The first Formula 1 race of 2023 is scheduled to take place as early as 5 March, 4:00 p.m. Polish time. Once again, the season, now numbering as many as 23 rounds, will begin with the Bahrain GP. See what you need to know and what to expect this year from the Queen of Motorsport before sitting in front of the screen.
The new Formula 1 season that is about to begin brings us a series of innovations that go all the way down to the regulations themselves. Work on some of the changes had already started many months ago. This was the case when trying to solve perhaps the biggest problem of last season, the so-called “porpoising” — the uncontrolled bouncing of the vehicles on the track.
The FIA hopes to eliminate this by raising the floor edge of the vehicles by 15 mm and changing the diffuser design. Zhou Guanyu’s menacing accident at the British GP last year also motivated the federation responsible for F1 to modify the design of the Halo system, a curved bar that spans the cockpit.
This year, the FIA will also be experimenting further with the Grand Prix format. At one or two tracks this year, the so-called “new qualifying format” will be used, obliging drivers to use hard-, medium- and soft-compound tyres in successive phases. This year there will also be an increase in the number of sprints (i.e. races over a distance of 100 km) from three to six. They will take place before the actual races at the GPs of Azerbaijan, Austria, Belgium, Qatar, the United States and Brazil.
The new F1 season ushers in the debut of modernised cars. The designs unveiled at this year’s official debuts and pre-season testing lead us to believe that we will not see a revolution on the scale of last year’s Mercedes car (even if the German team continues to take a noticeably different path from the competition).
The 2023 debuts were marked by the fine-tuning of last year’s designs in the area of the front wings, the side edges of the floor and the side sections. It was a refinement of proprietary concepts or… those envisioned by Ferrari. Although last year’s F1-75 did not allow the Italian team to win the championship, it will most likely be deemed the most influential project of the current F1 era, which will last until 2025. The beautifully angled side sections of the Maranello car have inspired not only fans but also other teams like Aston Martin (which, for the time being, has worked out well for them).
Any especially sharp-sighted F1 fans are bound to notice the novelties in the endplates of the F1 cars’ front wings. The leeway available in the regulations has been industriously exploited over the winter by such teams as Alpine, Haas and Mercedes, who have unveiled significant innovations on the edges, exteriors and especially interiors of endplates.
As recently as two years ago, only one Formula 1 race was held in the USA each season. As of last year, there were already two such races, and now we have a third one. Held in the heart of Sin City, the Las Vegas Grand Prix is the most high-profile launch of a new Formula 1 track in many years. Sandwiched between casinos and hotels made famous by films and photographs, the track may not provide a sporting experience of the highest order, but it will undoubtedly offer an exciting show nonetheless.
The leading teams (Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes) will enter this year’s competition with no changes to their driver line-ups. However, the first race of the season will feature three newcomers. Most notable is Oscar Piastri. Though he was due to drive for Alpine, the Australian driver, born in 2001, was ultimately snatched from the French by McLaren.
The debut of this young contestant will therefore be accompanied by an extremely high level of excitement, especially as he has the potential to be the next Formula 1 superstar. In recent years, Piastri has won championship titles in Formula 3 and Formula 2 in a similar style to that of Charles Leclerc and George Russell before him. At McLaren, the 21-year-old Piastri will form an exceptionally young duo with the 23-year-old Lando Norris.
Pierre Gasly’s transfer to Alpine resulted in a vacancy at AlphaTauri, the latter being exploited by former Mercedes reserve driver Nyck de Vries. At 28 years of age, the Dutch-born racer makes his debut as a team regular relatively late by the current Formula 1 standards. What he brings to the table, however, is a wealth of experience, which has already allowed him to win championship titles in Formula 2 and Formula E.
De Vries has already shown what he is capable of at last year’s Italian GP, in which he unexpectedly took the place of the indisposed Williams driver Alex Albon. I had the chance to watch his unscheduled live debut and I have to say that I liked his display of maturity, fast-paced confidence and, above all, the speed that brought him the first F1 points of his career.
The third newcomer, Logan Sargeant, will attempt to repeat his feat. Sargeant, born in 2000, faces the difficult task of performing well at Williams, yet, being a US contestant, he has the support of millions of fans from the US itself, where Formula 1 is growing more popular by the year.
There is no denying that the three days of pre-season testing in Bahrain were marked by Red Bull’s show of force. Max Verstappen proceeded to drive the new car with a great deal of confidence and, if not yet with words, he has already shown with actions that he is ready for a third consecutive World Championship title. So far, only four Formula 1 drivers have scored such a hat-trick: Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. And even if we witness Verstappen’s dominance this season, it will continue to be something special.
This domination, however, is by no means certain. Scuderia Ferrari is treading on Red Bull’s heels. The new SF-23 car continues the good principles of its predecessor. More important changes have taken place in the team’s composition. Matia Binotto was ultimately replaced by former Alfa Romeo boss Frédéric Vasseur. Although he has only been in his new job for two months, the latter has already managed to breathe into the team a new spirit and a hope to avoid the kinds of mishaps that plagued them during the last season. This is enough to bring the Italians much closer to their long-awaited return to the top stakes.
After the three days of testing, it is also already evident that the regulations restricting teams in the areas of expenditure and car aerodynamics seem to be having the desired effect of levelling the stakes. Aston Martin may well be dubbed the sensation of the first race, emerging as the fourth leading team at the moment and boldly treading on the heels of Mercedes (some say it may even be faster than its German rival at the moment).
Alfa Romeo and Alpine, which have shown the potential for fast driving, may also bring us some surprises. While still lagging behind, Williams is entering this season much better prepared than in previous years. Many unknowns remain, but one thing is already certain —this Formula 1 season is set to be interesting, starting from the very first race in Bahrain!