Just 98 days after the almost unfathomable climax to the 2021 season, it’ll be lights out once again on Sunday, as the Bahrain Grand Prix kicks off the 2022 F1 season. The upcoming campaign welcomes sweeping regulation changes for the first time since 2014, with the objective to close the gap between frontrunners and midfield cars. There are countless storylines to be written, and the tension is building rapidly as we enter the first race week of 2022. Rhys Thomas tells us more.
This year will see a record-breaking 23-race calendar (the recently cancelled Russia race will be replaced), including returns to Australia, Singapore, and Japan, as well as an exciting first showing for the Miami Grand Prix.
At the front of the grid are expected to be Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes – maybe in that order, maybe not
It will take a truly special season to beat the drama and controversy of 2021, but hopefully the new regulations will aid this by allowing more drivers to compete for wins. The primary aim of the new rules is to give closer and better racing, hopefully culminating in a more enjoyable experience for drivers, teams, and fans. Whether that will materialise is yet to be seen, but we will get a good idea of how effective these changes are this weekend.
Two rounds of testing gave an indicator as to which teams may be fighting for the title come the final races in November. At the front of the grid are expected to be Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes – maybe in that order, maybe not. After testing, seven-time champion Hamilton claimed that the Silver Arrows “won’t be competing for wins” in their current state. Mercedes have a history of playing their chances down and sandbagging, but Red Bull and Ferrari’s emergence as the two best cars may mean those concerns aren’t misplaced.
At Red Bull, their line-up remains unchanged, and they will be hoping the destination of the drivers’ championship does so as well
Hamilton is partnered by George Russell, who finally graduates from Williams to have his shot at fighting at the front. At Red Bull, their line-up remains unchanged, and they will be hoping the destination of the drivers’ championship does so as well. Ferrari have also retained their formidable duo of Leclerc and Sainz, through whom they arguably possess the strongest pairing in the paddock. The Scuderia will hope to continue their resurgence and deliver the Tifosi a first title since 2008.
F1’s second-most famous name, McLaren, are also looking towards the top spot in 2022. Despite a disrupted testing programme, the papaya team are rumoured to have a strong car and will be hoping to build on their podiums and win from 2021. In spite of that Monza win, Ricciardo will be desperate to at least perform on the same level as Norris, who bested the Australian comfortably in their first season as teammates.
Moving into the midfield, Alpine’s P5 championship finish in 2021 may be under threat from those behind. The French team repeatedly claimed they would be fighting for podiums at this regulation change. Now they have arrived, however, team bosses seem to be moving the goalposts as to when they will be winning again. Another season away from the front would frustrate double world champion Alonso who, at 41, will likely be planning a second retirement if he is not provided with a car capable of fighting for the podium.
Lead driver Gasly is now unanimously appreciated as one of the strongest drivers on the grid
The Red Bull junior team Alpha Tauri delivered a surprisingly strong car in 2021. Lead driver Gasly is now unanimously appreciated as one of the strongest drivers on the grid. Japanese racer Tsunoda will continue after a shaky rookie season that showed much more promise towards its conclusion. Their function as a B team does limit how far they could climb the grid, but the team will still seek to capitalise on the rare podium opportunity.
It’s fair to say that Aston Martin’s 2021 was underwhelming. Newly branded as Aston Martin, the signing of four-time champion Vettel, and their striking British Racing Green livery drove belief that the team could fight with Ferrari and McLaren. This didn’t materialise, and a pretty dreadful second half of last season saw them slump to P7. Their unchanged Vettel-Stroll duo will be keen to elevate this position and feature on a few podiums.
Williams, Alfa Romeo, and Haas made up the basement of the constructors’ standings in 2021. Williams did at least take a step forward from previous years by amassing 23 points, almost tripling the tally of their last three seasons combined. 2022 does, though, see them lose star qualifier Russell. Red Bull have allowed Albon to leave his testing role to partner Latifi, who enters his third season with the team.
Chinese debutant Guanyu Zhou is the only rookie on the grid
Alfa Romeo’s poor performances continued in 2021. Chinese debutant Guanyu Zhou is the only rookie on the grid as part of the team’s all-new driver line-up, with ex-Mercedes man Bottas replacing retiring fellow Finn Räikkönen. This mix of youth and experience could be a dynamic partnership, one that Alfa will need to perform if they are to score some decent points.
Finally, we arrive at the curiosity that is Haas. A strong start to their F1 adventure a few years ago descended into the joke of the grid in 2021. Their double rookie line-up of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were virtually opposites of each other, in terms of behaviour, popularity, and indeed talent. The American (slash Russian) team looked set to retain this line-up, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in sanctions on title sponsor Uralkali, as well as Mazepin’s father. Consequently, the sponsor was dropped and Mazepin fired, replaced by Dane and fan favourite Kevin Magnussen, who returns just a year after departing Haas. Hopefully for his sake they won’t be rock bottom this year.
With under a week until lights out, Formula 1 is ready to begin a new era. We’ll watch with massive interest as the new generation of cars are pushed to the limit for the first time, and there are so many questions to be answered. Who will be fastest? Slowest? Will the new rules allow for better racing? They’ve certainly been hyped up enough for years. On Sunday, we’ll find out if they deliver!
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