We are less than 50 days away from the first day of pre-season testing for the 2022 Formula One season at Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona. The rule changes that will govern the sport in 2022 could take some time to bed in, and it will be interesting to see how teams and drivers respond to the new regulatory framework.
History suggests one or two teams would unearth some groundbreaking innovation and blow away their competitors like Brawn GP in 2009 or Mercedes in 2014, while the rest would play catch-up throughout the year. Experts and the community, in general, feel it will again be a “Mercedes v Red Bull” two-horse race for the World Constructors’ Championship, while there is renewed optimism around Ferrari to deliver their first title since 2008.
Teams like Alpine and Aston Martin could spring a surprise and be front-runners come Bahrain, while the silence around Haas and Williams make them one to watch when the cars hit the track on February 23.
So, without further ado, here are my 2022 F1 predictions.
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Prediction #1 : Alfa Romeo will be the biggest gainers
Apart from Scuderia Ferrari, Alfa Romeo had the most improved car on the grid during the 2021 season. The team ended the campaign ninth in the Constructors’ Championship, their lowest result since their return in 2019.
When compared in terms of pure performance, Alfa Romeo closed the gap to leaders Mercedes by over a second on one-lap pace. However, small margins and not making the most of certain circumstances throughout the year hurt their points tally at the end. From getting cars wrecked in a Valtteri Bottas-induced pile up in Budapest, missing opportunities in Spa and Bahrain, to Imola where Kimi spun his car on the formation lap, Alfa Romeo scored just six top 10 results throughout the 22-race calendar, scoring a best result of eighth in Russia and Mexico.
However, with a new driver pairing—a rejuvenated Valtteri Bottas as their #1 and a young speedster in Guanyu Zhou—and Ferrari’s new Power Unit (PU) and gearbox, Alfa Romeo are on track for a better start to the new 2022 F1 season.
Prediction #2 : Alpine will be in the mix for regular podiums
Alpine are another team who sacrificed their 2021 season for a shot at the 2022 Championships. While many believe that Ferrari are the ones to watch out for, given their win in Hungary—courtesy of an Esteban Ocon win—and a podium for Fernando Alonso in Jeddah, Alpine have every reason to be optimistic for the new Formula One 2022 season.
Along with Ferrari, Alpine were one of the first teams to switch their entire development program towards the 2022 regulation changes as early as July 2021. The chassis and aero development they brought in seem to have put them in the right direction for the massive overhaul next season.
Moreover, just like the Prancing Horses, Alpine’s engine manufacturers, Renault, have an engine upgrade in the pipeline for 2022 which was previously planned in parts for ’22 and ’23 before the engine freeze was pushed forward by a year. 2021 saw Renault use the 2019 spec engine but with improved reliability and one or two minor upgrades, keeping them within 15-20 hp of the leaders Mercedes.
With a complementary driver pairing of Ocon-Alonso (with the latter looking in ominous form for his rivals), an improved power unit and a car capable of challenging for regular podiums, I believe both Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso have it in them to challenge for the World Drivers’ Championship title.
Prediction #3 : Ferrari will challenge for both WDC and WCC
A disappointing 2020 campaign saw the Maranello-based team suffering their worst slump in 40 years. In February 2021, Ferrari Sporting Director Laurent Mekies said, “We are pretty much already in full swing [towards the 2022 season]. If you want to put a number to it, if you want to call it 90% or 95%…”
A lowly sixth-place finish in the 2020 World Constructors’ Championship gave Ferrari 12.5% more CFD or aerodynamics testing time in the wind tunnel than Mercedes, which is a significant advantage for those who put all their eggs in the 2022 regulation changes basket (which will heavily impact the aero and chassis side of things).
In the years gone by, aerodynamic development was unrestricted, which meant some teams ran their wind tunnels 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some teams even ran more than one wind tunnel. This kind of development helped teams gain crucial tenths of seconds, but it was also hugely expensive.
The new scaling model is based on the championship position at the end of the previous season followed by a reset on June 30 each year to reflect the current state of play. For 2021, Mercedes received 90% of testing allocations, Ferrari—having finished sixth in 2020—received 102.5% of testing allocations, while Williams—having finished plum last—received 112.5% or 45 runs per week.
The biggest boost for Ferrari will be the new power unit, which was first run by Charles Leclerc in Russia and then Carlos Sainz in Turkey. The new hybrid engine was prepared with the 2022 regulations in mind, and while everyone will begin their 2022 campaign from scratch, this new engine will put Ferrari just 5-10 hp behind Red Bull and 10-15 hp behind Mercedes, with the next upgrade for the 2022 season expected to either match the Mercedes PU or be the outright best in class along with having the best electrical unit in the grid.
Moreover, even if Ferrari don’t have the best car in the grid, they have two drivers who eked out every ounce of performance from that 2021 Ferrari car. They will certainly fight for race wins and championships on merit if given a competitive car.
I have always believed that, when given a championship-winning car, Charles Leclerc will win multiple WDCs. I will also hold my hands up and say that Carlos Sainz has proved me wrong. I always believed him to be a good “front of the pack” driver, but after his performances for Ferrari in 2021, he has proved to me that he is capable of winning championships as well.
Prediction #4 : Lewis will show Russell his place
George Russell’s move to Mercedes has been the most talked-about subject in the F1 community, with many believing the young Brit to be capable of even dethroning Lewis Hamilton as Mercedes’ poster boy.
Oh, how the F1 Gods would laugh at this!
Yes, Lewis Hamilton will be 37 by the time the 2022 season kicks off in Bahrain, while his much younger compatriot will be just 24. Fitness and reflexes might certainly play a part. When you look at one-lap pace, George Russell is one of the best in the entire F1 grid, but when you take into consideration aspects like racecraft, awareness, experience and decision-making, Lewis Hamilton is head and shoulders above Russell.
Russell will push him hard, no doubt, but when Max Verstappen in a superior car over the majority of the season barely managed to beat Hamilton by the skin of his teeth, Russell will have his work cut out throughout an entire season. I feel it will be more of a master-apprentice relationship, something more akin to fast-tracking George Russell’s development before Hamilton bids farewell to the sport.
As stated by Russell himself in an interview, neither driver will get preference in 2022, but Russell’s ability as a driver and his mentality will definitely be tested. Just ask both Valtteri Bottas and Nico Rosberg about it.
You don’t become a seven-time World Champion just by having the best car on the grid.
Also Read – Top 10 Greatest Lewis Hamilton On-Track Moments
Prediction #5 : Aston Martin will be 2022’s dark horses
For a team rebranded countless times throughout the history of Formula One, the presently-named Aston Martin team have consistently punched above their weight over the last decade under various names.
Force India finished the 2016 and 2017 seasons fourth in the Constructors’ Championship having spent the least amount of money compared to any other team in the F1 grid.
2019 saw the team finish a lowly seventh in the WCC, but that was when they went into administration and were nearly on the verge of bankruptcy. Lawrence Stroll bought the team, rebranding the side to Racing Point for the 2020 season while investing heavily into the team and their development, with memories of a “Pink Mercedes” likely to still be fresh in the minds of many.
The team finished fourth in the World Constructors’ Championship despite having the third-best car for the entirety of the 2020 season, although both Sergio Pérez and Lance Stroll had pretty bad runs of luck that derailed their Constructors’ challenge, handing the third place to McLaren.
Moreover, further technical changes in the aerodynamics department hit both Mercedes and Aston Martin hard, with the two being the only teams with cars with low-rake philosophy. The issue that has led me to believe Aston Martin could be the dark horse, though, is their massive structural changes both on and off the track.
While they are the only team who have produced quality machinery with shoestring budgets in years gone by, they now have a technical team capable of producing race-winning cars. They’ve hired Andrew Alessi as the Head of Technical Operations and Dan Fallows as Technical Director, both plucked from the Red Bull pool of exceptional engineers. Luca Furbatto has also come over from Alfa Romeo as Engineering Director. All will be reporting to Andy Green, who has been moved up to the role of Chief Technical Officer.
Next, the key piece in Aston Martin’s puzzle is Sebastian Vettel. Although many believe the four-time World Champion to be past his prime, in a lower-midfield Aston Martin last season, Vettel gave us enough reasons to believe that he could still win his fifth World title if given the right car and team around him.
Hiring Seb Vettel was never a shot in the dark. There was always a method to this madness. What people fail to realise is that Vettel is of a similar mould to Lewis Hamilton: a front-limited driver needing an oversteering rear to complement his driving style, which is why rumours of Vettel to Mercedes were so strong, because technically, it made a lot of sense.