Written by Archie O'Reilly, Edited by Simran Kanthi
Disclaimer: All predictions were made before the 2023 F1 Pre-Season Testing in Bahrain
With car launches and pre-season testing completed, the hype for the 2023 Formula One season is building and the DIVEBOMB team will release their predictions day by day until the Bahrain Grand Prix. Continuing our series is Archie O’Reilly, writer for DIVEBOMB.
Drivers’ Champion: Lewis Hamilton
Max Verstappen was imperious in 2022, coming away with his second Formula 1 championship and winning a single-season record 15 races. The Dutchman would hereby be an obvious pick to win his third successive championship. But, if it can ever be bold picking seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton as the 2023 champion, then I have gone bold here.
Mercedes’ issues in 2022 were well-documented. An inherent issue in the W13 put them on the back foot from the very start of the season, and Hamilton was often used by the team to test for the best set-up to mitigate the problems with their car early in the season given his experience in the team comparative to George Russell, who was in his first season with Mercedes. This often gave Russell the upper hand in an admittedly really strong maiden season with the Silver Arrows, in which he ultimately ousted Hamilton in the points standings.
But, as the season progressed, even though Russell won in Brazil and Hamilton failed to get a race win or pole position, Hamilton proved his worth, including three second-place finishes in the last four races. He also managed to pick up five consecutive podiums between Canada and Hungary, when the car was still emerging from its highly problematic phase. If Mercedes can eradicate the inherent issue from their car ahead of this season and Hamilton can continue to show the pace he ended 2022 with, it would be hard to bet against him putting up a big fight for his eighth championship. He will also likely be more motivated than ever when he has machinery capable of winning races again given the perceived injustice of the climax to the 2021 season.
Constructors’ Champion: Mercedes
The rationale behind my choice of Mercedes as the constructors' champion is similar to that behind my pick of Lewis Hamilton as the drivers’ champion. Winning eight successive championships prior to 2022, Mercedes are well proven as expert operators in the sport. And while last year was significantly substandard given Mercedes’ pedigree as a team, it will likely have been a year that will prove beneficial in the long run - a season that will have pulled the team further together as they worked to overcome the inherent issue with their car.
If Mercedes can prevent making such an error so early in the development process this season, it is very easy to foresee them finding their way back to the top of the standings. Even with the problem ingrained in their car, they managed to improve significantly late last season, picking up a one-two in Brazil as George Russell took his maiden victory. With more wind tunnel time, having finished below Red Bull and Ferrari last season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Mercedes make a greater leap than their rivals. Factoring in the fact they have arguably the strongest driver pairing on the grid, including a seven-time world champion, I find it hard to look away from Mercedes as my pick for constructors’ champion - so long as they do recover performance and maintain consistency with that.
Flop: Nico Hulkenberg
Picking a ‘flop of the year’ is difficult - in part because it is hard to define exactly what constitutes a flop. Eventually, I came to the decision of picking Nico Hulkenberg, albeit I would prefer to label my expectation as him ‘underperforming’ relative to expectations rather than ‘flopping’. I have previously written about my thoughts on Haas’ choice to drop Mick Schumacher, in turn losing a young driver who was showing signs of improvement - all in favour of a driver 12 years his senior. Haas’ intentions are clear: they are aiming for stability through the acquisition of an experienced driver. However, given the trajectory Schumacher appeared to be on and the fact that Hulkenberg has gone three seasons without a full-time race seat, I can see this move not working out quite how Haas intended.
Hulkenberg’s career has often been a case of ‘what might have been’, with glimmers of a supremely talented driver but his potential never completely reached. Now 35 years old and without having driven regularly for some time, it is difficult to see much further development. Haas will hope Hulkenberg can help them score points on a more consistent basis, which he has proven capable of. However, in his last full season in 2019, he was outperformed by teammate Daniel Ricciardo and struggled somewhat as he managed to finish only 14th in the championship for Renault. He will have to be at his highest level to offer Haas, who have struggled for consistency in recent years, the stability they desire.
Surprise: Oscar Piastri
Would Oscar Piastri having a strong rookie season be a surprise? Well, maybe not to those that have followed his career closely. But, after a year without a drive, it is easy to forget the Aussie’s talent, hence why I have decided to name him as my predicted ‘surprise of the year’.
Daniel Ricciardo endured a tough two years as Lando Norris’ teammate for McLaren - 45 and 75 points behind the Brit in 2021 and 2022 respectively. And, despite this being his maiden season as a Formula 1 driver, I am backing Piastri to reduce the gap to Norris. There is little doubt that Norris is a generational talent, so the task will be tough for Piastri, especially considering a driver of Ricciardo’s pedigree couldn’t make any inroads against him. But, with consecutive championship wins in Formula 3 and Formula 2, each in his debut season, Piastri could very well fall in this category too.
It remains to be seen how fast he will adapt to driving F1 machinery after a year without driving in any series, plus the true performance levels of the McLaren car have to be established. But he has been a very fast learner in other categories, which is massively important for rookies as they look to make an immediate impression and is a big reason why I have selected Piastri as my surprise package for the 2023 season. I don’t expect him to have the edge on Norris by any means, but once he is up to speed, I do foresee him being more competitive with his teammate than Ricciardo was.
Most improved: Zhou Guanyu
Silence fell upon Silverstone Circuit as Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo car hurtled, upside down, towards the catch fence across the Abbey runoff at speed before finding its way over the tyre barrier as it righted itself. Zhou was an innocent party in an unfortunate coming together with George Russell, and it was a misfortune that defined what was otherwise actually a fairly strong rookie season. Six points and an 18th-place championship finish were not an accurate representation of Zhou’s form across his maiden season in Formula 1 for a somewhat resurgent Alfa Romeo team.
The Chinese driver often competed towards and within the points-scoring positions, making the odd error typical of a rookie but more frequently falling foul to issues out of his control. He suffered five DNFs across the season, including four in a six-race period between Miami and Silverstone - harsh so early on in his F1 career. Alfa Romeo suffered several reliability issues despite an upturn in performance, with three of Zhou’s retirements due to technical issues (and the other two after crashes that were by no means his fault).
A driver will always improve in their second season, and Zhou has had the experience of Valtteri Bottas to learn from too. With his maiden season stronger than his championship finish suggested, it is easy to see Zhou considerably improving on his six-point haul this time around, especially if Alfa Romeo can improve the reliability of their car while at least maintaining a similar performance level. If he can’t improve, Theo Pourchaire will no doubt be waiting in the wings - added incentive for Zhou.
Hot take: Sergio Perez to lose his Red Bull seat
Sergio Perez signed a two-year contract extension with Red Bull following the Monaco Grand Prix victory last year, seeing him remain with the team until the end of the 2024 season. However, after teammate Max Verstappen failed to give up a position in the Brazilian Grand Prix - when he was already world champion - to aid Perez’s bid to finish second in the standings, tensions within the team came to light. Things had always seemed amicable between the pair, but there were ambiguous suggestions from Verstappen that there had been some wrongdoing on Perez’s part at some point during the season, alleged to be intentionally crashing in qualifying in Monaco.
While no number one driver has ever been explicitly outlined as being the number one at Red Bull, it has long been evident that Verstappen is essentially the lead driver. And if there is disharmony within the camp, and discontent between the drivers, that escalates further this season, you could see Perez’s future coming under threat. He won two races in 2022, proving able to perform if Verstappen wasn’t on hand to win, but there was still concerning inconsistency at times in a Red Bull car that was class of the field. Daniel Ricciardo is back at Red Bull as a reserve driver, and while he appears to be relishing a break, he could be waiting in the wings if Perez is to lose his seat for either performance or team ethic reasons.
And these are my 2023 F1 predictions. Let us know yours below!