It is almost time for ‘lights out and away we go!’. The 2023 season of Formula One is less than a week away and it promises to be an exciting season opener in Bahrain. As the pre-season testing wrapped up on Saturday, what we have seen has perhaps left us with more questions than it answered… Here is the (thoroughly unqualified) verdict and predictions for the pecking order of the teams heading into the new season.
1) RED BULL
Perhaps the easiest pick on the list, the defending champions picked up exactly where they left off at the end of last season and comfortably look the strongest, especially when defending champion Verstappen is behind the wheel. Safe to say that clinching the 2021 drivers’ title did wonders for the Dutchman who has been racing with incredible confidence and skill ever since – 2023 could become yet another one-man title fight if Red Bull’s rivals fail to step up. Max Verstappen is certainly the man to beat in 2023.
Ferrari are said to be quietly confident about testing results, although this might mean they know something we don’t, since while the car looked pretty good, it seemed clearly somewhat behind the Red Bull. With Fred Vasseur now in charge, the prancing horses will hope that the all-too-common strategy blunders of recent years are a thing of the past, and that this year they can sustain a year-long title challenge. Leclerc seems hungry as ever for a first drivers’ championship, while Sainz will have a lot to prove after a slightly underwhelming 2022 campaign. The ingredients are all there and yet it somehow still feels like a mountain to climb for the top spot for Ferrari…
Not necessarily the test many expected from the silver arrows. We do know however that testing times can often be misleading, and Mercedes is known for ‘sandbagging’, so perhaps it isn’t panic time just yet for the Hamilton fans. Having said that, upgrades will have to come earlier in the year this time around if Mercedes is serious about returning to the top of F1 – you simply cannot give Max Verstappen half the season to run away with it. The other remaining question revolves around the driver pairing: while their rivals have clear #1 and #2 drivers, at Mercedes Hamilton and Russell operated on a very similar level in 2022. Will the team make a choice if needed to maximise their chances in the drivers’ title fight? Will the team even be near a title fight? After all, rumours from the paddock have pointed to the danger of Mercedes moving down in the table, rather than up, due to the buzz generated by…
4) ASTON MARTIN
The biggest question mark of the pre-season test has been Aston Martin. Performance has looked incredibly promising, especially on the race simulation Fernando Alonso ran on the final day. The hype train has inevitably started chugging at full steam, and not just from fans. Sky F1 reporter Ted Kravitz and F1 presenter Will Buxton both ranked them above Mercedes in the current pecking order. Has Alonso for once made a good career move? Caution is of course advised and AM themselves have worked to downplay the hype; after all, we know that testing doesn’t tell us everything. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the team appear to have taken a right step in their ambitions to eventually challenge for the world title. We will only get the first real hints to whether Aston Martin will be the fairy-tale success story or biggest letdown of the season come the Bahrain GP in a week’s time. Will Fernando get himself some podiums, or will we be seeing him at the Indy 500 come the end of May?
Alpine didn’t have the outright pace in testing, but that wasn’t what they focused on. Their efforts were likely a lot more successful than it looks just from the timesheets and strong indicators were present to say that once the car gets fired up, it can be at the head of the midfield pack. The all-french duo of Gasly and Ocon likely won’t challenge for podiums but it would not be surprising to see them as regular point-scorers this season. Whether they can get along is a different matter however. Even if PR has worked hard to prove that any past animosity has been settled, we know that old wounds can flare up in the cutthroat competitive world of F1.
6) ALFA ROMEO
A solid effort from the team with an especially fast hot lap, but despite this there is little to indicate that Alfa Romeo will move out of its current position. A solid midfield showing in 2023 probably would count as a success, especially if a level of consistency can be delivered across the year, unlike in 2022 where performance (and points scored) sharply dropped off by the second half. All in all a thoroughly average test for AR, but a great few days for Valteri Bottas’ haircut and moustache.
An incredible driver pairing of Magnussen-Hulkenberg (known for THAT post-race interview moment…) heads up Haas for 2023 and it looks… alright. Nothing much to complain about, the car seems solid and capable of scoring points here and there which is certainly something. Haas seems nothing more or less than a dependable midfield car, not in danger of constant Q1 eliminations, but also seemingly lacking the it factor that could replicate Magnussen’s unbelievable season start last year.
The major disappointment of testing has been McLaren, which not only is failing to make steps forward, they currently look at real risk of falling far back down the order once again. No wonder Lando Norris reportedly punched a wall in frustration at the end of day 2… If the team doesn’t make some major strides forward throughout the season, could they become at risk of losing their star man for 2024? As for Oscar Piastri, one must now wonder if he is just maybe regretting refusing that Alpine seat…
The Red Bull sister team admitted themselves they got it wrong in 2022, but it doesn’t seem like they got it much better for this year either. The car looked average at best and currently behind direct rivals Haas and Alfa Romeo. Couple this with a relatively inexperienced driver pairing and it may not be such a surprise if AlphaTauri are the ones bringing up the rear in 2023.
Williams actually had a positive testing experience but the constant struggles of recent years still condemn them to 10th place in predictions for the season. It will remain to be seen if the team has managed to close the gap to its closest rivals and if it can start becoming a semi-regular contender for points. With the consistently last placed Latifi now replaced by exciting talent Logan Sargeant, and Alex Albon showing some great form in 2022, this season just may be the one for Williams to make a real step forward, but in recent years disappointment has been the much more common experience at the team.
Image description: An F1 car of team Ferrari, one of the teams competing in the 2023 season
Image credit: Jen Ross via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.5)