Let’s be clear, I do not want to be writing this piece ahead of the second round of the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship season but I am duty-bound to readers to prep them for the long season ahead, sharing the deja vu I had in the wake Max Verstappen’s dominant victory two Sundays ago in Bahrain.
To cut to the chase, on the evidence shown at the season-opening Grand Prix, the Adrian Newey (and Team) penned Red Bull RB19 is a class act, more dominant out of the box than its illustrious predecessor that last year gobbled up 17 victories, 15 of those on Verstappen’s stat-sheet.
All that after a double DNF at the 2022 season opener; this year it was the Red Bull one-two at the same race that has painted the writing on the F1 wall.
Granted, we have only had these second-generation F1 cars in action at BIC so far this year, which is something of an anomaly of a circuit they say. Perhaps so but the harsh reality is that the gap to their traditional rivals Ferrari and Mercedes translates to about a second per lap in race pace, and three-tenths minimum in qualifying pace.
And that’s alarming from a team whose cars only tend to get better as the season progresses.
For the sake of objectivity, I will allow the slight possibility that the excellent RB19 we saw in Bahrain, will be less so come to Jeddah, where Max won last year by the way. However, I seriously doubt it will be a bad car two weeks later, I fear it will be even stronger this weekend.
Anything less than a one-two in Jeddah this weekend will be below-par for Red Bull
This puts awkward pressure on the Bulls ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and every other race they start this season, that being anything less than a one-two in qualy and the same, a day later, in the Grand Prix would amount to a below-par result. Welcome to F1 dominance.
Who can stop the trouncing? Aston Martin, you say. I agree, Fernando Alonso and even Lance Stroll, considering his circumstances that weekend, showed something special at their disposal on the night. The accolades after the race have been immense and deservedly so.
Alonso is simply a sporting phenomenon as he proved with his feisty showing in his first race for his new team. They in turn soaked up his energy and motivation and proved that with a solid winter search that elusive F1 “Magic Button” can be still be found in modern F1.
Interestingly, from the big-name Brit pundits, the tone has been somewhat condescending as if this is a flash in the pan, with predictions rife that the Aston charge will lose steam. I beg to differ (and hope I am right because only time will tell in the end) but Lawrence Stroll did not build a team to play second fiddle.
Aston Martin will remain strong I predict
I predict the Aston Martin AMR23 will continue to evolve strongly, with Alonso and Stroll are capable of mixing it with the big guns when required it makes them a true force this season, which could be the foundation for the future in which a customer team can win F1 races and even titles.
To cut it short, I don’t expect Aston Martin to whither as the season progresses, quite the opposite actually but I only expect Team Green to be among the Best of the Rest, with the Red Bull’s, as someone said: on another planet.
This prompted in me some serious deja vu, recalling how F1 has so often had dominant teams, turning Sundays into proper snoozefests, the results are well known long before the time, bookies even reluctant to give odds during times of F1 dominance by teams. All very predictable.
As a boomer, my F1 religion began in the seventies, a decade in which we had seven different F1 World Champions; in the eighties, six different drivers were crowned; in the nineties, we had seven different champs; there were five from 2000 until 2009 and since 2020 only four different blokes have taken home the spoils.
The ‘rot’ of F1 dominance started, for me, when ‘my team’ McLaren monopolized the pinnacle of the sport for almost a decade 1984 (Niki Lauda), 1985 (Alain Prost), 1986 (Alain Prost), 1988 (Ayrton Senna), 1989 (Alain Prost), 1990 (Ayrton Senna), 1991 (Ayrton Senna).
For me F1 dominance began with Mclaren in the eighties
In terms of entertainment, those Senna-Prost years were hard to stomach even for a die-hard Senna-McLaren fan like me. It’s good to win but you want a solid fight, but it seldom was against other teams. Instead, we were left with Alain and Ayrton bashing each other while lapping the field in the process. It stopped being fun at a point.
Then we had the legendary five-year run when Ferrari and Michael Schumacher vacuumed up just about everything. Again it was all a foregone conclusion before every race weekend. How much would Schumi win by? That was the pre-race-day question of that era.
The next era of F1 dominance was Red Bull’s four-year run when Sebastian Vettel’s one-finger salute became an (irritating) legend of the sport, as every weekend the same was asked: How much will Seb win this one by?
For more recent fans fresh in their memory, no doubt, is the dominance of Mercedes since the advent of the new turbo era back in 2014, claiming 15 F1 titles in eight years; another era of supreme boredom and results that could be written down before the race, until Max and the Bulls turned up with a vengeance.
Expecting Red Bull to fly away from the rest in Jeddah but hope I am wrong
One could pinpoint Verstappen’s first world title win in 2021 as the trigger for the turnaround to domination, last year being the first year of that F1 dominance, followed up by the display of superiority they flaunted cautiously in Bahrain which prompted the abovementioned deja vu. This is year two of it and could easily run until the next generation of F1 rules come into play.
This brings me to the final point. Unlike Mercedes who would rather tone down their advantage for the sake of being corporately correct, at times there were concerns that the monotonous winning was backfiring on them. Remember the rumour of Mercedes helping Ferrari with their PU?
I fully expect Red Bull to do the opposite and ramp up the punishment as true racers do when they have the rare luxury of a great car. I would not be surprised if they will grab every advantage they can get, and drill home one-twos all season long, caring less if we are bored or not because that’s what F1 has been about for ages.
I also don’t see a Prost-Senna or Rosberg-Hamilton situation happening at Red Bull as we all know who the Boss is there, it will be more Schumi-Irvine or Schumi-Barrichello.
In other words: predicting P1 for Max and P2 for Checo, on Sunday in Saudi Arabia. Maybe Saturday too if Ferrari lose the keys to Charles Leclerc’s car again. But man I hope I am wrong!