While there could be no doubting the winners of the 2022 titles, given the dominant fashion in which Max Verstappen and Red Bull took Drivers’ and Constructors’ glory last season, there are so many unanswered questions with the new season now looming large on the horizon.
So, in that spirit, we have had a think about the things we are most looking forward to seeing unfold over the course of the F1 2023 season.
With so many different subplots to keep an eye on, here’s our top 10 storylines to look out for.
How much effect will Red Bull’s budget cap penalty have?
This particular section was almost called ‘Will Max Verstappen even be beatable?’ – but a good portion of the answer to that may come down to how much impact Red Bull’s penalty for breaching the 2021 budget cap will have.
The $7 million fine will likely be less consequential for the team than the 10% loss of CFD [computational fluid dynamics] time available to them in F1 2023, which will even further limit their use of a wind tunnel and their ability to run aerodynamic testing to develop the car in-season.
Team principal Christian Horner believes such a penalty could cost the team up to half a second per lap in pure performance, though there is no way of fully assessing the damage to their chances until the penalty fully takes hold.
Crucially, the base of the 2023 design will already be in place for Red Bull, so Verstappen is likely to be able to start the season in as strong a place as he would have normally been – the difference will be that their rivals will have more scope to try and catch them up.
If Ferrari and Mercedes somehow leapfrog Red Bull with relatively stable regulations come the start of the season, they will not have as much ammo in their arsenal to be able to catch up.
But if they start the season well, Verstappen will have to make hay while the sun shines, just in case he gets reeled in later in the year.
How will Ferrari and Mercedes respond to 2022 setbacks?
For the chasing pack to Red Bull, we all know by now the main issues for Ferrari last season mostly came through management of their strategies and driver errors during races in 2022, because with 12 poles from 22 races and only four wins, that conversion rate does not look particularly friendly for the F1-75 having been such a quick car.
For Mercedes on the other hand, Toto Wolff admitted not understanding their problems with porpoising early in 2022 effectively “cost us the season” as they played catch-up.
While they did get closer to Ferrari and Red Bull, they still have to out-develop both teams over the course of the winter if they are to get back to fighting for wins on a regular basis.
It has been all change at the top of the Scuderia as Fred Vasseur has taken on the mantle of team principal after Mattia Binotto’s departure, and he will have work to do to make Ferrari a winning machine on all fronts in F1 2023 – they will just be hoping the F1-75’s successor is as competitive as what came before it.
And as for Mercedes, the W13 will not be seen again in public if the team can help it, but if their work through 2022 eventually comes to fruition, they could well be back in the mix again.
Will Sergio Perez have extra pressure on him, subconsciously or otherwise?
With two wins to his name and largely solid results throughout the year, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many people who said Sergio Perez had a ‘bad’ 2022 season, but the outright dominance of his team-mate clearly showed just what the RB18 was capable of doing at times.
But though he, Horner and Helmut Marko have brushed off any suggestion that the return of Daniel Ricciardo as third driver at the team will put any more pressure on Perez than is already there, you cannot help but wonder if the looming spectre of that Aussie grin will play on Checo’s mind if things start to go south early in 2023.
After all, Red Bull have hardly been shy about switching their drivers when things have not been going to plan before, even if the Mexican is contracted to the team until the end of 2024.
If he continues to perform as he has done over the past two seasons and, vitally, keep the peace with Verstappen at the team (more on that shortly), he should be able to carry on as normal.
Will ‘Lewis Hamilton 2.0’ come to the surface after his first winless year?
It seems remarkable that it took until Lewis Hamilton’s 16th season in Formula 1 to finally break that run of having won at least one race per year since he came into the sport, and with the double-whammy of having scored fewer points than George Russell at Mercedes, he is likely to come into the year more fired up than ever to succeed.
His team boss was full of praise for how he went about his business through his team’s struggles last year, taking on a role which Wolff said were “management and personality traits that I have not seen with a professional sportsman before”, with what he was doing behind the scenes with the Silver Arrows in 2022.
Should the F1 2023 season see Mercedes anywhere near fighting at the front again, there can be no denying that Hamilton will be there to try and get back on the top step of the podium and fight for that record-breaking eighth title. He will certainly have missed it up there.
Which team-mate relationships will be tested if titles go on the line?
The late-season friction between Verstappen and Perez after their falling out at Interlagos was seemingly ironed out by the time Abu Dhabi came around, and we will likely never know whether or not it was a case of the World Champion putting his team-mate back in his metaphorical “box” as a power-play or a genuine sign of anger that he was asked to move aside for sixth place on the final lap.
Both drivers will likely want to continue their harmonious relationship at Red Bull, as will the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Russell, and the Ferrari pairing of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
Those four drivers have all got on relatively well in their time together as team-mates so far, but when it comes to title-winning credentials, little has been on the line between them – thus leaving less room for lasting arguments or breaches of trust to break out.
Should it be a three-team fight at the front as appears to be the predicted consensus at this stage, how long before we hear on the team radio bickering about the other car in the same team or pointed remarks in press conferences once it becomes clear that a World Championship could be on the line?
Sainz already showed in Monaco and Silverstone he is happy to choose his own strategy (to his credit, which worked out for the better) to help himself succeed, and Russell has proven to be a more-than-capable match against Hamilton throughout the year at Mercedes.
There could be some intriguing battles to come in the F1 2023 season.
Will Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly be able to get along at all?
One of the intriguing subplots of the 2024 series of Drive to Survive is almost certainly going to eventually involve a full episode surrounding the new Alpine duo of lifelong friends-turned-rivals-turned-team-mates Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, and how entertaining that will be is set to be down to how well the two get on this year.
The script is set up almost perfectly. Two drivers of the same age, who grew up not too far from each other, racing each other all the way up the motorsport ladder, but for whatever reason, just don’t seem to like each other very much.
Since the announcement of Gasly’s move to Alpine, things have been very cordial between the two compatriots, who in turn will create an all-French line-up at the sport’s French factory manufacturer next season. Magnifique.
But because they have been known to not be the best of friends, this begs the question of just how tempestuous things could become if they do have some moments of conflict on track in F1 2023. Even more so if they build a competitive car as well.
Which F1 2023 rookies will fly or fall?
With Zhou Guanyu having been the only new face on the grid in 2022, the F1 2023 roster will have three new faces on a full-time basis – with two former Formula 2 champions in Nyck de Vries and Oscar Piastri joined by last year’s third-placed F2 finisher, Logan Sargeant.
De Vries has taken the long road to get to Formula 1, with F2 and Formula E titles in his back pocket, but earned a full-time drive off the back of his excellent substitute performance for Williams at Monza in 2022, while Piastri joining McLaren resulted in a legal battle between them and Alpine – who both laid claim to the young Australian’s signature.
Even though Piastri’s arrival came in unusual circumstances, he joins Leclerc and Russell in being the only drivers to win consecutive Formula 3 and Formula 2 titles on his way to F1 – so his pedigree is certainly there for all to see. How he’ll match up against the ever-rising star that is Lando Norris will be a fascinating battle to watch in F1 2023.
Sargeant celebrated his 22nd birthday on New Year’s Eve, and the Floridian will even have a hometown race to look forward to this year when Formula 1 returns to Miami in his rookie season. With Alex Albon showing excellent form last year, he will have a worthy yardstick to try and get up to speed against this year.
And for De Vries, he comes into AlphaTauri as the less experienced Formula 1 driver, but has a chance to become team leader at Red Bull’s junior squad against Yuki Tsunoda if he is quick enough to take that mantle.
Will the Fernando Alonso/Aston Martin experiment pay off?
Fernando Alonso rolled the dice for one more move in his illustrious career by taking over the vacant seat left by the retiring Sebastian Vettel at the ambitious Aston Martin team.
Given how much they have been investing into their infrastructure and the people they have been bringing to the team, it seems like only a matter of time before Aston climb further up the grid and towards the front – but the more pertinent question will be whether or not Alonso will be behind the wheel for when it happens.
He has a multi-year deal with his new team starting this year, and he is still driving at his best. While the team did not seemingly make enough of a leap forward in time to retain Vettel, it will be intriguing to see how far Alonso will be able to help take them when he links up with the Silverstone team.
If the pre-season hype can be justified, could we see Alonso pop up regularly on the podium in 2023?
Can anyone else challenge the front three teams?
The regulations for the F1 2023 cars are remaining relatively stable – easily done, compared to the sweeping changes which came the year beforehand, but stable regulations can sometimes help bring the field closer together.
With the budget cap and aerodynamic testing restrictions for the more successful teams in 2022 also playing a part, another element of the season to look out for will be whether or not the likes of Alpine, McLaren, Aston Martin or others can bridge what was a significant gap between themselves and Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes from last year.
With everyone looking to progress, it will be a tall order for the midfield runners to out-develop the top teams to a degree where they can overhaul them, but with the measures brought in by Formula 1 used for this purpose, it might not be beyond the realms of possibility.
New circuits to visit, and more sprints to see
Whether or not sprint qualifying takes your fancy, you are going to be seeing twice as much of it in the F1 2023 season, with six sprints coming your way instead of three.
Four of the circuits being used will be hosting a sprint for the first time, and for anyone still unsure on their feeling towards the shortened ‘race’ format, you will have more opportunities to make up your mind for sure this season.
And you will also have more races to see full stop, even with the cancellation of China, as a 23-race calendar has been set for the year ahead, with the return of Qatar on a permanent basis and a new street race in Las Vegas.
There will be plenty of intrigue as Formula 1 will head to Vegas, with a lot of time, effort and money having been invested into putting the sport on the map in Sin City.
With a Saturday night race on Thanksgiving weekend on primetime TV in America, and it being one of three races Stateside, Formula 1 is unlikely to have ever had this kind of exposure in a market it has always sought to conquer.
It will be up to the drivers to put on quite a show at that race, and every race in F1 2023, for that matter…