As Formula 1 begins to emerge from its winter hibernation for launch season, several motorsport series around the world have already shaken off the cobwebs and begun their pursuit of glory.
The opening salvos of the World Rally Championship, Formula E and the IMSA SportsCar Championship have given us a taster of what to expect from Kalle Rovanpera's title defence, the all-electric series' new Gen3 machinery, and the LMDh cars that will also contest the World Endurance Championship.
Meanwhile Sunday's NASCAR Cup exhibition race at the LA Coliseum, won by Martin Truex Jr, provides a solid omen for the 2017 champion given last year's winner Joey Logano went on to claim the title.
Across the spectrum of motorsport, on two wheels and four, there are storylines that we'll be excited to report on this year. Here are our correspondents' nominations.
Can Mercedes join Ferrari in taking the fight consistently to Red Bull in 2023?
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
The 2022 Formula 1 season had lots to recommend it. The new ground-effects cars allowed some fine racing, Ferrari started winning again, and there was plenty of midfield (and off-track!) battling. What it lacked was a sustained title fight as Red Bull and Max Verstappen romped away with things.
It’s likely that this combination will be the one to beat again, but Mercedes should be more of a contender after a misstep with its W13. George Russell is now a grand prix winner, and Lewis Hamilton is still motivated after his unsatisfactory defeat in the 2021 Abu Dhabi finale. A three-way fight between the current champion, past master and rising star could be superb, and that’s before we get on to Ferrari.
The legendary Italian squad proved it could produce a good car in 2022, but questions remain over its ability to get the most out of its machinery. It will be interesting to see what new boss Fred Vasseur can do to help Charles Leclerc get into the title fight.
Beyond that, we have three rookies, including the exciting Oscar Piastri alongside Lando Norris at McLaren, potential fireworks at Alpine between Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, and Fernando Alonso joining the team in green at Lawrence Stroll’s Aston Martin.
There’s bound to be arguments about cost caps, and it would be nice if F1 was a little more welcoming to teams trying to join the party, but hopefully the on-track action will push such considerations into the background in 2023.
Will Toyota be beaten at Le Mans for the first time since 2017 as new manufacturers arrive to join the party?
Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images
Rebellion, BR Engineering, Alpine and Glickenhaus have done their best to get on terms with Toyota in the World Endurance Championship in recent years, with Alpine even taking the title down to the wire last year. But at the biggest event of them all, the Le Mans 24 Hours, Toyota has not been beaten since 2017. In four of the past five editions, the Japanese cars have finished 1-2.
This year, as Le Mans celebrates the 100th anniversary of its first 24 Hours in 1923, the influx of manufacturers into the top class will make for a much sterner test. Peugeot gave us a taster of the 9X8’s potential in last year’s Bahrain WEC round by splitting the Toyotas in qualifying, and it will be a real treat to see the French cars going up against the Ferrari 499P, plus factory LMDh machinery from Porsche and Cadillac, which plans to enter additional cars from its IMSA roster to the sole Chip Ganassi-run WEC entry.
There will be strength in depth too in the form of customer Porsche squads Jota and Proton - fresh from its dramatic LMP2 victory at Datyona. Factor in garagiste entries from Glickenhaus – polesitter at Monza last year – and the ByKolles Vanwall, with a certain Jacques Villeneuve back at Le Mans 15 years after his last appearance with Peugeot, and we have all the ingredients needed to celebrate the centenary in style.
If Toyota comes out on top once again, nobody can say it wasn’t earned.
The sight of the latest Gen3 machines on an IndyCar circuit at Portland will make for intriguing viewing
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
Now that Formula E has pencilled in a race for the Glastonbury weekend, the priorities have shifted. Thanks to the browser-juggling dexterity of my friend Nathan, I’d managed to secure an elusive ticket for the mud-suffused music festival, but I’ll have to throw that back into the pool. Instead, a trip to Portland awaits.
Only a race in the United States could have sweetened the pill, and it’ll be an interesting experiment into whether Formula E can expand its aura in North America on an IndyCar circuit. Of course, it’s sad that we’re not going to New York City or Seoul this year, but the door’s open for them to return after their renovations.
Otherwise, I’m looking forward to seeing what surprises Gen3 has in store; Porsche had a quiet Valencia test, but was suddenly the team to beat in the Mexico opener and underlined its potency in Diriyah while DS Penske and Maserati MSG suffered the reverse. With the strength in depth among the drivers on this year’s grid it’s going to be a fascinating year, and we can but hope that the new rules don’t make the 2022-23 season one-way traffic like Formula 1’s rules reset did.
Many in the paddock predicted an ebb and flow to the season as the teams and manufacturers progress at different rates, and it looks set to provide a thrilling, back-and-forth narrative to the year.
Rovanpera began his title defence with second to Ogier in Monte Carlo - can he keep up his momentum?
Photo by: Toyota Racing
The opening round of this year’s World Rally Championship is already in the books and, politely ignoring a historic Monte masterclass by now part-timer Sebastien Ogier, reigning champion Kalle Rovanpera ‘leads’ the early standings by finishing runner-up in the opener. Now it’s up to Thierry Neuville, Elfyn Evans, Ott Tanak and co to chase down Rovanpera in what will be a monumental title battle between the top dogs of rallying.
Rovanpera remains strong favourite to defend his WRC crown in the early pacesetting and updated Toyota GR Yaris, demonstrated at Monte Carlo where the Finn was the only one who could get within reach of Ogier, but there’s hope that Evans can rediscover his 2020-21 form to forge a title fight after being delayed by a puncture in the opening round. Tanak back at M-Sport is a potent combination, while a resurgent Hyundai led by Neuville cannot be ruled out. And both Tanak and Neuville had seriously strong ends to 2022 when team-mates at the South Korean manufacturer.
The 2023 WRC calendar is also a delightful assortment of rallying’s iconic and emerging events; from the snow of Sweden and the wilderness of Kenya to rally-mad nations such as Estonia and Finland, there’s a little bit of everything to excite fans. The legendary locations, the most cutting-edge rally cars in history and the expectant title fighters – plus potential cameos from the Sebs Ogier and Loeb. What’s not to love?
Will this be the year that McLaren truly gets on terms with Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCar?
Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images
The battle between Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing for pre-eminence in IndyCar racing is one that has endured for over 20 years, and not since 2012 has any other team produced the series champion. A decade ago we talked in terms of there being a Big Three in IndyCar, but you wouldn’t dream of saying that now because Andretti Autosport has slipped. Last year, the top six places in the championship were occupied by Penske and Ganassi drivers; Andretti’s highest were ninth and 10th.
For now, the team most likely to turn the Big Two back into a Big Three is Arrow McLaren, which has increased its chances of race wins by expanding to three full-time entries, and hiring Alexander Rossi to join Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist. Will employing another proven race winner play a major part in elevating McLaren’s status?
Think what they’re up against. The stunningly fast Will Power, now psychologically ‘off the leash’ having taken his second championship, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Alex Palou – potential winners on any track on any weekend; a still improving but already excellent Scott McLaughlin, the redoubtable Marcus Ericsson, the unknown quantity that is Marcus Armstrong, and a brilliant oval racer in Takuma Sato.
Can any of the McLaren drivers beat that galaxy of stars – and Colton Herta – enough times to take the title to fight to the final round? That’s what’s going to be fun to watch.
The return of German giants BMW and Porsche to prototype racing in IMSA will make for fascinating viewing
Photo by: Bob Meyer
The last time that the GTP class was a thing in IMSA, BMW and Porsche were two big players with very different fortunes. Porsche revamped its super-successful 956 into the 962 model for IMSA Grand Touring Prototype competition. It led on its debut in the 1984 Daytona 24 Hours, and went on to become one of the longest-enduring sportscars in US racing history, scoring a hat-trick of titles from 1985-87.
In contrast, BMW’s rival offering was a McLaren NA-run March 86G chassis boasting a version of its four-cylinder Formula 1 turbo engine of the time. In qualifying trim, the car produced 1400bhp and was capable of north of 220mph. It proved horrendously unreliable and worryingly crash prone. An unlikely win at Watkins Glen in 1986 wasn’t enough to save the programme, which was one and done.
Fast-forward to 2023 and BMW has the chance to redeem itself in GTP v2.0 with its M Hybrid V8 – run by one of its brave drivers in 1986, Bobby Rahal (who was very lucky to survive being sent into orbit in one at Sebring). The new BMW has taken every inch afforded in the new rules’ styling and looks just as sensational, even standing still, as its predecessor. Porsche, meantime, has very deliberately named its new car the 963. By turning to Roger Penske’s team, this is a factory-blessed bid to reclaim past glories.
Seeing them in action in the Daytona 24 Hours was just the start of a new era, so sit back and enjoy this rebooted classic!
F3 young chargers will get their chance to prove themselves in the Principality as Hamilton did in 2005
Photo by: Gareth Bumstead
Formula 2 and 3 will venture to pastures new this season, with both series racing at Melbourne’s Albert Park for the first time to support April’s Australian Grand Prix. Despite the logistical challenges it presents, teams welcomed the announcement with open arms, Prema Racing team principal Rene Rosin telling Autosport it was “very good news, it’s an amazing opportunity from my point of view”.
The move is further evidence of the boom in popularity that F2 and F3 have enjoyed in recent years, and CEO Bruno Michel says they are in the best shape they have been for some time. Both series have featured a number of Antipodean drivers in recent years – 2021 F2 champion Oscar Piastri, Alpine Academy member Jack Doohan and Red Bull reserve Liam Lawson among them – and the Australian round presents a prime opportunity for the series to garner more fans and sponsors.
F3 will also race alongside F2 in Monaco, its first visit to the principality in its modern era. The last time an equivalent series raced there was GP3 in 2012, but it was a mainstay of the grand prix weekend from 1964, when Jackie Stewart won, to the 1990s. Other F3 winners in Monaco include Lewis Hamilton, Alain Prost and Ronnie Peterson. Watching a packed F3 grid attempt to navigate its way around Monaco will certainly make for interesting viewing.
Can Alex Marquez escape the shadow of his elder brother on a Gresini-run Ducati?
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
While there are many storylines coming up in MotoGP 2023 that will be worth paying attention to – not least with the series undergoing its biggest format change ever with the introduction of sprint races – it is the exploits of a Marquez that interests me the most.
And it’s not the one you think either. Alex Marquez has long lived in the shadow of his MotoGP legend brother Marc; inevitable, but unfair when you consider that he is a double world champion in the junior ranks (just like his brother) and was the only Honda rider in 2020 in his rookie year to get on the podium, doing so twice.
His move to LCR for 2021 and 2022 failed to build on that form as the Honda proved to be an immensely difficult bike. Frustrated by this situation, the younger Marquez brother elected to sign for Gresini Racing to ride a satellite Ducati for 2023.
Although not factory-backed, Marquez will ride the GP22 Ducati that Francesco Bagnaia took to the title last season. Based on the form of his Gresini predecessor Enea Bastianini at the start of 2022 on a one-year-old Ducati, Marquez should be quick straight out of the gates.
After his first test on the bike last November at Valencia, he was contractually bound from comparing the Ducati and the Honda. But he did note he “immediately felt at home” on the Ducati – while his brother derided Honda’s 2023 prototype. All signs point to a breakout year for Alex Marquez.
Johnson, Rockenfeller and Button were announced at Daytona as the drivers for NASCAR's eagerly-anticipated Garage 56 entry at Le Mans
Photo by: James Gilbert / Getty Images
While there was certainly a newness factor in NASCAR in 2022 with the debut of the Next Gen car in the Cup Series, there will be several important debuts in 2023 which could prove a lasting impact for the sport.
On the competition side, there will be a small but talented rookie class this season, with reigning Xfinity Series champion Ty Gibbs competing for Joe Gibbs Racing in the #54 Toyota and Noah Gragson, an eight-time winner in Xfinity in 2022, competing for the renamed Legacy Motor Club (previously Petty GMS) in the #42 Chevrolet. Both drivers have the talent and are matched with organisations where they should be able to compete for wins.
Speaking of Legacy MC, 2023 marks the debut of seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson as an owner in the Cup Series. He joined the organisation, co-owned by Maury Gallagher and Richard Petty at the end of last season.
On 2 July, NASCAR will conduct the first street course race in the 75-history of its Cup Series on a 2.2-mile, 12-turn course in downtown Chicago. The layout mirrors the one developed by iRacing in 2021.The street course race, combined with the preseason Busch Lite Clash held on a custom-built quarter-mile oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the second consecutive season, opens the door to potential new venues for future Cup Series’ schedules.
And in June, a modified version of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car will compete in the Le Mans 24 Hours as the Garage 56 entry, which the Automobile Club de l'Ouest sets aside each year for the “technology of tomorrow and beyond” of innovative machinery. Johnson will be joined by 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button and 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller in the entry.
It's unlikely that we'll be able to see the likes of humble mechanic Lees reaching F1 anytime soon unless costs are brought under control
Photo by: Rainer Schlegelmilch
The British Touring Car Championship is going to have a cracking season as we see whether Tom Ingram can make it two titles in a row, or his main 2022 rivals Ash Sutton, Jake Hill and Colin Turkington – or anyone else – can prise the crown away.
But there’s no point banging on here about the 30 exciting and closely contested races I’ll be covering for Autosport. Here, after all, is a series with well-drafted rules, efficiently run and with the capacity to evolve and tweak to suit any given situation.
Instead, what I’m looking forward to is someone in authority – and let’s start with the FIA – getting realistic about the outrageous costs of starting out on the professional career ladder in motorsport. Recently we have seen the demise of Germany’s Formula 4 series as more and more of that nation’s drivers transfer direct from karting to GTs. Nyck de Vries is facing a lawsuit because of a massive loan he had to take out in his F2 days. Yet cast your mind back to the 1970s – the Geoff Lees autobiography reviewed in the magazine last week details how a humble motor mechanic was able to win three Formula Ford titles in one year.
There used to be a theory that drivers switching to GT, prototypes or touring cars would be better prepared for that crossover the further they went in single-seaters. But now their lumbering weaponry is almost as heavy as a tin-top, and testing is massively restricted…
I’m going to dream that this is tackled in 2023, while I enjoy watching the BTCC.
German F4 has now been cancelled by the ADAC, underlining the problem of attracting drivers onto the lowest rungs of the junior single-seater ladder
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool2023-02-06T13:02:53Z dg43tfdfdgfd