Formula 1 has entered a new era of dominance, the kind of which it was hoping to avoid with the much-changed regulations introduced for the 2022 season.
Closer and more competitive racing was promised, ironically at the conclusion of one of the tightest title battles in the history of the sport, as Max Verstappen prevailed against Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the last race in 2021 to clinch his first world championship in wildly controversial circumstances that captured the imagination of casual fans aplenty.
However, to say it hasn’t gone to plan would be an understatement. Cars can follow closer but predicting the race winner before lights out has hardly been easier.
Verstappen won a record 15 Grands Prix of 22 last season to wrap up his second title with four races to spare, and the early signs in 2023 are that fans can expect more of the same this year.
The Dutchman took the chequered flag at the Bahrain Grand Prix by 11.9 seconds from his teammate, despite suffering with some gearbox issues, but it could have been anything had he wanted to up the ante.
In truth, barring a reliability issue or a late safety car, the win was as good as wrapped up after three laps. Thankfully, the ensuing 54 under the lights produced some drama behind as Fernando Alonso rolled back the years to clinch the 99th podium of his F1 career, but the supporting cast won’t always be on hand to share the load.
George Russell, who finished seventh, has already seen enough to concede defeat, saying: “Red Bull has got this championship sewn up, I don’t think anyone is going to be fighting with them this year.
“I expect they should win every single race this season. That is my bet.”
Dramatic? Maybe, but the fact it’s being touted as a realistic possibility by one of the sport’s main protagonists should tell you all you need to know.
F1 duels in 2023
Last season at least gave us some good duels up front between Verstappen and Leclerc, especially before the summer break, giving fans hope for the ground-effect regulations. But at this trajectory, 2023 and beyond could mirror the supremacy of Mercedes and Hamilton at the outset of the turbo hybrid era.
It’s not what anyone wanted and it’s not Verstappen‘s fault, of course. It’s not his job to entertain the fans and nor was it Hamilton‘s when he was turning in similar performances with a car that was the class of the field.
However, bereft of a teammate that’s capable of challenging him for top honours, the competitive future of F1 looks bleak for all but the Verstappen contingent of Red Bull enthusiasts.