F1 2023 kicks off this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix following three days of testing at Sakhir.
Once again, Red Bull look to be the team to beat, with Max Verstappen the heavy favourite to take this year’s crown.
Even if Verstappen does run away with the title again, there are a lot of intriguing storylines and questions still to be answered during F1’s record-breaking 23-race season.
Ahead of this weekend’s season opener in Bahrain, Crash.net F1 Editor Lewis Larkam and F1 Journalist Connor McDonagh tackle some of the most pressing questions going into 2023…
How will Hamilton and Mercedes fare?
Lewis Larkam: This is the big question on everybody’s lips. I don’t think we’ll get a repeat of the huge struggles Mercedes endured last year. After starting on the back foot, in-season development will help Mercedes improve to a stage where Lewis Hamilton and George Russell each win races. They won’t have enough to challenge the juggernaut that is Red Bull and Verstappen, but I can see them just pipping Ferrari.
Connor McDonagh: Mercedes’ position reminds me of Red Bull’s from 2016 to 2018. They’ll develop well throughout the year, perhaps win one or two races, but it’ll be too little, too late by the time they’re competitive as Verstappen would have already won the title. While Hamilton has no signs of slowing down, how long can he remain motivated if he’s trundling around in a distant fifth or sixth? He’s 38, and he has nothing else to achieve in the sport. If Mercedes can’t give Hamilton a car capable of challenging Verstappen, then they should be fearful about losing him sooner rather than later.
Which team will fight among themselves?
LL: Will we see the first cracks appear between Hamilton and Russell? The pair enjoyed a harmonious first season together but things will be different once they start regularly fighting for wins and potentially the title. I don’t envisage this getting close to the Hamilton-Rosberg levels of explosiveness, but I do expect some tension to bubble up as Mercedes’ competitiveness improves. Otherwise, fireworks seem most likely to occur at Alpine.
CMD: Alpine have the most balanced driver pairing on the grid. Esteban Ocon has a tendency to clash with his teammates – ask Sergio Perez or Fernando Alonso. Plus, given Ocon and Pierre Gasly’s history, it seems the obvious choice.
Who will lose their seat?
LL: Yuki Tsunoda is under big pressure. The Japanese driver has already been told by his AlphaTauri team boss Franz Tost that he has to do a better job this year. There are no more excuses – another poor campaign and he will get the boot.
CMD: Zhou Guanyu will lose his Alfa Romeo seat at the end of the year.
Who will earn a major move?
LL: No one already on the F1 grid. Barring any unforeseen developments at the big three teams, Lando Norris will probably have to grin and bear it at McLaren for another couple of years if he wants a title-winning car. More likely is that one of Red Bull’s juniors in F2 puts in an impressive-enough season to earn a promotion at AlphaTauri in place of Tsunoda for 2024. Theo Pourchaire will also be targeting F1 graduation with Alfa Romeo.
CMD: In the unlikely scenario that Hamilton doesn’t decide to extend his deal with Mercedes and thus retires, Norris will be his replacement. Otherwise, there probably won’t be too many major transfers for next year.
Shock race winner?
LL: It is hard to see anyone other than Red Bull, Ferrari or Mercedes winning a race this season. But if the stars align, Alonso will end his 10-year wait for a victory.
CMD: Realistically, there won’t be a shock winner this year. Based on testing, would Alonso winning be a shock? I am not so sure.
LL: A three-team title fight. Be kind, racing gods…
CMD: Valtteri Bottas to finish on the podium.
Key story to watch?
LL: How much of an impact (if any) Red Bull’s F1 cost cap has. Red Bull likely won’t feel the full brunt of their punishment until the second half of the season. Can Ferrari and Mercedes take advantage to win the championship, or will it already be too late?
CMD: The development route teams go down is always a key story in any F1 season. A lot of teams have looked at Red Bull’s 2022 car and taken the best bits from that. If Red Bull, as we expect, start 2023 in dominant fashion with their RB19, then no doubt teams will continue to converge towards that concept. If Mercedes struggle again, will they do the same?
F1 2023 drivers’ championship order?
LL: 1) Verstappen, 2) Leclerc, 3) Perez, 4) Hamilton, 5) Russell 6) Sainz, 7) Alonso, 8), Ocon, 9) Gasly, 10), Norris
CMD: 1) Verstappen, 2) Perez, 3) Leclerc, 4) Sainz, 5) Hamilton, 6) Russell, 7) Alonso, 8) Ocon, 9) Norris, 10) Gasly
F1 2023 constructors’ championship order?
LL: 1) Red Bull, 2) Mercedes, 3) Ferrari, 4) Alpine, 5) Aston Martin 6) McLaren, 7) Haas, 8) Alfa Romeo, 9) AlphaTauri, 10) Williams
CMD: 1) Red Bull, 2) Ferrari, 3) Mercedes, 4) Alpine, 5) Aston Martin, 6) McLaren, 7) Alfa Romeo, 8) Haas, 9), AlphaTauri, 10) Williams