► F1 returns for 2023
► Red Bull look dominant
► Aston Martin follows through strong testing performance
F1 is back. Sunday saw the first round of the 2023 season kick off in Bahrain, and the race provided lots of answers for some of our pre-season question – but added a few more. After 57 laps Max Verstappen crossed the line first, followed by his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso. But what else happened, and what did we learn from the opening round of this year’s championship? Keep reading to find out.
How to watch F1 in 2023
1. Red Bull has the title
In most cases it’s hard to predict the outcome of the entire championship after 57 laps – but there’s always a few exceptions to the rule. It looked to have a slight edge in testing, but on Sunday Red Bull revealed the extent of its advantage; the first non-Red Bull car was 37 seconds away from Verstappen, and that’s with both of Newey’s creations taking it easy in the last quarter of the race. Say what you want about the unique track conditions, track layout or other factors – a 37+ second lead won’t be overcome. The performance gap means the team’s punishment for breaching the cost cap will likely be irrelevant.
2. The Aston hype was real
It’s official: Aston Martin is the second fastest team, and the AMR23 really is what we thought it might be. After a wobble in the first part of the race, Alonso’s Aston was the third fastest car for most of the 57 laps– and was even able to get past both a Mercedes and a Ferrari. It’s unlikely Aston can close the gap to Red Bull, but it’s still interesting to see a new team break into the top three after a largely uninspiring 2022. It looks like Alonso has made the right move after all.
3. Mercedes goes back to the drawing board
Mercedes came into the weekend on the back foot, but it was unclear just how behind Red Bull the team were. Now we know. Lewis Hamilton finished 5th, some 50 seconds behind the leading Red Bull. We also know that Mercedes is now abandoning its current concept, as it doesn’t appear to be yielding the same performance in comparison to the rest of the grid: it’s important to remember that the W14 isn’t bouncing – it just lacks a lot of performance. So what’s next for Mercedes? An upgrade around the Imola race should see the W14 look very different to before, though Mercedes will have lost around 18 months of development time on its concept compared to its competitors.
4. Ferrari collapse, again
Frederic Vasseur has his work cut out. Ferrari remains one of the most inconsistent, error-strewn teams on the grid – and that was emphasized even more this week. After a decent pre-season test, the problems crept in early; a single pylon rear-wind proved too unstable to use on Friday, and bits were flying off Leclerc’s car on Saturday. By Sunday, the SF-23 wasn’t a match on pace for the Bulls and couldn’t live with the Aston Martin either – and even Mercedes were within touching distance. Throw in mechanical unreliability, and it seems Ferrari have started 2023 where they left off.
5. Williams gets stronger
Williams had a solid pre-season test, and they’ve followed it up with an equally strong race. Alex Albon’s tenth place means that the Oxfordshire-based team is already on the points sheet – ahead of Alpha Tauri, McLaren and even Haas. Albon put in strong performances on Saturday and Sunday, but it’s also worth mentioning just how good Logan Sargeant’s F1 debut was, too: There or thereabouts throughout the weekend, the rookie finished 12th, and within touching distance of his far more experienced teammate.
6. Alpine disappoints
Alpine’s target for this year is fourth place, but if Sunday is anything to go by that’ll be quite unrealistic. New signing Gasly finished a rather disappointing 9th place, while Ocon spent most of his time collecting penalties, and finished 18th. A race to forget for the Enstone and Viry team.
7. Alonso and Hamilton show how it’s done
Alonso and Hamilton might not be friends, but they’re still able to show what nine-championships worth of experience looks like. The two eldest drivers on the grid gave us an entertaining battle on Sunday, with both driving firmly but fairly. There were switchbacks, strong defending and multiple passes – and yet no contact. With Aston Martin and Mercedes now relatively similar on pace, we can look forward to some more clean racing this year.