Last season Formula One admittedly never quite reached the heights of previous seasons, but there's already a lot to be excited about ahead of F1 2023. There's no way to promise the titanic to-the-wire championship duel for the ages, as we saw in 2021 between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. However, there's no reason something similar can't happen with the compelling setup F1 has for the 2023 season. No matter the championship fight outcome, here are plot lines to look for in 2023.
Mercedes Bouncing Back
The warning signs that something wasn't right at Mercedes started at pre-season testing last year. Although teams famously 'sandbag' their cars before the racing begins, it was much worse for the Silver Arrows with a skittish W13 that repeatedly fell off the track.
The German constructor looked down and out after the first qualifying but made a sensational recovery by the season's end, culminating in a win in Brazil. Their breakthrough shows that Mercedes can make a winning car with the new regulations. Furthermore, the lessons learned in 2022 would've applied to 2023 car development. Knowing what not to do is sometimes as valuable as what to do, and Merc's misstep might give them a boost this year.
George Russell also bested Hamilton in equal machinery, becoming only the third-ever driver to do so. That's quite a motivation for Hamilton to come out swinging in 2023. The intra-team rivalry will either continue propelling Mercedes forward or create must-see 2016-like drama if they're back to their regularly winning ways.
Ferrari's New Leadership
The dismissal of Mattia Binitto in December had me in two minds. On the one hand, the strategy errors and reliability troubles fell under his stewardship. On the other, unlike the winning structure at Red Bull and Mercedes, Ferrari is always quick to chop off the head at any sign of rot. Sometimes stability might be the best course of action.
However, the rumors of Alfa Romeo's Frederic Vasseur stepping up surfaced, which made up my mind; their decision to axe Binotto was solid. Vasseur might fly under the casual fan's radar after half a decade with a perennial midfield team and no Drive to Survive screentime. Yet this unassuming Frenchman has done so much with so little for so long.
Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, and Charles Leclerc benefitted from Vasseur's nurturing hand in the junior categories. Now's the time to see if the lessons learned with tighter budgets can translate to success at the head of the most prominent car brand in the world.
Internal F1 2023 Rivalries
The aforementioned Mercedes Hamilton vs. Russell is only one of many potentially not-so-harmonious relationships to watch for this year. By my count, half of the teams are sitting on potentially explosive driver partnerships. The clearest example is at Haas, where Nico Hulkenberg joins the same Kevin Magnussen who once infamously told the German to suck somewhere on his body that he probably shouldn't.
Alpine, too, has an obvious pairing set for fireworks. The all-French lineup of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly entered F1 with a rivalry from karting that never cooled down. Ocon repeatedly had incidents with ex-teammate Sergio Perez at Force India. Alpine’s 2023 could be worse.
Speaking of Perez, although he's very much the second fiddle at Red Bull, he publicly criticized Verstappen's selfishness last season. With Daniel Ricciardo sitting as the most-overqualified reserve driver in 2023, Perez has a tightrope to walk to stay in his team's good books. Red Bull is known to swap their drivers midway through a season, and Ricciardo will be more than happy to return to racing.
Finally, Aston Martin has the 'pleasure' of hosting political genius Fernando Alonso this season. The Spaniard has often caused friction within his team when he's unhappy. Yet he's never had the son of the team's owner as the driver on the other side of the garage. With Lance Stroll already on the backfoot by missing pre-season testing, Alonso's championship-winning selfishness might create a rift before the first Grand Prix.
A Record Calendar With Three US Trips
F1's 2023 23-race calendar is brimming with variety and one standout new venue the entire paddock will look forward to – Las Vegas. The popularity explosion in the USA was already apparent with the sellout weekends at the Circuit of the Americas and Miami last year. So you can guarantee three weekends of packed American grandstands in 2023.
Exemplifying how diverse the USA is, the three tracks at Las Vegas, Austin, and Miami are each distinct. COTA has the elevation changes and sweeping corners reminiscent of a classic dedicated European venue like Spa-Francorchamps or the Red Bull Ring. Miami had carte blanche to do anything with its semi-permanent layout meandering through the Hard Rock Stadium parking lot. Seeing 20 Formula 1 cars hurtle down the Las Vegas Strip in a race is something I never expected to see in my life, yet it will happen. Racing on a Saturday night with countless famous hotels lit up will be a sight that not even Hollywood can top.
While everything here gives us plenty to look out for in F1 over 2023, I can't help but be most excited about the season's penultimate race in November in Vegas. What an F1 year we're in for in 2023.