Formula One Now Has Four Legitimate Podium Contenders behind Verstappen

March 24, 2023
Season reviews

Formula One returned to action with a great deal of excitement around what looked to be the makings of a much more competitive mid-field. This proved to be the case in Bahrain, with Alfa Romeo, Alpine, Williams, and Alpha Tauri tussling for points late into the race. Another welcomed rumor was that Aston Martin came to play.

Again, this thread didn’t disappoint, with Canadian Lance Stroll and teammate Fernando Alonso showcasing the power of what looks to be a new challenger high up the grid. It was only the opening race, and there’s a long season ahead, but the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix was hopefully a prime showcase of what’s to come.

A grand start to the new campaign

Across the board, most will have expected Max Verstappen and Red Bull to take the top spot, but Sergio Pérez was, perhaps, more assumed to finish third or maybe fourth with a couple of other contenders in the mix. In the end, the Mexican snagged second place while his main competitor, Charles Leclerc, was forced to retire.

While losing their lead driver wasn’t ideal, Carlos Sainz Jr. picking up fourth will have been expected by the team. What may not have been expected is the 2020 Dakar Rally podium finisher, Fernando Alonso, surging into third with just 11 laps left of the race. Aston Martin was rumored to have improved significantly: Alonso proved as much.

Behind the top four, Lewis Hamilton couldn’t quite find his way past Sainz’s Ferrari late in the race and ended up in fifth, while Stroll for Aston Martin and Mercedes’ George Russell followed the racing legend past the chequered flag. Without a doubt, the biggest takeaway is that it’s now Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Aston Martin to watch at the front of the race.

As detailed by The Athletic’s report, Alonso’s run to third doesn’t look to be a glitch or even solely as a result of Leclerc bowing out. The Spaniard could certainly hold his own against the Mercedes cars and, evidently, when faced with a Ferrari. It’s certainly a car with pace, and given Alonso’s incredible career, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take full advantage of its speed in Saudi Arabia and Australia to move higher up the podium.

Aston Martin is among the other leaders

Bar a total collapse at some point during the season, Bahrain showed that Verstappen and Red Bull hadn’t dropped a beat and will almost certainly be on the podium at the end of each Grand Prix – likely at the top. Pérez’s fine race also helps as the perfect teammate to the Dutchman will help to hold off competitors down the line.

This is why Verstappen is already the clear -350 favorite to win the Drivers’ Championship. Given the way that last season went and considering that he has gained new experience, it would be fair to say that these odds may be a little long. Still, there’s always excitement to be had behind the leader, and right now, it looks to be a close contest between three or maybe four racers – with the fourth being considered on merit.

Atop the pile, despite Bahrain, are Pérez at +150 and Leclerc at +160 at the F1 betting site offering a $400 welcome bonus and 24-hour customer care. In this market of Drivers’ Championship without Max Verstappen, just behind the Mexican and Monégasque, Alonso’s fine showing gets him in at +350, while Hamilton is the next, but distant, contender at +1200.

Here, we’ll give Hamilton the nod on merit, but it’s clear that Mercedes has a lot of work to do to help the former champion battle for the podium consistently. Leclerc’s outing also proves that Ferrari has some way to go to even secure second place to Red Bull now that Aston Martin looks to be in the mix.

If Alonso can clearly demonstrate the pace of the Aston Martin in Jeddah, Melbourne, and Imola, then those odds will surely shorten. It might just be the excitement that there’s another speedy, exciting contender to tussle behind Red Bull this year, but the optimism around the team’s season doesn’t look to be unfounded.

Verstappen looks set to retain the crown, but the finish just behind his rear wing is very much up for grabs.

Featured photo source: Jen Ross on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)