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F1, Bahrain GP: Hard to look beyond Max Verstappen and Red Bull in 2023




The longest season in Formula 1 history begins this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix. Twenty cars and drivers descend on the Sakhir Circuit to kickstart the season, with Netflix show ‘Drive to Survive’ being the catalyst for a huge wave of interest in the sport across the globe. The 10 teams have already arrived in Bahrain for three days of pre-season testing, giving us some early indications of who’s hot and who’s not as we head into the first race.

The results of these test days come with a caveat as teams are always reluctant to show their true selves to their rivals. This sportsmanship means that the real picture will emerge only during Sunday’s Grand Prix.

It’s going to be very hard to look beyond Max Verstappen and Red Bull as the favorites heading into the 2023 season.

As a driver, I thought Max had taken his game to a new level in 2022 where there was really a calmness and a methodical approach that we hadn’t seen from him before. When I watched him race in Formula 3, it was abundantly clear that this man is one of the most talented drivers on the planet, but now he has the added experience and confidence that world championship success brings.

The Red Bull RB19 has looked ominously fast in testing with both Verstappen and teammate Sergio Pérez exuding an inner confidence.

The team has stability on the driver and technical front, with Christian Horner and design genius Adrian Newey driven to success as he was 31 years ago when his car first won the world championship.

Mercedes enters the season once again with the best driver line-up on the grid. It has two race winners in its books, and the inner harmony that it lacked during the Nico Rosberg/Lewis Hamilton era.

He had a tough season last year, finishing behind Red Bull but appears more optimistic that this year’s W14 is a good step forward. The pre-season testing was not entirely smooth and they could start the year as the third best team.

George Russell was one of the stars of last season. He scored more points than Lewis in his first year with the team and also took his first F1 victory in Brazil. But Lewis will be hungry for that eighth title.

When it comes to putting in consistent race performances week in, week out, I still believe that Lewis, Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso are really in the A league.

Ferrari had a season that started brilliantly last year but ended challenging as both team and driver made mistakes and the Red Bull car went from strength to strength through in-season development.

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are both very fast, intelligent and hard working drivers. If they have the equipment and structure from the team, they can win.

There is no doubt that wherever we go on the F1 Tour, there is still a huge army of Ferrari tifosi who turn out to cheer on their beloved red cars. It’s been 15 years since the team last won the driver’s world championship and patience is starting to wear down even with loyal fans.

The big change at Maranello during the winter has been the replacement of team boss Mattia Binotto with Frederic Vasseur, who moves from Sauber.

Being Ferrari’s team boss is one of the most pressing jobs in F1. I have known Frederick for a long time since his GP2 days and he is a very cool character who is really needed.

He is also a tough taskmaster and it will be interesting to see how much and how quickly he is able to make an impact on the team.

The midfield team to watch in my opinion is Aston Martin. Team owner Lawrence Stroll has been on an aggressive recruiting campaign for the past two years and the fruits of that expansion should be evident this year.

The squad really seemed out of position last season where I expected it to be and so far in testing, the car has looked very quick in the hands of their new signing Fernando Alonso.

The double world champion may be 41 years old, but he is showing all the energy and motivation of someone half his age. In fact, with 21-year-old Oscar Piastri driving for McLaren, this year for the first time in F1 history we will have a driver on the grid who was not born when the other (Alonso) made his debut.

Of the 23 races this year, certainly the one that got everyone talking is the new Saturday night event in Las Vegas running the famous “Vegas Strip.”

It’s going to be amazing and I can’t wait to go there in November.

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