Over 100 days have passed since Formula One last saw competitive on-track action, but that will change thanks to the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.
Over 100 days have passed since Formula One last saw competitive on-track action, but that will change thanks to the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend. The Bahrain International Circuit will provide the first 57 laps of 2023 racing on Sunday after last week's three-day test left fans with as many questions as it provided answers. Will Max Verstappen's reign of supremacy continue? Can Lewis Hamilton and George Russell's Mercedes bounce back? How will Lando Norris cope with a teammate younger than him for the first time? And will Aston Martin be the best midfield team after Fernando Alonso's impressive testing performance?
Everything that happens this weekend is essential knowledge for fans as much as it is for the teams. Testing is notorious for never showing the actual pace of the 10 constructors as everyone plays their cards close to their chest. It's only in Saturday's Qualifying when the bluff and bluster stops, and we can see who has done the best job with their 2023 car.
The indications from testing suggest Red Bull will be the team to beat again, with Ferrari and Mercedes as their closest competitors. So far, it's a familiar tale. The midfield, though, might be in for a shake-up as Aston Martin excelled, McLaren stumbled, and the other five teams closed up. However, whether these testing deductions remain on Sunday is another matter.
Something certain for the Bahrain Grand Prix curtain raiser is the 'first-day-at-school' look for six drivers. Oscar Piastri, Logan Sargeant, and Nyck de Vries will start their first Formula One season with Nico Hulkenberg returning from the sidelines. In addition, Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso have switched from their 2022 teams – Gasly finally escaping Red Bull's clutches with a move to Alpine, and Alonso stepping in where Sebastian Vettel left at Aston Martin.
Pirelli will have six tyre compounds for the 2023 season after the Italian manufacturer introduced a 'C0' option over the winter. Although it has a new name, the new C0 is last year's C1 compound, while 2023's C1 is a brand-new creation based on the 2022 C2.
That newly-developed C1 will feature in Bahrain, along with the C2 and C3 tyre compounds. Pirelli hopes to see more grip from the C1 than its 2022 counterpart had to open up additional strategies to the teams.
One tyre tweak to the rules in 2023 requires drivers to use only hard tyres in Q1, mediums in Q2, and softs in Q3. Yet the FIA declared that this change would take place at two 2023 Grands Prix as a trial without specifying which pair of races we will see the test in action.
For anyone looking for good news that 2023 will see a host of drivers fighting for victories at all 23 races, you may wish to look away now. Max Verstappen and Red Bull appeared more comfortable in last week's testing than they did 12 months earlier.
On the other hand, testing doesn't set the starting order of any race. So all we can tell from those three days is that Red Bull hasn't regressed like we saw Mercedes do last year. The lack of problems at Ferrari and Mercedes suggests all three top teams will harbour confidence heading into Qualifying and the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz have new leadership at Ferrari after Team Principal Mattia Binotto was pushed aside in favour of Alfa Romeo's Frederic Vasseur. That might mean fewer incorrect strategy calls from the pit lane and leave Red Bull with more work to do than in 2022.
In their all-dominant days, Mercedes sometimes 'sandbagged' during testing and Free Practice before gaining finding a full second when it counts. Should the Silver Arrows have deliberately limited their potential in testing, we might be in for a six-way scrap at the top.
Cancel your weekend plans, or at least make the most of your mornings, as the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix and Saturday's Qualifying start at 3 PM for us in the U.K.
Qualifying – On air: 2 PM, Session start: 3 PM Saturday 4th March
Race – On air: 1:30 PM, Session start: 3 PM Sunday 5th March
Qualifying – 7:30 PM Saturday 4th March
Race – 9 PM Sunday 5th March
Qualifying & Race – Get ready to be jealous of those fans attending the Bahrain Grand Prix. It's t-shirts and sunglasses weather, with temperatures soaring as high as 28°C on Sunday and sunny throughout.
Red Bull continued their 2023 winning ways, with another 1-2 finish in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but it was Sergio Perez, not Max Verstappen, taking the winner's trophy at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.