After a couple months of waiting, along with the launches and tests for the formula one pre-season finished for 2023, this weekend, it is now time to go racing.
Bahrain kicks off the third year in a row that Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team have a chance to go for a three-peat for the drivers and constructor’s championship. So, let’s look at who could be on top, and who could be the surprise of the season…...
Starting off with the defending champions Red Bull. It doesn’t take any sort of gambler to believe that the Milton Keynes team could win the championship again. In fact, it could be the first time since 2022 where a driver could clinch the championship halfway through the year. But if the other teams have a say in this, then that is a totally false actuation. Verstappen and his teammate Sergio Perez set the quickest times in the recent three-day test and apart from Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu having the best time on the second day, Red Bull looks very strong. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that even with the penalty that has the team limited in using their wind tunnel, it might not make any difference.
If any challenge can come from another team, it has to be Ferrari. The prancing horse made too many errors last season, both in design, engine, and management. That now has been reflected on the team itself, bouncing out Mattia Binotto and replacing him with the ever-strict Frenchman Frederic Vasseur, who could be the first man to keep everything in line with the team since his countryman Jean Todt. Both drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz remain, so it is up to them to deliver the goods, which could quickly show in the first race of the season.
For many seasons, Mercedes was the dominate force. It became obvious that it was getting tedious that Lewis Hamilton was winning all the time, and it would be a moment of time when another team could take over the mantle from them, and it happened in November of 2021. Since then, the team have struggled with their aerodynamics, with some members heading off for different teams, and this has hampered the squad, with even the addition of George Russell, who could be the future of British racing, teammate and countryman Hamilton himself this year is not happy with the new car and feels that it will take a while to get it back to where it really was.
The midfield could be more interesting in this sport than any other time in its history, with up to four teams vying for the magical “Best of the rest” position. Last season, that belonged to the French Alpine team, with much assistance form the English folks at Enstone, held onto fourth and could have been good if their reliability would have helped Fernando Alonso get more points. If the reliable engine would have succeeded, they might have either came close to Mercedes for third, or even surpassed them. Now, with Alonso off to Aston Martin, Pierre Gasly steps in as his replacement, and with teammate Esteban Ocon on the other side of the garage, it could be interesting how two former friends from Normandy could work together to keep the team where it is.
McLaren just missed gabbing fourth from Alpine, and to made things worse, the team is celebrating its 60th year with problems already. First, the team had to go to court to get new driver Oscar Piastri from Alpine, then the squad dumped Daniel Ricciardo, who now heads to Red Bull as test driver. The recent test did not show much improvement, and it could be a possible drop in placing for the team, unless things can improve during the season with the development of the car.
With McLaren having trouble, other teams could move up. Aston Martin with Alonso could be one of them. The two-time championship winner did well in the recent tests, and could be the surprise of the year, especially if he has the free reins that he did not have at Alpine. I should be no problem with teammate Lance Stroll, who gets few points and even had a few podiums in the past.
Another team could be Alfa Romeo. This team, with the sponsor in its last year, still has Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas back for another season. And with this regular line up, more points could be scored, as the team waits along with the Sauber Group, for an Audi takeover, which will begin in 2026.
So, what is left? Certainly, the Haas f1 Team is one that could move up if their team can get things together from the start. Now with Mick Schumacher off to a test drive at Mercedes, it brings in another German, Nico Hulkenberg, who has plenty of experience, but never any victories. But even the regular points finish for him and his teammate, Kevin Magnussen, could vault the American team back to the midfield now that the budget might be low, but the addition of sponsors from the same country as Haas is, with Chipotle and MoneyGram, this could be another team that might be interesting to see move up.
Last season, Alpha Tauri had a horrible year. Following a fantastic season the year before, the car last year was bad in the terms of aerodynamics. And with Gasly now gone and Yuki Tsunoda having one more chance, the entry of Nyck de Vries could put the team higher up, but it will take time to see if they can make it back to the midfield.
Then there is Williams. The team actually improved very much in the recent tests, so maybe a move up in order is a chance, and with Alex Albon, who had a few good finishes last season, this could give the team more points. His teammate is the first American to be on the grid since 2016, with Logan Sargeant, it could be great if this first-year driver could get some results and a possible future with another team—maybe even Haas, who are going to see how he will do.
That is it for the season preview for this year, and as Crofty always says: It is lights out and away they go.
By Mark Gero