Max Verstappen is the hot favourite for victory at the season-opener, while Lewis Hamilton starts the 2023 season in a much better place than in 2022 and Fernando Alonso could spring a surprise.
Here’s what to watch out for at the season-opening 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Formula 1 is back. The 2023 season will be the longest on record, taking in 23 races – beginning with the Bahrain Grand Prix. Along the way, F1 will visit iconic circuits, including the Monaco Grand Prix in May and Silverstone for the British Grand Prix in July. This year’s calendar also
includes the highly anticipated Las Vegas Grand Prix, with F1 racing on the Las Vegas Strip on a Saturday night in November.
After his dominance in 2022, will anyone be able to prevent Max Verstappen winning a third title in 2023? Will Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes be back in the title fight this year? Who will come out on
top in the battle of the rookies? There are plenty of questions to be answered over the course of the season, which begins this weekend under the lights at the Sakhir circuit.
Can anyone stop Red Bull in 2023?
The reigning double World Champion Max Verstappen heads into the 2023 Formula 1 season as the hot favourite to take a third crown. Having won no fewer than 15 Grands Prix in 2022 – a new record for the most wins in a single season – all signs are pointing to similar levels of success for the Dutchman as he embarks on his ninth F1 season.
In pre-season testing, which was held at Bahrain International Circuit last week, Red Bull looked comfortable. Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez set the fastest lap time over the three days of the test, while the team ran with little in the way of mechanical issues.
Many are predicting Red Bull will have a significant competitive advantage in 2023, at least in the early stages of the year. Therefore, Verstappen is the most obvious driver to back for victory at the first race of the season.
There are two factors which may dissuade you from backing Verstappen for the win, however.
Firstly, neither Verstappen nor Perez reached the chequered flag at last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, with both retiring with mechanical issues in the final stages of the first race of the year. Secondly, Verstappen has never previously won at Bahrain International Circuit. The track is one of only four returning venues on the 2023 calendar at which Verstappen has never previously taken a victory. Can the reigning champion get his season off to a winning start this year?
Max Verstappen to win the Bahrain Grand Prix5/6
Who is best of the rest?
While Red Bull may be clear at the front and likely to take a 1-2 finish, who finishes on the final step of the podium at the Bahrain Grand Prix is much harder to predict. Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari have been the dominant forces in Formula 1 in the past decade, with the three teams having won all but five of the 201 Grands Prix over the past ten seasons.
Ferrari and Mercedes looked to be among Red Bull’s closest challengers again in pre-season testing. While Ferrari do not look as strong as they did at this point last year – when Charles Leclerc and
Carlos Sainz took a 1-2 finish – Mercedes look like they’re in a much better place than 12 months ago.
While the W13 was beset by porpoising issues, there was no bouncing reported by either Lewis Hamilton or George Russell when it’s
successor, the W14, took to the track for the first time in pre-season testing. Mercedes should, therefore, start the season much more competitively than in 2022.
Despite the team’s frustrations at the start of last year, Hamilton still managed to bring home a podium result at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Don’t rule out another top three finish for the seven-time champion this weekend.
Lewis Hamilton podium finish7/4
Could there be a surprise name on the podium?
Recent form suggests Mercedes and Ferrari are the teams most likely to challenge for wins and podiums alongside Red Bull in 2023. However, one team got everybody talking in pre-season testing and could well find themselves in the thick of things this year: Aston Martin.
Fernando Alonso joins the Silverstone-based team for 2023 and his testing lap times certainly had the top three teams looking over their shoulders. Most impressively, race runs carried out by the Spaniard suggest that Aston Martin could even be the second-fastest team in race trim this weekend.
The only setback for the team in testing was Lance Stroll’s absence. Stroll injured his wrist in a cycling incident, meaning he was unable to participate in the three days of testing. Despite considerable doubts over his participation in the first race of the year, the team has now confirmed that Stroll is fit to race. The Canadian could face a steep learning curve in Free Practice as he gets to grips with his new AMR23 machinery.
After countless years of questionable career moves, Alonso may have finally made the right move at the right time. F1’s most experienced driver shows no signs of slowing down and appears as motivated as ever to be back at the front. Aston Martin are a team on the up and if any driver is going to capitalise on that opportunity, it’s Alonso.
Will Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin live up to the pre-season hype? Expect the team to be a major story over the race weekend – and don’t be surprised to see Alonso on the podium at the end
of the race.
Fernando Alonso podium finish5/2
What about the rookies?
There are three rookies on the grid this weekend. For two of them, this will be their first Formula 1 appearance. Oscar Piastri made a high profile signing with McLaren last summer, while American driver Logan Sargeant teams up with Alex Albon at Williams.
Piastri is tipped to impress in his maiden season, having won the Formula 3 and Formula 2 titles in consecutive years in 2020 and 2021. McLaren’s line-up – with Piastri joining Lando Norris – is
perhaps one of the most exciting on the grid this year. The inter-team rivalry will be one to watch out for.
Williams’ new signing Sargeant challenged Piastri for the F3 title in 2020 and finished a respectable fourth overall in F2 last year. He should be more of a match for Albon at Williams this year than
Nicholas Latifi was in 2022.
Nyck de Vries, meanwhile, embarks on his first full season in F1 with AlphaTauri, having made one previous race appearance. De Vries impressively finished in ninth place on a one-off appearance with Williams at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix, filling in for appendicitis-struck Albon.
In each of the previous two seasons, a rookie scored their maiden points on their first outing at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Yuki Tsunoda finished ninth in 2021, while Zhou Guanyu finished tenth last year. Could we see another rookie picking up points in Bahrain this year?
Formula 1’s 20th race in Bahrain – what to expect
This weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix will be the 20th time that Formula 1 has raced at Bahrain International Circuit. Races here are typified by wheel-to-wheel action throughout the field. Last year, we saw a series of exciting overtakes for the lead between Leclerc and Verstappen.
On Sunday, you can expect the top two qualifiers to be in prime position to win the race, given that almost three quarters of previous Bahrain Grand Prix wins have come from the front row of the grid
– and none have come from further back than fourth.
Safety Car call outs have become more common here in recent years, with every race at the track since 2017 featuring at least one caution period of some description – be that a full Safety Car or a Virtual Safety Car period.
When it comes to retirements, the averages suggest that three or four cars will fail to reach the chequered flag on Sunday. In 2022, Pierre Gasly took the unwanted honour of becoming the first retirement of the season. However, he did not do so until Lap 45 – setting a new record for the longest distance raced in a season before the first retirement.