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F1 Returns for Another Groundbreaking Season

The new Formula One season is upon us, and here's what to look forward to ahead of the latest instalment of motorsport.

Max Verstappen will have his eye on a third consecutive Driver's Championship although 2023 ought to be less straightforward than its prequel was for Red Bull.

Red Bull are double world champions for the first time since 2013 but there is no doubt they'll be feeling the heat from the chasing pack.

Verstappen won back-to-back WDC titles, by a staggering 146-point margin over Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, while Red Bull claimed the Constructors' Championship with 759 points. This tally is the second-highest in F1 history as the energy drink franchise ended some 205 points ahead of the Prancing Horse.

In all but one of the last six seasons, there have been no more than five different race winners. Last year only three teams were on the top step of the podium, and it is hoped that the forthcoming season will be more open and competitive.

Red Bull have it all to do if they are to keep hold of their Championships, especially when considering the performance disadvantage compared to their rivals.

Last year, Red Bull were handed a fine of $7million USD as well as a 10 per cent reduction in wind tunnel time for the 2023 season, after it came out that Christian Horner's team had significantly breached its budget cap in 2021.

This implies that Red Bull will only be allowed 63 per cent (~ 202 runs) instead of the of the 70 per cent allocation for the reigning Constructors' Champions. In comparison, second-placed Ferrari are allocated 75 per cent (~ 240 runs) and third-placed Mercedes 80 per cent (~ 256 runs).

Despite this stumbling block, Red Bull still emerged as the fastest car in pre-season testing last week. Verstappen topped the timesheet on day 1 at Sahkir, before teammate Sergio Perez went fastest on the third and final day of testing.

Red Bull and Mercedes are the only two teams to retain their team principal and both drivers.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff will be adamant to see his forces have a more competitive year than last, and this may come to fruition if pre-season testing is anything to go by.

The Silver Arrows, returning to its black livery, put in commendable efforts during pre-season. Sir Lewis Hamilton set Mercedes' fastest lap during testing, clocking 1:30.664 on the final day at Sakhir.

Overall, Mercedes gained almost 2,1 seconds on their testing last year.

After winning seven successive Constructors' Championships, Mercedes had a forgetful 2022 season in which they struggled to mount a credible title bid against the dominant Red Bull.

For Hamilton this will be an 11th year with Mercedes, equalling Michael Schumacher’s record for the longest stay with one team.

(@F1 on Instagram)

Ferrari and Alfa Romeo have also renewed their respective driver pairings, although both teams have new bosses in place.

Fred Vasseur departed Alfa after five years to take up the position in charge of Ferrari. The French engineer, who succeeds Mattia Binotto, previously worked with Leclerc at Sauber (precursor to Alfa Romeo) in 2018.

Although 2022 would’ve been bitterly disappointing for Leclerc in particular, it was still the most productive season of his career as the Monegasque tallied 308 points.

Now, he and Carlos Sainz Jr will be looking to kick on and capture Ferrari's first World Championship for 15 years.

Alfa Romeo replaced Vasseur with Andreas Seidl, who jumped ship from McLaren. Despite the change in management, Alfa Romeo are the only team outside of last year’s top three to retain their driver line-up for 2023.

Valtteri Bottas is braced for his 11th season in F1 and second behind the wheel at Alfa Romeo. The Finn has seemingly rediscovered his mojo, after five years of playing second fiddle to Hamilton at Mercedes.

Zhou Guanyu is gearing up for his second season in the sport and will certainly be primed to improve on his six Championship points from last year.

Another team looking to make inroads this year, McLaren have a couple of new faces leading its representation in F1. CEO Zak Brown appointed Andrea Stella as the new team principal, in place of Seidl. Stella was previously Racing Director at the Woking-based team.

The papaya-orange outfit finished fifth on the Constructor Standings last term, picking up just 159 points throughout 2022.

In the car, Lando Norris will be partnered by rookie Oscar Piastri. Many within the paddock have spoken very highly of the 21-year-old, though it remains to be seen how he comes to grips with competing in the pinnacle of motorsports.

Piastri was crowned F2 champion in 2021 and F3 champion the year prior. He was involved in a controversial exit from Alpine, where the Australian was the French team's reserve driver last year. Now, Piastri prepares for his F1 debut after inheriting the seat of his countryman Daniel Ricciardo.

Pierre Gasly filled the vacant seat at Alpine, completing an all-French line-up alongside Esteban Ocon. This is the first time since 1994 that a team has fielded a pair of French drivers, and the last constructor to do so (Ligier) was also based in France.

Gasly, 27, left the Red Bull family after 11 years driving with Toro Rosso/AlphaTauri and Red Bull.

Replacing Gasly at AlphaTauri is rookie driver Nyck de Vries, for who the wait is over for a seat on the grid. The Dutch driver raced for Williams at the Grand Prix last year, impressively scoring two points on debut which earned him a seat at AlphaTauri for 2023.

De Vries won the F2 Championship in 2019 and he will team with Yuki Tsunoda, who is remarkably five years the junior of his 'rookie' teammate.

A high-profile driver move saw Fernando Alonso switch from Alpine to Aston Martin following the retirement of Sebastian Vettel at the end of last season.

The Spaniard enters his 23rd season in F1 and, with 355 Grands Prix to his name, the two-time world champion will be spearheading the green team’s charge up the field.

A customer team of Mercedes’, Aston Martin are also seeking vast improvements in 2023. Lawrence Stroll's team have failed to live up to expectations since returning to the sport in 2021, collecting 77 points in 2021, and 55 points last year.

In pre-season testing, Aston Martin gained 2,3 seconds compared to pre-season last year. Alonso came second-fastest on day 1 and third on day 2.

Lance Stroll is set to take to the track this weekend despite suffering a cycling accident two weeks ago. During pre-season testing, Stroll was substituted by defending F2 champion and Aston Martin reserve driver Felipe Drugovich, but the Canadian has recovered in time to take part in the season opener in Bahrain.

Another customer team of Mercedes', Williams showed signs of improvement in testing as they gained in excess of 2,3 seconds in comparison to their best timings ahead of last season.

James Vowles, formerly chief strategist at Mercedes, takes the reigns as Williams team principal after Jost Capito parted ways with the team at the end of 2022.

Vowles will oversee the integration of rookie driver Logan Sargeant. The 22-year-old American was named Rookie of the Year in last year's F2 Championship and was rewarded with a drive on the grand stage.

Alex Albon has retained his seat with Williams and will be pushing to build on his four points in 2022.

Lights out at 18H00 local time (15H00 GMT) on Sunday, with qualifying commencing exactly 24 hours earlier.

(Cover Photo: @F1 on Twitter)

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