Welcome Back, F1


Finally, F1 is back for another exciting season. (Courtesy of Twitter)

After a few long and cold months, I can finally see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The light is the upcoming Formula 1 (F1) 2023 season. Before the season starts, here is a preview of the 74th season with new races and new faces all over the paddock. With a record-breaking 23 races spanning all across the world, all 10 teams have a lot to play for.

As a refresher of the rules for F1, the race weekend has the main race on Sunday, but there is more to it than that. On Friday and Saturday, there are free practice sessions for the drivers and teams to become accustomed to the track and make sure that their cars are perfectly set up. There is also a qualifying race on Saturday which will decide the order of the grid for the race. On some weekends, there is a sprint race which takes the place of qualifying, with qualifying then replacing a free practice session on Friday. On those sprint weekends, qualifying sets the order for the sprint race, with those results then determining the grid for the race on Sunday. There will be six sprints in Azerbaijan, Austria, Belgium, Qatar, the United States. and Brazil.

Out of the 10 teams, there are teams that are expected to fight for race wins as well as the championship. There are also teams who are in the midfield who are expected to fight for decent points and the occasional surprise podium. Then there is the rest of the grid who are fighting for the lower end of the points.

For Red Bull, the defending champions had a season to remember, winning 17 races out of 22 as they stormed to their fifth constructors championship with 759 points, their first since 2013. As for their drivers, Max Verstappen is looking to win his third consecutive drivers championship. Last season, Verstappen cruised to the title with 15 wins. Along with Sergio Perez, Red Bull will aim to defend their crowns against the rest of the grid. Red Bull also welcomed back Daniel Ricciardo as their third driver who is ready to step in if the team needs them. Based on how Red Bull finished last year, they know that they will have a target on their backs.

One team that is looking to knock Red Bull off their perch is Scuderia Ferrari, one of the greatest teams to have ever participated in F1 with 16 constructors titles and 15 driver titles. Unfortunately, they haven’t tasted glory since 2008. Over the offseason, Ferrari replaced its team principal Mattia Binotto with Frederic Vasseur. Vasseur was previously the team principal for Alfa Romeo before joining Ferrari. Last year, Ferrari started off strong and had a car to compete for the championship. However, due to reliability issues and poor race decisions, their title charge ended and barely held onto second in the constructors. With its unchanged driver lineup of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, Ferrari are hoping that this can be the year to end their drought.

Another team that will want to capture the constructors title is Mercedes. Since 2014, Mercedes has dominated the sport, winning both drivers and constructors championships for seven straight years. They did add an eighth consecutive constructors title in 2021, but were unable to get that drivers championship. They, like both Red Bull and Ferrari, retained their driver pairing of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. Last year, Mercedes were way off the pace of Red Bull and Ferrari, and spent most of the season playing catch-up. Their only win came in Brazil courtesy of Russell. This was the first year in Hamilton’s career that he had never won a race and it also gave him his worst finish of sixth. Mercedes was able to get closer to both Red Bull and Ferrari and even got close to finishing second in the constructors standings. Expect the Silver Arrows to come back this year with a vengeance, especially Hamilton as he tries to achieve a record-breaking eighth drivers title.

As for the midfield, one team that aims to improve upon last season is Alpine. Alpine finished fourth last season and were the “best of the rest” on the grid. One important change to the French outfit is that two-time drivers champion Fernando Alonso has left the team after two seasons. Originally, Alpine announced that the Spaniard would be replaced by Oscar Piastri. However, Piastri stated that this was false and that he would not be driving for the team in 2023 and declared that he would instead drive for McLaren. After a long drawn out hearing, the Contract Recognition Board (CRB), ruled in McLaren’s favor, leaving Alpine without a driver for their second car. Alpine eventually secured the services of Pierre Gasly. He joins his fellow Frenchman Esteban Ocon to make it an all French driver pairing for the French team.

Another team that wants to bridge the gap between themselves and the front of the pack is McLaren. McLaren has a somewhat up-and-down season. Lando Norris was able to secure vital performances and points for the team. Unfortunately, his teammate Daniel Ricciardo was unable to replicate Norris’ form and struggled at points. McLaren and Ricciardo announced that he would leave at the end of the season by mutual consent. McLaren then secured the services of Piastri as mentioned earlier. McLaren has lost its team principal in Andreas Seidl to Alfa Romeo but have promoted Andrea Stella to the position. Norris and Piastri are ages 23 and 21, respectively. This shows that McLaren are investing in both the present and the future with this driver pairing.

As for the rest of the grid, another team that wants to continue its upward trajectory is Alfa Romeo. They have retained their driver pairing of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu. They did lose their team principal to Ferrari, but they hired a new CEO with Seidl as well as a new team representative in Alessandro Alunni Bravi. They were far away from the previous five teams mentioned above finishing over 100 points behind fifth-placed McLaren, so expect them to try and close the gap.

As for Aston Martin, one big change that they have is Fernando Alonso. Alonso replaced Sebastian Vettel, a four-time champion who retired after last year. Alonso is partnered with Lance Stroll. Aston Martin finished seventh, level on points with Alfa Romeo. Alfa Romeo finished higher than Aston Martin due to them having a higher-placed finish in the season.

Haas, who finished eighth, had a great season compared to the 2021 season where they didn’t score a single point. Haas did keep Kevin Magnussen but decided to replace Mick Schumacher with Nico Hulkenberg, who last raced full time for Renault in 2019 but has been used as a substitute driver for Racing Point/Aston Martin from 2020-22.

One team that had a disappointing season last year was Alpha Tauri who finished a lowly ninth with only 35 points. Yuki Tsunoda remains with the team. The outgoing Pierre Gasly, who joins Alpine, is replaced by former Mercedes reserve driver Nyck de Vries. De Vries shocked the paddock when he was a stand-in driver last year in Monza, where in his first career race, finished ninth and collected two points. Alpha Tauri immediately pounced and secured the Dutchman’s services to replace Gasly.

Last but certainly not least, Williams is a historic team that is a shadow of its former self. They finished dead last with only eight points. They did keep Alexander Albon who has been shown to routinely overachieve with his car. They do say goodbye to Nicholas Latifi and replace him with rookie Josh Sargent. Sargent will be the first American driver since 2015. Williams also parted ways with their team principal Jost Capito and technical director FX Demaison. They have announced that their new team principal is James Vowles, Mercedes’ former strategy chief. Vowels brings with him the knowledge of how to win races and championships and is given the task to try and establish that culture at Williams.

This weekend is the pre-season test at the Bahrain International Circuit. Here, the teams and drivers can test their car and work out any issues/concerns before the first race. With only one weekend of testing, every minute will be crucial as teams will want to get as much data as possible to ensure that they start the season off on the right track.