Midway through the most anticipated Formula 1 season in more than 30 years, the 2022 campaign has delivered what was promised and revealed what was unforeseen.
Brimming with brilliant engineers and some of the fastest drivers on earth, F1 thrives on change. Yet, it’s human nature to resist change.
Here is our take from those battles so far this season.
A select group of highly knowledgeable and experienced racing engineers designed the 2022 rule changes to return F1 to wheel-to-wheel racing, so a forcefield of turbulent air would no longer buffet a pursuing car.
The result? More passing opportunities.
Did these massive changes create the desired effect? Confirmation arrived instantly in Sakhir and Saudi Arabia as Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen produced spectacular wheel-to-wheel duels, and finally, the crowning moment of the multi-car fight for the podium at Silverstone.
The revised regulations have resolved F1’s past aesthetics problem; take a brief glimpse of the svelte Ferrari F1-75.
Minus the flips, fins, facets and blades of the last few years, each team’s new cars displayed the most elegant designs of the previous 40 years and were fully worthy of “ultimate speed machine” status.
However, these new sexy speed machines are not without their issues.
The new aero regulations employ ducts beneath the cars, creating a downward venturi effect that pushes the cars into the pavement.
However, with the massive increase in grip came the unforeseen danger of porpoising – ultra-rapid up-and-down motions that violently shook the drivers’ torsos.
Mercedes has suffered the most, but every driver expressed fears over long-term health risks.
With the new rules aimed at making the cars more raceable also came the equalization of team budget caps that promised more competitive racing throughout the grid.
During the last two Covid-effected seasons, seven teams won a Grand Prix, and only two failed to make the podium.
In 2022, that level of competitiveness remains elusive, as only two teams have won in the first 13 races, and only one driver outside the top three teams has reached the podium.
After winning his maiden World Championship last year, Max Verstappen has matured even further in 2022. Now able to win just as convincingly from 10th on the grid in Hungary as he is from pole position, the Dutchman now races with the serenity of a driver without weakness.
Verstappen also carries the self-assurance he is elevating both himself and Red Bull to a whole new level of performance.
At 24 years old, he already has 28 victories and sits eighth – ahead of such names as Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark and Niki Lauda – on the all-time list. The closest of his generation? Charles Leclerc with… five.
For Leclerc, George Russell, Lando Norris and the rest to challenge the Dutchman, now and in the future, their teams will need a vastly superior car with clear advantages.
In 2022, Charles Leclerc has risen to near the superstar level.
The Monegasque’s season-opening victory in Bahrain and early season’s peaks – including his glorious pole-to-flag victory in Melbourne and his streak of six poles in the first eight races – are markers of his astonishing talent.
All that remains is controlling his temperament.
Then there is Ferrari. With arguably the fastest (or at least the most drivable and versatile) car of 2022, the team will look back and weep at how their mid-season has collapsed through a mix of unreliability, driver error and strategy, each mistake breeding the next.
Leclerc has not taken defeat well and was fiercely critical of the team after losing his home race in Monaco and retiring from the lead for the second time in three races in Baku.
His surprising spins at Imola and Paul Ricard were markers that the Monegasque is at precisely the same point of his career (five seasons) as Verstappen was in 2019. Leclerc is capable of instantly turning on the fast lap that few can match but needs to temper his rough emotions.
There is still much development and harsh lessons to learn – but he has all the talent for a spectacular future.
Mercedes have had a disappointing season so far, but where would they stand if they had not signed George Russell? Despite the temperamental W13, Russell has finished in the top five of every race he has completed.
A maiden pole in Hungary, followed by his fifth podium of 2022, saw Russell finish the first half of his first season with a flourish.
Russell stands within striking distance of second in the Drivers’ standings, with Mercedes only 30 behind Ferrari in the Constructors’. He was the right choice at the right moment.
Sorting the confusing W13 In 2022, teams reconfiguring their original F1 chassis must notify the FIA of each change before the cars are allowed to run on track. To finally push the W13 to the front, Mercedes implemented drastic measures for everyone to see.
They revised the front suspension, adding volume to the pushrod and rear leg components. This tweak was to downwash the airflow near the chassis sides, creating a vortex that improved flow underneath the floor.
Mercedes then repositioned the vanes on the side of the chassis ahead of the sidepod, helping improve the flow quality into the radiator duct, delivering improved cooling performance.
They also increased forward floor edge wing slots and the camber of its forward position, increasing forward floor load. It was matched with a small camber change to the forward floor fence that improved flow to the diffuser.
At the W13’s rear, they fitted a modified rear wing tip to reduce camber, which is track specific and targeted to reduce drag without shedding too much downforce.
Such are the enormous macro and microscopic tweaks Russell and Hamilton have tamed to bring the Mercedes out of the “2022 season’s wilderness”.
Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement from F1 before the Hungarian GP. Aston Martin had hoped the four-time former World Champion would continue with the team, but the German seems to have lost most of the fire he brought to F1 at 17.
Aston Martin immediately shook the paddock by announcing double F1 champion Fernando Alonso would replace Vettel with a “multi-year” deal from 2023. The Spaniard remains a true racer, still desperate to win even at 41.
Alonso, expected to remain with Alpine, said he was happy to join “one of the most exciting teams in Formula 1 today.”
In Alonso’s case, it was a question of his relationship with Alpine. His initial contract ends at the end of this season, and he – with manager Flavio Briatore – was in discussions with a very “slow responding” Alpine over an extension.
To increase the drama, Alpine announced it had promoted highly regarded Oscar Piastri to its race team, replacing Alonso. But, Piastri instantly took to social media to reject the offer as it emerged he was already in talks with McLaren.
Reports have also claimed McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl told Daniel Ricciardo the team would be parting ways at the end of the season.
Such is the “speed” of 2022 F1. Hold on tight.