F1 is back with Bahrain hosting the season-opening grand prix as Max Verstappen and Red Bull look to defend their titles.
Lewis Hamilton, amid uncertainty about his future with an expiring contract, will try to work with George Russell to recover from a poor year and pilot Mercedes back to the title.
Sergio Perez is not afraid to push Verstappen and expects support from his team to challenge for the title this year, while Ferrari is also optimistic they can solve their reliability and strategic issues to push Red Bull all the way.
Elsewhere, Fernando Alonso could be enjoying a resurgence at Aston Martin and Lando Norris has plenty of potential in the McLaren.
Here are the odds, tips and predictions for the upcoming season as training kicks off in Bahrain:
2023 Drivers’ Championship winner
Opportunities through Betfair
Max Verstappen: 8/13
Charles Leclerc: 9/2
Lewis Hamilton: 5/1
George Russell: 1/12
Sergio Perez: 18/1
Carlos Sainz: 22/1
Fernando Alonso: 25/1
Lando Norris: 200/1
2023 Constructors’ Championship winner
Opportunities through Betfair
Red Bull: 8/13
Aston Martin: 50/1
Who will win the Drivers’ Championship?
Given his massive dominance last year and his formidable performance in testing, it’s hard to see beyond the flying Dutchman to finish third on the spin in 2023.
Red Bull’s 2023 car – the RB19 – is an evolution of the team’s fast challenger for 2022 and the tendency is that it will once again be the fastest on the grid, with star designer Adrian Newey taking the new ground-effect aerodynamics into nailed the dots.
Verstappen is the biggest beneficiary and is expected to pick up where he left off in 2022, when he won a whopping 15 of 22 races.
Charles Leclerc will be looking to turn more of Ferrari’s potential into wins this season and will be Verstappen’s closest challenger outside the Red Bull garage. A closely fought title race between these two – who have been rivals on the track since their teens – would be exciting for the sport over a record 23-race calendar.
But should Red Bull be the runaway team again, his main rival could be team-mate Sergio Perez. And after the two collided in Brazil last year – with Verstappen refusing to follow team orders to let Perez pass – it wouldn’t take much for friction to return as both drivers battle for the title.
Who will win the Constructors’ Championship?
Compared to their challengers, Red Bull are the best-oiled machine on the grid and are undoubtedly favorites to retain their constructors’ crown.
Christian Horner and his team achieved a double world title success last year for the first time since 2011 – and it was their best-performing year since they entered the world of Formula 1 in 2005.
Despite last year’s flare-up between Verstappen and Perez in Brazil, the drivers have generally worked very well together, to the point that – combined – Red Bull won 17 of their 22 grands prix last year.
Ferrari will hope they can close the mammoth 205-point gap this season, while Mercedes will aim for a battle at the front similar to that of 2021 back and forth.
But is that realistic? Testing implies that this is certainly not the case.
Who will finish last?
At the bottom of the pack in four of the past five years, Alex Albon and rookie Logan Sargeant may face a tough time again in 2023.
Although the Oxford-based team now has former Mercedes chief James Vowles as their new team boss – replacing Jost Capito – Williams is quite unthinkably going into this season without a technical director after FX Demaison left in the off-season.
Last year Williams managed to score just eight points and was 27 points behind AlphaTauri in ninth and while Red Bull’s sister team will likely be bottom again – alongside Alfa Romeo perhaps – Williams falls a little short to to take on the challenge. midfield teams regularly.
Albon has taken his role as team leader extremely well and will be aiming to improve on his four-point haul from last year, while American driver Sargeant will slowly be put to sleep for what is his first year in F1.
Who will be the surprise star in F1 in 2023?
Fernando Alonso could well be challenging for podium finishes in a new and improved Aston Martin team, which looked very impressive in testing.
But given his two world titles and more than 20 years of experience on the bench, the Spaniard fighting at the front wouldn’t come as much of a surprise with the right machines. That is why I turn to Pierre Gasly, who signed for Alpine at AlphaTauri.
The Frenchman has joined compatriot Esteban Ocon in the team named after the luxury brand Renault and is looking to score points more regularly as part of a stronger midfield team, with Alpine finishing fourth last year.
Gasly is now much more polished than his six-month stint with Red Bull in 2019 showed and is a consistent performer on the grid. I expect him to beat teammate Ocon, finish in the top eight of the drivers’ standings – and could even claim a shocking podium.
Who will be the biggest disappointment?
Aston Martin was the success story of testing and Alonso not only showed high speed on a one-off qualifying lap, but also showed efficient race pace on the longer runs.
The two-time world champion will be delighted and set his eyes on points finishes and podiums. Still, the quality gap between the Spaniard and Lance Stroll – in a high-performing car – will be apparent early on, not least because the Canadian is coming into Bahrain undercooked after missing tests due to a wrist injury.
Has it completely healed? Maybe, but it’s not ideal preparation for Stroll, armed with a car capable of arguably his best season in Formula 1. However, compared to Alonso, he still has a lot of work to do – and he will not finish in the top 10.
What will be the best Grand Prix?
Silverstone – when is it not good? – and Spa came close, but the Circuit of the Americas has been producing intriguing races for years.
For the entire weekend and the most popular gathering of the season, Austin takes the cookie. There will also be a sprint race this year and the conclusion of the all-female F1 Academy will also be played out over the weekend.
The place on the calendar towards the end of the season also plays into his hands. Certainly compared to the other US races – with both Miami and the new Las Vegas event unknown numbers – Austin is a standout number 1. Vegas will be a bigger spectacle, but will do well to become a better race.
Given what we’ve seen in testing, I believe this is a season where Fernando Alonso was able to win a race for the first time in 10 years.
Damp conditions, a few breakdowns, and the 41-year-old will be right at the front in an Aston car that is likely to lead the midfield teams – and perhaps even challenge Mercedes for third. Where could he win? Canada (where he qualified second last year), Japan, Silverstone and Spa are usually unpredictable.
Elsewhere, expected Nick de Vries to beat AlphaTauri teammate Yuki Tsunoda – marking the end of Japan’s era in Formula 1 – while George Russell will once again finish ahead of Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes that once again lacks the race-winning pace.
By the time the season is over too, don’t be too surprised if Lando Norris’ Patience with McLaren is running thin as he looks for faster options down the paddock. Depending on Perez’s performance at Red Bull, they could be an option for the speedy Briton in 2024.
The new F1 season kicks off on Sunday with the Bahrain Grand Prix at 3pm (GMT) – and you can follow live coverage on The Independent.