F1 2022 season preview: New designs, new drivers but a familiar rivalry

A series of new regulations, the biggest change to the sport since 1983, has prompted every team to radically rethink their car, while Mercedes were beaten to the Drivers’ Championship last year for the first time since 2014.

Shortly after, he terminated his contract with the Russian Grand Prix promoter, “meaning Russia will not have a race in the future,” read an F1 statement.

The Russian Grand Prix was due to move from Sochi to the newly renovated Igora Drive circuit in St Petersburg in 2023.

Haas, meanwhile, terminated the contract of its Russian driver Nikita Mazepin as well as its title sponsor Uralkali, a Russian fertilizer producer partly owned by Mazepin’s oligarch father, Dmitry.

Lewis Hamilton v Max Verstappen

The rivalry between Hamilton and Verstappen has shaped F1 in 2021, a season widely acclaimed as one of the greatest ever due to their extraordinarily close title fight.

In recent years Verstappen has become the only driver capable of challenging Hamilton’s dominance, and their rivalry will also define the contours of this season.

In their season-long duel in 2021, they have collided three times – at Silverstone, Monza and Saudi Arabia.

The ending is even more dramatic. Coming to the last Grand Prix of the season, the two drivers were tied in the race for the world championship.

2021 F1 Drivers' World Champion Max Verstappen is congratulated by runner-up Lewis Hamilton after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Verstappen secured pole position in qualifying, but Hamilton passed him as they rounded the first corner and held a considerable lead for much of the race.

It looked like the title was decided until a late safety car effectively restarted the race with Verstappen right behind Hamilton on newer, faster tyres. Verstappen passed Hamilton and won his first world championship.

The fallout from the controversy persists. At 37, Hamilton is approaching the end of his career and will not have many more opportunities to claim the absolute record for world championship victories.

He currently sits on seven, tied with Michael Schumacher, but his motivation does not seem to be diminished by the controversy in Abu Dhabi.

“I would say so,” Hamilton replied when asked if he was a more dangerous driver than before, in a video uploaded to Mercedes’ Twitter page.

Verstappen is the opposite of his career and has long been touted as a potential multiple world champion. Last season, the Dutchman’s consistency was remarkable as he finished first or second in every race he finished without damaging his car.

He is the focal point of the Red Bull team, with whom he will remain until at least 2028.

Driver changes

The traditional carousel of drivers swapping seats ended quite late this year as teams looked to refine their rosters ahead of the 2022 season.

Alfa Romeo will sport an all-new driver line-up as Zhou Guanyu, China’s first F1 driver, joins the team – the only driver to make his F1 debut this season.
Zhou Guanyu during Alfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen filming day on February 27, 2022.

Zhou joins Alfa Romeo after finishing third in Formula 2 last year and having been a test driver for Renault and Alpine.

“Being the very first Chinese driver in F1 is a breakthrough in Chinese motorsport history,” Zhou told F1. “I know a lot of hope will be pinned on me and as always I will take this as motivation to get better and do more.”

Valtteri Bottas also joins Alfa Romeo, replacing retired Kimi Raikkonen. His seat at Mercedes has been given to George Russell, after months of speculation, who in turn is replaced by Alexander Albon at Williams.

Russell’s association with Mercedes dates back to 2017 when he joined their junior driver programme.

George Russell watches from the pit during day two of F1 testing in Bahrain.

After Mazepin was fired by Haas, Kevin Magnussen will join his former team on a multi-year contract. Previously, Magnussen drove for Haas from 2017 until the end of the 2020 season.

Rule Changes

Not since 1983 has F1 introduced such sweeping new regulations governing car design. These new regulations aim to make overtaking easier by shifting the aerodynamic emphasis from the fenders to the underside of the car.

The car’s design will help create downforce – crucial to the performance of F1 cars, allowing the tires to continue to grip the track at extreme speeds – by controlling the airflow around it.

However, the 2021 cars lost much of their downforce when traveling behind another car. This was due to the disturbed airflow trailing behind the lead car, a phenomenon often referred to as “dirty air”. As such, it can be difficult to overtake – especially around corners – as the driver in front has a natural advantage.

By redesigning the cars and moving the main site of aerodynamics under the car, F1 hopes to reduce the impact of this “dirty air” and make overtaking easier. They estimate the 2022 cars will lose just 4% of their downforce within three car lengths of the car ahead and 18% within one car length.

The true effects of these new regulations won’t be apparent until racing begins on Sunday, but during practice Pierre Gasly and Hamilton provided insight as they briefly drove side-by-side along the track.

“It was also interesting to follow and just to get data and feel from following other cars…we passed each other a few times, we stayed close to each other. other — and that was definitely an improvement, so I think racing should be pretty fun this year,” Gasly told F1.

What happened during the tests?

Pre-season testing has taken on increased importance this year, due to new regulations and new car models on display.

Red Bull performed well, with their new world champion Verstappen setting the fastest time by almost seven tenths of a second on the final day of pre-season testing in Bahrain.

Both Ferrari drivers consistently posted fast laps in Bahrain, suggesting the reliability of their car, while Charles Leclerc set the second fastest time behind Verstappen.

Ferrari's Leclerc drives during day three of Formula One pre-season testing in Bahrain.

Mercedes, meanwhile, unveiled a car that was radically different from other teams, with much narrower sidepod entrances: a design that could pose challenges, acknowledged Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.

Despite this, their trials fell behind Red Bull and Ferrari. Both Russell and Hamilton played down their chances in Bahrain, citing the car’s persistent problems with porpoising – a phenomenon that occurs when a car reaches top speed and bounces off its suspension – during testing.

“It definitely bounces a lot from the inside, it’s not the most comfortable in all honesty,” Russell told F1. “I don’t really care about comfort if the performance is there, but at the moment the performance is not there.”

“We are a step behind our rivals, and we have a lot of work to do between now and next week to understand because in all conditions the Red Bull and the Ferrari seem to be ahead of us. ”

Mercedes’ testing was also plagued with problems last year as they completed the fewest laps of any team, but Hamilton still won the opening race in Bahrain. Likewise in 2019, Mercedes looked up to half a second off Ferrari’s pace in practice and then finished one-two in the first race of the season.

Still, they will need to improve significantly to challenge the pre-season performances of Ferrari and Red Bull, and such improvements may take a few races to implement.

George Russell drives during day three of F1 testing in Bahrain.

McLaren was another team that underperformed in testing in Bahrain, plagued by braking problems.

Behind the top four teams, there was little to separate the midfield in testing, with Haas, AlphaTauri, Alpine, Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo all doing relatively well. Williams struggled on day two of testing in Bahrain with a brake light but suffered no other major setbacks.

“Drive to Survive”

Drive to survive has become almost synonymous with F1 in recent years; the popular documentary series on Netflix has done a lot to boost the popularity of the sport around the world.

According to ESPN, average viewing figures for Grands Prix in the United States have increased since Drive to survive was published, increasing from around 547,000 in 2018 to 928,000 in 2021.

The dramatic and controversial conclusion to last year’s championship has prompted some, including Lando Norris, to question whether it was fabricated for the benefit of the show.

Speaking to BBC Sport, James Gay-Rees – the show’s producer – pushed back against those criticisms.

“It’s just people under enormous pressure making decisions in the moment,” he said. “There’s no way anyone thought, ‘Will this play well on Netflix? “”

The show has previously been criticized for its tendency to exaggerate interpersonal rivalries and distort timelines.

Nevertheless, even if Drive to survive doesn’t shape the storylines throughout the season, it will shape their public perception.

How to watch

In the United States, ESPN is expected to broadcast all F1 races, practices and qualifying, as is F1 TV Pro, the official F1 streaming service, which costs $79.99 per year.

Practice for the season-opening race – the Bahrain Grand Prix – begins at 8 a.m. ET on March 18, qualifying takes place March 19 from 8 a.m. ET and the race is scheduled for March 20 at 11 a.m. pm ET. ESPN’s full schedule for the season is available on their website.
A full list of broadcasters worldwide is available on the F1 website.

About Nereida Nystrom

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