How accurate are the last 10 F1 season openers in predicting the World Champions?

Sam Cooper
Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg celebrating.

Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg celebrating.

With the first race of the 2023 F1 season in the books, here at we thought we’d take a look back at the last 10 openers to see if there is anything we can predict for the year ahead.

After long winter breaks, excitement is always high for the first race of the year from not just the fans but the drivers themselves. With testing done, the race weekend is the first chance to see where you stack up to your competitors, both good and bad.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look back at the last 10 season openers before the 2023 campaign and see if there are any clues about what we can come to expect this season:

2022 – Bahrain Grand Prix – Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
Drivers’ Champion: Max Verstappen
Constructors’ Champion: Red Bull

We will start with this time a year ago and what looked like it was the beginning of a new dawn for Ferrari and while that did prove to be true, it was perhaps not the direction they were hoping for. Having spent years in the doldrums, the pre-season whispers that Ferrari could be in with a shout this season were proven correct when Charles Leclerc outpaced Max Verstappen to pole before the Dutchman hit back during the race.

The two fought in one of the closest battles of the season but eventually it was advantage Leclerc and Ferrari when both Red Bulls retired.

There were jubilant scenes at Ferrari who followed this up with another win two races later but their season would soon turn into a disaster as driver errors, strategy failures and unreliability cost them a title fight.

2021 – Bahrain Grand Prix – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Drivers’ Champion: Max Verstappen
Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes

Given he is the holder of seven World Championships it is surprising that Lewis Hamilton has been successful in the opening race on just three occasions, but he was in 2021.

In Bahrain, the Mercedes team got their strategy spot on as they pitted Hamilton much earlier than Verstappen meaning by the time both had completed their tyre changes, Hamilton was seven seconds ahead.

Having dominated for years, the race was somewhat of a turning point as although Hamilton did win, the fact that Verstappen took pole suggested that the established order may be due for a small shake-up.

That was exactly what happened with Hamilton and Verstappen duking it out all the way through the season until the very last lap of the very last race.

2020 – Austrian Grand Prix – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
Drivers’ Champion: Lewis Hamilton
Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes

The most unusual of Formula 1 openers that not only took place at the Red Bull Ring but did so in July. The 2020 season was heavily truncated by the COVID pandemic with the original calendar being abandoned and a make-shift one of 17 races including double headers at the same track.

That was the case in the very first event of the year with the Austrian Grand Prix followed up by the Styrian GP a week later but it is the Austrian race we are concerned about and a man who has a surprisingly good record in the opening event of the year, Valtteri Bottas.

While chaos erupted around him, it was the perfect race from Bottas, starting on pole and never relinquishing top spot. Meanwhile, his team-mate Lewis Hamilton had an eventful grand prix as he again punted Alex Albon off the track and picked up a five-second penalty, meaning although he finished second, he ended up off the podium.

A retirement for Verstappen meant Lando Norris earned the first podium of his career while Charles Leclerc came in second. As for the rest of the season, the opening race was an outlier as Hamilton would go on to win all but four races in the year, cruising to a record-equalling seventh World Championship.

2019 – Australian Grand Prix – Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
Drivers’ Champion: Lewis Hamilton
Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes

Another opening race and another dominant performance from Bottas who started second but took the lead going into the first corner. Bucking the trend of their usual team-mate relationship, the Finn got away from Hamilton with ease and ended the race 20 seconds in front of him.

But Bottas was unable to continue this advantage over his team-mate as Hamlton went on to win six of the next seven races. While the second half of his season was not quite as dominant, Hamilton still ended with a 87-point lead over his team-mate.

Elsewhere on the grid, Robert Kubica returned to Formula 1 after suffering life-threatening injuries in a 2011 rallying accident.

2018 – Australian Grand Prix – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Drivers’ Champion: Lewis Hamilton
Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes

Having set a record-breaking seventh pole position in Australia, Lewis Hamilton had a battle on his hands with both Ferraris testing him early on.

Elsewhere it was disaster for Haas who, having seen Kevin Magnussen dive past Verstappen early on, had to watch both cars retire later in the race.

But this was highly influential for the lead of the race as with both Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen having already pitted, Vettel was given a glorious chance to gain some ground under the VSC and emerged in front of the Brit after completing his stop.

From then on, it was a fight to the end with Hamilton remaining within a second of Vettel but unable to get past. That was until Hamilton locked up and went onto the grass, giving Vettel the breathing room to make it over the line for P1.

Vettel would go on to win the next race in Bahrain but soon the Mercedes dominance began to show. A run of six wins in seven races in the second half of the year gave Hamilton the lead and he never looked back, finishing 88 points ahead of Vettel to move past the German in terms of World Championship wins.

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2017 – Australian Grand Prix – Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Drivers’ Champion: Lewis Hamilton
Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes

With newly crowned champion Nico Rosberg no longer on the grid, it was another German who took the opening win in 2017 with Vettel securing his second win in Melbourne.

On the day, it came to tyre degradation with both Mercedes finding their tyres gave away much quicker than the Ferraris. Hamilton may have started excellently but after his pit stop in lap 18, he was far behind not just Vettel but Verstappen as well.

As a glimpse into the future and how much of a thorn in the side for Hamilton he would become, Verstappen defended excellently and just refused to allow the Mercedes car to get by. This meant that when Vettel emerged from his pit stop in lap 24, he retained the lead over Hamilton and held it all the way to the chequered flag.

As for the championship, having missed out so narrowly in 2016, Hamilton roared back in 2017, winning the Drivers’ title by 46 points over Vettel.

2016 – Australian Grand Prix – Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Drivers’ Champion: Nico Rosberg
Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes

Before 2021, there was 2016 as the Silver War was in full swing. In a season that would to and fro between Rosberg and Hamilton it was eventual World Champion Rosberg who struck the first blow with a win in Melbourne.

Hamilton took pole but had a poor start which allowed Rosberg to take the lead but he locked up and came close to touching Vettel, instead brushing the front wing of Hamilton. This allowed Raikkonen to nip in ahead of both of them while Verstappen and Felipe Massa also got ahead of Hamilton, pushing him down into sixth place.

The Ferraris led but Mercedes opted to split their strategy, bringing Rosberg in for an early two-stop while Hamilton stayed out.

But the race would change when Fernando Alonso’s crash with Esteban Gutierrez brought out the red flags during which forced Ferrari into a strategy blunder. While both Mercedes cars were fitted with new tyres, Ferrari bizarrely chose not to and this allowed both Silver Arrows to secure the one-two.

As for the season, it was advantage Rosberg, who would win the first four races but Hamilton struck back in Monaco, going on to win six of the next seven races as one of the most exciting title races in recent history heated up.

2015 – Australian Grand Prix – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Drivers’ Champion: Lewis Hamilton
Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes

Just the second opening race win for Hamilton came in 2015 and was a dominant performance for Mercedes. Both drivers would finish over 30 seconds clear of the pack as Mercedes made it back-to-back wins in Melbourne.

It was a trend that would continue throughout the year with Mercedes winning all but three of the races and cruising to both titles.

It was Hamilton who would be victorious over rival Rosberg with his 10 wins pushing him towards a third World Championship.

2014 – Australian Grand Prix – Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Drivers’ Champion: Lewis Hamilton
Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes

After years of dominance from Red Bull, few would have predicted that this Mercedes win in 2014 would be the start of an era never before seen in Formula 1.

Having finished more than 200 points behind Red Bull in 2013, the introduction of hybrid engines for 2014 changed the game as Mercedes emerged the dominant force.

The first show of strength came in Melbourne with winner Nico Rosberg finishing 26 seconds ahead of P2 Kevin Magnussen. It was not all good news for Mercedes though with Hamilton retiring in lap 2 due to engine issues but that was a rare incident in a period of immense reliability for the Silver Arrows.

Hamilton would bounce back with wins in the next four races as he secured his first title since 2008.

2013 – Australian Grand Prix –  Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
Drivers’ Champion: Sebastian Vettel
Constructors’ Champion: Red Bull

Although Vettel would again be victorious in 2013, securing his fourth consecutive crown, it was Kimi Raikkonen who made the best start to the season with a win in Melbourne and it was one of the all-time great drives from the Iceman.

Starting in P7, Raikkonen made quick moves up the field, passing Rosberg and Mark Webber in the opening lap before overtaking Hamilton in lap 2. But a certain Adrian Sutil changed the game when both he and Sergio Perez stayed out on medium tyres much longer than the rest of the grid. With Vettel, on fresh tyres, unable to get past him, Raikkonen closed the gap and when Vettel pitted for another set of tyres, Raikkonen overtook him, attempting a two-stop approach.

Both Mercedes drivers were also on a two-stop but while their tyres gave way, Raikkonen’s did not. He gained the lead and never looked back with Alonso unable to catch him while Vettel had to settle for third.

It was a rare blot in the 2013 season for Vettel who would go on to set a then joint record of 13 wins in a single season including the last nine events.