Charles Leclerc backs Mercedes to join 2023 fight, but no ‘signs’ of anyone else

Jamie Woodhouse
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton on track at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas Marina, November 2022.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton on track at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Yas Marina, November 2022.

Charles Leclerc anticipates Mercedes will step back up to the plate in 2023, though is not seeing another team who could tag along with them.

The aim of the new-for-2022 Technical Regulations, working in tandem with the budget cap, was to create a more level pack competing in overtaking-friendly challengers.

However, the grid actually spread out slightly for that first season, Red Bull and Ferrari establishing themselves as the pacesetters, with Mercedes only challenging on occasion, their highlight being a one-two finish in Sao Paulo, their only victory of the season.

So as the regulations head into their second season and hopefully set about converging the grid somewhat, Ferrari driver Leclerc expects Mercedes to bring themselves back into play, but looking at the midfield outfits, he does not see another team ready yet to step up.

Alpine finished P4 in the Constructors’ standings and at the head of the midfield in 2022, their development programme bringing improvement across the season as the team target further gains into the new campaign.

Asked at the FIA Prize Giving Gala if he expects another team to join Red Bull and Ferrari at the front in 2023, Leclerc replied: “I do believe that Mercedes will be in the fight.

“Another team? I haven’t seen signs yet maybe to believe that another team will join the top three, but Mercedes will definitely be there next year with a very strong car.

“We’ve seen how much they’ve improved from the first race to the last race. I think they understood what they did wrong, and this is normally the sign that it will go better. So hopefully it will be a three-team fight next year.”

Mercedes aside, Formula 1 needs the pack to close up

If the Mercedes team deliver on Leclerc’s prediction and return to form for 2023, then it will not come as too much of a surprise, rather the eight-time Constructors’ champs, and the most dominant team in the turbo-hybrid era returning to the right path after a hiccup, similar to Ferrari’s 2022 resurgence.

It is the real ambition of these regulations to bring the established midfield runners into play, so if Formula 1 wants assurance that the plan is working, then the likes of Alpine, McLaren, Aston Martin, plus maybe even another surprise contender, need to show clear signs of moving closer to the leaders.

As the budget cap dips to its lowest value yet of $135 million for the 2023 season, combined with a year of learning these regulations, the upcoming season will offer a firm indication of just how competitive we could expect Formula 1 to become in the near future.

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