The longest season in Formula 1 history starts this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix. With the Netflix show ‘Drive to Survive’ being a catalyst to a massive wave of interest in the sport around the world, the twenty cars and drivers descend upon the Sakhir circuit to kickstart the season. The 10 teams have already been in Bahrain for three days of pre-season testing, giving us some early signs into who’s hot and who’s not as we head into the first race.
The results from these test days come with a caveat as the teams are always reluctant to show their true form to their rivals. This gamesmanship means that the actual picture will only emerge during Sunday’s Grand Prix.
It’s going to be very hard to look beyond Max Verstappen and Red Bull as the favourites, heading into the 2023 season.
As a driver, I thought that Max raised his game in 2022 to a new level where there really was a calmness and a methodical approach we hadn’t seen from him before. From when I saw him race in Formula 3, it was abundantly clear that this guy is one of the most gifted drivers on the planet, but he’s now added experience and the confidence that world championship success brings.
The Red Bull RB19 has looked ominously fast in testing with both Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez exuding an inner confidence.
The team has stability on the driver and technical front, with Christian Horner at the helm and the design genius Adrian Newey as motivated for success as he was 31 years ago when his car first won a World Championship.
Mercedes once again head into the season with the best driver line-up on the grid. It has two race winners on its books, and the inner harmony that it lacked during the Nico Rosberg/Lewis Hamilton era.
They had a difficult season last year, finishing way behind Red Bull but seem more optimistic that this year’s W14 is a decent step forward. Pre-season testing wasn’t completely smooth and they may well start the year as the third best team.
George Russell was one of the stars of the last season. He scored more points that Lewis in his first year with the team and also took his maiden F1 victory in Brazil. But Lewis is going to be hungry for that eighth title.
When it comes to consistently producing race performances week in, week out, I still believe that Lewis, Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso, are truly the ones in the A league.
Ferrari had a season which started brilliantly last year but the challenge petered out as the team and drivers both made errors and the Red Bull car got stronger through in-season development.
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are both very fast, intelligent and hard working drivers. If they have the tools and structure from the team, they can deliver victories.
There’s no doubt that wherever we go on the F1 tour, there is still a huge army of Ferrari tifosi who come out to cheer their beloved red cars. It’s been 15 years since the team last won a driver’s World Championship and patience is starting to run thin even with the loyal fanbase.
The big change at Maranello over the winter has been the replacement of team boss Mattia Binotto with Frederic Vasseur, who makes the move over from Sauber.
Being the team boss of Ferrari is the most high-pressured job in F1. I’ve known Frederic for a long time since his GP2 days and he’s a pretty unflappable character, which is exactly what is needed.
He’s a tough taskmaster too and it will be interesting to see how much and how quickly he’s able to exert his influence on the team.
The midfield team to watch in my opinion is Aston Martin. Team owner Lawrence Stroll has been on an aggressive recruitment drive for the past two years and the fruits of that expansion should be evident this year.
The squad really seemed out of position last season in comparison to where I expected it to be and so far in testing, the car has looked very fast in the hands of their new signing Fernando Alonso.
The double world champion may be 41-years old but is showing all the energy and motivation of someone half his age. In fact, with the 21 year old Oscar Piastri driving for Mclaren, this year is the first time in F1 history we will have a driver on the grid who wasn’t born when another (Alonso) made his debut.
Out of the 23 races this year, unquestionably the one that has got everyone talking is the new event in Las Vegas running down the famous “Vegas Strip” on Saturday night.
It’s going to be quite a spectacle and I can’t wait to be there in November.
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