By Rishi Tanna
We are so back. Just 97 days after the conclusion of the 2023 Formula One season, it will be lights out in the season opener on March 2nd, in Bahrain. 24 races, ten teams and twenty drivers will compete for motorsport’s most prestigious driver’s and constructor’s championships. I’m here to get you excited for another year of the fastest sport in the world.
This season will be a record-breaker, with 24 races on the calendar including the return of the Chinese and Imola Grand Prix. This hasn’t been without controversy, with director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association George Russell suggesting the calendar isn’t “sustainable for 4,000 people.” Whilst an effort has been made to reduce travel times by organising the calendar geographically, the carbon footprint will be eyewatering. Perhaps F1 need to listen to the community feedback on which events to keep or remove. Something like a yearly rota of American races would allow for popular destinations like Hockenheim, Kyalami or Sepang to return.
Whilst it isn’t quite as dramatic as 2022, there are some important changes to consider. Driver pairings are identical for now, apart from the confirmation of Daniel Ricciardo as a full-time driver for the Visa Cash App Racing Bulls F1 Team, formerly known as Alpha Tauri. If you thought that name was bad, then let me tell you about the rename of Alfa Romeo. Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber not only is the worst name of all time but sets a dangerous precedent for gambling sponsors in motorsport.
There will be another six sprint races, located in China, Miami, Austria, Circuit of the Americas, Brazil, and Qatar. The format has got a slight tweak, with Sprint qualifying occuring on Friday, the sprint race on Saturday morning, followed by qualifying for the main race. Sunday remains race day. DRS activation has also been shifted to one lap earlier for race/safety car starts. The regulations don’t contain many changes, limited to some cleaning up of exploited language and an attempt to prevent testing outside of allocated times.
If you were expecting a big switch-up of the order, you could be in for disappointment. Teams tend to see slow improvement or a gradual demise. That being said, McLaren, Aston Martin and Ferrari have all proven they can go from struggling in the midfield to challenging for race wins within a season. So, who knows.
The cars launches are throughout this week, showcasing team’s new liveries and designs, although these are more of a marketing strategy than an indication of pace.
If you are in the business of predications, put 21st February into your calendar. Bahrain pre-season testing is the most reliable indication of a team’s pace before lights out. Be careful however, teams are known for ‘sandbagging,’ hiding their true pace from the rest of the paddock. Mercedes for many years were the slowest in testing, before winning eight championships in a row, giving me severe trust issues in the testing results. Listen to the quotes coming from team principals, they are often quite candid about expectations.
F1 has already produced some insane headlines in the past few weeks. Lewis Hamilton shocked the world by announcing his move to Ferrari in 2025. A move this big hasn’t been announced since… Hamilton moved to Mercedes. Keep an eye throughout the season for these announcements, they not only are dramatic and crucial for the next year but can often impact driver or team performance in the current season. In case you are interested, I’m guessing Alex Albon goes to Mercedes, Carlos Sainz goes to Sauber and Kimi Antonelli goes to Williams.
Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal, is currently under investigation for inappropriate behaviour. These shocking allegations could have big impacts this year, as he is a big part of the Red Bull winning machine and could take legendary designer Adrian Newey with him if he leaves.
Who’s going to win? It’s impossible to tell before testing, but without major changes in regulations, it’s hard to back against Max Verstappen and Red Bull. Teams have all started to copy the Red Bull design philosophy, so the field should bunch up. I am slightly worried for Mercedes. Hamilton’s desire to leave suggests he isn’t happy with progress. McLaren and Ferrari should at least challenge Red Bull weekly, and there’s always a surprise package somewhere. Personally, I’m trying to manifest a Charles Leclerc world title and Lando Norris race win. Wish me luck.
So, if you are fan of a driver, a team or simply have a free Sunday, give the F1 a watch. It’s a great way to meet new people, it’s never been easier to get into the sport with wonderful content creators on YouTube and social media, and even the Netflix series Drive to Survive is an entertaining entry point for new fans.
Image: emperornie via Wikimedia Commons