The 2023 F1 season is finally here, and after the first race of the season it’s time for me to bring back my talking points column after a few years’ absence. And after a somewhat interesting first race of the year, there’s plenty to get to.
Aston Martin are the real deal
It’s pretty easy to dismiss a team that has hype around them that come from the top three heading into a new season. Every couple of years we get a bit of hope that a team will upset the apple cart and we will get a different look at the front of the field, albeit for the hope to soon fade away and status quo resumes. Enter Aston Martin in 2023 and finally the apple cart has been toppled. An absolutely stunning race from the rejuvenated Fernando Alonso set the bar in motion, with the pace from the team being prevalent all weekend. This was backed up by a strong weekend by Lance Stroll, who despite having two broken wrists and a broken toe battled his way to sixth place to help Aston Martin to second in the Constructors’ Championship after the first race. And while yes, it is still early days, there is every chance in the earlier rounds at least that we will keep seeing the British green fight for podiums and possibly even wins for the time being.
With Alonso at the wheel, anything is possible, with the two-time world champion not looking this confident since his Ferrari days. And with a fit and firing Stroll to come and a new improved facility with a fancy new wind tunnel, the sky is the limit for the team. The last time the Silverstone team finished on the podium in the opening race of the season was in 1999 at Albert Park when they were still known as Jordan with Heinz-Harald Frentzen at the wheel. That year, Frentzen finished a famous third for the team in the championship and very nearly won the world championship. Oh, and to make things even more interesting, two years later at the same circuit, Alonso made his F1 debut. The year was a yellow one for Team Silverstone back then, and it could be very much a green one in 2023.
Lance Stroll the warrior
Yes, I just mentioned the Canadian above, but anyone who remembers this column from a few years ago would know I’m a massive Lance Stroll defender and fanboy. So of course I’m going to take any opportunity to sing his praises when I can. And how could I not after the weekend he put in?
Lance Stroll (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
Yes, Alonso should get all the praise for his podium, but this is a healthy, fit and firing two-time world champion we’re talking about here. Stroll on the other hand is a midfield journeyman who doesn’t have the best reputation amongst fans, experts and his peers. His performance across the Bahrain weekend though has to do a service to changing some of those minds. Twelve days before the race, Stroll was having surgery on his wrists after a bike accident saw him injure both of them and break a toe. A week before the race he was in a hospital bed barely being able to move. Two days before the race during practice he was visibly struggling driving the car, was removed from the car by his team and many people called for him to be removed and replaced by Aston reserve driver Felipe Drugovich. However, many people seemed to ignore the fact that Lance had set competitive times in those practice sessions and woke up a man possessed on the Saturday, setting fast times once again and qualifying an impressive eighth place, three spots behind his more fancied teammate.
After an unavoidable collision with his teammate at the beginning of the race, he battled hard against the likes of Valtteri Bottas and George Russell, beating both, before pushing Lewis Hamilton hard in the closing stages of the race to claim sixth place, his best-ever start to a F1 season. Despite this, several people seemed to ignore his achievements due to the fact that, well, he’s Lance Stroll. However, the plaudits did come – rightfully so – from the likes of Martin Brundle as well as his teammate Alonso, who even called Stroll “his hero” after his performance. It’s another example of just how skilled the Canadian is and what he is capable of, and a sign to show that he could be a real threat when fully healthy moving forward for constant podiums and even wins should Aston Martin maintain this pace.
Red Bull sends an ominous warning to the rest of the field
Through all the hoopla around Alonso and Aston Martin, Max Verstappen picked up from where he left off in 2022 and won the race in dominant fashion ahead of his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez. The pair really weren’t challenged at all during the race, and their strong pace on both tyre compounds left Ferrari doing what they could to limit the damage.
(Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
Believe it or not, it’s the first time Red Bull have ever finished 1-2 in the opening round of a season, and is the first time the Austrian team has won the opening race since Sebastian Vettel in 2011.
The result that year? An absolute romp to the championship by the German.
The fear has been felt across the entire paddock, with Mercedes’ George Russell even saying they could very well win every race this season.
With a performance like that, it’s hard not to see where Russell is coming from. And given the records smashed last year by the team and Verstappen, who could put it past them to create even more history in 2023?
Another year, another Ferrari disappointment
Okay, okay. It’s only one race. But how can I as a Ferrari fan not feel a sense of déjà vu right about now?
There was some decent pace from the Scuderia across the weekend, with the team looking a chance for pole on Saturday had they decided to go for it. The race pace however just wasn’t there, with Charles Leclerc not being able to match Verstappen in the early stages of the race. From there, Perez got the jump on Leclerc, and it was looking likely for a unspectacular third and fourth for Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz, before the sad but common sight of a Ferrari on the side of the road appeared on our screens and the sad sight of Leclerc broken down emerged once more. Sainz then lost his chance at a podium as the barnstorming Alonso took the final step on the rostrum and finished a disappointing fourth place. Again, it’s one race. There are 22 remaining. But does this not feel all too similar?
Let’s hope this is simply just a blip on the radar and come Saudi Arabia there is a glimmer of hope to allow Ferrari fans, like myself, to once again get a brief sniff of hope before ultimately having it taken away from us once more later in the season.
Disappointment for Piastri as Alpine wins the first battle
All Aussie eyes were on rookie wunderkind Oscar Piastri in Bahrain as many looked to see if the battle over his services last year between Alpine and McLaren were warranted. And while the Melbourne driver didn’t drive a bad weekend, he also didn’t set the world on fire either. Yes, the McLaren isn’t a great car, but he was soundly beaten by teammate Lando Norris and arguably looked the slowest of all three rookies across the weekend. After qualifying in 18th place, Piastri battled his way up the field early before eventually retiring with an electrical issue. It was a bitter blow for the Melbourne driver in what could be a very long season if McLaren’s woes continue. Adding fuel to the fire would be the sight of the man who filled what was meant to be his seat at Alpine, Pierre Gasly, finishing in an impressive ninth place after starting dead last on the grid. Similar to Ferrari, it’s very early days. Very, very early days. And you can’t judge a driver purely on their opening weekend, particularly when circumstances are out of their control. But surely there might’ve been a slight thought of ‘what if’ in the back of Oscar’s mind after the chequered flag in Bahrain. One thing is for certain: I’m sure there was another Aussie with McLaren connections on the side-lines with a bit of a smile on his face after the opening round of the season.
The cars return to the track in anger in Saudi Arabia in two weeks’ time, with no doubt plenty more talking points to come.
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here