We’re five races into the F1 season 2022 and so far, this is the best season in ages! The extensive changes introduced to the cars and notably described in my post form October last year have done wonders in making the races exciting again, by allowing cars to close up nearer to each other and thus helping overtaking. And then we’ve seen overtaken drivers fighting back for position, something that never happened in previous years but that I believe is called real racing! There’s actually so much overtaking that the next consideration may well be weather to reduce the DRS as it’s hardly needed anymore. What’s also really cool is seeing how much interest F1 generates this year, which maybe not entirely, but to a very large extent is due to Netflix’s “Drive to survive” series that if you haven’t seen it yet, you definitely should. Season 4 (which describes what happened last season) is the best so far, also as drivers are by now used to the cameras and it becomes even more intimate.
F1 is thus very much on a high after the first five races, and although it’s too early to say how the season will end (there’s another 17 races to go!), we’re certainly seeing some interesting trends in how things are developing. A lot of that wasn’t really expected at the start of the season, so here’s a short summary of the main trends seen so far, some of which look likely to mark the whole season and especially the intense phase ahead, with from next weekend three races over the coming four weeks, including the two city races in Monaco and Baku.
The biggest surprise of the year is certainly that at least at the time of writing, Mercedes isn’t a title contender neither on the team nor on the driver side. In other words, Lewis Hamilton will most probably not be the world champion in 2022. Mercedes currently ranks third in the constructors’ rankings, but already 50 points behind the leading teams. George Russell and Hamilton rank fourth and sixth in the drivers’ standings but again, already with a large distance to the top drivers. As things stand, the team is not fighting for the front row in qualifying (they’re actually not certain of making it to Q3…) and as we know, losing that front row makes it much more difficult to fight for wins. Especially of course when you have a slower car, as is currently the case. This doesn’t change anything to the fact that George Russell has delivered on a scale the team may have hoped for but couldn’t be certain of, currently ranking well ahead of Lewis, which wasn’t really expected by anyone. Will Mercedes with its enormous resources manage to change things before it’s too late, and will Lewis find his footing? Let’s indeed hope so, but it’s not looking likely right now.
The second thing to note that I think most F1 fans are very happy to see is that Ferrari is not only back, but actually on par or even slightly ahead of Red Bull, currently leading the constructors’ championship and with Leclerc leading the drivers’ ranking. This means they’ve come a very long way since 2020 which was the team’s worst season in 40 years, and the last of their record 16 drivers’ titles which goes back all the way to Kimi Räikkönen in 2007. This year everything’s different, the car is fast, as are both drivers and especially Leclerc. As Red Bull and the Verstappen-Perez driver pairing look just as strong as last year, this basically means that Ferrari has replaced Mercedes as the main competitor for the title. Without taking anything away from Red Bull, As Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has said, Ferrari is a legendary team that belongs at the top of F1!
Next to the three top teams, it’s really a mix of good and bad. Starting with the bad, McLaren who have been making steady progress in the last years seem to have lost most of it, with a car that currently lacks any kind of consistency. it’s still enough for P4 in the teams’ ranking, but Norris and Ricciardo both find themselves way down in the driver rankings, with little improvement currently in sight. The same goes for Aston Martin who seem to have completely lost their footing, with a very meager six points to their account so far. AlphaTauri deserves a mention on the bad side as well, not as dramatically lost as Aston, but clearly inferior to what especially Gasly was able to produce last year.
As for the positive surprises, it’s interesting to see that we seem to have two cases of the “in a more relaxed environment I’m able to perform” syndrom. The first is Valtteri Bottas who is clearly enjoying life to the max at Alfa Romeo, impressing everyone both in qualifying and racing and completely outclassing his team colleague Zhou. Bottas is currently eigth in the drivers’ rankings (and by the way, only six points behind Lewis…) and thanks to him, Alfa Romeo is in fifth place in the teams’ rankings. The second is Alex Albon who this year has returned to F1, driving for Williams. What he does there is actually even better than what George Russell managed to produce last year, arguably in a better car. Albon regularly finishes around P10 and looks far better and more relaxed than at any time with Red Bull.
Finally, Haas has found their footing again thanks to a better car and even more to Kevin Magnussen, who in his typical no-bullshit style has scored in four of the five races so far. Mick Schumacher is still waiting to do so but already now, what Magnussen produces is probably enough to have team principal Günther Steiner swearing slighly less in his Austrian version of English.
2022 is thus looking like the best F1 season in many years, and at this stage it’s very much open if in the end it’s a second consecutive tittle for Red Bull, or the first one in 15 years for Ferrari. Until we know it looks quite certain that we’ll have many great races to look forward to!