The 2023 F1 season officially kicks off with the three-day pre-season test in Bahrain. All the teams are done with the car launches, and after almost three months since the last F1 race, we’re back to get things rolling.
Unlike the 2022 season where we had two pre-season tests, this time there’s only one. Teams have just three days to work everything out with the car and find the perfect setup before the first race of the season next week.
Heading into the first and only test of the 2023 F1 season, what are the key storylines? Let’s take a look at five of them.
#1 How does the new Red Bull look?
Red Bull have always been a team that keeps their cards close to their chest till the last minute.
Their car launch this season in New York was more of a livery launch than anything else. On February 23, there will be no more time for games. Red Bull will be forced to reveal their car.
When you hear there’s ☝️ day until #F1Testing 😄 pic.twitter.com/PvYjOiyitu
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) February 22, 2023
More or less, the new car is expected to be an evolution of the car that won both titles last season.
Having said that, the car was not the perfect machinery last season by any means. There are still areas (like slow speed efficiency) that need to be worked on. With the floor expected to be the most focussed zone for development, it will be interesting to see how different this year’s challenger will be compared to the last.
#2 Ferrari vs Red Bull vs Mercedes: Will it happen this F1 season?
The performances somewhat converged towards the end of the 2022 season. Mercedes closed the gap to the front; while Red Bull were clearly the best car, the other two teams were close behind.
While quite a few pundits predict a scenario where Red Bull start at the front of the field once again, it won’t be a surprise if Ferrari or even Mercedes pull something out of the hat.
LH 2023 loading… ⏳ pic.twitter.com/ufIFcy3WXE
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) February 21, 2023
Ferrari have been quietly confident all winter, and whatever we’ve heard about the Italian team has been positive.
Mercedes have been somewhat circumspect with rumours of a possible ‘plan B’ already in place if the car is not good enough. Rumours are one thing. Truth reveals itself when the teams are out on track, and we see lap times on different fuel loads and engine modes.
Will we see a three-way battle? We should get closer to answering this question after the three-days of testing.
#3 How good are Aston Martin?
When we talk about rumours, just like Ferrari, Aston Martin have been riding a wave of optimism during the pre-season. When it comes to championship-winning pedigree, the team have loads of it. There’s Dan Fallows, the former Red Bull aero genius, who’s now part of the team, but he’s not the only one.
Fernando Alonso – a mood. 😎 pic.twitter.com/NAE8kACoKr
— Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 Team (@AstonMartinF1) February 22, 2023
There’s a complete team of recruits from Mercedes and Red Bull, and on the surface, there is no dearth of talent or resources.
If the combination works with the much-needed synergy, we’re looking at something brilliant coming to life. Will that happen? How good will be the car? These questions will get answered during the three days of F1 pre-season testing.
#4 How will the midfield battle look like?
When we talk about the F1 midfield, it begins with the fourth-fastest car in Alpine and extends to the last on the grid in Williams.
By the end of the 2022 season, the order had somewhat stabilised. We had Alpine, McLaren and Aston Martin leading the charge in midfield followed by the other teams.
From Enstone to Bahrain ✈️🌏#Alpine #F1 pic.twitter.com/HudSwlov5Y
— BWT Alpine F1 Team (@AlpineF1Team) February 22, 2023
Nevertheless, all of these teams are capable of making a major leap in the pecking order.
We could see AlphaTauri making a huge leap in the order or even Aston Martin jumping to the front. There’s a lack of clarity on what happens with McLaren after a somewhat lukewarm car launch, but it will be interesting to see where they slot themselves.
The last few seasons have seen the midfield extremely close to each other in terms of performance, and things might not be too different in 2023 too.
#5 What will be the field spread?
The most important aspect of the 2023 season and something that could be a litmus test of regulations is the field spread.
One of the key promises of the new regulations was a reduction in performance gap between the teams. The restrictive nature of the regulations is expected to keep a check on one team finding a silver bullet and establishing a huge advantage at the front of the grid.
2023 Car Performance Prediction
Aston Martin +0.60
Alfa Romeo +1.05
Alpha Tauri +1.17
Williams +1.31 https://t.co/3C8NtojgHX
— 🥷🏻 (@brawngpf1team) February 22, 2023
That restrictive nature in full effect last season, as it was only the first F1 season with the regulations, and teams were still figuring things out. We had the first three teams in a different league followed by a somewhat stacked midfield.
If the regulations prove to be effective, we could see the F1 grid getting bunched up. For fans, a reduced performance gap would be ideal, as it would mean more competition on the grid.