Here comes the first race of the 2023 F1 season, with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 6. But as we head into a new year on the grid, the question must be asked: will Max Verstappen tick off an elusive three-peat? Or will somebody finally beat the reigning champion?
Heading into the first race of the season, there seems to be a collective understanding that Verstappen is the man to beat this season – a consensus that is unsurprising given his record 15 F1 wins last year.
How are Red Bull going ahead of Bahrain?
Verstappen and Red Bull have enjoyed a strong start to the year, showing both reliability and speed in their first three days of training at Sakhir ahead of the first F1 GP for 2023.
The reigning champ doesn’t seem too worried ahead of the first GP of the season, saying he is in “a very positive place” right now.
“It’s been very good,” Verstappen said of his performance. “I think the car is working really well. Just going through a lot of things that we wanted to try. It’s very interesting what we have been trying.
“There are quite a few differences on the car. Definitely drives a bit different, but I think that’s also related to the tyres. But overall, I think it’s definitely an improvement to last year.
“I think after last year, the philosophy of the car in general didn’t really change. Just trying to find more performance on it. I think all the things that we have on the car are well thought out and tested well on the simulator as well. There’s nothing really rushed or things on the car that we know are slower. Everything that we put on the car is faster.”
But if last season taught us anything, it’s that Verstappen is well equipped to recover, even if he does have a shaky start to the year.
“Our goal is to win and win the championship only,” he said.
Who could beat Max Verstappen in the 2023 F1 season?
Max Verstappen is undeniably the favourite heading into the 2023 F1 season, and by a country mile with virtually every expert confirming it is unlikely that anyone will dethrone the flying Dutchman this year.
Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton are also among the favourites for the F1 2023 Drivers Championship, but realistically, it is Verstappen’s title to lose at this point.
Although he didn’t win Bahrain last year, Verstappen is the strong favourite for the opening GP of the 2023 season, followed by Leclerc and Hamilton again (who dealt with major issues with Mercedes).
How are Leclerc and Hamilton preparing for F1 2023?
While Verstappen is the favourite by a country mile, his competitors aren’t ready to give up the fight just yet – and will go to extreme measures to give it their best shot.
For Ferrari’s Leclerc, this meant “extreme training” at Val Gardena in the Italian Dolomites — including gym sessions, skiing, ice climbing and more intense preparation to have him ready to redeem himself after last year’s fall from grace.
“The non-stop gym every day for a week like this, that’s a training camp,” he said.
“We try to squeeze as much training as possible, because then once it’s done then the activities of pre-season starts – testing quite a lot of media activities to prepare the launch of the new car, so not much free time anymore.
In his pre-season vlog, he asserted that he will “be dead at the end” of his training, but it is all in the pursuit of winning the title.
“In the end, winning is what motivates me and in 2022, we didn’t make it but I’m planning to do it this year,” he said.
Hamilton also opted for an icy off-season, but instead of training his heart out in Italy, he relaxed on a luxurious cruise through Antarctica with a bunch of other a-listers.
Ahead of Bahrain, Hamilton has acknowledged that beating Verstappen will be no small feat, but welcomes the challenge.
“It’s been an interesting few days, it’s never easy,” Hamilton said. “There’s been a lot of discovery.
“We realise that we have a mountain to climb and no one’s fussed, everyone has just kept their heads down so I’m really proud of that.”
However, he did note that the team is “not quite where we want to be” ahead of Bahrain.
“We have some things we need to work on, it’s still not perfect and we’re still not able to match the Red Bulls, or the Ferraris, currently,” he said.
“Who knows where we’ll be next week, we’ll just try to stay positive.”
Verstappen refuses to get too confident
Despite the overwhelming majority of people believing that Verstappen is a shoo-in for the Drivers Championship, Max has refused to get too comfortable with the idea.
“I don’t think about being the favourites, you have to keep on working and improving,” he said at the Red Bull launch in New York recently.
“If you are not, they will catch up and they will overtake you. As a team we keep trying to find performance and we want to keep winning, that’s why we are in F1. Of course we are optimistic but we have to keep on working.”