We are two races into a record 23-race Formula 1 season. The three rookies of 2023: Oscar Piastri, Logan Sargeant, and Nyck de Vries, have had the opportunity to prove themselves worthy (or not) of a seat at the pinnacle of open-wheel motorsport, here’s a look at how they are performing.
Admittedly, it’s still very early days. All three drivers are yet to score their first points this year, perhaps an indication that they are still finding their feet in the series, with two races run, Bahrain and Jeddah with mixed fortunes for the trio.
But one of the hallmarks of a future World Champion is the ability to adapt quickly and be fast out of the blocks. Some drivers have already shown us a glimpse of competitiveness, whereas others have not. So which of the three rookies has impressed the most? And what can we expect from each of them given how they have started this season?
Oscar Piastri: Agile Aussie Rookie
For Australian rookie Piastri, his first race weekend in Bahrain was nothing to write home about. He was 18th in Qualifying, almost half a second down on teammate Lando Norris. His race was even worse; an electrical failure forced him to retire after just 13 laps. This was more of an indication of McLaren’s woes, rather than a lack of ability on the Australian rookie’s part. Besides, it was Piastri’s first official race in well over a year, so we had to cut him some slack.
All doubts were dispelled around the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, however. The Aussie sensation put on a brilliant display on Saturday by hauling the miserable McLaren to Q3 and ninth on the grid.
He was perhaps a tad too cautious going into the first corner of the race and lost part of his front wing from contact with Pierre Gasly, taking him out of points contention. But we still witnessed some impressive race craft from Piastri, swapping places with his experienced teammate and performing several overtakes, not least on fellow rookie Sargeant in the Williams.
All in all what Piastri has shown us is that he is really quite quick; dragging that Papaya machine into Q3 was an undeniable achievement. As long as he can keep out of trouble in the opening phases of a race there’s no reason why he cannot amass some solid points this year, especially as we expect McLaren to bring a healthy number of upgrades throughout the season.
Logan Sargeant: High risk, little reward
In a previous article it was mentioned that Sargeant should be the least stressed of the three rookies, given his experience driving F1 machinery and driving a decidedly uncompetitive car in the Williams. But Sargeant has been driving like he has a target on his back so far, and while he has shown to have incredible pace, his risky driving hasn’t really paid off.
Starting at the Bahrain Grand Prix, the American racer just missed out on Q2 by setting the exact same lap time as Norris. The latter completed his lap before, and so was selected to proceed to the next stage of Qualifying. Sunday went alright for Sargeant, as he finished P12 in an uneventful race.
The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on the other hand was a bit of a mess for the rookie. On Saturday he had initially set a time good enough to get into Q2 (his teammate, Alex Albon, was not as fast), but this was deleted as he had crossed the pit entry line on the main straight. Sargeant was understandably aggrieved but was unable to compose himself for his second attempt as he spun around on a flying lap.
Starting at the back of the field, Sargeant made his way up to near the points by delaying his pitstops. But tyre wear got the better of him as he slipped all the way down to 16th position at the chequered flag. Thus, we only really saw Sargeant being overtaken, rather than the other way around.
Regular points will be a tall order for Sargeant, given the machinery he has underneath him. But if he continues to work on his composure behind the wheel and displays the same raw ability he already has numerous times this season, he can certainly challenge Albon over the year.
Nyck de Vries: Simply slow AlphaTauri
Rookie, albeit with one F1 start to his name last year, De Vries was simply stunning in his maiden F1 drive at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix, finishing ninth for Williams despite never having driven for the team before. A lot of us expected the Dutchman to continue such fine form into the 2023 campaign, but unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
While the Alpha Tauri looks to be one of the slowest cars on the current grid, it cannot be ignored that de Vries has been beaten fair and square by teammate Yuki Tsunoda in both races and has looked especially off the mark in Qualifying. Around half a second slower on average over one lap cannot be chalked down solely to setup differences; de Vries is slower than a distinctly mediocre teammate.
It’s not been all bad for the Dutch driver, however. He has made up places in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and his disappointing P14 around the Bahrain International Circuit can be largely attributed to his team’s poor decision to keep him out on worn tyres while everyone else pitted during the Virtual Safety Car.
But there is no doubt that de Vries needs to improve his Qualifying pace if he wants any shot at scoring points this year; he can’t expect to pull off a hero’s performance from the back of the grid week in, week out.
It’s not so far-fetched to assume that there is something about the Alpha Tauri that de Vries is not agreeing with, preventing him from extracting the full potential from both the car and himself. Only time will tell.