RACE DEBRIEF

    All 10 Formula 1 teams have been working relentlessly through the winter, laser-focused on producing a car they hope will improve their fortunes in 2023 – or in the case of Red Bull and Max Verstappen, defend their respective titles. I, meanwhile, have spent that time enjoying the festivities and pondering my bold predictions for the season ahead, so let's dive in...

    1. Lewis Hamilton will win his eighth drivers’ title

    2022 will go down as the most disappointing campaign of Lewis Hamilton’s illustrious F1 career, the Briton finishing a career-worst sixth in the drivers’ standings and losing his streak of scoring at least one pole and one win in every season he’s driven in the sport.

    READ MORE: Best drives, biggest shocks, and funniest moments – Our writers reflect on the thrilling 2022 season

    But rather than 2022 being the beginning of the end for the 37-year-old, the defeat will only be a blip and I expect the Mercedes driver to come out on top and win a record eighth World Championship, enhancing his credentials for the accolade of greatest of all time.

    To do that, he’ll need his Mercedes team to make a leap forward next year, but there was enough evidence in their comeback last season – moving from a team mired in the midfield to a challenger to the dominant Red Bull team – to suggest the Silver Arrows can be a force once more.

    And it’ll be Hamilton who will utilise his years of experience to fend off rising star and team mate George Russell to lead the Mercedes charge and edge out two-time defending champion Verstappen.

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    Will Hamilton beat Verstappen and Leclerc to the title in 2023?

    2. Alpine will break into the top three

    Alpine were a contender for team of the year in 2022, the French manufacturer snatching P4 in the constructors’ championship with a car that was strong at almost every circuit.

    Their rate of development was tremendous, the technical team bringing updates – which worked as expected based on data – to every single Grand Prix, and while the car was unreliable, when it was on song, big points were on offer.

    READ MORE: Alpine boss Rossi proud of team's recovery from pre-season ‘shambles’ to P4 in the standings

    The riskier strategy paid off, but it’s one thing to top the midfield and quite another to close the long-held gulf between F1’s so-called top three – Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari – and the rest. That said, I reckon Alpine have the building blocks in place to do that.

    Expect the Fernando Alonso-less team, with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly at the wheel, to challenge for podiums regularly – and even be in contention for victories on occasions – as they end the year inside the top three for the first time in their history.

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    Can Ocon and Gasly propel Alpine into the top three next year?

    3. Alonso will score at least two podiums

    Aston Martin wanted a big name to replace the retiring Sebastian Vettel and they couldn’t have signed much bigger in Alonso, the two-time world champion showing he’s lost none of his speed, determination and hunger after a two-year returning stint with Alpine.

    Last season, he reckons he lost more than 70 points because of unreliability, and failed to score a podium. Ending that run at Aston Martin might seem fanciful given the team in green didn’t trouble the top five last year.

    READ MORE: ‘I feel honoured’ – Alonso overjoyed with first drive for ‘iconic brand’ Aston Martin at Abu Dhabi test

    However, Alonso has form for outperforming his car and on his day – like in Canada in 2022 when he took a front-row start in the rain – he can deliver a shock result.

    I expect Aston Martin to take a step on from P7 in the constructors’ championship – having ended the season strongly – and for Alonso to make the most of it, delivering a couple of special performances that will yield some podium silverware.

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    Alonso will be racing in the green of Aston Martin in 2023

    4. Norris will win his first Grand Prix

    Last year, I predicted Carlos Sainz would win his first Grand Prix – and I reckon 2023 is the season that his former team mate and friend Lando Norris will follow suit after several near-misses, most notably in Italy and Russia in 2021.

    The McLaren driver may have scored fewer points last year than the previous campaign, but in my opinion, he drove far better and more consistently – and was the only non-Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull driver to score a podium in a car that underdelivered.

    READ MORE: Norris says McLaren 'can't be satisfied' with 2022 season after P5 finish

    McLaren – now led by Andrea Stella following Andreas Seidl’s departure to Sauber – will avoid the sluggish start that made 2022 a bit of a slog, and instead endure a more enjoyable season that will have some sharper peaks, including Norris’s first victory.

    I expect Norris to beat new rookie team mate Oscar Piastri, too, the Briton further establishing himself as McLaren’s lead driver and future world champion.

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    Will Lando Norris step into the winners' circle in 2023?

    5. Six teams will win a race in 2023

    Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari will once again be the main contenders for victory in 2023, but they won’t have it all their own way as was the case last season.

    McLaren will get back in on the action, adding to their most recent triumph in the Italian Grand Prix through Daniel Ricciardo in 2021, with Alpine also adding to Esteban Ocon’s Hungary 2021 triumph.

    THE PALMERS: Jolyon Palmer picks his stand-out drivers and performances from a sizzling 2022 season

    The sixth team is harder to call – and will likely come in fortuitous circumstances. Alfa Romeo have a great shot, as do Aston Martin, especially with Alonso behind the wheel.

    As a result, we’ll have six different teams standing on the top step for the first time since 2012.