Five F1 2023 predictions that already look stupid: Ferrari, Fernando Alonso and more

Oliver Harden
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, head down. Australia, April 2023.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc walking with his head down. Australia, April 2023.

One weekend down, two more to go before the F1 2023 season can finally recommence with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku. 

A month-long break is almost unheard of so soon into a new campaign (cheers China), but offers a unique opportunity to digest and reflect on what we have seen so far.

Here, we revisit some of the bolder pre-season predictions made by fans (and some of us!) that already after three races look, at best, unwise and, at worst, just ridiculous…

This year will be Ferrari’s year

Ferrari’s change at the top over the winter brought with it the tantalising possibility that the team, through either luck or judgement, had married the best of both worlds.

If a car designed by Mattia Binotto were to be fielded by a team organised by Fred Vasseur, just what could be possible in 2023?

As one era morphed into the next, was there a chance that Ferrari had just struck a golden sweet spot of car performance and strategic sharpness?

Anticipation for the new season was at an all-time high following the best launch in F1 history at Maranello, where an evolution of last year’s F1-75 – the car with the most pole positions of 2022 – was unveiled and Vasseur made his first public appearance as team principal with the promise of addressing the glaring weaknesses of last season.

Yet it appears the stable platform that was supposed to be the car was actually built on sand – a reality that only now is beginning to dawn on Ferrari, still without a podium after the opening three races of 2023.

On a grid increasingly made up of replica Red Bulls, Ferrari’s dipping sidepods may catch the eye but – much like Mercedes’ zero-pod concept – have potentially outstayed their welcome.

The all-consuming focus on operational mistakes and reliability problems as the reasons behind their mid-2022 implosion rendered the car concept an afterthought, but the Ferrari has not performed to a race-winning standard since last July.

For all the optimism that the car would at least allow the Vasseur era to begin from a strong base, maybe Ferrari were in deeper trouble than anyone ever realised last year.

Alonso has made a big mistake joining Aston Martin

It takes guts to walk out on a team on course for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship for one with just 20 points from the first 13 races of a season.

But come July last year, Fernando Alonso had nothing to lose.

Like Daniel Ricciardo before him, Alonso took one look around Enstone and concluded that Alpine/Renault lacked the commitment and wherewithal to bother F1’s frontrunners on their current trajectory, so decided to bet a team who just might.

Whereas Daniel went all in on McLaren and ultimately lost – albeit not before one glorious afternoon at Monza – Fernando took a chance with a team who not long ago had hit rock bottom on a dire weekend in Australia and had no history of competing for World Championships.

How they laughed when the announcement came on that first morning of the summer break, that silly old fool Alonso – with his history of making bad career moves – walking into the burning building where Sebastian Vettel’s love of racing had gone to die.

He’s a mercenary now, they said. He’s finally accepted that third title is never going to come and decided to take the money instead.

With three consecutive podiums for the first time in almost a decade, however, it is Alonso who is laughing now.

His trust in the Aston Martin project – his preparedness to look beyond the results to see the potential – has seen him rewarded with the fastest F1 car he has driven since his penultimate year at Ferrari, with the promise of even more to come.

A mistake? A masterstroke.

Williams will struggle and finish with the F1 wooden spoon

At the turn of the year, the decline and fall of Williams was captured by the thought of two silent, empty offices at Grove.

The positions of team principal and technical director, held by Frank Williams and Patrick Head for so much of the team’s history, were left vacant as the sun rose on 2023.

Following the departures of Jost Capito and Francois-Xavier Demaison in December, Williams were a team devoid of any leadership at a time they needed it most.

Already anchorless adrift, bottom of the Championship for four of the last five seasons, surely this was a team reaching the end of the road in its current form. recommends

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Enter James Vowles, tasked with bringing a little bit of Mercedes to Williams.

For a rookie team boss there is a hugely reassuring quality to Vowles’ leadership stretching even to the tone of his voice, once deployed by Mercedes to calm Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas over team radio in the heat of competition.

Even if he had no influence on the design of the car – the team are still searching for a technical director – it is somehow appropriate that his impact has been made to appear instant, Alex Albon scoring Williams’ first points in a season opener for the first time since 2017 and running as high as sixth at the time of his crash in Australia.

Vowles’ insistence that every decision made under his leadership will be made with the long-term interests of the team in mind – no quick fixes or short-term measures here – is that of an individual, only the third team principal in Williams’ history, who wears his newfound responsibility and the weight of the team’s heritage well.

When you’re lost in the darkness, look for the light.

Nico Hulkenberg will find it hard to return to full-time F1 racing

Michael Schumacher got the F1 comeback treatment. Alonso did too. So why should it be any different for Nico Hulkenberg?

When Haas announced the signing of the 35-year-old after a three-year absence last year, it didn’t take long for the usual comeback questions to emerge.

Isn’t he too old? What if his time spent away from F1 had dulled his speed, his reflexes and his judgement? And, in the case of Hulkenberg, what exactly did he achieve the first time anyway?

Those paying attention, however, will have noticed Nico had already answered those queries almost three years ago in his Covid cameos behind the wheel of Racing Point’s pink Mercedes.

Overcoming a lack of preparation and limited knowledge of the car to score points at Silverstone and Nurburgring – even qualifying third for F1’s 70th Anniversary race – revealed an evergreen plug-in-and-play quality desirable by any F1 team, particularly one with short-term ambitions like Haas.

And with an entire winter to work on his fitness, get up to speed in the car and get to know his new team, there was never anything to worry about when it came to ‘Hulkenback’.

Outqualifying Kevin Magnussen – the comeback king of 2022 – at the first three races and reaching Q3 in Bahrain and Australia has strengthened the argument that a driver of Hulkenberg’s quality should never have tumbled off the grid in the first place.

The only regret about his comeback? It took so long to materialise.

Nyck de Vries will wipe the floor with Yuki Tsunoda

In his stand-in appearance for Williams at Monza last year, Nyck de Vries managed to look more capable and composed in one race than Nicholas Latifi did in three full seasons and 2023 team-mate Yuki Tsunoda ever had at AlphaTauri.

So where did it all go wrong?

Did the nature of that weekend – Monza’s straights suiting the rocketship Williams – flatter De Vries? Has Tsunoda taken a great leap forward in 2023? Or is Nyck simply a victim of circumstance in an AlphaTauri team who’ve lost both their way and their relevance?

Or all of the above?

As one of the most decorated drivers outside of F1 over recent years, Champion in Formula 2 and Formula E, De Vries was widely expected to inherit the role of team leader but has been convincingly outperformed by Tsunoda to date.

He has been unfortunate at times – an engine change saw him miss the entire final practice session in Saudi Arabia – but, already 28, his status as one of the oldest debutants of modern times is revealing.

With Mercedes customers Williams taking the paddock by surprise in 2021 – signing the Red Bull-affiliated Albon to succeed George Russell over the Merc-backed De Vries, previously dropped from McLaren’s junior scheme in 2019 – reservations about his ultimate potential are nothing new.

And on the small sample of evidence of 2023 so far, they were justified.

However, there is still plenty of time for De Vries to turn things around. Alarm bells will not be ringing just yet.