Exactly one week after I write this, the F1 season 2023 will (hopefully) have kicked off in Bahrain and we’ll know who claimed the first race of the season. With a week to go it’s therefore high time to check how the new season is shaping up, how the team line-ups look and perhaps even try to figure out who will come out on top, even that if at this stage at best a qualified guess. One thing is however certain already now, namely the there will not be any big changes to neither cars nor rules this season, in stark contrast to last year.
By now all the teams have launched their new cars and whereas some did it in the spirit of not much new to report about, others were much more bullish about their new creations, none more so than Ferrari. CEO Benedetto Vigna wasn’t holding back when he said the SF-23 is “a single-seater that will be unprecedented in terms of speed.” We’ll see if that’s confirmed, but according to rumours, Ferrari have found an extra 30 hp, which would no doubt be helpful given the power shortage they had last year. Mercedes on the other hand have been far more restrained, with team boss Toto Wolff talking about the new car “eventually” becoming competitive enough. Modesty, lack of confidence or playing down expectations? That remains to be seen. What will also be clear to see from the first training is how many cars have taken inspiration from Red Bull’s car from last year. And whereas the Red Bull team was punished by fewer windtunnel tests in preparation of the season as part of the punitive measures for having exceeded the spending limit the year before, few doubt the RB car 2023 will be very fast indeed.
On the driver side, the top teams have the same line-up as last year, but there are some changes in the other teams, with three newcomers and one returning driver. Pierre Gasly is moving to Alpine, taking over Fernando Alonso’s seat as Alonso moves on to Aston Martin to replace Sebastian Vettel, who ended his career after last season. Nico Hülkenberg returns to F1 to take over Mick Schumacher’s seat at Haas, teaming up with Kevin Magnussen. The American-owned team thus goes for two of the most experienced drivers on the grid, in the hope that will help performance and especially consistency. it’s pretty clear that if Haas still doesn’t perform, it will not be because of teh drivers. Which by the way goes for Aston Martin as well, who are said to have invested a lot of money in their new car, which is the most changed of all on the grid, compared to last year.
As for the newcomers, most focus has been on Oscar Pilastri who will join McLaren next to Lando Norris. Being Australian as his predecessor at McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo, Pilastri won the F3 championship in 2020, moved on to F2 and won that championship in his first yeaer. He was Alpine’s reserve driver last year coming out of their driving academy and will hopefully see some success with McLaren this year. Next to him, American Logan Sargeant will drive next to Alex Albon at Williams, replacing Nicolas Latifi and being the first driver from the US since Alex Rossi in 2015. Finally Dutchman Nyck de Vries gets a seat at Alpha Tauri after having been on the edges of F1 in the last years, notably as Mercedes’ reserve driver, and stepping in for Alex Albon / Williams at Monza last season and to everyone’s surprise, claiming P9. Of these three, I’d put my money on Pilastri as being most successful, also given the best car (with a small reservation for what it is Aston has created…).
In terms of the season itself, it will as said start in Bahrain next weekend and end in Abu Dhabi on 26 November. There will be a total of six sprint races this year, twice as many as last year. After a total of 23 racing weekends the winner will be decided and if I were a betting man, I’d put most of my money on Max Verstappen claiming another title. This follows from Mercedes’ not very convincing communication so far, indicating the car may well come up to speed at some point but most probably too late to claim the title. At Ferrari, it’s really no surprise that Mattia Binotto was let go of (one thing I actually got right in my predictions last year). He’s replaced by Cédric Vasseur from Alfa Romeo Racing who is an experienced operator, but has one hell of a job of transforming Ferrari such as not to lose points unnecessarily over the whole season. That will most probably take more than one year, meaning that things are looking good for Verstappen – perhaps even with Sergio Perez in second position? In a week, we’ll at least know how it started!