It barely seems five minutes since the 2022 Formula 1 season concluded under the Abu Dhabi twilight, but time moves fast when you’re not having fun, hence we find ourselves on the precipice of the 74th season of top-tier open wheel combat.
2022 started brightly with the promise of a Charles Leclerc/Max Verstappen duel for the title, which quickly fizzled out as Ferrari decided being a comedy team was far more fun. Their long series of basic errors allowed Verstappen to have the championship under lock and key by July. Mercedes lagged behind for most of the year trying to get their troublesome W13 back to the front. When they finally got themselves on terms with Red Bull, even they seemed content to hand them races on a platter, such as the Mexican GP. Parity took a slide in 2022, with only Lando Norris breaking the top three teams’ stranglehold on the podium, a far cry from 13 different drivers enjoying a little of the bubbly on the steps in 2021.
This year fans are expected to sit in front of their television screens for 23 races and 6 sprint races. This could have been more, but once again the Chinese Grand Prix remains on the outside looking in; the draconian COVID-19 lockdowns the Chinese government have been implementing means it is too risky for the paddock to attend and leave. The efforts of Liberty Media to break Formula 1 into the American market mean a third race in the Land of the Free. Las Vegas returns to the calendar for the first time since 1982, on a track which should at least be an improvement on their previous effort. That being said, there’s ten teams and twenty drivers to look out for, so let’s get to it.
Teams and Drivers
Red Bull begin 2023 as the overwhelming favourites to retain both championships. Max Verstappen broke several long-standing records enroute to his second WDC, and every indication seems to suggest he’ll make it three in a row. There are a few crumbs of hope to cling onto, what with Red Bull’s punishment for breaking the budget cap – a reduction in wind tunnel time, though Adrian Newey has no doubt already mitigated this.
Then there are question marks around the inter-team relationship between Max and Sergio Pérez, which Max needlessly ignited around Interlagos when he refused to acknowledge a team order to let Pérez pass him. Torching what had been a cordial and helpful relationship long after both titles were secured was an odd way to finish off Red Bull’s most successful season since 2013, and the radio silence from both parties seems to suggest Christian Horner may need to bash some heads together. We can expect Pérez to maybe take another win or two when Verstappen is absent, but another double-digit win tally for the Dutchman seems highly likely.
Ferrari returned to winning ways in 2022, though the highs of Bahrain and Melbourne seemed about as far away as the moon landings by Abu Dhabi. Basic operational failure after basic operational failure and numerous Reject of the Race awards from this very website turned their season into a tragicomedy. Four years of Mattia Binotto memes reached a critical mass in 2022, enough to threaten the continued existence of the planet, and the bespectacled Italian was strategically moved elsewhere in the Scuderia this winter. Fred Vasseur takes up the poisoned chalice of team principal.
Charles Leclerc looks set to be Verstappen’s main title rival, and will probably want to convert some of his 18 billion pole positions into actual victories this season. One does have to wonder how much more Maranello nonsense the Monequasce driver is willing to put up with before he starts looking at fresher pastures. Off a scruffy inaugural season in top-tier machinery, Carlos Sainz Jr needs to rediscover the consistency which made him an absolute star in 2020 and 2021, and no doubt he’ll want to win a race in a far more assured fashion than his messy Silverstone triumph.
From eight straight Constructors Championships, 2022 was a disaster by Mercedes standards, although disaster is relative, given Sir Lewis Hamilton achieved 9 podiums and George Russell picked off his maiden pole, sprint race win and his first F1 victory in the W13. The car may not have been a world beater, but it certainly wasn’t a Prost AP03 despite the picture Toto Wolff was trying to paint. The ominous pace of Mercedes around Interlagos was a warning shot to the rest of the field, but it remains to be seen as to whether it was a one-off or the sign of another period of domination.
Hamilton comes into 2023 off the back of his first ever winless season and the fire to add his 104th victory must surely be burning strongly. Russell can already point to the fact he’s a Formula 1 race winner and beat Hamilton in the standings, but there’s still room for improvement, such as committing fewer first-lap incidents than in 2022.
Alpine head the colloquially named Formula 1.5 part of the field. It appears the team could be facing another season battling for their usual 7th and 8th place finishes, with the occasional outstanding drive to 5th. The French squad have a potentially combustible driver pairing in Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon. It’s common knowledge in F1 circles that these two young drivers aren’t exactly bosom buddies, though no-one can seemingly pinpoint the reason why. Maybe Pierre kissed Esteban’s girlfriend, who knows!
McLaren seemingly fancied signing every free agent in motorsport in 2022, causing ructions across both the Formula 1 and IndyCar paddocks. We wouldn’t have been surprised if Zak Brown had also signed Jeremy Corbyn, Michael Owen and the tit from Razorlight given half the chance! On track though, the team gave Alpine a real scare for 4th in the constructors, despite being a one-car squad for most of the season, making it very difficult to rank Woking. Was the car a dog which Lando Norris was dragging to places it didn’t belong, or was it a decent machine let down by the utterly cooked Daniel Ricciardo?
Anyway, the team have effectively swapped one Aussie for a newer version with a potentially huge upside. Oscar Piastri gears up for his Formula 1 debut with a junior resume to challenge the likes of Leclerc and Russell. Norris steps up as team leader for the first time in his career, and these two young guns formulate the most exciting line-up in the field. They must be praying that James Key’s technical squad can unlock the barriers to the top three.
Alfa Romeo find themselves in a holding pattern, with the same drivers, same engine, and the same place on the grid that Sauber traditionally occupied. The big headlines concern the future, with the former Sauber squad soon to be transformed into the works Audi effort later in the 2020s, the first time the four rings will have appeared in a Grand Prix since the monstrous mid-engined Auto Unions almost 90 years earlier!
But back to 2023, and Valtteri Bottas, in the second year of his three-year deal, will be once again expected to spearhead Hinwil’s charge. He’ll be hoping to replicate his results from early 2022 and retain a level of consistency. Following much pre-season criticism, Zhou Guanyu proved to be a better driver than his results might have suggested, and it’s to be hoped the Chinese driver will find himself in the points battle more often in 2023. It’s 30 years since Hinwil first contested a Formula 1 season, and this author wonders if we might see a few special liveries from the team this season.
It’s a big year for Aston Martin, the squad absolutely determined to prove they’re not the 2020s equivalent of Jaguar or Toyota. The team started last season with an absolute pup of a car, which they had trained into a decent canine and just lost out on 6th in the constructors through countback. On the driving front Lawrence Stroll has replaced one former World Champion with another. Fernando Alonso jumps over from Alpine on a big retainer and possibly his final hope at adding to his legacy, replacing the now retired Sebastian Vettel.
He’ll be joined as usual by Formula 1’s most maligned driver in Lance Stroll, even though the young Canadian is a much more accomplished driver than what the online fanbase may think. It could be a fraught relationship, given the events of Texas last year where Lance almost sent the double world champion into low earth orbit. Mike Krack will be hoping Alonso and Stroll have a decent, ahem, crack at the midfield this year, because Stroll Sr will be wanting a return on his investment before too long. A decent showing by Alonso in the Bahrain pre-season test has set off the hype machine somewhat fierce, but some of us on GP Rejects can remember Prost topping the timesheets in 2001 pre-season testing and how did that work out for the French squad?
Haas returned to some sense of respectability in 2022, but even then the general feeling was of missed opportunity. Günther Steiner very publicly ran out of patience with Mick Schumacher’s modern-day Luciano Burti impression, his repair bills being the catalyst for Nico Hulkenberg securing a popular Formula 1 return for this year. He’ll be paired with Kevin Magnussen, and Steiner must be hoping that the rivalry between the two drives the team forward, and doesn’t degenerate into “suck my balls honey” insults, which may generate clicks online but certainly won’t produce points finishes. But with the oldest combined line-up in the field, this surely cannot be a long-term solution for Haas. How much longer can the team coast in this catatonic state, not doing enough to become a permanent fixture of the midfield but also not being a proper Reject team.
AlphaTauri plunged back towards the wrong end of the field in 2022, raising questions as to the viability of Red Bull’s sister squad. Yuki Tsunoda, at the tender age of 23, now find himself team leader, in a season where he simply has to perform. Based on previous results, we fear this may well be beyond the Japanese driver’s capabilities. At the very least, he must stop making Reject of the Race worthy errors like he did around Montreal and Silverstone, for Helmut Marko’s patience must surely be running thin. His only saviour is that Red Bull’s junior programme appears to be running on fumes, given that his brand-new team mate comes from outside Red Bull’s supermarket of drivers.
Nyck De Vries finally got his shot at an F1 race at Monza last season and made brilliant use of it, propelling himself into the second AlphaTauri seat and giving us another World Champion on the grid. It’s a no-pressure situation: beat Tsunoda and he’s set for life; if he fails to make an impression, he can look at his Formula E trophies in the cabinet and be happy he managed to get “Formula 1 Driver” on his resume. At the very least he’ll want to make his mark in the rookie battle this season.
Finally, Williams once again find themselves propping up the grid but the green shoots of recovery continue to sprout. Despite his love for ridiculous hairstyles, Alex Albon successfully rebuilt his reputation in 2022, pushing the team forward and picking up a few precious points whenever the opportunity arose. He’ll be partnered by the third rookie in the field this season. Logan Sargent rides the wave of Drive to Survive hype to become the first full-time American driver in Formula 1 since the hapless Scott Speed, and the first American of any kind in F1 since Alex Rossi’s coffee-stop stint with Manor in 2015. The jury is out as to whether he can be promoted to Logan Lieutenant (sorry Ed), or perhaps challenge his team mate on occasion.
Certainly in this author’s opinion, this is the least enthusiastic build-up to a Formula 1 season since 2015. That season at least had mitigating reasons, what with the black cloud of Jules Bianchi’s fatal accident weighing over the Formula 1 universe. Most of the grid were in such financial strife that they were about 5 days away from calling in Finbarr O’Connell and his merry band of administrators. This time it seems to be exhaustion, certainly where this author is concerned. The sheer saturation of Formula 1, with Liberty Media expecting fans to devote nearly half of their weekends to the sport. It’s reached the point where race weekends are approached as “oh lawd, not another one” rather than “yes, the Formula 1’s on this weekend, get the drinks in”. It’s also hard to look by the seeming inevitability that 2023 appears to be a free title for Max Verstappen, and while we can dream that the field will be levelled so that the same three teams aren’t dominating the podium all season, perhaps the best we can get is Ferrari and Mercedes fixing their horrific strategic decisions to really take the fight to Red Bull.
Perhaps also, from a Grand Prix Rejects perspective it’s the lack of any proper Reject teams in the field, and with the current ten teams closing ranks to any potential new entrants, we’re left with diminishing returns from the same few faces on the grid. Grand Prix Rejects is hopefully not alone in calling for Andretti Autosport to be allowed to join Formula 1. If the mess that Andretti’s IndyCar squad is anything to go by, it could be a hilariously rejectful endeavour. A rather less hilarious, but certainly rejectful endeavour appears to be the escalating cold war between the FIA and GDPA, which threatens to flash over in a farcical manner at some point in 2023.
Rejects in 2023
- Yuki Tsunoda
- All-carbon liveries
- The FIA/GDPA war
- Las Vegas Grand Prix
- Alex Albon’s hair