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F1 bigger than ever as Verstappen chases third title with bright lights of Vegas lights on horizon

F1 bigger than ever as Verstappen chases third title with bright lights of Vegas lights on horizon
BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 25: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W14 makes a pitstop during day three of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on February 25, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

The 2023 Formula One season starts in Bahrain this weekend with the usual sense of optimism and excitement.

Formula 1 is going bigger, brighter and brasher this season with the Las Vegas Strip set to light up a record 23 race calendar and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen chasing a third championship in a row.

The 25-year-old Dutch driver is favourite for the opener in Bahrain on 5 March, with the sport hoping he has a harder time than last year when he won 15 of 22 races and took the title with four rounds to spare.

Testing last week at Sakhir suggested Red Bull remain on pole but with Ferrari’s 2022 runner-up Charles Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz the closest challengers in what will be an intense development battle.

If Ferrari, now under the management of French boss Fred Vasseur, get their act together and the car working to maximum effect then a first title since 2008 could yet be on the cards.

Mercedes have plenty to do if Lewis Hamilton’s hopes of becoming Formula One’s first eight times world champion are not to evaporate again.

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing attends the Drivers Press Conference during day three of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on 25 February, 2023 in Bahrain. (Photo: Peter Fox/Getty Images)

“Ferrari look like they’re quick. Mercedes’ form is difficult to read at the moment. Are they holding something back? We’ll see this time next week,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner at the weekend.

On the plus side, Mercedes have banished the ‘porpoising’ that tormented them last year but still need more speed.

With the retirement of four-times champion Sebastian Vettel at the end of last season, Hamilton now has more wins than the rest put together but adding a record-extending 104th will be something special.

No driver has ever won after reaching 300 starts and Hamilton, 38, is preparing for his 311th after the career first of failing to win anything last year.

He said Mercedes still had a mountain to climb.

“We have some things we need to work on, it’s still not perfect and we’re still not able to match the Red Bulls, or the Ferraris, currently,” he added.

Evolution not revolution

Double world champion Fernando Alonso, who at 41 is about to become the first driver to race in 20 different seasons, may even be faster than Hamilton with the new Aston Martin making a big impression.

In midfield, the battle could be closer with the 2023 cars very much an evolution after last year’s rules revolution.

McLaren had a poor test, completing the fewest laps, while tail-enders Williams showed surprising speed. Renault-owned Alpine aim to defend fourth overall with Pierre Gasly joining Esteban Ocon in an all-French lineup.

German veteran Nico Hulkenberg is back for his first full season since 2019, now at Haas.

Six of the 10 teams have changed driver lineups, although the top three remain the same, and three rookies enter the fray. 

Verstappen’s Dutch compatriot Nyck de Vries joins AlphaTauri after racing at Monza last year as a stand-in for Williams’ Alex Albon, but Australian Oscar Piastri at McLaren and Logan Sargeant at Williams will be debuting.

Piastri replaces experienced compatriot Daniel Ricciardo, now Red Bull’s third driver.

Sargeant can become the first US driver to complete a full season since Scott Speed at Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso (now AlphaTauri) in 2006.

Logan Sargeant, Formula 1

Logan Sargeant of United States driving the (2) Williams FW45 Mercedes attends the Drivers Press Conference during day three of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on 5 February, 2023 in Bahrain. (Photo: Peter Fox/Getty Images)

With US interest surging thanks to the Netflix docu-series “Drive to Survive”, he will have three home races — Miami in May, Austin in October and Las Vegas as the penultimate round on a Saturday night in November.

Las Vegas is already hyped to the hilt, with prices to match, for racing on the Strip for the first time.

There will be six sprint race weekends, double last year, and consequently more points to be won.

Rule changes will be hard to spot — raised floor edges to stop cars bouncing, stronger roll hoops after Guanyu Zhou’s huge crash at Silverstone last year and bigger mirrors.


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Four teams have new bosses — Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, McLaren and Williams with the latter bringing in Mercedes strategist James Vowles as principal.

Talking points of the 2023 Formula 1 season

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen is targeting a third successive Formula 1 title, rivals Ferrari have a new boss and Las Vegas brings a third US race to the party this season.

Can Mercedes’ seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton add to his record tally of 103 victories?

There are plenty of storylines to the season that starts in Bahrain on March 5. The following looks at some of them.

Triple Max

Verstappen will start as favourite for a third title in a row. The Dutch driver won 15 races last year. How many can he bag this time? And can teammate Sergio Perez get closer to him?

New bosses

Four of the 10 teams have new principals since 2022.

Fred Vasseur has replaced Mattia Binotto at Ferrari, joining from Sauber/Alfa Romeo in January.

McLaren’s Andreas Seidl has joined Sauber, appointing Alessandro Alunni Bravo to what is effectively a principal role, with Andrea Stella stepping up at McLaren while James Vowles moved from a strategy role at Mercedes to boss of Williams.

Ferrari

Can Vasseur bring a title to Maranello for the first time since the 2008 constructors’ championship?

The Frenchman’s arrival has drawn comparisons with compatriot Jean Todt, who led the team through a golden era with Michael Schumacher in the early 2000s.

Charles Leclerc, Formula 1

Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-23 on track during day three of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on 25 February, 2023 in Bahrain. (Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images)

New faces

There are three rookies on the grid.

Australian Oscar Piastri joined McLaren in controversial circumstances after a contract dispute with Alpine while Nyck de Vries has replaced Pierre Gasly (now with Alpine) at Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri.

Logan Sargeant will meanwhile be making his debut at Williams as the first Grand Prix racer from the United States since Alexander Rossi in 2015.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso of Spain and Aston Martin F1 Team walks in the Paddock during day three of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on 25 February, 2023 in Bahrain. (Photo: Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Old faces

Nico Hulkenberg starts his comeback at Haas, his first full season drive since 2019, with the German still chasing a first podium finish after 179 starts.

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, now 41, and Hamilton, 38, are the oldest drivers. Can either become the first driver to win a race after reaching the milestone of 300 starts? Alonso has made 355, Hamilton 310.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas promises to be the big and brash event of the year with a Saturday night race on the Strip in November as the penultimate round of the season and the hype in over-drive.

Formula 1’s popularity in America is already surging thanks to Netflix series ‘Drive to Survive’.

New teams

Andretti Cadillac are seeking to become the 11th team on the grid from 2026. Will the sport let them in?

Mercedes

Mercedes, champions eight years in a row, had a tough 2022 with a ‘porpoising’ car that proved hard to handle. Can they close the gap to Red Bull and Ferrari?

New deal

Hamilton is out of contract at the end of the year and talks on a new one have started. He will be asked about it regularly.

Speaking out

The governing FIA has tweaked the rules on drivers making political, personal and religious statements. How will they and the stewards react?

Daniel Ricciardo

Is he gone for good from the grid or will he be back in 2024 after signing on as Red Bull reserve? This one could run and run. Reuters/DM

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