Five storylines to spice up F1 2023: Perez going full Rosberg, Ricciardo return and more

Oliver Harden
Red Bull driver Sergio Perez punches the air in celebration after setting pole position for the Miami Grand Prix. Miami, 2023.

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez punches the air in celebration after setting pole position for the Miami Grand Prix. Miami, 2023.

There’s no point denying it anymore: F1 in 2023 is struggling to live up to the hype.

Red Bull’s rivals commented after the opening round that Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez could feasibly win every race this season and with five processions already completed that claim suddenly doesn’t seem so wide of the mark.

F1 is crying out for something interesting to happen and soon, so here’s our list of five storylines that could bring 2023 to the boil…

Sergio Perez to go full Rosberg

If Sergio Perez is ever going to fully embrace the Nico Rosberg role, unsettling and irritating Verstappen at every opportunity, now is the time to start doing it.

The closest he has come so far to going full Rosbergian (the technical term) is – allegedly – spinning his car into the barrier in qualifying in Monaco last year – and even that was only for third on the grid. Big deal!

Compare and contrast that to Rosberg heading down the escape road at Mirabeau to bring out the yellow flags in 2014 – something he doesn’t even bother trying to deny these days – or putting Lewis Hamilton on the grass at Barcelona 2016. Now we’re talking.

At this point, all we’re asking is for Perez to do something a little different to just managing his tyres better than Max on occasion – or putting the power down in a slightly gentler manner on street circuits.

Where’s all the wheel banging? The catty team radio calls? The side-eye in parc ferme? And, yes, the cap throwing?

There’s a whole world of possibilities out there, Checo, if only upsetting Max wasn’t the right way to go about losing that coveted Red Bull seat.

Looking ahead to this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, the Tamburello chicane, as Verstappen and Hamilton showed in 2021, looks like fertile ground for two drivers going in wheel to wheel, neither prepared to give an inch, on the first lap.

Why not live a little, Sergio, and maybe try it?

Just something – anything – to get Max out of his comfort zone and back to his sweary best.

A sensational return for Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo put the fun in Formula 1, but some had had their fill come the point that he faded quietly into the background at the end of 2022 after two miserable seasons at McLaren.

When was the last time such a prominent driver had suffered such a sharp and seemingly permanent decline?

That was the question everyone was asking at the time and the automatic response – “er, Sebastian Vettel about four years ago!” – didn’t seem to help matters as the four-time World Champion also waved goodbye in Abu Dhabi. Well, if you don’t like the answer…

It was with some degree of disappointment, however, that you heard Red Bull’s Helmut Marko recently dismiss the possibility of Ricciardo replacing the underperforming Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri.

Even if only a temporary fix – Daniel, already been there and done that, wouldn’t want to grace the Red Bull junior team with his presence over the long term – it would be one of the most fascinating signings of recent memory and finally provide some answers to those pesky overhanging question marks over Ricciardo’s McLaren career.

Was it all Daniel’s fault all along? Did the excesses of his post-Red Bull career at last catch up with him?

Or was he buried by the muddled McLaren way of doing things and that team’s overreliance on data? Is the driver who won eight grands prix still in there somewhere, just waiting to be reborn in the right car and the right environment?

These are the concerns Ricciardo himself will need to address before pursuing a full-time return for 2024, let alone teams who would want to know exactly what they’re signing before committing to him.

Just make it happen, Helmut. Now.

Mercedes to arrive at Imola with an instant Red Bull beater

Wouldn’t it be nice?

Wouldn’t it be just bloody delightful if Mercedes, having finally torched the zero-pod somewhere round the back of their Brackley factory in the days after Miami, turned up at Imola with a new car immediately on the pace – lap for lap, stint for stint – of the Red Bull?

It would be as though the last 18 months (22 wins out of a possible 27 for Red Bull and counting) had never happened.

We’d suddenly be transported right back to 2021, Max and Lewis at it again but this time with added George. Who wouldn’t vote for that? recommends

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Instead, in all likelihood Mercedes will turn up this weekend with a Red Bull copy and spend the rest of the year learning about it as over on the opposing pitwall Christian Horner sips from a can of Silver Edition Red Bull (it does exist, we’ve just checked).

Literally everyone knows that’s exactly what’s going to happen at Imola.

The alternative scenario would be nice though, wouldn’t it?

Fernando Alonso to break the Red Bull winning streak

Back on the podium with four third-place finishes in five races, F1’s big bad wolf is huffing and puffing.

Any chance of blowing the house down anytime soon? We live in hope.

Fernando Alonso’s reacquaintance with the podium has been one of the few little joys of 2023, but it’s amazing how quickly the novelty wears off and be in no doubt that each P3 only increases his hunger for even more.

It has been said that Aston Martin will be in a good place if they can somehow replicate last season’s development trajectory, but getting into this position was the easy bit.

Becoming fluent in the language of winning – building a culture of achievement and honing the sharpness for which Red Bull are renowned – is the hard part, yet if there is one driver to accelerate the process through the sheer force of his personality it is surely Alonso.

Fernando has recently admitted that he can indeed win races in 2023 and, with the Aston Martin set to excel in the high-downforce arenas of Monaco and Barcelona, Imola marks the start of an important month in which his decade-long wait for a victory could feasibly end.

If you thought the sight of Alonso back on an F1 podium was strange, just wait until he goes and wins one.

An underdog to punish the mistakes of McLaren and Alpine

It kind of says it all about F1 2023 that the two crisis teams still sit fifth and sixth in the Championship with a quite reasonable gap to the four below.

So much for the cost cap putting the emphasis on brainpower and sporting competence as opposed to sheer financial muscle…

McLaren and Alpine may have entered the year wanting more, but in light of Aston Martin’s overnight rise fifth place is as good as it’s going to get.

It is to the sport’s eternal shame that both – currently level on points – remain on course for the season’s objective, for on the evidence of the first five races neither would deserve it.

Not McLaren, who were bracing themselves for a tough start even before the car launched having gone down the wrong development path over the winter and whose attempts to reverse out of it remain, at best, inconclusive.

And certainly not Alpine, who lurch from calamity to disaster as chief executive Laurent Rossi shouts from the sidelines carrying all the classic and ludicrously exciting hallmarks of a boss who doesn’t quite understand the business he’s in.

Over to you, Haas and Alfa Romeo, to make these underperforming corporate misfits sweat and punish their mistakes.

Both are there for the taking.