Dominance or a Dogfight? The Edict's 2023 F1 Preview
Updated: May 5
By Karnav Popat, UG24
The lines have begun to be drawn early in the 2023 Formula One season, with the year’s first two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia being split by Red Bull’s two drivers, and sparking speculation about who could compete with the defending champions, and which teams will have forgettable years as backmarkers. Following the opening two race weekends of the year, here’s The Edict’s look at the likely winners, losers, and expectations as the season progresses.
The primary storyline last season was Max Verstappen’s continuing dominance over teammate Sergio Perez and his Ferrari rivals. After his dramatic loss at Abu Dhabi 2021, many were expecting Lewis Hamilton to come back with a vengeance last season - and were instead greeted with George Russell’s emergence as the #1 driver at Mercedes. Ferrari pulled off a masterclass in car development but were, characteristically, let down by their own failures at strategy. All three teams will be looking to capitalize on their successes from last year. Meanwhile, teams like Aston Martin - who are currently running away with the championship in pre-season testing - will be looking to disrupt the traditional front 3.
There has also been massive turnover on the grid - universally admired 4-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel has retired, while Daniel Ricciardo and Mick Schumacher have been pushed out after disappointing seasons. All three drivers’ seats will be taken by rookies, headlined by much-hyped Nyck de Vries, who dramatically secured a seat at McLaren after a game of musical chairs with Ricciardo and veteran Fernando Alonso - and is now perhaps regretting it.
The early season has thrown quite a few curveballs - Aston Martin has roared out of the gates and the majority of pundits place Aston Martin’s performance above that of Mercedes based on data and results. Fernando Alonso has seized two podiums in two races and looked every bit the perennial contender. Meanwhile, historical contender McLaren is continuing its slide down the grid, placed at the bottom of most rankings.
The broad outlook for the season is the same as last season - everyone’s playing catch up to Red Bull. Super Max has been supremely confident in the media, deservedly so after being nearly invincible last year. However, his strained relationship with Sergio Perez after racing incidents last season means that Verstappen will no longer be able to rely on the unconditional team support that won him Abu Dhabi 2021. Perez himself is no slouch - having narrowly lost 2nd place in the drivers’ standings in 2022, he has no reason not to gun for first place in the championship and in his team this season, and has bought equity with a win at Jeddah.
Ferrari has returned to typically disappointing form after its championship contention last year, and is expected to compete with Mercedes for third place. Of course, car speed has never been Ferrari’s issue, and the big question is whether veteran TP Frederic Vasseur will be able to instill discipline and competence to the organization that failed his predecessor Mattia Binotto. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz at Ferrari represent perhaps the only driver and car combination that can rival defending double champions Red Bull, and Ferrari will be looking to somehow get their car in shape to compete for their first WDC since before Instagram was launched.
Mercedes, on the other hand, are stuck in the hole they dug for themselves. During testing last season Mercedes had the most unique aero package by far: the slim no-pods were very distinctive from the other constructors’ wide sidepods. Merc paid a heavy price when this aero package wasn’t competitive, and combined with their persistent porpoising problems, kept them out of the title race all season. This season their luck doesn’t appear to have changed much, as they still seem to be a good distance away behind RB. There’s also the looming question of generational change - after rising superstar George Russell outshone Hamilton for most of last year, will Merc adjust their driver priorities to focus on the future? Or will they give the 7-time WDC winner the respect he might feel he deserves?
The big question mark at the start of the season is Aston Martin, who appear to have developed a car that clears the midfield and is competitive with Mercedes. Alonso has waxed eloquent about the car in preseason, and the other constructors appear slightly nervous when talking about Aston, adding smoke to the fire. The concern remains that the rising team has neither the technical expertise, nor the experience at the front of the grid, nor the driver combination (Alonso is paired with much-derided #2 Lance Stroll) to truly shift the balance of power away from the big three.
What remains certain, however, is that this season will continue the spectacle of competitive excitement that F1 has been for the last few years. With the ease of overtaking under the new regulations, closing gaps in quality across the grid, and the constant drama of Netflix’s Drive To Survive, there’s no doubt that Bahrain will be the start of something spectacular.
For Ashokans, the new season means a return to form for on-campus fan culture. Although football is unquestionably the dominant sport followed on campus, race screenings regularly rival football screenings in attendance. This is despite the challenges of odd hours as the season progresses around the globe - more than 20+ fans showed up to watch the Japanese GP at 10am last semester.
Though the cross-batch Racing@Ashoka Whatsapp group chat is extremely active, most fans rarely follow their teams through the pre-season. The return of regular races was widely heralded but got off to a limping start - Bahrain coincided with the midterm break and the race’s screening was attended in the single digits. Jeddah represented a return to form but continued Red Bull dominance and flagging Ferrari hopes spell doom for the enthusiasm of all but Alonso fans.
This season, new challenges are hurting prospects of on-campus fandom. F1 has decided to move entirely to its own subscription service instead of one of the usual options. At the grand rate of Rs. 2500 for a single-device subscription, F1TV is impractical for most of the student population. Despite pooled subscriptions being proposed on the groups, the exorbitant cost and the unreliability of illegal streams have left uncertainty in the air. It will be on the fans to find a way to keep our love for the sport alive, to keep making fun of Ferrari and to watch in awe as Fernando Alonso stampedes to long-due successes.