The Four Drivers Set To Define The 2023 F1 Season

The Four Drivers Set To Define The 2023 F1 Season

Eoin Harrington By Eoin Harrington

F1 in 2022 was all about one man - Max Verstappen. The Dutchman romped to the world championship with Red Bull, and it's hard to look past #33 for the season ahead.

The chasing pack may have something to say about that, though - and there are three others in particular, alongside Verstappen, who will be determined to make 2023 their year.

F1 2023: Four men will define this year's championship

Max Verstappen: In the pantheon of the F1 gods?

Back-to-back world championships at only 25 years old. Only two drivers have ever won their first two championships at a younger age than Max Verstappen has, after his 2021 and 2022 crowns.

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen immediately after claiming the 2021 world championship at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Photo: Shutterstock)

And, coming in to 2023, who's to say it won't be three at 26? Verstappen was untouchable last season, even after Ferrari bolted out of the blocks at the opening rounds. He broke numerous records for the season, winning 16 races (the most ever in a single year) and sealing the championship with four rounds to spare.

The cost cap breach by Red Bull has led to some pretty stern punishment, with the world champions' wind tunnel testing time dramatically reduced for 2023, meaning in-season development could be their downfall in the race for the title.


But they start the season with such an evidently rapid car that that may not even prove to be an issue. Red Bull have far and away the fastest and most reliable car on the grid ahead of 2023 and, with Verstappen only getting better every year, it's looking more than likely it will be championship number three for the Dutchman.

A third consecutive "threepeat" title would see Verstappen match an achievement only held by Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Juan Manuel Fangio, and Sebastian Vettel. Hard to argue he's not in that "all-timer" tier then.

Charles Leclerc: Champion at last?

It's 16 years since Ferrari won a drivers' championship. If anyone is going to do it, it might just be Charles Leclerc.


You'd imagine, though, that Leclec was left feeling pretty deflated by how 2022 ended up for him and his team. Pole position at six of the first eight races was converted into just two race wins, both off the back of misfortune for Max Verstappen.

He would end the season with just three race wins all year, and very nearly missed out on even finishing in second place to Sergio Perez at the season's conclusion.

Charles Leclerc Max Verstappen

2022 saw Charles Leclerc chasing Max Verstappen's tail for most of the season (Photo: Shutterstock)

Of course, Ferrari have been here before with bungling title battles, and their strategy and reliability issues contributed significantly. But mistakes from Leclerc were also present at crucial points, and he lacked the decisiveness of teammate Carlos Sainz at crunch times when it came ot strategy. To really push for that first championship, it's not just Ferrari who will need to improve.

Leclerc is bloody fast. Nobody in F1 doubts this. He is probably the only member of the younger generation on - or at least close to - the level of Max Verstappen, and he deserves to take it all the way. 2023 will, incredibly, be year five at Ferrari for Charles.


2022 was on a par with 2019 as his most impressive year yet, and it will have been a learning experience, but he has been there long enough now for excuses to be running thin for both team and driver. Up against Max Verstappen and Red Bull, he cannot depend on fortune.

Lewis Hamilton: The history-making comeback?

On the opposite end of the championship scale to Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton will be wondering if time is running out in his hunt for the elusive eighth world championship.

#8 would be history for Hamilton, and make him definitively the most successful F1 driver of all-time - but, after 2022, dreams of a championship feel about as far away as they ever have for the Brit.


Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes are back in black for 2023, and Lewis Hamilton will hope that sees a return to their form of 2020 and '21 (Photo: Shutterstock)

Abu Dhabi '21 will be remembered as the one that got away, but that's a well worn story and we won't get into that - Hamilton was himself fortunate to win his first title in 2008.


Hamilton's 2022 was his first ever winless season in the sport, and saw him lose to a teammate for just the third time in his career. What will have raised eyebrows is that the previous two were world champions (Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg), whereas '22 saw Hamilton defeated by George Russell in his first year at Mercedes.

Regardless, the team were miles off their traditionally expected performance of the hybrid era, with just one race win all year. That being said, there were several missed opportunities - Hamilton probably should have won at least one of the Spanish, British, Dutch, American, or Mexican GPs.

Despite the difficulties in 2022, Hamilton seems committed to F1 and Mercedes, as he clocks past 38 and enters his 17th year in the sport.

Mercedes seem a touch off Red Bull and Ferrari entering the new season - but not as far behind as at the outset of last season, and their in-season development is famously the best on the grid. Hamilton has pulled out some of the greatest F1 championship seasons of all time in the past - if he can claim title number eight in 2023, it might just be his greatest ever.

Fernando Alonso: The old dog with a few tricks up his sleeve?

41-year-old Fernando Alonso has one podium since 2014. The last time he won a race was in May 2013. He has not won a championship since 2005. And yet, his is one of the most exciting storylines on the grid going into 2023.

He caught the F1 world totally unawares by announcing his impromptu departure from Alpine last summer, jumping ship to the unfancied Aston Martin in the wake of Sebastian Vettel's shock retirement.

It seems as though Alonso has played a masterstroke.

Fernando Alonso

It will take some time to adjust to seeing Alonso in Aston Martin green (Photo: Shutterstock)

It's hard to predict with full confidence where exactly Aston Martin will fit in the 2023 running order, but it seems fairly certain they will at the very least be in the top five and mixing it with Mercedes to begin the season.

They look to have built one of the fastest cars on the grid for 2023 - as backed up by Friday's FP1 session, which saw Alonso take P2. They only got faster as 2022 went on so, with a good base to their 2023 package, they will hope they can at least replicate the form of their days as Racing Point.

"Mission 33" has been an oft-discussed topic around Alonso, who has spent 10 years chasing that elusive 33rd race win at Ferrari, McLaren, and Alpine. The later stages of his career have been defined by poor decision making. He left Ferrari just before they improved to rejoin McLaren just as they fell off the cliff, then left McLaren at the close of 2018 just before their fortunes turned once again.

He has now made the most audacious move yet of his career - and it looks to be the first in a decade that might just pay off. Don't expect Fernando to win his 3rd F1 title this year but, if he manages to take a race win (which would place him in the top 10 of oldest ever race winners) it will almost certainly be one of the biggest F1 stories of 2023.

The chasing pack of F1 2023

And then the rest. It seems strange to have excluded three men who made up last season's top five, and we can still expect big things from all of Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz, and George Russell in 2023.

Elsewhere, the return of Nico Hulkenberg to the sport sees a highly competitive driver line-up at Haas alongside Kevin Magnussen, while an all-French line-up at Alpine could produce fireworks between Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon.

Oscar Piastri will have to prove he was worth the hype of his contentious entry into the sport in a McLaren that looks set to struggle for pace in the opening rounds, while we think we can rely on Valtteri Bottas for pretty consistently solid results in what looks to be a fast Alfa Romeo.

Qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix gets underway on Saturday afternoon, and lights out on Sunday comes at 3pm. Let the madness begin once again.

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