March has arrived and that means that a new F1 season is just around the corner, with the opening race of the campaign taking place in Bahrain this weekend.
Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team enjoyed a record-breaking season last year and the signs from pre-season testing are ominous for all of his challengers.
However, Ferrari will be hoping to avoid the costly mistakes of last season, while seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton will be looking to bounce back from the first winless campaign of his career.
|What||2023 F1 season|
|When||Sunday 5th March - Sunday 26th November|
|How to watch||Sky Sports and Channel 4|
|Odds||Max Verstappen 8/11, Lewis Hamilton 3/1, Charles Leclerc 5/1, George Russell 8/1, Carlos Sainz 25/1|
Drivers/Constructors' Championship double
Max Verstappen/Red Bull @ 10/11
Drivers' Championship without Max Verstappen
Lewis Hamilton @ 11/4
Constructors' Championship without Red Bull
Mercedes @ 11/8
Drivers' Championship Match Bet
Nick de Vries to beat Yuki Tsunoda @ 8/11
Odds correct at the time of writing and are subject to fluctuation.
Verstappen found himself trailing championship leader Charles Leclerc by 46 points after the first three races of 2022. But, after dominating the rest of the season, the Dutchman successfully completed his title defence in Japan with four races to spare.
Red Bull ace Verstappen - 4/6 to secure a third straight world championship - ended the season with 15 victories from 22 races, while team-mate Sergio Perez claimed two others and their rivals have little reason to be confident after pre-season running.
The Milton Keynes outfit had a trouble-free time in Bahrain preparing for the opening race at the Sakhir circuit. They set the fastest time of the test - with Perez at the wheel - some 1.4 seconds faster than they had gone the previous year.
That will be a wake-up call to those who felt that having nailed the transition to new regulations last year, there would only be a limited amount of improvement Red Bull could find ahead of the new season.
Verstappen matured a lot last year, having been very rough-edged in his title battle with Hamilton in 2021 and his team go into the new season seemingly with at least as great an advantage as they ended last year.
Having lost the 2021 championship in controversial circumstances, Hamilton went into last year determined for revenge and to seal a record eighth drivers' title.
However, his Mercedes team went in the complete wrong direction with their new car, failing to adapt to the new aerodynamic rules and creating a machine that was almost as painful to watch as it was to drive.
The car turned heads with its sleek design, but proved cumbersome on track and bounced so much on the straights that Hamilton considered it barely safe to drive.
The winner of over 100 F1 races, Hamilton's misery was compounded by the fact that his young new team-mate George Russell comprehensively outperformed him for the first half of the season and ended the year 35 points ahead.
Things improved gradually throughout the year, with the Silver Arrows even picking up a 1-2 finish in Brazil, Russell scoring his first career win.
But they ended up as a clear third-best team behind Red Bull and Ferrari, ending a run of eight consecutive constructors' championships.
While Mercedes' woes were clear to see from the moment the car hit the track in 2022, this year's pre-season running has been much better.
They completed almost 400 laps and despite Hamilton having some concerns over the car's balance, they set the second-fastest time of the test, over two seconds faster than in the corresponding session last year.
It's doubtful they have improved enough to unseat Red Bull at the head of affairs, but having just missed out to Ferrari for second place in the constructors list last year, they will have high hopes of outperforming the Italian team this time around.
Hamilton got his act together in the second half of the season, edging Russell 12-10 in the qualifying head-to-head and he will be keen to put the youngster in his place this time around, with Russell to be crowned world champion this season.
Perez finished only 30 points ahead of Russell last year and Hamilton, who finished second in three of the last four races last year, could be the one to give Verstappen most to think about.
Nyck de Vries has been on the periphery of F1 for a number of years, most recently as a Mercedes protege, and the Dutchman finally makes his full-time debut this year at the wheel of an AphaTauri.
De Vries drove Friday practice sessions last season for Mercedes, Williams and Aston Martin before making his race debut at Monza as a late replacement for the unwell Alex Albon at Williams. The Dutchman finished a brilliant ninth there, scoring only the team's fourth points finish of the season.
At the age of 28, De Vries is comparatively ancient for an F1 rookie, but he has a wealth of motorsport experience and looks a worthy favourite to outperform his fiery team-mate Yuki Tsunoda.
AlphaTauri were disappointed to finish ninth of the ten teams in last year's constructors' championship and pre-season was far from smooth.
But De Vries looks better placed to make the most of any point-scoring opportunities that come the team's way and is 8/11 to outperform Tsunoda.