The 2023 Formula 1 season opener in Bahrain is behind us now, and while Red Bull will do their best to make the season boring, we have Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin to keep us entertained.
Red Bull just turned up for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix and blew everyone away, and being realistic, that was expected, as anyone who thought that a 10% reduction in their wind tunnel time after their cost cap breach would slow them down, was delusional.
Their 2022 car, the RB18 was so good that the RB19 was bound to be better especially with Adrian Newey working his magic on the drawing board.
And so, Max Verstappen had the perfect start for a season in which he’s targeting a third consecutive Drivers’ Title with a dominant win as he cruised around the Bahrain International Circuit on Sunday to take the chequered flag 12s ahead of teammate Sergio Perez who made the weekend even more sweet for the Bulls, who are now threatening to turn our 2023 F1 season into a borefest.
But have no fear, Fernando Alonso will make sure we have some entertainment with his new trusty steed, the beautiful AMR23, that doesn’t seem to be lacking as well in the speed department, which means the Spaniard will be punching above his weight throughout this year.
Ferrari were expected to take Red Bull on but failed miserably, while Mercedes once again have a pile of sh!t to deal with.
There is nothing more really to be written about Red Bull; they are fast and will win a lot regardless of what Christian Horner says, and with that said, let’s head to our first takeaway from Bahrain.
Fernando Alonso in the right place at the right time?
One can only imagine what’s going on in Sebastian Vettel’s mind now that he saw Alonso on the podium in what could’ve been his car in 2023, and while many were skeptical about the Spaniard’s decision to ditch Alpine for Aston Martin, his result in Bahrain has vindicated him… for now.
Now we cannot be sure whether Alonso’s decision was an informed one or he just couldn’t wait to get out of his French prison, but the outcome is one. He is in the right car at the right time.
Aston Martin are now reaping the benefits of poaching Dan Fallows from Red Bull, as the AMR23, or as Christian Horner called it, the “Old Red Bull Car” seems to be a promising one especially as the team have announced that it would be developed ambitiously over the course of the season.
The Aston was so good that even Lance Stroll could drive it with one hand and make it into Q3, not to mention he didn’t get to drive it in pre-season testing.
Now the only thing that would be worrying for Alonso is that politics might become ugly within the team, an area he doesn’t excel in by the way, but that depends on how Stroll fares alongside him over the course of the season.
Who will Aston Martin support if the pair clash on track or off track, and by that I mean: Who will Lawrence Stroll support?
Will Stroll senior push for his son to be winning at all costs or will he do the smart thing and back the driver that is leading? And here it’s safe to bet that it would be Alonso…
How will Alonso behave if he feels he is disfavored within the team?
We can rest assured that Alonso, be it fighting other teams on track, or politicking within Aston Martin, will keep us entertained this season.
One has to feel for the Tifosi
Ferrari threw the Title away in 2022 and from what we saw in Bahrain, they are doing their best to do it again in 2023, but from an earlier stage this season.
From last year, we knew Ferrari had a fast qualifying car that chewed up its tyres during the races, not to mention its brittleness on the power unit side. There was also the all too familiar strategy blunders that have become synonymous with the Scuderia.
Mattia Binotto paid the price and Frederic Vasseur replaced him in the hot seat, and while the changes the latter has made replacing head of strategy Inaki Rueda by Ravin Jain are yet to bear fruit, the Frenchman has other troubles to deal with simply because he inherited them from the Binotto era.
The SF-23 seems to lack the qualifying edge its predecessor, the F1-75, enjoyed but from what we saw in Bahrain, it also suffers from the same appetite for tyres during races. Bahrain-specific? Time will tell.
But what is more worrying is Charles Leclerc’s DNF. Ferrari were adamant reliability issues from 2022 were sorted but that doesn’t seem to be the case, and we all know the saying: “To finish first, first you have to finish.”
We all thought, or actually hoped, Ferrari were sandbagging during testing and practice, and while they unleashed some decent pace in qualifying, that was not enough to beat Verstappen, as Leclerc knew he couldn’t beat him for pole and preferred to save a set of Soft tyres for the race.
The Tifosi may once again face a disappointing season from their beloved Scuderia.
Mercedes pay the price of being stubborn
Mercedes changed the color of their 2023 F1 car, and went back to black maybe hoping it would be as fast as their latest black car, the W12 from 2021, the last of their dominant breed of cars.
But instead of changing the color, Mercedes should have changed their failed slim sidepod concept, but for some reason they stubbornly or vainly stuck with it and received an ugly reality check as early as the same race.
The W14 is another woeful car from the eight-time Constructors’ Champions and while Toto Wolff said the W13 from 2022 would be placed in the factory lobby as a reminder, it seems that trick didn’t work.
George Russell, who outqualified Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain was over six tenths off pole, and on race day Hamilton finished fifth, his teammate seventh.
The result Mercedes achieved in Bahrain was only down to the brilliance of Russell and Hamilton behind the wheel, the latter’s intense battle with Alonso a highlight of the race.
What’s even more disappointing is Wolff’s admission after the race that the W14’s concept carried over from 2022 is flawed and that team has to go back to the drawing board.
How can a team like Mercedes make such a strategic mistake? While Wolff receives feedback from his team before taking his decisions, once can only conclude that the feedback given to the Austrian is inaccurate, that is not to say misguiding.
Wolff, love him or hate him, is a brilliant manager, but I feel he now has some tough decisions to make in order to put his team back on track and deliver Hamilton the eighth Title he promised him.
- A decent debut for Logan Sargeant at Williams who narrowly missed out on Q2, and while Oscar Piastri couldn’t be judged due to his DNF, Nyck de Vries failed to replicate his Monza 2022 performance on his AlphaTauri debut.
- Lance Stroll has to be credited for his performance, not yet fully recovered from the injuries he sustained in his cycling accident. The AMR23 might be fast and easy to drive, but for him to bear the pain for a race distance is admirable.
- Pierre Gasly’s drive from last on the grid into the points was also deserves credit. He might have messed up qualifying but he made up for that in the race.
- A final word on McLaren. It is sad to see the sorry state this once great team is in right now. Not only is the MCL60 lacking on pace, but six pit stops to top up the pneumatic pressure on Lando Norris’ car, not to mention their pre-season testing woes, shows you the quality of work being done at Woking these days.
Pride rather than points were at stake in this battle between Norris and Ocon 👏#BahrainGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/zbkoY3gSio
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 7, 2023