The formula one world championship returns this weekend with the first of the 23-race season taking place in Bahrain. That is one race more than there was last season, with two additional races at Qatar and Las Vegas put on to the calendar; but the Chinese Grand Prix has had to be cancelled due to on-going Covid-19 restrictions in that country.
Last years champion, Max Verstappen, will be bidding for a third consecutive title, having more or less strolled to victory last year, to follow his thrilling first success in 2021. He is the overwhelming favourite to succeed again, comfortably ahead of teammate Sergio Perez; as are his team Red Bull, who are taken to once again lift the constructors title.
Ferrari and Mercedes appear to be the only teams likely to be able to mount any realistic challenge to their dominance, and their line-ups are unchanged too, with Alpine and Aston Martin the best of the rest. Nevertheless, in motor racing things can literally click into gear with any of the cars, at various points in the season, so several will be looking to spring a few surprises.
Two stories that could emerge as the season progresses could be firstly, Lewis Hamilton, who is now 38-years-old, so motivation could start to become an issue for the serial winner, who is unlikely to be content with settling for the occasional podium finish. Unless Mercedes can produce for him, he could be on the move.
The other narrative that may develop could be the resurgence of Fernando Alonso, who last won a formula one race back in 2013, a full ten years ago. The 41-year-old Spaniard has legendary status in the sport, but has struggled in recent years. He could however, find himself back in the mix this year, having moved to the ambitious Aston Martin team. He retains all of his skill and this fresh start will undoubtedly spark renewed desire. If his car performs, he is highly likely to cleverly manoeuvre himself into winning positions.
Vegas and Qatar added to schedule
The schedule is as demanding as always, even more so in fact with the extra race included. The Las Vegas GP will be the penultimate race of the season, and most neutral fans would love the title race to still be up for grabs by then, although the likelihood is questionable.
F1 has raced there previously, at Caesars Palace in the 1982-82 season, but this new purpose-built complex will see the drivers tear around some of the most iconic landmarks in the “Sin City”. Other changes see Qatar’s Losail International Circuit return after dropping out last year, due to the country hosting the 2022 FIFA football World Cup. It had made its debut on the racing calendar the season before, and they have signed a contract to continue for the next ten years.
The Azerbaijan GP returns to a spring slot at the end of April, having been held in June more recently, while the Belgium GP has been pushed forward to July, making it before the August break; this is to avoid a triple-header with the Dutch and Italian rounds, upon the championship resumption.
The full schedule for the 2023 Formula One races is as follows:
- Bahrain GP at Sakir International Circuit – 5 March
- Saudi Arabian GP at Jeddah Corniche Circuit – 19 March
- Australian GP at Albert Park, Melbourne – 2 April
- Azerbaijan GP at Baku City Circuit – 30 April
- Miami GP at the Miami International Autodrome – 7 May
- Emilia Romagna GP at the Imola Circuit – 21 May
- Monaco GP at Circuit de Monaco – 28 May
- Spanish GP at Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya – 4 June
- Canadian GP at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal – 18 June
- Austrian GP at the Red Bull Ring – 2 July
- British GP at Silverstone Circuit – 9 July
- Hungarian GP at the Hungaroring – 23 July
- Belgium GP at Spa Francorchamps – 30 July
- Dutch GP at Circuit Zandvoort – 27 August
- Italian GP at Monza Circuit – 3 September
- Singapore GP at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore – 17 September
- Japanese GP at Suzuki Circuit – 24 September
- Qatar GP at Lusail International Circuit, Doha – 8 October
- United States GP at COTA – 22 October
- Mexico GP at the Autodrome Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City – 29 October
- Brazilian GP at Interlagos Circuit, Sao Paulo – 5 November
- Las Vegas GP at the Las Vegas Street Circuit – 18 November
- Abu Dhabi GP at the Yas Marina Circuit – 25 November
There are ten different construction teams with two drivers each, as follows:
Alfa Romeo Team Orlen – Drivers: Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu.
They finished sixth in the constructors championship last year and have kept their driver pairing together, but they have lost CEO Frédéric Vasseur to Ferrari, which is a blow and could mean having to settle for a lower placed finish this time around. The experienced Bottas, finished 10th and China’s Zhou, in his debut season, 18th, in 2022 season.
Alpha Tauri (Scuderia) – Drivers: Yuki Tsunoda and Nyck de Vries
This is Red Bull’s sister team, but they have issues with their car, even at this early stage. Japanese Yuki Tsunoda has a new partner in Dutchman Nyck de Vries who brilliantly staked his claim for a full-time seat in Formula One, when standing in for Alex Albon at Williams at the Italian Grand Prix last September, grabbing a very creditable ninth place finish on his race debut. He is very highly rated by Toto Wolff at Mercedes and if he can get any response from his car he could shock a few of the competition.
Alpine (BWT) – Drivers: Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly
There are high hopes for this team with an exciting all-French pairing in the cockpits and many feel they could gatecrash the top three. The two 26-year-old’s used to race together as juniors in karting and are evenly matched, which may turn out to be their downfall, as they compete for main driver status, rather than working together. Moving away from Red Bull could be the making of Gasly, and it promises to be a season to remember.
Aston Martin (Aramco Cognizant) – Drivers: Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll
This is another team who could make further strides in championship placings, even without four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Bringing in Alonso could be a master-stroke and the experienced Spaniard is said to be very impressed with the performance and reliability of his new car. For the 24-year-old Stroll it is a big test. The Canadian must show he is capable of exploiting the potential it seems this season’s vehicle will offer him.
Ferrari (Scuderia) – Drivers: Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz
Probably Red Bull’s biggest challenger, the early optimism last year turned sour with technical failures and driver errors. New boss Vsseur will offer fresh eyes, which could add that little extra they are looking for. Leclerc started last season brilliantly, taking two of the first three races. If he can find consistency he could take the team close. Spaniard Sainz, will be looking to kick on and try and at least double his eight podium finishes last time.
Haas – Drivers: Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg
The team made an explosive start last year before falling away, but they will hope to give it a real go again and will also look to Magnussen to follow up on the promise he displayed on several occasions. The Dane is partnered by the returning Hulkenberg, who has been away from F1 for the past four seasons, but the German has proved in the past to be a steady team player.
McLaren – Drivers: Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri
The team seem to have some teething problems so a slow start is anticipated, but with two exciting young drivers, they will hope to come on strong as the season progresses. The fifth place finish last year might be under threat, but Norris has a lot of experience despite still only being 23-years-old. Piastri is a rookie, but has shown bags of talent, coupled with race-craft and a great temperament and should be able to deliver some solid performances for a constructor under some considerable pressure.
Mercedes – Drivers: Lewis Hamilton and George Russell
This is a big season for Mercedes, they under-achieved massively last time and still trail behind Ferrari and Red Bull, but some positive noises are being released regarding the car’s potential and they could regain some ground, but probably not enough. Seven-times champion Hamilton would have been bitterly disappointed to have finished only sixth in the standings last year and he will be desperate for the team to give him a car capable of being at least competitive. If they can get everything to fall into place he is still the driver to beat, but that is a very big if. Russell enjoyed a very impressive debut season for the team, driving with great maturity and assurance, capped by his victory at Interlagos. He will be confident of another good year and if Hamilton can get a car that performs, these two could deliver some real excitement to the racetrack.
Red Bull Racing – Drivers: Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez
It would be a brave (or foolish) punter to bet against Red Bull and Max Verstappen. Principal Christian Horner has the car looking fearsome once again. It seems certain to enjoy pace advantage straight away and is expected to become even faster as the season unfolds. Reigning champion Verstappen is ominously assured and supremely confident after totally dominating proceedings last year. The Dutchman appears unbeatable as things stand, and probably the only person who can beat him is… Max Verstappen himself. His Mexican team-mate Perez,would have been desperately disappointed at missing out on second place in the championship on the last day of the season, so that would probably be his minimum aim, and a few more wins would go a long way towards achieving that.
Williams Racing – Drivers: Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant
The only way is up they say and after finishing last season bottom of the constructors’ pile, they will hope that is true. They believe a resurgence is just around the corner, but they still seem to be the weakest team on the grid. Albon will be looked upon to carry the team’s greatest threat, as he has been paired with a complete rookie in Sargeant. The 21-year-old will become the first American to have a full-time Formula One seat in16 years. A few early points on the board would be a boost to his confidence, which to be fair, he certainly is not lacking in.
Six sprints for 2023
In a bid to improve the entertainment value of a race weekend, Formula One trialled a new sprint format in 2021 at three race weekends and continued with it last year. It was felt it had been a success and was popular with both the drivers and the fans.
They are designed to create more racing action and change up the grid ahead of the main race with an additional, shortened race the day before. On these weekends, traditional qualifying, is brought back a day and the drivers compete at a one-third race distance, with the top eight finishers earning points toward their championship standings.
The decision has been taken to increase the sprints in 2023 to six and these will take place at the race weekends of Azerbaijan, Austria, Belgium, Qatar, the United States and Brazil.
He may well be off the pace in terms of prospects of winning the title, but Lewis Hamilton is right on Max Verstappen’s tail when it comes to pay. The money in the sport is incredible and this gives the top drivers the opportunities to negotiate huge salaries. In the case of these two, Hamilton is said to be around $5 million behind his great rival, but as the current champion signed the most lucrative contract in motor racing history, worth in the region of $55 million, Hamilton is not doing too badly, and is comfortably the second best paid driver on the circuit.
By comparison, Alpha Tauri are reportedly paying Yuki Tsunoda a salary of “just” $1 million, making the Japanese 22-year-old the lowest paid in all the teams.