This weekend, on March 5th, the creme-de-la-creme of motor-racing – Formula 1 season kicks off in Bahrain. Let’s quickly go over what’s new this season.
New faces, new opportunities
Rumors and movement in the driver’s market kicked off already in the middle of last season and during the winter break, many moves were finalized. Sebastian Vettel has retired, Daniel Ricciardo is back in Red Bull, but this time as the third driver, Nicholas Latifi is finally out of the grid and Mick Schumacher joins the Mercedes test driver line-up.
Pierre Gasly switched the AlphaTauri seat to Alpine. Nyck de Vries will finally get his chance in his place, after putting on an impressive performance last season when he did only one stint in the sluggish Williams, yet came home with two points.
The legendary Fernando Alonso will jump into Vettel’s seat in Aston Martin and Haas swapped out Schumacher with the experienced Nico Hülkenberg, who has 181 starts in F1 under his belt.
Joining the grid for the first time are the Australian Oscar Piastri (McLaren) and the American Logan Sargeant (Williams), who both displayed good pace last year in F2.
Team principals also swapped places. Fred Vasseur made his way from Alfa Romeo to Ferrari after Mattia Binotto was sacked. Ferrari’s racing engineer Andrea Stella left for McLaren. James Vowles, Mercedes’ strategist for nearly 13 years, was brought on by Williams and finally, Alfa Romeo hired Alessandro Alunni Bravi as Vasseur’s replacement.
Las Vegas is back
The 2023 F1 season will consist of 23 races and conclude on November 26 in Abu Dhabi. After a one-year hiatus, we’ll again get to enjoy the Qatar Grand Prix and after a 51-year-long break, the Las Vegas GP returns. This means the USA will have already 3 races: Miami, Austin, and Las Vegas.
More sprint races
The 2021 season saw the introduction of sprint races. Whereas both past seasons featured 3 sprints per season, this time around we’ll see 6. The format is simple – the starting grid for the sprint is determined during the Friday qualification run, the total distance is a third of a standard GP, and points are awarded to only the TOP 8. First place gets 8 points, second 7 points, and so forth. The starting grid for the main race on Sunday is based on the sprint race results on Saturday.
Smaller cost cap
F1 uses a similar cost cap to the US professional sports leagues, that regulates how much teams can spend on each race and each season. Note that this doesn’t cover the entire budget, such as driver’s salaries, marketing, traveling, etc. Simply put, everything that’s directly related to the car itself is calculated in the cost cap.
Last year’s cap was initially set at 140 million USD but was later bumped to 142,5 due to high inflation. This year we start at 135, but it’s again quite likely we’ll see an increase later on in the season.
Porpoising and experimenting with tires
After porpoising dominated the headlines in the first half of the 2022 F1 season, the FIA has made some changes to help eradicate the issue. Whereas most teams overcame the issue rather quickly, Mercedes struggled with it for the most part of the season. So much so, that Lewis Hamilton developed back issues. To fix the phenomenon, the minimal ride height has been raised by 15mm this season.
For two qualifying sessions, F1 will experiment with tire selection, when all drivers will be required to use hard tires during Q1, medium compounds in Q2, and soft tires in Q3. For each type, drivers only get 2 sets for the Qualification with the idea behind it being softer (and faster) tires left over for the race itself.
All in all, the changes between the seasons are more modest this time around, compared to the start of last season. Still, F1 fans have many things to look forward to. Can Ferrari overcome their tactical and strategic mistakes from last season? Can Mercedes again compete for GP wins? Will Max Verstappen continue to dominate the races? Get ready, because already this weekend, it’s “lights out and away we go!”