The new Formula One season starts with the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.
Here’s some answers to the most important questions of the season to bring you up to speed on everything you need to know for the opening race and beyond.
One reason to root for every team and driver in 2023
Ranking the grid after preseason testing
How many races are there?
This year was set to feature a record 24 races, but the cancellation of the Chinese Grand Prix and the decision not to replace it has lowered that to 23, which remains a record number for one season. Between the first race in Bahrain and final race on Nov. 26 there are just 15 weekends without a grand prix.
The pick of the bunch in terms of the calendar is the penultimate round, the first Las Vegas Grand Prix on Nov. 18.
There’s a race in Vegas?
Down the world-famous strip, no less. The deal bringing Las Vegas to the schedule is audacious and one-of-a-kind, with F1 currently building a four-story, 300-square-foot paddock in the city.
The race itself, the penultimate round of the championship, will be unique. It will take place on Saturday night at 10 p.m. local time (1 a.m. ET). It will be an early Sunday morning race for the European market.
Vegas looks set to be F1’s main attraction race going forward. The city signed an initial three-year deal but has just approved a plan to host a race on the strip for the next 10 years, as it eyes a “lifetime in partnership” with F1.
What other races should I look out for?
F1 returns to Miami for the second race of a 10-year contract. The promoters have promised to improve the off-track spectacle for spectators and have also chosen to move F1’s paddock onto the field of Hard Rock Stadium. Fans will be able to watch goings on from the grandstands in the closest thing you’ll get to a live action “Drive To Survive” episode.
Austin remains on the calendar in October as America’s de facto home of F1, while classic races in Monaco, Silverstone (Great Britain), Spa-Francorchamps (Belgium), Monza (Italy) and Suzuka (Japan) will remain firm fan favourites.
March 5 – Bahrain Grand Prix
March 19 – Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
April 2 – Australian Grand Prix
April 30 – Azerbaijan Grand Prix
May 7 – Miami Grand Prix
May 21 – Emilia Romagna Grand Prix
May 28 – Monaco Grand Prix
June 4 – Spanish Grand Prix
June 18 – Canadian Grand Prix
July 2 – Austrian Grand Prix
July 9 – British Grand Prix
July 23 – Hungarian Grand Prix
July 30 – Belgian Grand Prix
August 27 – Dutch Grand Prix
September 3 – Italian Grand Prix
September 17 – Singapore Grand Prix
September 24 – Japanese Grand Prix
October 8 – Qatar Grand Prix
October 22 – U.S. Grand Prix
October 29 – Mexican Grand Prix
November 5 – Brazilian Grand Prix
November 18 – Las Vegas Grand Prix
November 26 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Will Max Verstappen walk the season again?
Preseason testing suggests Red Bull has the strongest package to start the season. Verstappen’s form was incredible last year; he looked as close to unbeatable as you can get.
One silver lining for rivals is Red Bull’s 10 percent windtunnel penalty, a punishment for a breach of the cost cap in 2021. With Red Bull already allocated the smallest amount of windtunnel time due to winning the title, their car development through the year might be stunted compared to Ferrari or Mercedes. This may well open the door for a close championship fight.
Is this Lewis Hamilton’s last season in F1?
Unlikely, barring a calamitous Mercedes season. Hamilton effectively has a contract offer from Mercedes on the table if he wants to sign it. His current deal runs until the end of 2023, which has prompted speculation he could walk away, but that does not chime with anything he has said to the media recently.
Hamilton is clearly as hungry as ever to win and still feels a great sense of injustice about how he lost the title in 2021. Despite not winning a race last year, we still saw him compete at a high level, and the paddock consensus is that he will continue racing for Mercedes beyond this season.
Will Ferrari get their act together with a new team principal?
That’s certainly what the company’s top bosses are hoping. As likeable as former team principal Mattia Binotto was, a lot went wrong under his watch. His replacement, former Alfa Romeo boss Fred Vasseur, has already shown he is not afraid to make changes, with Ferrari’s chief strategist being moved into a factory role ahead of the first race and a replacement being found to fill his seat on the pit wall.
But strategy wasn’t Ferrari’s only weakness last year, and Vasseur has made clear that F1’s oldest team must continue to evolve and improve in every area. Preseason testing projected an unclear picture about the car’s outright performance and concerns over the way it uses its tyres, but there’s hope that Ferrari was holding something back for this weekend’s season opener in Bahrain.
The Aston Martin looks quick; can Fernando Alonso win this year?
In a normal race with Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes all running trouble free, the answer is no. The car looked good in testing, but good enough to go from mid-grid at the end of last year to the top of the podium this year? It’s incredibly unlikely.
Having said that, shock wins do occasionally happen in F1, and you can guarantee Alonso will be there to take advantage if other teams falter. He hasn’t won an F1 race since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, so he’s undoubtedly fuelled by a decade of wrong moves and near misses. Combined with a semi-competitive car, that makes for an explosive combination capable of snatching a few podium finishes.
Netflix has shown F1 is full of drama behind the scenes. What political topics might grab the headlines this year?
The politics is already in full swing, with FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem making a series of misjudged statements over the winter as well as putting limitations on the way drivers can express personal or political views at races. The latter remains a controversial topic going into the first race in Bahrain, but with Ben Sulayem announcing that he will take a step back from the day-to-day running of F1 this year, it remains to be seen how tight the restrictions will be or how draconian the punishments could be if anyone chooses to speak their mind on controversial topics without prior permission.
The possibility of an 11th team in F1 is also a contentious issue ahead of the new season, with the Andretti family hoping to join the grid with the backing of Cadillac in 2026. F1 and the existing 10 teams seem unwilling to dilute their revenue streams to accommodate a new kid on the block, but if Andretti can stump up a big enough anti-dilution fee, it might change some minds.
Who are the breakout star candidates for 2023?
American audiences will be hoping Logan Sargeant, the first F1 driver from the U.S. since 2015, makes a name for himself in his rookie year with Williams. Unfortunately, the reality is that he’s driving a car that’s unlikely to make it out of the first session of qualifying most weekends and will require a remarkable performance to feature in the top 10. If he can score some good results, it will only add to the growing hype around F1 in the United States, but if you’re looking for the next F1 superstar you’re better off following the rookie season of Oscar Piastri.
McLaren won a tug of war over the Australian’s services for 2023, which saw him named as the replacement for Daniel Ricciardo as early as the summer break last year. As teammate to Lando Norris, he will be going up against a very high benchmark, which could be a situation made even more difficult by the apparent poor performance of the new McLaren MCL60 in testing.
Last but not least on F1’s list of new drivers is the 2020-21 Formula E champion Nyck de Vries, who joins AlphaTauri in 2023. The 28-year-old is more mature than your average rookie (and technically not a rookie after making his F1 debut with Williams last year), and with that comes experience and the potential to hit the ground running to cement his place on the grid for future seasons.