New faces around the F1 paddock: How will the rookies perform in 2023?
Written by Mario Rodríguez, Edited by Sameena Khan
With every new Formula 1 season, something that is almost always talked about before it even starts are the rookies, the drivers who will contest their first season in the sport.
2022 saw Zhou Guanyu make a solid debut season with Alfa Romeo. Some others have struggled, such as Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin in 2021, although it has been argued that the Haas car was not ideal for starting an F1 career. And sometimes, a particular group of rookies stands out from the others for showing tremendous talent and exceeding expectations, such as the 2019 generation, represented by George Russell, Lando Norris and Alexander Albon, or the 2001 group, with Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya and Enrique Bernoldi. I believe next year’s rookies, Oscar Piastri, Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant, are three very talented drivers who have what it takes to become solid F1 drivers. However, they will face complex challenges in their first season in the sport. And in this article, I will explain how I expect them to perform in 2023.
Oscar Piastri had one of the most impressive feeder series careers in recent years, taking back-to-back championships in Formula 3 and Formula 2, both with Prema and as a rookie. However, he could not find a seat to join the 2022 F1 grid. He was a member of the Renault/Alpine academy, but Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon occupied their seats. As the F2 champion can’t race again in the category, the Australian became a reserve driver for Alpine in the 2022 season, hoping to join the grid the following year, as well as being an option for McLaren in case they needed a stand-in replacement. With Alonso’s contract extension seeming close, he was rumoured to depart on loan to Williams. However, everything changed when Alonso unexpectedly left Alpine and signed for Aston Martin. Everyone assumed Piastri would be promoted, but he denied it after Alpine officially announced his signing in one of the most significant talking points of the season.
After a legal dispute, Piastri was announced as an official F1 driver for McLaren, replacing Daniel Ricciardo.
He drove an F1 car for the first time in October 2020 in a test with Renault in Bahrain in which Zhou Guanyu and Christian Lundgaard, members of the Renault Academy, also took part. The following year, after taking his F2 title, he took part in the post season young drivers' test in Abu Dhabi and tested the 2021 Alpine car in three separate sessions throughout the 2022 season. However, he didn’t participate in Free Practice sessions with the Enstone-based team. After McLaren signed him, he took part in a private test in Paul Ricard, as well as reaching an agreement with Alpine to terminate his contract early, allowing him to take part in the Yas Marina young driver testing sessions with the Woking structure.
The Australian is undoubtedly one of the most exciting young drivers we’ve had in years, as he has shown incredible speed and adaptability throughout his junior career. But he will have another incredibly talented driver to compete against, Lando Norris, who has been one of the most impressive drivers in the midfield this year, perhaps only alongside Alonso. Norris has been the only driver to achieve a podium outside the top 3 teams and has performed much better than teammate Ricciardo for the last two seasons. Granted, we don’t know how much of this can be attributed to Norris’ speed more than Ricciardo himself struggling with the car, but it is an indicator of what can happen next year. However, Piastri seems to be able to adapt to new vehicles exceptionally quickly, and if he continues to do so, he might give Norris a good fight. And, while I expect Norris to finish ahead in the standings, I believe the battle will be close. In my opinion, one of the in-team battles to keep an eye on next year.
Nyck de Vries/AlphaTauri
Nyck de Vries is no stranger to Formula 1 fans, having been part of the McLaren Junior Academy for almost a decade and already driven various F1 cars. Now 27 years old, the Dutchman won the Formula 2 Championship in 2019, his third season, but couldn't land a seat in the sport. And just like Piastri, he became a reserve driver- for the mighty Mercedes team, nonetheless, taking part in the 2020 Abu Dhabi post-season test for the Brackley team, which signed him as a reserve driver for 2021 alongside Stoffel Vandoorne. But de Vries didn’t just wait on the sidelines for an open seat, as he signed as a driver for Mercedes’ Formula E team in late 2019 (with Vandoorne as his teammate) and won the 2020-21 championship, as well as competing in endurance racing.
De Vries was rumoured to be in contention to become an F1 driver with Williams for 2022 following George Russel’s departure, but ultimately it was Alex Albon who got the seat. However, de Vries made his official F1 debut with Williams in Free Practice for the 2022 Spanish GP and later did the same with Mercedes in France. He took part in another practice session in Monza, driving for Aston Martin, when he was unexpectedly required to stand in for Alex Albon, who was suffering from appendicitis. Williams had a surprisingly good pace that weekend, and the Dutchman finished his first race in 9th, taking two points which put him momentarily ahead of full-time driver Nicholas Latifi in the standings. That didn’t go unnoticed by Red Bull, who were looking for a driver to replace Pierre Gasly in AlphaTauri, since the French driver was very close to leaving the structure and moving to Alpine. Therefore, as Alpine announced the signing of Gasly during the Japanese GP weekend, AlphaTauri announced de Vries as their new driver for the 2023 season alongside Yuki Tsunoda.
The Dutchman will be 28 years old by the time the season starts, quite an unusual age for a driver in their rookie season in F1. However, his experience will help him to adapt to the new car quickly. Meanwhile, experience is what Tsunoda has been lacking since he got to F1. He only raced in F2 for a year, and while he has shown glimpses of speed, especially in qualifying, he is still inconsistent. For this reason, even though I’m a massive fan of the Japanese driver, I believe de Vries will take the leading role in the team, as he can use his experience to bring crucial points for a team that has only managed to finish ninth this year. Meanwhile, Tsunoda will need to remain close to him- Iwasa, Lawson and more are waiting. If he doesn’t, the pressure will be intense.
The final rookie for 2023, Logan Sargeant, will become the first driver from the United States to drive in F1 since Alexander Rossi’s part-time appearances with Manor in 2015. He won the 2015 Karting World Championship and made his Formula 3 debut in the 2019 season. One year later, Sargeant was in contention to take the title in Mugello, but he was out in the first lap. As mentioned earlier, his teammate Oscar Piastri went on to take the title, while Sargeant went down to third in the standings with only one point less than Théo Pourchaire.
Both Piastri and Sargeant have had similar career paths and have competed against each other many times. However, financial reasons meant the American couldn’t progress to Formula 2 for the 2021 season as the Australian did. Instead, Sargeant stayed in F3 and signed with Charouz. In a car that couldn’t compete for the championship, he achieved four podiums, including a sprint race win. That same year, Sargeant became part of the Williams Driver Academy and drove an F1 car for the first time in the Abu Dhabi post-season test. He also made his F2 debut in Jeddah. In 2022, he took two wins in F2 with Carlin and made his F1 debut during Free Practice for the US Grand Prix. His performances convinced Williams to sign him following Nicholas Latifi’s departure if he managed to get enough super license points in the final round of the F2 championship, which he did. So, how will he perform in 2023?
While I think he is a very talented driver, he might experience the same problems Tsunoda has been facing, as he has made the jump to F1 with only one entire F2 season done. He will also have a very fast and more experienced teammate in Alex Albon, as well as a tricky car that will (most probably) be the slowest one in the grid. Nevertheless, I believe the battle between drivers will be closer than most people think. It all depends on how quickly Sargeant can adapt to the car.
After all of this, what do you think? Which of these drivers will perform better in their new cars? Let us know!