and one aided with the expansion of the Formula One calendar, as well as increased reliability, but credit to each driver. These have been two of the best drivers in the 21st century. Hamilton has seen the checkered flag in 90.36% of his starts. The only drivers with a better finishing percentage with at least ten starts are Roberto Mehri (12 out of 13!) and Max Chilton (32 out of 35!). 

Credit where credit is due.

McLaren: 500 Podium Finishes
The last decade or so has been rather difficult for McLaren. Arguably, this has been the toughest decade of the manufacturer's existence. This year did not start pretty either, but McLaren made a remarkable turnaround and ended up creating a little history before it was over. 

When Oscar Piastri crossed the finish line in second for the Qatar Grand Prix, it was the 500th podium finish for McLaren, making it only the second manufacturer to reach 500 podium finishes. Ferrari was the first. 

McLaren didn't have to wait long for podium #501. It came about 1.1 seconds later when Lando Norris finished third at Lusail. At the end of the season, McLaren concluded with 503 podium finishes, 304 podium finishes behind Ferrari's all-time lead and 190 podium finishes clear of Williams in third.

Lando Norris: 13 Podium Finishes
Some might find it concerning we are recognizing the number 13, and this isn't necessarily a celebratory moment either. Norris ended 2023 with 13 podium finishes. He had seven podium finishes this year, his most in a single season. 

However, with 13 podium finishes, Norris is now tied with Nick Heidfeld for most podium finishes without a victory.

Like Charles Leclerc, doesn't it feel early for Norris to already be at this mark? Norris just completed his fifth season and he has reached a mark Nick Heidfeld has become famous for. It doesn't feel right. 

There is a good chance someday this will go back to being Heidfeld's record and Heidfeld's record alone. At 24 years old, Norris should win one grand prix someday, but for the moment, he shares a record, though likely one he hopes not to share for too longer.

Nico Hülkenberg: 203 Starts
Hey! Did anyone see this one coming? Nico Hülkenberg reached 200 career starts this season. I guess it makes sense, but really? Hülkenberg at 200 starts? He was sidelined for the better part of two seasons and it looked like his Formula One career was over prior to 2020. It found new life as a substitute driver and then as a late replacement for Nikita Mazepin. 

This revival has brought him to 200 starts and beyond, and it will continue to increase as Hülkenberg will be back for at least the 2024 season. 

With the length of the calendar, 200 is going to become the new 100. A lot of drivers are going to reach it. Hülkenberg is at the start of the trend. He was only the 22nd. 

Who else is closing in on 200?

Max Verstappen is on 185. He will hit 200, fittingly, at Zandvoort if everything goes as planned in 2024, a little over a month before turning 27 years old. 

Carlos Sainz, Jr. is only two starts behind Verstappen. Sainz, Jr. will only be two weeks removed from his 30th birthday if everything goes as planned. 

It is a stretch, but Kevin Magnussen is on 163, Lance Stroll is at 144, Esteban Ocon is on 133 and Pierre Gasly is at 130 with Charles Leclerc at 123. Lando Norris and George Russell are each at 104 starts. 

Those are the remaining drivers above 100 starts. It feels like six of those remaining nine names will reach 200 at some point. 

Yuki Tsunoda: Most Laps Led for a Japanese Driver
We all heard this one during the season finale from Abu Dhabi, or at least we heard Tsunoda became only the second Japanese driver to lead a Formula One race. That is a little surprising. 

Prior to Tsunoda, Takuma Sato led two laps in the 2004 European Grand Prix from the Nürburgring, laps ten and 11 to be specific. Sato was the only of 21 Japanese drivers to participate in a Formula One race weekend to lead a lap. Until Tsunoda. 

Tsunoda led five laps in Abu Dhabi, as he ran a different strategy hoping to leap up the grid and score enough points to take AlphaTauri ahead of Williams in the constructors' championship. He didn't quite get the points necessary to usurp Williams, but Tsunoda made a small place for himself in Formula One history.