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Formula 1

F1 is, of course, all about who wins the championship but the best that fans can hope for in most years is for three drivers to be involved in the title fight.

But the rest of the 20-runner field aren't just there to make up the numbers and have their own roles to play in the nine-month drama that will be the 2023 F1 season.

Here we take a look at five drivers who will be worth keeping an eye on, even if they're not likely to be involved in the battle at the front.

Nyck de Vries

The Dutch have gone wild for F1 with the meteoric rise of Max Verstappen and in 2023 they will have another driver to cheer in the form of AlphaTauri's Nyck de Vries.

Having just turned 28, De Vries is three years older than Verstappen and, although he is officially classed as one of three rookies on the grid, the Dutchman is a familiar name to close followers of the sport, and has a wealth of experience in motor racing.

A long-time McLaren prospect, De Vries won the Formula 2 championship in 2019 and, after being taken under Mercedes' wing, he raced for the team in the all-electric Formula E series, taking that title in the 2020/21 season.

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2022 saw De Vries behind the wheel of several Mercedes-powered F1 cars, driving Friday practice in Spain for Williams, in France and Mexico in the Mercedes itself and in Italy for Aston Martin.

Later in that Monza weekend, De Vries was called in to replace unwell Williams driver Alex Albon, and the Dutchman finished an excellent ninth on his race debut, six places ahead of team-mate and well established Williams driver Nicholas Latifi.

Signing for AlphaTauri means a switch from Mercedes to the Red Bull family, but De Vries has proved his adaptability and could well outshine his fiery Japanese team-mate Yuki Tsunoda, about to embark on his third season with the team. De Vries is rated 8/11 to outscore Tsunoda over the season.

Pierre Gasly

After a long association with Red Bull, Pierre Gasly moves from AlphaTauri to form an all-French line-up at Alpine with Esteban Ocon.

After making his F1 debut with Toro Rosso late in the 2017 season, Gasly picked up five points finishes the following year and did enough to earn promotion to the Red Bull team for 2019.

Being teammate to Max Verstappen proved an overwhelming experience, though, and Gasly lasted just 12 races before being bumped back down to Toro Rosso.

It was a more mature Gasly who saw out the season, capping off a string of strong performances with second place in Brazil, and a maiden F1 victory followed less than a year later in Italy for the rebranded AlphaTauri team.

Over the last two seasons Gasly has continued to be a solid and dependable driver, picking up 110 of the team's 142 points in 2021, and again comfortably outperforming teammate Tsunoda last year.

The 2023 Alpine has looked a handful in testing but paddock watchers believe the car has a lot of potential. Gasly has a long history of animosity with his new team-mate Ocon, but that could serve to spur them on as they seek to build on last year's fourth-place finish in the constructors' championship.

Lance Stroll

Aston Martin's Lance Stroll is in the unique position among F1 drivers of not having to worry about job security since his father owns the team, but the Canadian has done enough in his six seasons to prove he deserves his place on the grid with three podiums and a pole position to his name.

For the last two seasons, Stroll was partnered by four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and matched up well against the German so it will be interesting to see how he copes alongside another illustrious team-mate, Fernando Alonso, this year.

The year has begun badly for Stroll, who was forced to miss the pre-season test after a cycling accident and may yet miss the opening race.

The car turned heads during the Bahrain test with some predicting Aston Martin could mix it with the big three teams of Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. Their ability to realise that potential could rest with the dynamic between Stroll and Alonso.

Wily veteran Alonso likes to play the politics game and build the team around himself, but he'll struggle to do that with the boss' son in the other car. Alonso is smart enough to realise that, so it will be fascinating to see how he, and Stroll, approach the season.

Zhou Guanyou

China's first F1 driver made an impact with Alfa Romeo last year, not least with his spectacular first-corner exit from the British Grand Prix.

Zhou scored points on his debut with eighth place in Bahrain and, although he picked up only two more top-10 finishes, he was forced to retire from a number of promising positions through poor reliability.

The Chinese racer should benefit hugely for a year of experience, as well as the strong relationship he has built with his veteran team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

Alfa Romeo tend to do their best work early in a season, before the development race becomes too hot for their budget, and after showing good speed in testing with Zhou topping the times on day two, he will look to get plenty of points on the board in the opening rounds.

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