Formula 1 2023: Who's hot, who's not?

Formula 1 2023: Who’s hot, who’s not?

Formula 1 2023: Who's hot, who's not?

It’s that time of the year again. The 2023 Formula 1 season starts Friday. What can we expect? Who’s hot, who’s not? Would we be remiss predicting a Champion with a huge season still to go before we get there?

Well, we had an all too brief sneak peek at Bahrain’s three-day pre-season test last week. As always, whatever anyone says to the contrary, there are always hints and plenty suggestions in there to form some form of opinion. If we paid enough attention that is, and we hope we did.

Anyway, let’s give it a bash. Starting at the top, Red Bull’s RB19 looked ominous out the box. Max Verstappen’s stamina and pace were extraordinary. This latest cost cut limited evolution seems more than enough of an update to be sure that this latest Red Bull is quick enough to keep on dominating; and almost problem free, too.

The new Ferrari SF-23 also looked good in testing. Pretty much trouble free too. But Ferrari is all new as a team. Charles Leclerc hopes they will still find the sweet spot. It’s likely Maranello has not just yet. Some of its testing was limited. One of its special new rear wings had DRS trouble. Which seemed to mask its true potential. Was that planned, or just coincidence? Carlos Sainz was silent. But looked brilliant.

Ferrari’s challenge is not the car

Vasseur: Confidence is relative compared to others

Maranello’s biggest challenge in the early season is not the car. Sure, they sacked Mattia Binotto and hid Inaki Rueda at a desk in a dark corner factory office; but the new team is untried, untested and for all Fred Vasseur’s great plans, everything must still gel. Like it did at Red Bull in Sebastian Vettel’s days, and at Mercedes since Toto Wolff took over. That’s a lot of catch up.

Talking Toto, Mercedes is the biggest enigma. Were they sandbagging? Is there any real depth to their sob stories? And is the new car better or worse? Even without all that hopping. Merc’s biggest test will be reliability. Unlike its two ‘Big Three’ rivals, it seemed beset with a few too many trivial issues that stopped the car. Time will tell.

For the rest, the dark horses on top of the midfield appear to be Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Alpine and Williams. The Alfa was the only car to top a full day in Bahrain other than Red Bull. That augurs as well for Ferrari as it does for the Audi-bound Sauber squad. There’s also a refreshing spring in the step there. On the pit wall and in the cockpit.

Fernando Alonso looked fearsome in testing. His Aston Martin meanwhile proved that Red Bull’s front end seems its strength. Aston copied the Red Bull up front. It can run almost as low. Its all-Mercedes rear end followed it well. Enough to show where a big Red Bull advantage may lie? And to make Aston a feisty rival this year?

Aston Martin, Williams dark horses?

aston martin bahrain f1 test

Williams is the other dark horse. It seemed that both Alex Albon and Logan Sargent had little trouble in churning decent pace out of the car, right out the box. That is often a bigger pre-season indicator than anything else. And it’s a strength last year’s minnows shared with Red Bull last week. Watch Williams this year. Its comeback is exactly what F1 needs. And there’s a new team principal with a thing or two to prove.

Then there’s Alpine. Of the rest, it’s the all-French squad that seems in the best form, although that must be speculation as its effort appeared quite guarded. AlphaTauri seems mute, McLaren to have lost its way enough for its boss to somehow land up in Red Bull’s factory parking lot; unless they’re all just sandbagging. Haas is another mystery but has a mighty driver line-up on its side.

Time will tell, but it seems Red Bull has not suffered very much from its development limitations. After all, do you really believe that a car drawn in pencil on a board is going to suffer that much from a little less time gathering cyber data in the wind tunnel? Think about that for a second!

Triple Titles not a bad bet

Can anyone catch Verstappen in 2023?

Ferrari wants to think it’s ready to deliver. But are its new ducks in a row yet? Mercedes is moaning, so let’s see if that’s just propaganda.

Somehow we expect to see Merc fighting Ferrari, rather than Aston Martin or Alfa Romeo. They should be in best mid-pack fettle, fighting Williams and Alpine and McLaren and Haas. That seems to be the order.

So, will anyone match Max and his Red Bull this year? Perhaps. But it would not be a bad bet to wager on a triple Max Title this year. And don’t forget Perez.

Ferrari is closest, and we all hope and pray that Charles and or Carlos can find a way to stem that energy drink tide. Mercedes, Lewis, and George are definitely worth an outside bet.

Let the games begin!