As the lights fell in Bahrain it ushered in the first race of the 2023 season which had a few surprises in store for us. From Redbull’s indisputable dominance to McLaren’s disaster class that saw them straggling at the back of the grid, let’s get into what exactly went on at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
First and foremost we have to talk about Redbull, they look ominous in 2023 and although they’ll be carrying an aero penalty, with the form that they’re currently in they look absolutely unstoppable, but one team that may be able to mount a challenge is… Aston Martin? The Silverstone team had everyone’s attention following the rumours of their possible potential for the season and now that the first race is done and dusted it looks as though those rumours have become a reality. By far the biggest jump that was made over the winter was by Aston Martin, they showed promise towards the end of last season but I think that everyone underestimated just how successful they would be heading into 2023. Alonso managed to bag his first podium with the team which was easily the highlight of the weekend, whether you’re an Alonso fan or not, and the show that he put on during the race provided continuous entertainment as his battles with Sainz and the Mercedes’ cars left everyone in awe and wondering how exactly he was able to pull that off. Aston Martin’s success didn’t come without any hiccups though as Lance Stroll ran into his teammate on the opening lap but luckily managed to avoid damage to both cars. With Aston Martin looking to be the second best car at the moment, who knows what will be possible for them this season, especially with Fernando Alonso behind the wheel.
Now, we may have moved into a new year but one thing that you can count on to remain the same is Ferrari being Ferrari. It was looking up in 2023, they had a new team principal in Fred Vasseur, the best car launch in Maranello and their car looked solid during testing with no reliability issues at all. As the lights went out in Bahrain they seemed to be in the mix with Redbulls at the start of the race, and even managed to pull off a seamless double stack in the pits, but flashbacks to 2022 materialised on lap 41 laps and the Ferrari that we’ve become accustomed to over the past decade eventually showed up when Leclerc suffered engine problems brining his race to a swift end. The team seem to be going round in circles at this point and who knows if this is an issue that they’ll be able to get on top of by Jeddah. In a similar fashion, Mercedes also looked to embody their 2022 performance as they were just there. After Toto confirmed, earlier in the week, that the silver arrows would be abandoning their car concept, they didn’t have much to show for themselves during the season opener and may have in fact slipped back slightly from where they were last year as they now have the Aston Martin’s to compete with, possibly relegating them down to P4 this year.
There was a constant battle throughout the midfield as many predicted going into this year, but I’m not sure that anyone predicted that Williams would be the standout, or at least they were in my opinion. Heading in to the new season it was easy to write Williams off as they hadn’t shown anything particularly great in testing and given where they were last year, I couldn’t see any reason as to why they would improve as much as they did. On the Saturday, Logan Sargeant outqualified all of the other rookies and matched the exact same time as Lando Norris in a car that was relatively equal to that of his peers, Albon continued Williams’ success on into Sunday by picking up the team’s first points of the season in what looks to be a much improved car that will be able to drag them up from the bag of the grid. Although this does look promising, the order of the midfield is currently unclear as Alfa Romeo had quite an underrated performance with Bottas finishing P8, Tsunoda narrowly missed out on points in p11 and Gasly managed to climb 11 places to finish P9 on his Alpine debut.
Moving further down the grid, Haas and McLaren have found themselves lingering at the bottom in a battle of the backmarkers. Last year Haas got off to a flying start and have unfortunately not been able to replicate this in 2023 for a plethora of reasons. Hulkenberg’s broken wing and Magnussen’s poor strategy definitely contributed towards the team’s disappointing weekend but I’m not yet convinced that they have the pace to reach the heights that they did last year. Right beside them is McLaren, who undoubtedly had the worst weekend of the 10 teams. With Piastri suffering an electrical problem on lap 13, this would only be the start of their problems as Norris would later pick up a pneumatic leak that plagued the remainder of his race and put the final nail in the coffin for McLaren. Six pit stops later the Woking-based team found themselves with a retired rookie and their surviving car in P17 out of a race with 17 cars. McLaren have dropped off significantly more than any other team and at the rate they’re currently going at, their Baku upgrade will have to perform a miracle to get them back on track for 2023.
All in all Bahrain was a good season opener, there was enough going on in the race to keep your attention throughout but by race 23 in Abu Dhabi I don’t think this will be one of the stand outs that you remember. There is plenty to look forward to in the midfield and even amongst the top 4, but there is no denying that Redbull look like they are on track for a third title as the bar they’ve set is far out of reach for the other 9 teams at the moment.