There’s no better time to make sweeping statements about a new Formula One season than the days after the first race.
Mercedes’ George Russell himself made a pretty big one on Sunday evening and the scale of Red Bull’s win made it easy to cast some pretty big judgements about the year to come. We’ll get to Russell’s claim of total Red Bull dominance, but leaving Bahrain there was a clear feeling of something much bigger a little way down the pit-lane.
Here’s a look at four of the biggest generalisations you could make about F1 right now and whether or not they’re valid.
Hamilton might never win again
Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team looks ready to throw in the towel after one race, with team boss Toto Wolff admitting the team has to move on from its controversial ‘zero sidepod’ concept. Is it also calling time on Hamilton’s career as a race victory contender?
Verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION
Hear us out on this one. On the basis of preseason and the opening race, Hamilton and Mercedes seem as far away from winning races as they have been since he joined the team in 2013. Depending on circuit, the former world champions’ most optimistic bet is third in the pecking order behind Red Bull and Ferrari, but you can likely throw Aston Martin’s name in there at a lot of venues this year.
With Toto Wolff needing just one 60-minute qualifying session to decide that a radical change is needed, the 2023 season seems like a write-off. The cost cap limits how much Mercedes can change direction and, even if Mercedes does pull an Aston Martin and design something more in line with the Red Bull, there’s no guarantees doing that will propel them back to the front of the pack. Mercedes experienced the other side of this during its dominant spell, when the teams converging around their leading design still found themselves a year or two behind where they needed to be. Red Bull is a target that is not going to stop moving.
While it still seems highly likely Hamilton will sign an extension beyond this season, there is no cast-iron guarantee he stays at Mercedes or in F1 after 2023. Even if he does, the likelihood of him having a front-running car is fading fast.
This isn’t to say Hamilton has lost any of the ability which helped claim 103 victories, but you only have to look at the man who dominated the headlines in Bahrain to remember that even F1’s greatest drivers can go on winless streaks. When Fernando Alonso won the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, the idea that it would be his last in F1 would have seemed ludicrous. We are nearly a full 10 years away from that moment now. Thanks to a concoction of bad luck, bad cars, and, in Alonso’s case, poor career choices, he’s not been back to the top step of an F1 podium since (although that could change in 2023).
So yes, there’s a chance Max Verstappen’s last-lap overtake on Hamilton in Abu Dhabi 2021 not only denied him an eighth title, but also his best chance at win number 104.
Lewis Hamilton’s days as race-winning F1 driver might be over. Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Red Bull can win all 23 races
After the race Russell said Red Bull already has the title sewn up and should win every race this season, given its hugely superior race pace.
Russell’ s quote made headlines but regardless of how good a car is, it’s overblown. Yes, Verstappen’s Bahrain Grand Prix win — and the week of preseason leading into it — was the most one-sided start to an F1 campaign in recent memory. At the Bahrain International Circuit, at least, Red Bull was on a different planet to the rest in terms of race pace.
As Red Bull’s Christian Horner said on Sunday evening, 23 races is a marathon and there’s bound to be some bumps in the road for the team, even if it does win the title comfortably. Red Bull’s advantage will ebb and flow as the season progresses and there are always unforseen events, safety cars, strategy gambles, which can create surprise results. Ferrari also still appears to be closer to Red Bull over one lap and at circuits like Monaco, where overtaking is at a premium, it might fancy its chances of some wins.
Mercedes very quietly harboured hopes in some of the early V6 turbo era years of winning every race on the calendar, but soon discovered it is impossible to have a wrinkle-free season regardless of how good your car is. So it is an overreaction — but the fact Russell felt so convinced saying it says everything you need to know about how far ahead Red Bull is right now.
Alonso will finish best of the rest behind the Red Bulls
Fernando Alonso’s return to the podium was the big on-track story from the weekend and vindicated the hype around the Aston Martin car, even if he was helped by a late Ferrari car issue.
Verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION
Barring a 2023 title challenge, there’s not many statements you can make about Aston Martin or Alonso which seem overblown right now.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc would have been on the podium had his car not failed but it was notable that Alonso so comfortably beat the second red car of Carlos Sainz. There are still question-marks around Ferrari’s race operation, despite the arrival of new boss Fred Vasseur, and the car failure in Bahrain was a worrying start to a campaign that was supposed to be all about renewal. Until we know if that was simply a case of bad luck or a sign of things to come, this statement is an easier one to stand behind.
Aston Martin also has the resources to aggressively develop this year and Alonso has said on numerous occasions there is plenty more potential to unlock in the car, given how much of it is new from last year. Even if Ferrari does keep its car second best in terms of raw pace, you can expect the Aston Martin to be in that mix.
A key part in making this verdict is one of Alonso’s clear strengths, his incredible consistency. The Spaniard has become renowned for maximising results, especially in the decade since his last race win, and clearly this year he is going to be grabbing points wherever he can across the year.
Wins might be hard to come by on merit but, if he keeps his car in the right position to capitalise on drama up front Alonso has every chance of ending that victory drought this year.
Fernando Alonso on the podium is a sight we could see a lot of in 2023. Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images
McLaren will be lucky to finish top six
McLaren’s opening race was brutal. Oscar Piastri retired with a gearbox failure on his first F1 race, while Lando Norris spent the race battling not to be in last position.
Bahrain was bad for McLaren — really bad. From the moment the team arrived in the desert for preseason testing it was in full damage limitation mode, with everyone, team CEO Zak Brown, team boss Andreas Stella, the drivers, the staff serving drinks at hospitality, you name it, all saying the team was braced for a rough start to the season. Design targets were not met over the winter and the team knew it was a long way behind where it needed to be.
But this is a remake of a movie McLaren has starred in before. Twelve months ago, the team endured a similarly dreadful opening race as it struggled with its brakes and arrived at the opening race lacking in testing mileage. McLaren’s outlook for 2022 looked bleak and, on the basis of the opening race, 12 months on 2023 looks even bleaker.
But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. McLaren has a big upgrade planned for Baku and last year it was able to upgrade its way out of a hole and fight Alpine for fourth the constructors’ championship. McLaren has the resources and the pedigree to do something similar again, while also boasting a very good driver lineup in Norris and Piastri, so once it has weathered the storm of the opening races it should find itself back in the midfield.