F1 is back: Verstappen and Red Bull could dominate again with Ferrari on the back foot

By Sports Desk March 03, 2023

A new Formula One season is upon us and the 2023 campaign will be the longest in the history of the elite motorsport class.

The number of races is rising to 23, with Las Vegas joining the show, though drama will not be limited to the track.

Two seasons ago, the controversial conclusion to the campaign in Abu Dhabi was a dominant story, while last year saw Red Bull's budget cap breach and an Oscar Piastri fight between Alpine and McLaren, as well as frustrations with governing body the FIA, notably over the drivers' freedom of expression.

Get set for sporting theatre to unfold over the course of the season ahead, though the biggest talking point centres around whether anyone can dethrone Red Bull.

Red Bull gives you wins

Max Verstappen finished at the front in 15 of 22 races last season, setting a record for the most triumphs in a single campaign, and he has won over half of the events in the past two years (25 wins from 44 races).

While pre-season testing never offers a full indication of what lies ahead, Red Bull's strength was still evident and the consensus is that the defending champions will begin the campaign with an advantage over their rivals.

 

If that gap cannot be reduced, the biggest threat to a third consecutive crown for Verstappen may come from team-mate Carlos Perez. Should that happen, tempers may flare as they did in Sao Paulo in November when Verstappen refused a team order to allow the Mexican through.

One aspect that may provide hope to Red Bull's rivals is the punishment issued for the budget cap breach, which included a 10 per cent reduction in aerodynamic testing allowance for 12 months. While it came too late to have a major implication on the overall develop of this year's car, it could restrict the team's ability to fix any issues that arise.

Ferrari's fight to the front

A season that offered so much promise for Ferrari last term ultimately fell away through mistakes in race strategy and engine failures, the latter of which resulted in the team having to run in a low-power mode to avoid further woes.

Charles Leclerc certainly has the ability to go head to head with perennial rival Verstappen, who he has raced since his junior days, while Carlos Sainz got his long-awaited maiden F1 win at Silverstone last year.

The appointment of Fred Vasseur as team principal, replacing Mattia Binotto, hands the Scuderia an experienced head on the pit wall and may result in fewer questionable calls in race strategy.

Ferrari are confident they can mount a challenge this season and, even though Leclerc has conceded Red Bull may start with an advantage, he believes the Prancing Horse can respond.

"The target is still [to win the title]. Even if we are starting a bit of the back foot compared to them in terms of performance, I'm sure we can come back," Leclerc told Sky Sports.

Mercedes on a mission

Any hopes of a Mercedes revival in 2023 appear to have stalled already, with testing performances suggesting the team may have to look over their shoulders at those chasing from behind rather than competing at the top.

Mercedes' design continues to divide opinion, with a zero-pod approach being vastly different to their rivals and leading to questions about whether they have stuck to their guns out of pride rather than sporting merit.

With Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel, there is always a chance and the Briton will be determined to come back and add to his record 103 race wins having failed to secure a victory last season – the first campaign in his career when he has not registered a win.

The seven-time world champion was outperformed by team-mate George Russell last season, however. Russell secured a maiden race win in the penultimate race and offered consistency throughout the campaign.

Best of the rest

The biggest surprise of the testing weekend in Bahrain was the pace shown by Aston Martin who, with the addition of Fernando Alonso, have a driver who could mount a serious threat to the bigger guns on the grid.

Though a third world title for the Spaniard may be a stretch, regular podiums and dethroning one of the big three in the constructors' championship is certainly an achievable goal.

At Alpine, great care will be taken to ensure French compatriots Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon do not find themselves butting heads, with a frosty relationship over the years, while McLaren have already admitted they missed their development targets and start on the back foot as a result.

Andreas Seidl, now at the helm of Alfa Romeo-Sauber, enters with high expectations ahead of the team's transition into Audi in 2026, while AlphaTauri's long-term future continues to be questioned despite assurances Red Bull will not sell their second-string team.

Expect the season to also see further rumblings regarding new additions to the grid, with Porsche and Andretti among those pushing to join.

As ever, there is plenty to watch out for in F1 and from the first corner to the last there are likely to be surprises along the way.

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    Lewis Hamilton said he chose to turn his back on Mercedes and join rivals Ferrari to write “a new chapter” in his record-breaking career.

    The seven-time world champion was speaking for the first time at length since his shock blockbuster move to the Italian giants in 2025 was confirmed earlier this month.

    Hamilton’s soon-to-be Ferrari team led the way on the concluding day of this week’s test in Bahrain, with Charles Leclerc seeing off Mercedes’ George Russell by just 0.046 seconds.

    But it is Max Verstappen’s Red Bull team who head into next Saturday’s curtain raiser, also in the Gulf kingdom, as the favourites, despite the ongoing investigation into their embattled team principal Christian Horner. Horner continues to deny the claims against him.

    Hamilton, who joined Mercedes from McLaren in 2013, signed a two-year contract extension with the Silver Arrows only last August.

    But over the winter he elected to terminate his £100million deal 12 months early to make the switch.

    “Obviously in the summer we signed and at that time I saw my future with Mercedes,” Hamilton explained. “But an opportunity came up in the new year and I decided to take it.

    “I feel like it was the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I have had a relationship with Mercedes since I was 13. They have supported me and we have had an incredible journey together and created history within the sport. It is something I take a lot of pride in.

    “But ultimately I am writing my story and I felt like it was time to start a new chapter.”

    Mercedes have carried Hamilton to six of his record-equalling seven titles.

    But last year marked a second straight season without a victory for the British driver – a losing streak which now stands at 45 races – and Mercedes’ first winless campaign in a dozen years.

    Ferrari have not won a drivers’ championship since Kimi Raikkonen triumphed for them in 2007.

    And two decades will have passed since Michael Schumacher took his fifth consecutive title for the team in 2004 when Hamilton links up with Ferrari at the start of next year.

    “All of us sit in our garages and you see the screen pop up, you see a driver in the red cockpit and you wonder what it will be like to be surrounded by the red,” added Hamilton.

    “You go to the Italian Grand Prix and you see the sea of red of Ferrari fans and you can only stand in awe of that.

    “It is a team that has not had huge success since Michael’s days and I see it as a huge challenge.

    “As a kid I used to to play the Grand Prix 2 computer game as Michael in that (Ferrari) car. It is definitely a dream and I am really excited about it.”

    Hamilton said the biggest transfer in F1 history would not have happened if Fred Vasseur – the Frenchman who played a prominent role in his formative career – had not been appointed as Ferrari team principal last year.

    Hamilton continued: “I have got a great relationship with Fred. I raced for him in Formula Three and we had amazing success in Formula Three and GP2 and that is where the foundation of our relationship started.

    “We always remained in touch. I thought he was going to be an amazing team manager at some stage and progress to Formula One. It was really cool to see him at Alfa Romeo and when he got the job at Ferrari I was just so happy for him. The stars aligned and it would not have happened without him.”

    As for learning the lingo, the Stevenage-born racer, added: “In all these years I have not managed to learn other languages, but I will definitely try. I do remember when I was younger and karting in Italy I was able to pick up a few lines. Hopefully that will come back to me.”

    Ferrari might have finished on top on Friday, but the consensus in the paddock is that Red Bull have significantly improved the machine which won all bar one of the 22 rounds last year.

    “Our car is more enjoyable to drive and it is an improvement,” said Hamilton. “But we still have some time to find. Red Bull are out in the distance.”

    Ominously, Verstappen, bidding to win his fourth straight title, said: “For sure, the car is better than it was last year.”

  • Lewis Hamilton determined to write ‘new chapter’ with Ferrari Lewis Hamilton determined to write ‘new chapter’ with Ferrari

    Lewis Hamilton said his Mercedes exit to join Ferrari is because he believes it is time to write “a new chapter” in his record-breaking career.

    Hamilton was speaking for the first time at length since his blockbuster move to the Italian giants in 2025 was confirmed earlier this month.

    The 39-year-old, who joined Mercedes from McLaren in 2013, signed a two-year contract extension only last August.

    But over the winter he elected to terminate his £100million deal 12 months early to make the switch.

    “Obviously in the summer we signed and at that time I saw my future with Mercedes,” said Hamilton as he opened up on his decision to make the move to Ferrari.

    “But an opportunity came up in the New Year and I decided to take it. I feel like it was the hardest decision I have ever had to make.

    “I have had a relationship with Mercedes since I was 13. They have supported me, and we have had an incredible journey together, created history within the sport and it is something I take a lot of pride in.

    “But ultimately I am writing my story, and I felt like it was time to start a new chapter.”

  • Red Bull boss Christian Horner wants his future resolved ‘as soon as possible’ Red Bull boss Christian Horner wants his future resolved ‘as soon as possible’

    Christian Horner wants his Red Bull future to be resolved “as soon as possible” as the embattled team principal fights to save his Formula One career.

    Red Bull Racing’s parent company Red Bull GmbH announced on February 5 that Horner is being investigated following an accusation of “inappropriate behaviour” by a female colleague. Horner denies the claim.

    Horner addressed the media alongside four other F1 team principals on the second day of this week’s three-day test in Bahrain on Thursday. The new season starts in the Gulf kingdom next Saturday.

    Asked why he has not moved aside as team principal and chief executive of Red Bull Racing with the investigation under way, Horner replied: “As you are well aware there is a process going on which I form part of, and as I form part of that process, I am afraid I cannot comment on it.”

    Horner was then asked if he could provided a timeline as to when the investigation might be over.

    The 50-year-old added: “I am dreadfully sorry but I really can’t comment on the process or the timescale.

    “Everybody would like a conclusion as soon as possible. But I am really not at liberty to comment about the process.”

    Sources have indicated to the PA news agency that there could be a resolution before the opening race on March 2.

    On Wednesday, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff called for Red Bull’s probe to be transparent, and said the controversy is “an issue for all of Formula One”.

    McLaren chief executive Zak Brown, speaking in the same press conference as Horner on Thursday, echoed Wolff’s comments.

    “The allegations are extremely serious,” said Brown. “McLaren hold themselves to the highest standards of diversity, equality and inclusion.

    “These are extremely important to us and our partners, and to everyone in Formula One.

    “Red Bull Corporation has launched an investigation, and all we hope and assume is that it will be handled in a very transparent way, and as the FIA and Formula One has said, swiftly, because these are not the headlines that Formula One wants or needs at this time.”

    Red Bull won all but one of the 22 races last year as Max Verstappen stormed to the world championship.

    The Dutch driver, in his heavily upgraded machine, set an impressive pace on the opening day in Bahrain, finishing 1.1 seconds clear of anyone else.

    Mercedes’ George Russell said: “Red Bull are definitely the favourites and definitely a step ahead of everyone here in Bahrain. They have had an impressive winter, no doubt.

    “Hopefully Red Bull are already in that sweet spot, and we can close the gap, but it is going to take a lot of hard work to do so.”

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