F1 finally returns this weekend after what has been a fairly subdued winter compared to the histrionics of 12 months ago. A decided lack of controversy and drama have allowed for a proper shutdown from the sport, which was very much needed in the wake of what has become a marathon of a season.
8 predictions for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix
Indeed, the prospect of a 23-race F1 calendar fills me with a little bit of dread. Burnout is likely to become a very real problem, especially if Red Bull absolutely run away with things as it did in 2022. But let’s not worry about that just yet, because it is genuinely exciting to have F1 back on our screens again, and with launch season and pre-season testing all done and dusted, it’s time for the serious business to start, and we can finally see who has brought what to the party.
No more cryptic press conferences. No more playing around with fuel loads and engine modes, by the time we get to qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday, we will have our first idea of how the 2023 F1 season is going to take shape.
But what’s the fun in simply waiting to see what will happen? Speculating about what might occur is surely more fun than actually watching the race unfold. So that’s what I’m going to do now. I’m going to put my admittedly limited reputation on the line and lay down my predictions for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix.
1. Fernando Alonso will be fastest in FP1 for the Bahrain Grand Prix
This is a fun game to play because the first Free Practice session is rarely representative of genuine pace, so this is probably the final time we’ll still be guessing the exact order of the field. That being said, you can still at least expect to see the fastest teams filtering to the front, so I’ve limited my pick here to the four teams I believe have a realistic chance of challenging for the podium places.
Those teams, if you’re interested, are Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin. Rumour has it the Aston team is not-so-quietly confident that it has built a genuinely competitive car. Quite how it will stack up against the likes of Red Bull remains to be seen, but close to anything is possible with Fernando Alonso at the wheel.
So that’s my pick for FP1. Alonso will top the times ahead of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. I’m very hopeful that the supposed Aston pace turns out to be genuine because having Fernando back in the fight for race wins will pump a whole load of enthusiasm back into the sport.
2. Max Verstappen will be on Pole Position in Bahrain
Sadly that’s where I think the opportunity for change will end for now. Red Bull appeared to be so comfortable in testing, delivering pace on demand and running relentlessly with zero fuss. Both drivers seemed content and that can only be a good thing from the team’s point of view.
When it comes down to a straight fight in the speed stakes, I can’t see anyone getting anywhere close to Red Bull, and the obvious pick has to be reigning world champion Max Verstappen. He’ll take the pole with his standard three- or four-tenth advantage over team-mate Sergio Perez with Ferrari, Mercedes and – hopefully – Aston Martin battling behind.
3. Max Verstappen will win the Bahrain Grand Prix
In the past, the first race of the season was always a bit of a lottery. Even after extensive testing, turning everything up to 11 for the opening round would always bring up previously unforeseen issues in reliability. There’s also the race-rust element, which would often see the final classification reduced to just a handful of drivers at the end of an incident-filled grand prix.
More recently that has been less of an issue. The number of mechanical retirements has dramatically reduced, and the Bahrain circuit that has become the home of the season-opener is more forgiving than the tighter Albert Park venue that used to hold that spot.
That said, Red Bull had a disastrous start to the season in 2022. Both cars failed to reach the chequered flag with identical fuel issues, so it’s still not set in stone that the seemingly superior Red Bull is going to run away with the race.
Surely Red Bull won’t make the same mistake twice? I don’t think so, which is why I’ve picked Max Verstappen to win the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ominous though it may be that we could be on the verge of another season of dominance, our fingers are crossed that Ferrari and the rest have got some extra speed in the bag.
4. Russell and Hamilton will finish on the podium in Bahrain
In repsonse to my own hope, I’m not sure Ferrari will have what it takes to challenge Red Bull, in fact, I have a feeling the red cars’ closest challenge will come from behind. Of all of the predictions to be made this weekend, trying to decipher who is going to complete the podium feels the most difficult.
It seems likely that Sergio Perez will follow Verstappen over the line in second place, but I won’t allow myself to predict a Red Bull one-two, so sorry Checo. Instead, I’m going to stick my neck out and put George Russell in second place ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Quite what will happen to Perez I’m not sure, but I really don’t want Red Bull to stamp all over the excitement of a brand-new season.
5. Mercedes will beat Ferrari in Bahrain
Yes, that’s right. I haven’t just predicted that Ferrari will be challenged by Mercedes in Bahrain, I think the Black Arrows will beat them. Call me a lunatic, but it certainly looked as though the Mercedes pair were far more comfortable with the new car than they were this time last year.
Ferrari are in the midst of yet another paradigm shift. Fred Vasseur is in, and while I believe he is the right man to bring some order to what was a flailing mess at Ferrari, it won’t happen overnight. And while there was speed in the new car through testing, I have a feeling Mercedes will have the edge in the early going.
I expect this to be a battle that continues for the entire season, and fingers crossed both teams can push each other close to Red Bull, perhaps even to a point where we do indeed have a three-way fight for the title.
6. Aston Martin will ultimately come up short
For all of the down-low hype surrounding Aston Martin through testing, there is a realist inside me that cannot see Alonso and Lance Stroll (or Felipe Drugovich) becoming genuine challengers for podiums or race wins. They might be comfortably best of the rest, but no better than that.
But even that, on the face of it, should be considered a huge win for Aston, who last year struggled to even mix it with the midfield for the majority of the year. The fact this team might even be in the conversation for podiums or more is a major achievement. Whether Alonso will be satisfied with that remains to be seen.
7. McLaren to struggle in Bahrain
This could be the big story of the weekend at the Bahrain Grand Prix. McLaren had, by all accounts, an awful pre-season test. Constantly marred by reliability issues and a car that seemed to constantly have bits falling off.
Lando Norris was rarely seen without a face of thunder, and Oscar Piastri was quiet on his first outings for the team. I doubt he’s having any regrets about his move to McLaren just yet, but the early signs are far from good.
McLaren will struggle to score points this weekend, and I get the feeling a success for the team will consist of two cars arriving in parc fermé at the end of the race. It’s a long season, and time is on the team’s side, but progress will need to come quickly if McLaren is to continue its battle with Alpine and once again strive for podiums.
8. Nyck de Vries will win the battle of the rookies
Is Nyck de Vries even a rookie? Well, this is his first full F1 season, so yes. Sure, he’s a former world champion in Formula E, and that experience will absolutely stand him in good stead as he finally begins his career in F1 proper, but there is more to racing at the pinnacle than just driving the car. There is now a fundamental pressure to remain in the sport, and that brings a new challenge that he won't have faced before. De Vries will of course be looking to add to his tally of world championships, as a former Formula 2 champion, he sits alongside the likes of Charles Leclerc and George Russell as drivers who have the potential to reach the very top.
As a result, I fully expect him to outshine his fellow rookies in Bahrain. Oscar Piastri will of course be one to watch through the season, but we’ve already established his McLaren may not yet be up to the task. Expect Logan Sargeant to go somewhat under the radar in the early races, Alex Albon will likely sit as team leader at Williams.
Whether de Vries will manage to score points in his second-ever F1 race – he did of course score on his debut for Williams at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix – is a tricky one to predict. The AlphaTauri car looked a little ragged, so it will take a serious turn of pace from the Dutchman to drag the car through, but he is certainly capable of that.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.
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