We love fast cars. By we, I mean Americans, and by fast, I mean anything we can imagine flying off a dirt mound over three police cars or racing through busy streets at a wind-whipping pace. Of course, the fastest of fast cars belong to Formula 1—a realm that’s traditionally (and curiously) bypassed the attention of a good portion of America’s fast car zealots.
Like the other football (soccer), F1 is an uncontainable global phenomenon, but only recently has it begun to soar beyond a mere niche American fanbase. Netflix’s Drive to Survive series, launched in early 2019 and confirmed for a sixth season next year, has unquestionably exposed F1 racing to a broader U.S. audience. However this torch was lit, F1 is now here for real. In fact, 2023 appears to be the year Formula 1 takes America by storm—hosting three races (in Miami, Austin, and Las Vegas) for the first time in over 40 years.
Vegas will be the penultimate race of F1’s 2023 season, taking over Sin City’s famed strip via a temporary street circuit. And while the odds veer toward defending world champion Max Verstappen claiming this year’s F1 crown, as he has for two years running, here’s the thing about motorsports: They’re unpredictable. They live on a razor’s edge where even the slightest mistake or surprise can instantly change everything.
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So, in honor of Americans finally catching on to the fastest of the fast—and with half a season left—here’s a speedy update on the 10 best F1 drivers to watch over the next several races en route to this year’s champion.
Best Formula 1 Drivers to Watch in 2023
1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
What to know about him: Well, he’s fast. F1 has two ongoing championships: The Drivers’ Championship is based on which individual driver gets the most points over the season’s couple dozen races; the Constructors’ Championship is received by a team, based on the combined performances of each team’s two drivers. Verstappen won the Drivers’ Championship in 2021 and 2022, unseating seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. The Dutch driver has remained on top this season. Right now, no driver is operating at a higher level.
How’s he looking coming into the summer stretch? Still great. Verstappen has won the last three races and four of the last five coming into the Canadian GP. His dominance is expected to put him on top again when the season ends in December.
2. Sergio Pérez, Red Bull
What to know about him: Pérez was somewhat of a late bloomer. Since debuting in 2012, he has bounced around a variety of F1 teams. Since joining Red Bull in 2021 as the clear No. 2 to Verstappen, the 33-year-old has steadily improved. Last year was his best season yet. He picked up two wins, 11 podiums, and finished third overall.
How’s he looking coming into the summer stretch? If anyone is going to catch Verstappen, it’s probably Pérez. While Verstappen has a clear lead, some false steps may leave the door open for the Mexican racer.
3. Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin
What to know about him: The two-time World Drivers’ Championship winner is now 41 years old and hasn’t won a championship since 2006. He has, however, finished second three times—most recently in 2013. After finishing 10th and then 9th in 2021 and 2022, respectively, the Spaniard moved from Alpine to Aston Martin for the 2023 season.
How’s he looking coming into the summer stretch? Better than anyone expected. Alonso currently sits in third (five places above teammate Lance Stroll) and has finished on the podium five times. If he keeps things up, he’ll have his best season in a decade.
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4. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
What to know about him: The 25-year-old from Monaco has been a rising star for a long time. He has raced for Ferrari, the most historic team in motorsport, since 2019. He won a couple of races that year, but didn’t win anything in 2020 or ‘21, when Ferrari put together a disappointingly slower car. Last year, things began to click for Leclerc, with a second overall finish to Verstappen.
How’s he looking coming into the summer stretch? Not good. 2023 has been somewhat of a disaster for Leclerc. He didn’t finish two races and has only found himself on the podium once. If things don’t turn around fast for him, this year will be one giant leap backwards.
5. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
What to know about him: He is the gold standard for excellence in Formula 1. Hamilton won seven titles before Verstappen controversially bested him in 2021. He has 103 career race wins, and in 2020, passed the German legend Michael Schumacher to set the all-time victories record. Last year, however, proved nothing lasts forever as he finished sixth overall.
How’s he looking coming into the summer stretch? Better, but not good enough. Hamilton currently sits fourth overall with two second place finishes in seven races. He’s finished no lower than sixth, so will likely finish higher than last year, but what that means for Hamilton’s future, and consistent retirement rumors, remains unknown.
6. George Russell, Mercedes
What to know about him: The 25-year-old, and all-around nice guy, is expected to be Mercedes’ next great British driver. He picked up his first race win at the 2022 São Paulo Grand Prix and finished last season fourth overall, two spots ahead of legendary teammate Lewis Hamilton.
How’s he looking coming into the summer stretch? Things aren’t going quite as well as last year, but possibly on the upswing. Since an engine fire knocked him out of the Australian Grand Prix in early April, each subsequent race has seen the Brit climb in the standings. A third place finish at the recent Spanish GP has been his highest mark of 2023 so far.
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7. Esteban Ocon, Alpine
What to know about him: The 26-year-old Frenchmen won the Hungarian Grand Prix back in 2021, his first ever victory, but he hasn’t won since. Still, he drove himself to an impressive eighth place finish last year, his highest since 2017, finishing ahead of then-teammate Fernando Alonso.
How’s he looking coming into the summer stretch? Improving. After a rough start that saw him unable to finish two of the season’s first three races, Ocon has bounced back and seems poised to help Alpine finish in the top 5 again.
8. Pierre Gasly, Alpine
What to know about him: The 27-year-old teammate of Ocon has bounced around a variety of F1 teams, including a short and troubled stint at Red Bull. He has one win so far in his career, but that was back in the 2020 Italian Grand Prix. After four seasons at Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri, the Frenchman joined Alpine for the 2023 season.
How’s he looking coming into the summer stretch? Fair. It’s been by no means a bad season for Gasly. He has finished in the top 10 five times so far and is on track for a top 10 finish at the end of the season, a fair improvement from last year’s 14th. Still, Gasly finished ninth back in 2021 and is expected to improve even further with the move to Alpine.
9. Lando Norris, McLaren
What to know about him: At just 23 years old, Lando Norris is a grizzled Formula 1 veteran. He has had an F1 seat since 2019 and hasn’t won a race yet, but he’s in the “just a matter of time” zone to reach the top step of a podium. After former McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo departed at the end of last season, Norris paired with rookie Oscar Piastri.
How’s he looking coming into the summer stretch? In a word, bad. After finishing 17th in the first two races of the year, things seemed like they were improving with Norris nabbing back-to-back top 10s. It didn’t last. Two of the last three races found Norris near the back of the pack again. Unless things turn around quickly, and there’s little to suggest they will, this will likely be a disappointing season for both Norris and McLaren.
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10. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
What to know about him: “Chaotic” might be the best way to describe him. Sainz is the No. 2 driver for Ferrari, a clear second fiddle to Leclerc, but he’s pretty good in his own right—when he finishes races. Last year was his best yet. He won his first Grand Prix at Silverstone and finished fifth overall in the Driver Standings.
How’s he looking coming into the summer stretch? Could be better. While he’s been more consistent than his teammate Leclerc, Sainz has yet to finish on the podium. Ferrari overall has had their share of problems this year, but still has a chance to turn things around.