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Delving Into Key Strategy Moments Of The 2023 Formula One Season

Written by Skye Reilly, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Formula One is an all-action based sport. Every split second plays a crucial role in determining the three drivers who will stand on the podium at the end of the race, proving to their mettle, and being deserving of their seat in the most prestigious motorsport series. 

Every race we witness drivers battling it out to get the higher position on the grid, cars coming into contact, putting them at risk of not finishing the race and celebrations like no other. However, what may get overlooked frequently is the quick thinking decisions made by the masterminds behind the curtains. 

Strategists on the pit wall analyse different moves their driver can pursue, and then make an informed choice on the most beneficial choice to them and the team, so that they can see their own team colours fly across the finish line. 

The 2023 season has seen many key strategy moves carried out, be it an instruction from the strategists, or by the driver themselves. Whilst some of them reaped the benefits, other strategic moves did not end with the best results. These are what I believe to be the key strategy moments within the 2023 season. 

Image credits: Getty Images

One team who experienced many ups and downs this season in terms of strategy is Ferrari. Some brought them to the podium, while others left them with frustrated drivers, and fans and pundits questioning their strategy. 

One notable instance was in the Hungarian Grand Prix. After Ferrari Driver Charles Leclerc was slapped with a five second time penalty, having sped in the pitlane. This came after a pitstop that resulted in the Monégasque driver losing more time than he wished for, his teammate Carlos Sainz instructed to remain outside a five second time distance from Leclerc. 

This was the solution given by strategists at Ferrari, in the hopes of both drivers finishing in their respective positions. However, this solution provided by the strategists ended with benefitting neither driver, due to Sainz being left alone to defend not only his position, but his teammate’s too, against a charging George Russell, the Briton eventually passing the Spaniard, and finishing within five seconds of Leclerc, and bringing sixth for the team. 

However the alternative could have arguably have been much worse for the team, if strategists had opted to allow Sainz to overtake his teammate, it would have left Leclerc defenceless against other drivers due to his penalty, which could have resulted in less points for Ferrari, and a missed opportunity to try gain a higher position in the Constructors championship. 

Although, not all race strategy decisions have been made by strategists at Ferrari. We have also witnessed a certain Spanish ferrari driver perform incredibly bold and daring tactics, especially at the Singapore Grand Prix. 

Once again, this involved Russell. When it became apparent to Sainz that Russell, who was two positions behind, was well within the possibility of snatching the podium win from him, with the Mercedes drivers duo swapping to fresh medium tyres under the virtual safety car, which gave them a pace advantage, the Spaniard decided to carry out a risky manoeuvre, driving within just enough distance of the McLaren driver Lando Norris to allow him DRS.

Norris himself was struggling to defend his position behind Sainz against Russell, whilst also maintaining enough distance to not run the risk of Norris overtaking him. This also meant Norris gained DRS, and kept Russell at bay, and Sainz did not have to worry about also losing his position to Russell. 

This quick thinking strategy secured Sainz victory at the Singapore Grand Prix, whilst also being showered with love by fans on social media for helping his old teammate at McLaren gain P2. Although this move could have turned out with a completely opposite outcome, the Ferrari driver could not have executed it more perfectly. 

However, it seems that it wasn’t only fans of the sport who caught hold of Sainz’s strategy in Singapore! 

In the following Japanese Grand Prix, George Russell was instructed to allow teammate Lewis Hamilton to overtake the young driver, due to Hamilton having the better pace and Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz being behind with fresher tyres, giving him a pace advantage. 

This instigated an argument from Russell that it would be best to wait until the last lap for Hamilton to pursue the overtake so that he can gain DRS from Russell, which would benefit both drivers, with his teammate having fresher tyres, meaning he would have a better chance at defending against the Ferrari driver. 

Hamilton and Russell were in the spotlight at Suzuka for their intra-team battle; Credits - Getty Images

However, ultimately the strategists at Mercedes did not agree this was the best move to make, and allowed Hamilton past, whilst Russell fought for his plan. This left Russell playing defence for as long as he possibly could against Sainz, which ended in the British driver losing a position to him, losing points for his team, and all while leaving Hamilton to be vulnerable to the same outcome. 

Although, had Mercedes gone with Russell’s suggestion, the outcome at the end of the race could have perhaps been different.

Albon's strategy masterclass at Canada fetched valuable points, and applause; Image credits; GettyImages

One race strategy that could not go unnoticed this season was Alex Albon and Williams' one-stop strategy at the Canadian Grand Prix. Due to a safety car being deployed on lap 12, strategists at Williams seized the opportunity to bring Albon in for a pitstop, and make it his only pitstop for the remainder of the 58 laps of the race, leaving the young driver to focus on maintaining his tyres. 

This was decided by race strategists, due to the factor that the other teams would have their drivers on a minimum of two pit stops, and Albon staying out would mean he could focus more on gaining positions, and using this factor to his advantage. 

This strategy provided by Williams strategists paid off, as the Thai-Brit driver gained positions, and despite losing out to Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz early on, Albon finished P7, pulling off a challenging stint to perfection. 

This fearless strategy by the team and driver also received praises not only from strategy expert and former strategist for Aston Martin Bernie Collins, who even went as far as to name it the best race strategy of the 2023 season! Even Formula 1’s tyre provider Pirelli stated they were shocked at the durability of the tyres. 

Undoubtedly, there have been many ups and downs this season for teams, and we have seen improvements some teams have made since the beginning of the season, and others not so much. 

This season certainly witnessed strategy masterclasses, as well as ambitious calls amounting to nothing, amidst a barrage of records broken. There is no doubt that with the improvement of each individual team in all aspects, we will definitely see some of the competitiveness on show this season, and hopefully many more memorable strategy decisions to come in the future.


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