The 2023 Formula 1 commences this Sunday with the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir, Bahrain, and drama in the paddock is as much a certainty as the bullseye on Max Verstappen’s back.
Two-time defending world champion Verstappen has his Red Bull Honda pointed towards a third straight title and is the clear favorite, which is no surprise at all, considering he won a record 15 races in 2022. One place where Verstappen is not the favorite is in the heart of his teammate Sergio Perez. Perez is entering his third season with Red Bull, and his loyalty in helping the team win world titles is unquestioned. Yet Verstappen refused team orders at Brazil last year, balking at the suggestion he let Perez by (for sixth place, no less!). Is Perez willing to toe the company line this time? Or is Perez just a convenient loss of radio contact away from igniting controversy of a magnitude that could derail Red Bull’s title hopes?
If you can say a seven-time world champion has “something to prove,” then you are making quite a bold statement. But Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton might actually agree with that assessment. After losing the 2021 title in dramatic and controversial fashion, Hamilton went winless in 2022, as Mercedes struggled to solve the early aerodynamic “porpoising” issue while also searching to match the raw speed displayed by Red Bull and Ferrari.
Hamilton’s teammate George Russell gave Mercedes their lone victory in 2022, at Brazil. If Mercedes can start the season with the car’s full potential unlocked, both Russell and Hamilton will challenge Verstappen. And with no clear No. 1 driver at Mercedes, Hamilton and Russell will not only be battling Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, Jr. for wins, they’ll be battling each other. But a constructor’s championship without the world championship would be a major disappointment for the team.
And speaking of Ferrari, the Prancing Horse hasn’t produced a world champion since Kimi Räikkönen in 2007. In 2022, wins in two of the first three races had many thinking the drought would end. Those hopes faded fast, as Red Bull won the next six races, and Leclerc and Sainz managed just one win each the rest of the way, with both coming after Verstappen had built an insurmountable points lead.
In 2023, the story hasn’t changed for Ferrari: they should challenge for the world championship. But they’ll have to do so with a new team principal. Frédéric Vasseur assumed the role in December of 2022 after the departure of Mattia Binotto, who was saddled with the blame for a number of strategic miscalculations during the season.
If Ferrari could align performance, strategy, and driver skill to converge simultaneously, they would be an unstoppable force. Currently, though, they are the “Dallas Cowboys Of Formula 1.” In other words, the potential is there, but the results are left to pale in comparison to championships many years in the past.
Among F1 teams not in the “Big 3,” two-time world champion Fernando Alonso’s move to Aston Martin from Alpine, coupled with Aston Martin’s impressive preseason testing performance, has rivals taking notice of the team bankrolled by billionaire Lawrence Stroll. Stroll, known as the “Father Of Formula 1” by no one and “The Father Of Lance Stroll” by everyone, can’t buy an F1 championship but made a wise move with the addition of Alonso. On talent alone, Alonso can produce podiums; with that talent and a fast car, a win in 2023 is not out of the question.
Esteban Ocon returns for Alpine, joined by Pierre Gasly, who replaced Alonso. Alpine edged out McLaren for fourth place in the constructors standings, and the team would certainly be elated with the same result in 2023.
Lando Norris is back for his fifth season with McLaren F1 and will be partnered with Australian newcomer Oscar Piastri, a graduate of Alpine’s driver academy. McLaren had a sub-par showing in preseason testing, and if the related issues aren’t rectified quickly, their odds of improving on 5th in the constructors standings are in jeopardy.
Side note: For a team based in the town of Woking in the United Kingdom, would the rabid and dedicated fans of said team be called the “Wok’ Mob?”
Nico Hulkenberg joins the returning Kevin Magnussen at Haas, currently the only American-based Formula 1 team. Haas scored eight points-paying finishes in 2022, and should be looking for more in 2023. It seems everyone would like to see more of Haas, as long as that means more of 50-something heartthrob, Netflix “Drive To Survive” leading man, and human sound bite Guenther Steiner, Haas team principal.
Alfa Romeo finished sixth in last year’s constructors standings but were a whopping 104 points back of fifth-place McLaren. Alfa hopes the combination of offseason upgrades and driver continuity (their 2022 lineup of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu remains intact) allows them to move closer to the top-half of the standings.
Alpha Tauri replaced the departing Pierre Gasly with Nick de Vries of the Netherlands, who joins Yuli Tsunoda, beginning his third season with the team. Preseason testing results offered Red Bull’s sister team some optimism, but realism dictates the team will struggle to make its way out the lowest tier of teams. And rumors of a possible sale of the team certainly won’t add any confidence to the mix.
And last and pretty much always last, Williams F1 hopes for any result other than dead last in the constructors championship, where they’ve finished in four of the last five seasons. In 2023, Williams will put Alex Albon and American rookie Logan Sargeant in the Williams FW44 and hope for the best, which was once an attainable goal for the team.
Staff 2023 Season Predictions
1) World champion: Whatever the total opposite of “going out on a limb” is, that’s what I’m doing by picking Verstappen. If the battle for first is as competitive as the battle for second will be, the 2023 season will be amazing.
2) Constructors champion: Still avoiding that limb, so Red Bull.
3) Biggest surprise: Perez, when he runs Verstappen off the track and makes a late pass to win the Mexico Grand Prix in October.
4) Biggest disappointment: Lando Norris
5) Non-Red Bull, Mercedes, or Ferrari driver most likely to achieve a race win: Alonso.
3)Pierre Gasly. Freed from the Red Bull environment, Gasly comes through driving for Alpine
4)Sergio Perez. Looking over his shoulder at reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo will add to his discomfort at a team that focuses on seeing Vers go 3 consecutive
5)Alonso would be the easy pick, but Lando Norris finally breaks through.
1)Hamilton will enter this season renewed and refocused, and wins his eighth
3)Nyck de Vries
4)I don’t think Gasly is going to bomb at Alpine, but I think Ocon is going to own him pretty easily, it’s not going to be close like many assume- Ocon was pretty even with Alonso the last two years.
5)I also think Alonso is the easy pick here. Let’s go with his teammate, Lance Stroll, instead.
3)Ocon, in an Alpine that can fight the big boys on a good day
4)Norris, and it won’t be his fault. The McLaren dream will finally turn into a nightmare
5)I think it’ll be another year of the big three locking out the top step, but what the hell. Swan song Alonso win, not a dry eye in the house
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