Merc battle and Tanak fights back: What to watch for in 2023

Motorsport News

2023 has more storylines than a Hollywood blockbuster: Mercedes team-mates do battle, Tanak joins M-Sport, Brits at Indy and more

2 George Russell and Lewis Hmailton Mercedes F1 drivers at the 2022 Sao Paulo GP

Will we see Mercedes fireworks this season?


Happy new year? Well, it hasn’t started well with the dreadful news about poor Ken Block. But looking further down the road into 2023 there is plenty to keep us gripped around the wide world of motor sport. Here’s just a sliver of what we’re looking forward to this year.


Hamilton vs Russell in F1


Will intra-team Merc battle become story of 2023?


Mercedes-AMG won’t get its sums wrong for a second year in succession, right? Assumptions are dangerous, as we found last season when the dominant force of the hybrid era failed to hit the ground (effects) running in the year of the big Formula 1 rules reset.

Still, it does seem unlikely those clever people in Brackley and Brixworth will balls it up again… and if the Silver Arrows do return properly to the sharp end the internal battle between its drivers should be one of the most captivating storylines of the 2023 season. Yes, George Russell famously outscored Lewis Hamilton in his maiden campaign at the team, and yes, he scored that accomplished victory at Interlagos while the seven-time champion remained winless for the first time across a season. But if Mercedes is a title contender this time, as it should be, now is when it really starts to count. Fighting for wins week in, week out will add a whole new dimension and dynamic to their relationship as team-mates.

Hamilton turns 38 on Saturday. He showed last term the hunger and commitment to strive for an eighth crown is still there, as is the racecraft and qualifying speed. But Russell, soon to be 25, will have taken so much confidence from 2022. The pair remain on good terms thanks to a generous dose of mutual respect. But these two both have a steely edge and new tensions under fresh pressure might well emerge. Finely poised is our tasty verdict.


Tanak’s challenge to Rovanperä

Ott Tanak signing for M-Sport WRC

Can renewed Tanak and M-Sport partnership take on Rovenperä?

Richard Millener

The best news of the bleak mid-winter was M-Sport Ford finding the wherewithal to sign Ott Tänak to lead its World Rally Championship charge in 2023. The Rally1 hybrid Ford Puma proved a winner first time out last season, but only in the assured hands of the great Sébastien Loeb on his Monte Carlo cameo. The team – and frankly the WRC as a whole – desperately needed a top-line ace in a Puma this year, and the harsh truth is they are few and far between on the special stages right now. Disaffected by life at Hyundai, 2019 champion Tänak was even contemplating a sabbatical, which would have been a terrible waste. Thank the rally gods, then, that Malcolm Wilson managed to strike a deal, against his own initial financial expectations.

From the archive

What Tänak’s signing tees up is a salivating duel with precocious 22-year-old new world champion Kalle Rovanperä, who came of age in astonishing style for Toyota Gazoo Racing last term. Without Tänak’s presence and with Sébastien Ogier still refusing to commit to a full season in the WRC, fears were all too obvious that Rovanperä might be unchallenged on his way to a second crown. Thierry Neuville leading the line at Hyundai and a bruised Elfyn Evans, who failed to win a round last year, might still have something to say about that – and let’s hope they do. But Tänak looks the best hope for challenging the young master. The Estonian is demanding, as top-liners tend to be. But Wilson, team principal Richard Millener and the rest of the M-Sport crew must be rubbing their hands at the prospect. It all kicks off this month, on the Monte on January 19-22.


Formula E: everything’s riding on Gen3

Formula E testing Gen 3 car 2023

Make or break time for Formula E’s Gen3 car


Ahead of the Monte, Formula E’s new Gen3 era kicks off in Mexico City on January 14. More power, greater regen, smaller cars and fast charging (when the tech is ready) will shake up the electric-powered series, which remains an acquired taste. A new cast featuring fresh manufacturer interest from the likes of McLaren, Maserati and Cupra makes up for the loss of double champions Mercedes, while the reshuffled pack of drivers still offers a world-class grid – arguably the strongest below F1. Are you among the sceptics? Now would be a fine time to give Formula E another chance.


Goodwood’s anniversary promise


Goodwood is all set for its 25th anniversary celebrations

James Lynch

Closer to home, it’s a big year for Goodwood: the 75th anniversary of the Motor Circuit opening in 1948; 30 years of the Festival of Speed; and a silver jubilee for the Revival. The 80th Members’ Meeting kicks off the trio of Sussex motor racing highlights on April 15/16, featuring a celebration of the GT1 era – gaining deserved recognition as great relatively recent history – along with the return of pioneering pre-war behemoths racing in the S.F. Edge Trophy, the renamed Gordon Spice Trophy for saloon cars and the one-make Lotus Cortina bash for the Jim Clark Trophy. The Festival of Speed follows on July 13-16 and the Revival on September 8-10.

While Goodwood continues to set the standard for the best in motor racing entertainment, another key date for your diary must be the Silverstone Festival, formerly known as The Classic. The world’s largest historic race meeting is sticking with its new August bank holiday slot (August 25-27) and while Silverstone lacks the old-world charm and natural style of Goodwood, its event’s scale and breadth of historic racing remains unrivalled.


F1’s new initiative for women racers

Emma Kimilainen in front in the 2022 W Series Hungary round

F1 claims W Series will not be usurped by F1 Academy

Dan Istitene/F1 via Getty Images

We’re also intrigued to see what happens next for women in motor sport. W Series hit the financial skids last year, but insists the dream remains alive for this season. Meanwhile, Formula 1 has taken direct action to ensure young women with ambition and talent have somewhere to race, whatever the future for the privately funded W Series. Whether the so-called F1 Academy helps or hinders Catherine Bond Muir’s valiant attempts to keep her vision going is debatable. But she’s certainly lost her unique selling point status.

F1 took care to explain that its all-female series is pitched as a feeder to W Series and the FIA Formula 3 and Formula 2 categories further up the single-seater ladder. Five junior category veterans – ART Grand Prix, Campos Racing, Carlin, MP Motorsport and Prema Racing – will field three cars each for a grid of 15. Costs for each car will be subsidised to the tune of €150,000 – and interestingly, the teams themselves will be expected to make up the rest. That surely goes against their natural instincts!

The cars? They are all one-make, of course: a Tatuus T421 chassis powered by a 165bhp Autotecnica-built turbocharged engine. Yet it all sounds rather rushed. Has F1 created its Academy simply in reaction to the doubt over W Series? The fact a calendar of seven triple-header events, presumably on the F1 undercard, has yet to be announced suggests as much. While it appears to undermine W Series, whatever F1 says, the key word for women racers is opportunity and the new initiative certainly offers that. Whether it succeeds in furthering the careers of a still woefully under-represented racing minority is a moot point.


The Brits focused on an American dream

Jamie Chadwick Indy Lights testing 2

Chadwick is now aiming to crack America

Jamie Chadwick

Meanwhile, three-time W Series champion Jamie Chadwick has taken what could prove an inspired decision to head west in 2023, and focus her career ambitions on the American single-seater scene. The 24-year-old Williams development driver appears no closer to reaching her goal of establishing her F1 credentials, but surely has a decent crack at making it to IndyCar – if she can shine in Indy NXT, formerly known as Indy Lights. Joining Andretti Autosport certainly gives what should be a prime opportunity to gain a foothold on the American scene. But choosing the States is a very long way from an easy option.

For a start, she’ll be up against new team-mate and fellow ‘expat’ Brit Louis Foster, who won the IndyPro 2000 title Stateside last term. He has his sights set on an IndyCar drive for 2024 and has a year’s experience on Chadwick in terms of settling into American racing.

Up the ladder in the IndyCar series itself, Jack Harvey will be targeting a much more positive 2023 after a disappointing first season with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, while Callum Ilott must consolidate his reputation after a promising rookie campaign, for Juncos Hollinger Racing. The IndyCar season kicks off on March 5 on the streets of St Petersburg, with the Big One – the Indianapolis 500 – scheduled as tradition dictates for May 28.