A new season and a new challenge - 2022 heralds one of the biggest regulation changes that Formula One has ever seen. So, will the pack be re-shuffled and a new order created in the sport? Could this be just like 2009 when Brawn GP turned up to their first race with a showstopper of a car and Jenson Button went on to win the World Championship? Read on to inform your 2022 F1 season predictions.
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First things first, I believe we are unlikely to see a team who has not been competitive in recent seasons - like Haas or Williams - suddenly turn up with a race-winning car. Likewise, we will almost certainly not see Red Bull and Mercedes languishing at the back of the pack searching for the seconds they have lost. But, we could see a few more teams in the mix when it comes to podium spots and challenging for the World Championship, which is the aim, and just one of the reasons why the 2022 Formula One season promises to be one of the most exciting ever!
F1 2022 season: What has changed?
Firstly, bigger wheels! The tyres have been switched from 13” to 18” – meaning they are much more like a road car tyre than they’ve ever been before. It also means the cars look quite different from the ones everyone has grown used to over the last few years. There’s also been a return to wheel covers for the first time since 2009, with little winglets that sit over each front wheel now present. Overall, these changes have been made to aid the aerodynamics of the car and make the tyres more predictable, which should, in theory, result in improved racing, but we will have to wait and see if this happens in practice.
The second major change has been made to the shape of the car, again to aid aerodynamics. F1’s biggest problem in recent years was the lack of overtaking ability of the cars. Not only was this issue frustrating for the drivers, it often made for less-than-thrilling viewing for fans. F1 knows that to improve the show for the fans and make racing better, cars need to be able to follow each other closely and overtake. The change in the shape of the car – with its funky new rear wing and simplified front wing - should hopefully resolve this issue and make for better viewing for the fans.
Finally, the bit underneath the car is very different. Ground effect hasn’t really been a thing in F1 since the 1970s and ’80s but now it’s back. If you were to flip the car over, you would see two large tunnel-like systems which direct the airflow underneath the car giving it more suction, pulling it downwards, and therefore generating what everyone wants in F1 – downforce.
The great hope is that these changes (which have been in the pipeline for four years and were meant to be introduced in 2021 but were delayed by Covid-19) will result in better and more competitive racing, more overtakes out on track, and potentially a range of different teams winning races.
Overcoming the ‘porpoise’ problem
Mario Andretti came up with the term ‘porpoising’ after driving the Lotus 80 at Silverstone – another ground effect car. It’s a new phenomenon for this current generation of drivers and one that isn’t entirely pleasant. It’s somewhat akin to trying to ride a bucking bronco, as the car is effectively sucked into the ground and then released, meaning the car bounces along, like a porpoise swimming in the sea (hence the name).
Porpoising happens at high speed and affects the handling of the car and the driver’s comfort but crucially, it also affects the level of downforce the car is running with – therefore affecting the overall effectiveness of the car.
Porpoising was seen on most of the cars during testing and will be causing some serious head-scratching for the engineers. You can guarantee they’ll find some solutions ahead of the first race but it might just become an annoying feature of the 2022 season. If a team can come up with a complete solution, they may just gain that crucial edge, which is something you should definitely keep an eye on in the early stages of the season.
F1 2022: Driver changes
Despite many fans’ fears, Sir Lewis Hamilton is back for another season and will once again challenge for his eighth world title but last season’s runner-up will have a new partner in crime. Valtteri Bottas is out (he has joined Alfa Romeo) and young British hopeful George Russell is in.
The 24-year-old from King’s Lynn has worked with Mercedes for several years as part of their young driver programme and deputised for Hamilton when he got Covid-19 in the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020 (and could have won the race but for a pit stop issue) but will now get his big break in the 2022 season.
The biggest questions will be how fast is he compared to Lewis and will he act as a wingman or be a threat to Lewis’ title hunt? The dynamic between the pair will be fascinating to watch.
After such a breath-taking season, the 2021 season finale wasn’t ideal – to put it politely!
Talking of Bottas, it’s all change at Alfa Romeo - the Finnish driver will be joined by China’s first-ever F1 racer, Guanyu Zhou. The 22-year-old from Shanghai has a decent pedigree, having finished third in Formula 2 last season.
It is also worth mentioning that Alex Albon comes in at Williams in a strange deal that sees the former Red Bull driver not quite sever all ties with the Milton Keynes-based team. Driving alongside Nicholas Latifi, it will be interesting to see what the British Thai driver can do.
Finally, we have to discuss Haas, where it’s a case of Nikita Mazep-OUT – with Kevin Magnussen taking his place. The Danish driver lost his seat at Haas at the end of the 2020 season but has now signed a multi-year deal to return to his old team. Unlike Mazepin, he will challenge his new teammate, Mick Schumacher, and it will be a fascinating intra-team battle to watch this year. Magnussen has been on the podium in F1 before in his career and in the right car could get up their again – but I think it’s a stretch to see the 2022 Haas car giving him that opportunity.
F1 2022 predictions: Will it be Verstappen vs. Hamilton part II?
There is no doubt that the way in which the 2021 season ended has caused many sleepless nights for many people. After such a breath-taking season, the finale wasn’t ideal – to put it politely! Both Verstappen and Hamilton deserved to win the title – after all, they went into the final race tied on points.
Neither Hamilton nor Verstappen deserved to be robbed of the chance to win on equal terms or to celebrate their victory wholeheartedly. For some, there will always be an asterisk by Max’s name in the record books for 2021 – but I expect both he and Hamilton to come out the blocks charging.
Both have a point to prove (that they were the rightful champion) and both will be looking to replicate their fine form from last season. Max (4.580*) would love to make it two titles in a row, and for this one to be won in far less controversial circumstances, whereas Lewis (2.400*) would love to make it eight – the most titles won by any driver, ever.
F1 2022 predictions: Who are the favourites?
Let’s take a look at the Drivers’ Championship first. Hamilton, looking for his eighth world title, would be many people’s first choice but he’s been playing down his chances after pre-season testing, saying: “At the moment, I don't think we'll be competing for wins… But there is a potential within our car to get us there. We have just got to be able to extract it and fix some of the problems, which is what we're working on.” Lewis always likes to play down his chances, so we’ll have to wait and see if he’s just keeping his cards close to his chest.
Verstappen will have number one emblazoned on his car this season and will want to keep it there for next year. He looked very comfortable around the Bahrain circuit during testing and, having signed a new multi-million-pound deal, will be keen to stand on the podium at the end of the season and be crowned champion again.
However, this year, it’s also worth considering both Ferrari drivers – Charles Leclerc (9.300*) and Carlos Sainz (21.510*). Both have enough talent to win and with the right car, they could potentially throw a cat amongst the pigeons!
What about the Constructors’ Championship? Well, Mercedes (1.869*) - who have won eight championships in a row - might be the favourites for many going into the new season but the car looks like it’s a real beast to tame and neither driver has seemingly been able to do so yet.
After their excellent showing last year, Red Bull (3.700*) are clearly going to be challenging for the title once again this season. Looking at their strong performances during testing, they seem to have gotten their heads around these new technical regulations quicker than most.
Don’t discount Ferrari (3.980*) though – they may not have won a title since 2008 but they looked very impressive in testing. Bear in mind that they didn’t have the distraction of a full-on Championship battle at the end of last year like Mercedes and Red Bull did - instead, all minds at Maranello were set on the prize of the 2022 Constructors’ Championship. Could they have done enough to grab it? Quite possibly.
Who knows who’ll be crowned the Constructors’ or Drivers’ champions come the end of the season. With the new car regulations, this season’s title races have been blown more open than they’ve been in a very long time. One thing is certain though: this coming season will be a fascinating and thrilling one! Let the games commence.