Last Modified – March 18th, 2022
Original Publication Date – January 6th, 2022
The dust has barely settled on an incredible yet controversial 2021 Formula One season, but mouths are already salivating at the prospect of another chapter of the Max Verstappen-Lewis Hamilton rivalry. But could it be the Prancing Horses taking the spoils this time around?
The first draft for this piece was prepared on the eve of the New Year gone by, way before any of us got a look at the new 2022 cars. While the predictions were not off the mark by a great deal, being someone who takes pride in his work, analysis and subsequent predictions, I took my time gathering lap times and telemetry data of all the teams to update this piece.
Things have changed dramatically over the six-day pre-season testing period. At the end of the Barcelona testing, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes were the teams who stood out as the frontrunners, while Williams looked to be one of the favourites to make the jump into the front of the midfield pack as Haas and Alfa Romeo looked devoid of ideas.
However, the testing in Bahrain spread out the field further, with Red Bull and Ferrari standing out as the top dogs followed by eight-time champions Mercedes, who looked more vulnerable than assured with their sidepod-less design, while McLaren were one of the biggest losers with Daniel Ricciardo sitting out with COVID and persistent brake heating issues that hampered their already-curtailed testing progresses.
History suggests that often one or two teams unearth some groundbreaking innovation and blow away their competitors like Brawn GP did in 2009 or Mercedes in 2014, while the rest end up playing catch-up throughout the year. Experts and the F1 community in general feel it will again be a Mercedes vs Red Bull two-horse race for the World Constructors’ Championship, although there is renewed optimism around Ferrari to deliver their first title since 2008. Teams like Alpine and Aston Martin could also spring a surprise or two and become frontrunners come Bahrain, while the optimism around Haas makes them one to watch as well when the cars hit the track on March 18.
So, without further ado, here are my predictions for the 2022 F1 season.
Also Read – F1: 2022 Formula One Driver Line-up
Prediction #1 : Alfa Romeo and Williams will fail to make good use of the new regulation changes
Apart from Scuderia Ferrari, Williams and Alfa Romeo had the most improved car on the grid during the 2021 season, with the teams ending their campaigns in eighth and ninth places respectively in the Constructors’ Championship. When compared in terms of pure performance, both Williams and 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, in particular, Alfa Romeo’s 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 the best result of eighth in Russia and Mexico.
Williams, on the other hand, had Lady Luck on their side, although George Russell seemed to always be on the wrong side of things most of the time. However, as luck would have it, Russell finished eighth in Hungary after the Lap 1 pile-up behind his teammate Nicholas Latifi in seventh, while after producing arguably the greatest qualifying lap of the modern era, he bagged second in Belgium after just two laps behind the Safety Car. Williams were the best among the backmarkers, and a lot is expected of them for this upcoming 2022 season.
Williams were one of the leaders in terms of mileage and reliability in Barcelona, but brakes- and chassis-related issues during the Bahrain testing have put them right down the pecking order, with others making significant improvement around them. A 23-race-long season and the magnitude of changes brought in suggest that there is a vast room for improvement for each team throughout the season. Thus, I don’t think there will be a backmarker this season, with as many as seven teams scrapping it out in the midfield.
After Alfa Romeo struggled for much of the Barcelona testing with reliability issues, they managed to rack up a healthy 343 laps during the Bahrain testing. While much of the reliability issues were related to porpoising and other mechanical melodies, tweaks to the floor have allowed for compromised ride height, where the car is more stable and reasonably quick as highlighted by Valtteri Bottas’ sixth fastest time on the medium compound tyres in the Bahrain testing, albeit they are a team known for running low fuel to impress sponsors with faster times. They have the pace to challenge for points, but reliability will be their biggest concern and Achilles heel moving forward.
Prediction #2 : An ultra-tight midfield scrap
Alpine are another team that 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. However, throughout the six days of pre-season testing, Alpine faced several issues but enjoyed a smooth running during the last two days, and based on the mileage and lap times, they could be placed anywhere between the front of the midfield pack or the back half of it.
McLaren themselves are on a similar boat: after impressing with their mileage and lap times in Barcelona, everything went downhill for the Woking-based outfit in Bahrain. Although they were the least affected team in terms of porpoising, the front brakes heating issue has thrown a spanner in their work. Furthermore, Daniel Ricciardo’s absence in Bahrain meant Lando Norris had to do the running on all three days, completing more than 200 laps for the team, which is still the lowest among all the teams, putting them on the backfoot quite early into the new season.
AlphaTauri, on the other hand, looked fast, assured and reliable. Their balance looked good, although their car seemed to be understeering in certain sections of the track. One thing that will give them sleepless nights ahead of the new season is the porpoising problem. AlphaTauri are one of the few teams facing extreme porpoising as evident from Pierre Gasly’s Day 1 Bahrain onboard cams. Although it seemed like they might have solved the problem, the ride height and bumpiness of the Sakhir International Circuit is much lower compared to most tracks these F1 cars will be racing on this year.
Thus, as far as I can see it, there are our top three teams that will fight for race wins and championships, while the rest will be cramped up in what could be one of the tightest midfield scraps ever in Formula One. Therefore, it is quite possible that, for the first seven-to-eight races, anyone from the seven teams can get knocked out in Q1 in one race, while making Q3 in the following race.
Prediction #3 : Haas will consistently fight for points
While it may come as a surprise to many, and certainly a lot more will be laughing at this prediction, for all the noise Haas have made over the last three days of pre-season testing, they’ll be right in the thick of the action in that ultra-tight midfield fight come Round 1 in Bahrain. Although Haas tend to run low-fuel runs during testing, primarily to impress their sponsors or create a buzz, this time there is genuine optimism around the paddock.
Kevin Magnussen went quickest on Day 2 of the Bahrain testing, while Mick Schumacher finished second fastest at the end of Day 3. However, the biggest source of optimism was Haas’ long-run pace. On a similar fuel load with the same tyres and a similar number of laps, Schumacher was on average just three-tenths off Lewis Hamilton’s lap-times. Furthermore, with the new Ferrari power unit (PU) and gearbox installed at the back of that Haas car, there is potential to extract more from it just by unlocking the potential of the PU and getting the balance right. Thus, all in all, Haas should consistently fight for Q3 appearances this season.
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.
Predictions #6 – Three-way Championship fight at the top
There is still that belief that Mercedes will unsurprisingly turn up in Bahrain, Lewis will take pole and the race win, thank the team, and make it all sound like a miracle with a smug smile on his face. However, I really think Mercedes are still two or three major upgrades away from the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari. They still can’t seem to make much of the extreme porpoising issues they are encountering while, even if we factor in lower engine modes, it is nowhere near enough for the shortfall in single-lap pace. Thus, leaving us to our two protagonists: Red Bull and Ferrari.
Red Bull were nowhere near the top in Barcelona but seemingly moved the goal-post after bringing an updated car for the final day of testing in Bahrain. Max Verstappen was comfortably the quickest driver on both single-lap pace and long-run pace. Red Bull looked impressive regardless of their times in Barcelona but somewhat went under the radar. Verstappen solidified Red Bull’s position as the frontrunner by even eclipsing Ferrari both on single-lap and long-run paces, the caveat being that Verstappen used the softest tyre to beat Charles Leclerc’s time. However, Red Bull showed excellent reliability throughout testing and have a great front-end grip and balance.
On the other hand, throughout the six days of pre-season testing, Ferrari were on the sharp end of the timesheets across all sessions, with a car that is quick, consistent, reliable and apparently Red Bull’s closest competitor at the start of the season. Seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton has tipped Ferrari to be the Bahrain GP winner, while Fernando Alonso believes the current Ferrari car makes Carlos Sainz one of the main contenders for the Drivers’ Championship.
This brings us nicely to the main point of discussion, that there will be a three-way fight at the top, contested by Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. While some might want to throw Sergio Pérez into the mix, I feel he doesn’t have the one-lap pace and racecraft to fight for a Championship. Moreover, he’ll always be the No. 2 driver behind Max, which isn’t the case at Ferrari, at least for now. Throughout last season, Ferrari allowed both their drivers to race hard and there were even a few heated moments between their two, though things always remained under control.
Besides, both Sainz and Leclerc are very closely matched. On one-lap pace during qualifying, the gap between the two was less than a tenth across 22 races, while Sainz trailed Leclerc on race pace by just 0.15s on average.
Now, why do I feel this will be a three-way championship fight and Ferrari will be in the mix? Well, if you closely look at the race-pace difference between Red Bull and Ferrari, it is less than two-tenths, while the one-lap pace is misleading since Max set his time on a softer compound tyre and almost 90 mins after Leclerc’s time when the track cooled down and rubbed up considerably. Furthermore, Ferrari didn’t bring any major upgrades for Bahrain like Red Bull did and were running the same machinery barring one or two tweaks. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz has also said that the team believes their current package has massive upgrades that just need to be unlocked, indicating that Ferrari could quite possibly become the frontrunner as the season progresses.
If the cars are even two-tenths apart throughout the season, then I expect Ferrari to outmuscle Red Bull with their consistent drivers. The No. 1-No. 2 dynamic might again hurt Red Bull just like it did last season in their quest for the Constructors’ Championship.
Constructors’ Championship Prediction
Drivers’ Championship Predictions
|#1||🇲🇨 Monaco||Charles Leclerc||Ferrari|
|#2||🇳🇱 The Netherlands||Max Verstappen||Red Bull|
|#3||🇪🇸 Spain||Carlos Sainz||Ferrari|
|#4||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes|
|#5||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||George Russell||Mercedes|
|#6||🇲🇽 Mexico||Sergio Pérez||Red Bull|
|#7||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||Lando Norris||McLaren|
|#8||🇪🇸 Spain||Fernando Alonso||Alpine|
|#9||🇨🇵 France||Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri|
|#10||🇩🇪 Germany||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin|
|#11||🇦🇺 Australia||Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren|
|#12||🇨🇵 France||Esteban Ocon||Alpine|
|#13||🇯🇵 Japan||Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri|
|#14||🇩🇰 Denmark||Kevin Magnussen||Haas|
|#15||🇨🇦 Canada||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin|
|#16||🇩🇪 Germany||Mick Schumacher||Haas|
|#17||🇫🇮 Finland||Valterri Bottas||Alfa Romeo|
|#18||🇹🇭 Thailand/🇬🇧 United Kingdom||Alex Albon||Williams|
|#19||🇨🇦 Canada||Nicholas Latifi||Williams|
|#20||🇨🇳 China||Guanyu Zhou||Alfa Romeo|