Have you missed it? Formula 1 is back for 2023 and 20 of the best racing drivers in the world are ready to go at it in the fastest machinery, on tracks across the globe which have probably seen pretty much everything.
You just never know what to expect with live sport and that’s why we love it. Grimsby Town are in the FA Cup quarter-finals after all – just thought I would get that in there.
Think about the hours, days and weeks of effort that go into producing two F1 cars, with the highest engineering intelligence required just to be competitive.
Throw in the huge factor of how every aerodynamic part has to work with the rest of the 798kg machine in the bid to create downforce and low drag, that is the challenge which every team has to deal with over the winter.
Then, there is the matter of the driver. The stars of the sport showcasing their ability to read the grip they have, the ever-evolving track conditions and pushing the limits to go as quick as they can, hoping their rivals haven’t done a better job. This is why we love F1.
Will Red Bull be in a league of their own?
George Russell certainly thinks so and you have to say Red Bull will be the favourites for the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.
It was pretty much the perfect pre-season test for Red Bull as they had no reliability issues, the car looked fantastic in the corners, their straight line speed was excellent and the long runs were unmatched by everyone, apart from Fernando Alonso.
Perhaps we are about to embark on a season where Max Verstappen is going to cruise to victory after victory, which, let’s face it, it’s never good for any sport when one person dominates.
That would be nothing new for F1 – you only have to look at Michael Schumacher in 2002 for Ferrari and 2004, Sebastian Vettel in 2011 and 2013 and Red Bull, plus Lewis Hamilton in 2015 and 2020.
The front of the field feels like it’s in a similar position to the second half of last season, except Aston Martin have joined the party.
Most teams have tried to replicate Red Bull‘s philosophy from the outside but it’s the floor where big gains have been made by the RB19 as they can run the car low, without any bouncing, this gaining downforce.
Asked where the new car was better than its predecessor, Verstappen said: “Everywhere, that’s the aim.
“You always strive to improve it. It feels nice, well balanced. Every team lost a bit of performance with the floor.
“But you always tried to gain that back, in a way. So you have to, of course, find a bit of a new balance of the car. But it’s been good.”
What about Ferrari and Mercedes?
Ferrari appear to be the team that can provide the biggest challenge to Red Bull, mainly because they arguably didn’t show the most in testing.
The Scuderia decided to experiment with setups and hardly did any real short runs, perhaps a sign of confidence that they know the car’s strength is one-lap pace, so decided to work on their weaknesses.
It’s also important to note Ferrari didn’t use the higher downforce rear wing specification in testing that will almost certainly be on the car this weekend. That in itself will bring tenths of a second, on paper.
Like everyone else, Charles Leclerc is playing down expectations ahead of the season-opener.
“From what I can see, it seems Red Bull is a bit ahead,” Leclerc told Sky Sports. “But it’s a long season, our goal is still to win the championship.
“I am confident. We have great guys in Maranello, I think we have shown it with the big step forward from 2021 to 2022.
“There were too many mistakes in 2022, we know that, but we’ve been very honest with ourselves in order to get better for this season.
“The target is still [to win the title]. Even if we are starting a bit of the back foot compared to them in terms of performance, I’m sure we can come back.”
As for Mercedes, they could be in a battle with Aston Martin for third as both Lewis Hamilton and Russell have been very open that their problems from 2022 have not all been fixed.
Mercedes have brought a spoon rear wing to Bahrain which could make a difference, but they are, without doubt, on the backfoot.
“I was hoping that the changes that we discussed would be fixed but we haven’t fixed all the issue,” said Hamilton. “But they are fixable.
“The question is how far does this philosophy take us. We’re currently not where Red Bull are. You just have to accept the reality you’re faced with and deal with it.
“I still believe I have the team that is championship worthy. Last year when we arrived we had all those problems, all of us were in panic mode. It took us forever to try and understand the issue.
“This year we are staring with a car that doesn’t bounce but it is very, very similar to last year’s car, but there are some positives.”
Alonso on the podium?
Who would have thought this over a week ago? Fernando Alonso has a great opportunity to do something spectacular and could find himself fighting against Hamilton, 16 years on from when they were teammates at McLaren.
People are almost scared to put another team at the front of the grid because, since 2017, nearly every season has seen Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari be at the front. The exception was 2020 when Racing Point had the second best car at some events.
It’s about time that was broken and having Alonso at the sharp end can only be exciting. We did warn you about the possibility of this happening…
“You never know what the others are doing,” said Alonso. “So basically you concentrate on your programme.
“Let’s see after this race, basically after Jeddah or Australia, I think very different circuits, where I think you will see more where everybody is.
“I think we aimed to make a step forward compared to last year. Obviously, Aston Martin went through some difficulties with the car and some things that they discovered throughout the 2022, so I think this year we have a better baseline, and we are happy so far.”
What about McLaren, Haas and Alfa Romeo?
McLaren could be in big trouble. It feels more serious than 12 months ago too, because in 2022 they had brake problems so knew what the issue was, whereas the current car appears to lack downforce and has an aerodynamic deficiency.
Scoring points will be tough for Lando Norris and rookie Oscar Piastri because Haas and Alfa Romeo were ahead on pace during testing.
Those two Ferrari-powered cars often start the season strongly so they will be in a big fight to pick up some points this weekend.
Valtteri Bottas has been very happy and would probably be the favourite to be first in this mini battle. We know how good his qualifying can be, so having that track position and scmparing away could be the key.
Zhou had one of his best performances of his rookie season on his debut in Bahrain when he finished 10th, so an improvement from that will be great for Alfa Romeo.
“It was a great memory finishing first race in the points and that’s definitely the target [this weekend],” said Zhou.
“We felt like we have a package in the team that can be fighting again with the midfield guys.
“Everyone’s very tight like always, with this battle, but it seems to be like we were able to make a step, considering the second half of the season last time. So yeah, definitely the points I think is the minimum target we’re aiming for this weekend and will be nice to, you know, get a top eight finish. That would be amazing.
Williams and AlphaTauri look set to be duking it out for the wooden spoon, so getting out of Q1 would be a result for them if testing is anything to go by.
F1 tyre talk
Bahrain is one of the best tracks for racing on due to its characteristics of long straights that follow one another and big braking zones.
The last two season-openers have been fantastic. Hamilton v Verstappen in 2021 set the tone for the rest of the season and in 2022 Verstappen and Leclerc went side by side multiple times over three consecutive laps.
Part of what made them both so exciting was the high tyre degradation and strategy games that created.
It will at least be a two-stop race, if not three, on Sunday because of the surface and traction zones where the drivers slide.
This is where the operational teams will be tested and we all know what happened with Ferrari during the middle of the 2022 season.
The three hardest compounds have been brought to Sakhir – the C1, C2 and C3.
Pirelli have changed the C1 tyre so it is close to the C2 compound because last year saw the C1 largely avoided.
They have done a very good job with that over the winter, so much so that the C2 might now be the least favoured compound.
F2 and F3 also return
It’s not just F1 that’s back, Formula 2 and Formula 3 also make their returns for 2023 this weekend in Bahrain.
Theo Pourchaire knows 2023 is a pivotal year in his career as he looks to secure an F1 seat for next year, most likely with Alfa Romeo since he is the team’s reserve driver.
Given Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries will be under pressure in F1, another impressive campaign for Ayumu Iwasa, or any of the other Red Bull juniors such as Dennis Hauger, Zane Maloney or Jak Crawford, could see them in an AlphaTauri seat.
Ferrari junior Oliver Bearman is another young star to look out for in F2, whilst the F3 season is more open than previous years.
It’s so good to have all of these series back on our screens. There is nothing like the start of a new season, however you feel the year may go.