F1: Storylines to monitor in the season's final 10 races including Alonso vs. Hamilton, Leclerc vs. Russell

While Max Verstappen is a lock to win the 2023 championship, there are still plenty of intriguing storylines to keep an eye on in the second half of the season.

Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton are in for a battle down the stretch. (Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton are in for a battle down the stretch. (Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The 2023 Formula 1 season has seemed anticlimactic at times thanks to the dominance of Max Verstappen and Red Bull — but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to fight for in the final 10 races.

Verstappen has all but locked up another championship, but part of what makes F1 great is the variety of battles throughout the grid involving teams and drivers in every tier of competitiveness.

Following the summer break we're likely to see showdowns between rivals, get clarity on drivers' contracts for 2024, and witness intense fights between teams for places in the constructors' standings with millions of dollars at stake.

Here are some storylines to monitor:

Fernando Alonso vs. Lewis Hamilton

While the grid is packed with young drivers at the moment, there are two combatants whose rivalry goes all the way back to 2007 — when many of their current competition were just children.

The former McLaren teammates have taken verbal shots at each other over the years — and engaged in numerous on-track battles — but they've rarely had cars with similar enough pace to engage in a year-long dogfight.

Thanks to Aston Martin's surprising ascendance the two have been on relatively even ground in 2023 with Alonso scoring just one more point than Hamilton in the first 12 races of the season.

Alonso and Hamilton find themselves an intense battle for third place in the drivers' championship. Finishing third would be a significant accomplishment for either, and doing so by beating out a longtime rival would be particularly rewarding.

While Alonso is leading Hamilton at the moment, the latter has been more successful in recent races earning 46 points in his last four outings to the Spaniard's 32.

Ferrari vs. Aston Martin

This is not a matchup many anticipated before the season as Ferrari came second in the constructors' championship in 2022 while Aston Martin finished seventh. At the moment, the Prancing Horses sit five points back of the upstarts.

Aston Martin exploded out of the gate behind five Alonso podiums in the first six races. Ferrari has been more dynamic recently landing 91 points in the last five events compared to Aston Martin's 62.

If that trend continues, the Italian outfit will run away from the team that was the story of the early season, but there's reason to believe in a reversal of fortune.

Aston Martin has made it clear that they are still pushing to upgrade their car for this year, while Ferrari has been more tight-lipped and may have turned its attention to 2024. The team recently lost sporting director Laurent Mekies, and could be unsettled on the technical side of things.

The difference between third and fourth place in the constructors' championship is meaningful to both teams in terms of prestige and financially. Expect a spirited competition down the stretch.

Daniel Ricciardo's audition

Daniel Ricciardo's career path as been an unusual one as he's gone from a staple at Red Bull — usually as a productive second driver — to a guy two different teams had limited success with, to a driver without a seat in a span of four years.

After beginning 2023 as Red Bull's third driver he's found his way back to the grid behind the wheel of an AlphaTauri after the team ran out of patience with Nyck de Vries.

Ricciardo hasn't done much in two races with his new car, which isn't among the swiftest in the field. That said, Yuki Tsunoda has earned a top-12 finish in more than half of his races this year, so Ricciardo should have enough juice to nab some points down the stretch.

At 34-years old Ricciardo could still have some good seasons left in him, but he has a lot to prove and the road back to a better ride could be a long one — unless Red Bull decides to bring him home in Sergio Pérez's seat.

Fans of Netflix's "Drive to Survive" are almost universally behind Ricciardo, and his pairing with the affable and unfiltered Tsunoda is guaranteed to make for good television. What the Australian does in his new AlphaTauri to rejuvenate his career remains to be seen.

Formula One F1 - Belgian Grand Prix - Spa-Francorchamps, Spa, Belgium - July 28, 2023 AlphaTauri's Daniel Ricciardo acknowledges the fans during qualifying Pool via REUTERS/John Thys
Fan favorite Daniel Ricciardo is back in F1 after entering 2023 without a full-time ride. (Pool via REUTERS/John Thys)

Lewis Hamilton's contract situation

Hamilton's contract concludes at the end of 2023, and it is surprising that he hasn't signed a new deal yet.

Mercedes clearly wants the legendary driver back, and it's tough to envision a better scenario for Hamilton. The 38-year-old may feel like he's running out of time to earn another championship and Mercedes' declining performance over that last two years has to be a concern for him.

At the same time, there isn't another available seat where he can be assured of a more competitive car. Mercedes ranks second in the constructors championship and rumours about Hamilton moving to Ferrari didn't seem to have much merit. If the seven-time champion found life with the Silver Arrows frustrating, driving for a team with infamously disjointed tactics wouldn't be an upgrade.

The only car likely to be better than Mercedes next year is Red Bull — and the paddock leaders aren't incentivized to pay the two biggest salaries in F1 when they are dominating with their current drivers. Even if they grow tired of Pérez's inconsistency, Hamilton isn't the most logical replacement.

For better or worse, Hamilton and Mercedes are better off together than apart. Even if the former has to worry about his machine's performance and the latter might see the value of launching the George Russell era in earnest, that probably isn't enough to bring about a divorce.

That's why it's puzzling that we've haven't seen a deal yet. It's probably coming soon, but until it does the possibility of a shocking career move by the grid's most storied driver remains on the table.

Charles Leclerc vs. George Russell

Leclerc and Russell have both been heralded as future champions in the past, but neither is having the kind of season they'd hoped for.

The former won three races and earned 11 podiums in 2022 on the way to an second-place finish in the drivers' championship. The latter didn't do quite as well, but added an impressive bullet point to his résumé by finishing as the top Mercedes driver ahead of Hamilton.

In 2023 Leclerc has three podiums, no wins, and just 99 points.

Some of that can be blame on Ferrari's step back as a team, but the 25-year-old has been unable to build on a career-best season. Russell has precisely the same point total, but the fact that Hamilton has accumulated 50 more points and five more podiums than him this year has taken the wind out of his sails.

It would be difficult for either driver to finish above fifth, but there's a moral victory to be had for whichever one is able to edge ahead of the other down the stretch.

16 Charles Leclerc of Monaco, Scuderia Ferrari, SF-23 - Ferrari, action 63 George Russell of United Kingdom, Mercedes - AMG PETRONAS, W14 - Mercedes, action during the Formula 1 Aramco British Grand Prix from 6th to 9th July of 2023. On the Silverstone Circuit, in Silverstone, United Kingdom. (Photo by Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, left, and Mercedes' George Russell entered F1's summer break tied for fifth in the world drivers' championship standings at 99 points apiece. (Photo by Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The rise of McLaren

McLaren entered the season with a relatively slow vehicle and managed just 17 points in the first eight races of the season despite a duo of talented, young drivers.

Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri have been able to showcase their skills lately as their cars have received upgrades that have radically boosted performance. Norris and Piastri have accumulated 86 points in the last four races, experiencing the biggest midseason turnaround F1 has seen in recent seasons.

McLaren is far enough behind Ferrari and Aston Martin that improving on its fifth-place in the constructors' championship would be a tall task, but its drivers could easily climb the standings.

Norris is within striking distance of drivers like Leclerc, Russell, and Carlos Sainz if his car looks as good coming out of the break as it did going in. Piastri, on the other hand, is well positioned to overtake Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll in the standings on the way to a banner rookie year.

Logan Sargeant's status

Sargeant entered the summer break without a point to his name, which can't be comforting to the rookie who is on a one-year contract.

Failing to score as a rookie is far from unprecedented. Russell, for instance, didn't score in his first season and managed just three points in his second in a bad Williams car.

The difference there is that Russell was a Formula 2 champion whereas Sargeant's pre-F1 credentials are a little lighter. His best championship finish in F2 was fourth, and his best effort at F3 was third. He didn't enter the highest level of the sport with phenom status.

Sargeant's Williams car has also shown some life this season, particularly with its excellent straight-line speed. That's allowed teammate Alex Albon to earn 11 points and qualify in the top-10 on four different occasions. Meanwhile, the rookie has never qualified higher than 14th.

Williams can afford to be patient with Sargeant, and he won't be able to command a budget-busting salary, so the team may still see him as a strong option for 2024. Because nothing is guaranteed on that count the young American would do well to show meaningful signs of progress in the second half of the season.