Ferrari fell away from Red Bull in the second half of the year but with a power unit detuned for reliability after Baku. With many months now to have found a solution to the ERS-H reliability problem, the assumption is that the Ferrari PU will revert to being the most potent of all, just as it was for the first few races of ’22.
Red Bull of course is bound to find further performance during the off-season, but the others would seem on paper to have more low-hanging fruit to pick. So if we assume a more closely-matched Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes in ’23 – a big ‘if’ but not an unreasonable one at this stage – the dynamics between the six drivers of those teams becomes potentially fascinating.
Red Bull has a clear lead driver and number two in Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. Ferrari has a nominal leader in Charles Leclerc but Carlos Sainz can – and does – compete with him. Mercedes has absolute parity and George Russell has not been hired as a support, but as succession, to Lewis Hamilton. That is the loose driver hierarchy structure between each of those teams.
Brazil last year was the one occasion that Verstappen and Hamilton had of reprising their contentious ’21 battle and immediately they came to blows again. In their comments afterwards, they each came close to acknowledging that they expected contact. In a 50/50 situation, neither of them were prepared to yield and accepted the inevitability of contact as preferable to that. In the imagined ’23 scenario of three equally-matched teams, when there would inevitably be moments of close racing between Verstappen and Hamilton, would they both continue with that attitude? If they did, Russell and Leclerc in particular would surely be rubbing their hands in glee. How would the approaches of everyone evolve in such a season?
This is all far too theoretical at the moment given that we cannot know how competitive the three teams are going to be relative to each other. But it’s not an outrageous possibility that they are closely-matched and if they are, a renewed Verstappen-Hamilton niggle would be a more complex equation than in ’21.