Posted on February 25, 2023
Last year, Max Verstappen and Red Bull put together one of the most dominant performances in the history of the sport.
But, with the addition of new drivers, new sponsors, and new tracks for the 2023 campaign, there are numerous narratives to follow.
I break down the Top 5 Storylines of the Formula 1 Season here and provide analysis on each as the first race of the year rapidly approaches.
1. Will Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes return to form?Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes saw their seven-year span of dominance come to an end last season.
The driver with the most wins in the history of Formula 1 failed to get a victory in 2022, snapping a streak that saw Hamilton post a win in every season of his career.
While the downturn in the strength of his Mercedes car was mostly to blame, his teammate George Russell managed to secure a first-place finish in his maiden year with the organization.
At the beginning of the year, Russell was noticeably outperforming Hamilton and looked far more comfortable in the questionable Mercedes.
As the season went on, the greatest driver in Formula 1 history slowly but surely began to return to form.
Arguably entering the 2023 campaign with the highest amount of motivation in his career, Hamilton is a force to be reckoned with. He is the only driver with enough natural talent to theoretically depose Verstappen.
But, the key to a stronger year for Hamilton is the improvement of his Mercedes car. The team gambled on its car design last year and it failed spectacularly.
Team Principal Toto Wolf managed to finesse the FIA into changing the regulations midseason which dramatically helped Mercedes regain competitiveness.
Yet, the underlying flaw in the car that causes so much bouncing could remain in 2023.
Unless the German super team can get its development and technical issues resolved, Hamilton might once again lack the firepower to legitimately challenge Red Bull and Verstappen.
2. Will Max Verstappen continue his dominance?Max Verstappen had one of the most dominant seasons in Formula 1 history with 15 wins during the 2022 campaign.
The Dutchman was unbeatable in his Red Bull, a perfect combination of the series’ top car and top driver.
His 15 victories passed the previous record of 13 that was held by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.
Entering a new year, is there anyone who can realistically prevent him from winning his third-straight championship? The answer is almost guaranteed to be No—unless Red Bull takes a dramatic step backward.
Adrian Newey is the aeronautics guru behind the Red Bull design, and the team’s takeover of the engine developed by Honda has paid dividends.
Combined with the organization’s flawless tactical decision-making and execution along with effective political gamesmanship by Team Principal Christian Horner, the Austrian team is head and shoulders above Ferrari and Mercedes.
But dynasties don’t last forever.
Last year, Mercedes desperately lobbied Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, to change the regulations midseason to address the violent bouncing known as “porpoising” that some teams were experiencing.
While the rule change didn’t harm Red Bull as much as Ferrari, it’s virtually promised that teams will once again be lobbying the FIA to change the rules to adversely affect their competition.
Protests are made almost weekly against rival cars, designs, equipment, and anything else that teams view as breaking the rules.
With Red Bull at such a dominant level, the only true threat to its reign in 2023 might be a political victory by Mercedes or Ferrari.
Yet, with arguably the most skilled lobbyist in Christian Horner at the helm, it’s unlikely that Red Bull loses its grip on the top spot this year.
3. Will Ferrari fix their poor decision-making?Last season, Ferrari made countless blunders that cost it a handful of races. From incorrect pit strategy calls to tactical mistakes during qualifying, the Italian team could not get out of its own way.
Needing to take action, Ferrari moved on from former Team Principal Mattia Binotto and brought in Fred Vasseur to lead the way.
Whether or not the change at the top makes any difference is one of the main questions heading into the new season.
The most famous team on the grid dealt with reliability issues last year. But, when the car didn’t fail it was easily one of the fastest on the track.
The four wins in 2022 were the team’s highest since winning six in 2018.
To put the turnaround into perspective, Ferrari won just three races between 2019 and 2021 after dealing with the fallout from an engine scandal that the FIA ruled was illegal.
Forced to re-engineer their machine, the Italian squad is finally back on track.
Still, Ferrari has not won a Constructor Championship since 2008 and is approaching nearly two decades of underperformance. Fortunately, they appear to have the car and driver lineup to return to the Glory Days.
That turns most of the attention to Vasseur who will be assigned the tactical decision-making and execution responsibilities that were Ferrari’s kryptonite last year.
If he can keep F1’s oldest team out of its own way and put his drivers in a position to take advantage of their machinery, this could be the year Ferrari finally breaks through.
4. Will Haas take a step forward?The lone American team in Formula One has renewed expectations with the addition of MoneyGram and Chipotle as sponsors.
Gene Haas and Team Principal Guenther Steiner made the bold decision to let go of former driver Mick Schumacher and bring in a seasoned veteran in Nico Hulkenberg.
Combined with last season’s surprisingly improved car, the new blood at the sponsorship and driver level makes the US-based team appear rejuvenated. The question becomes: Can they continue to develop the car further?
The way the regulations work in Formula 1 allows for teams with slower cars to have more developmental time in an attempt to bring parity across the field.
Haas remains near the bottom of the barrel and therefore will once again enjoy a developmental advantage over its immediate peers.
With a very close relationship with Ferrari, the team essentially acts as a developmental wing of the Italian team that finished second in the Constructor’s Championship last year.
Eyebrows were raised at the relationship during the 2022 season, with some even calling the Haas a “White Ferrari” due to the similarities between the cars.
Whether or not the relationship is “fair play” or runs afoul of the regulations is somewhat irrelevant. Formula One, and auto racing in general, is premised on finding advantages in the gray areas of the rules.
All the teams do it and Haas’s relationship with Ferrari is arguably at a critical inflection point during the 2023 season.
If the relationship doesn’t result in a noticeably improved car, why wouldn’t Gene Haas begin exploring options with the likes of Porsche, Honda, or even GM moving forward?
5. Will Logan Sargeant meet expectations?The return of an American driver to Formula 1 brings immense pressure on Logan Sargeant.
The Florida native is bankrolled by his uncle Harry Sargeant III, a billionaire shipping magnate with ties to US Military contracts.
Essentially, Sargeant brought his own sponsorship to Williams Racing through Stephens, an Arkansas-based financial services firm.
While the American sponsor’s alignment with the rookie is a positive sign for his future, it’s fair to call Sargeant a “pay-driver” that is arguably only there due to the money he brings.
Such a classification puts him under an even greater microscope. Any crashes in practice or races could sour his reputation and reinforce the perception that he is only there due to money.
But that particular dichotomy of his image will probably only be known within the dedicated F1 community.
For most Americans new to the sport or those with only a passive interest, Sargeant will primarily be put on a proverbial pedestal and heralded as the sign of the new age in Formula One.
Still, he will need to at least stay competitive with his teammate Alexander Albon to gain respect among his peers and the media.
Staying within a couple of tenths of a second with Albon in qualifying will be considered a success, and any race finishes in the Top 10 will be legitimate accomplishments.
Whether or not Sargeant lives up to the expectations remains to be seen.
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