The 2022 Formula 1 season came to a close with Max Verstappen taking the title well before the end, but not without its fair share of tantrums and enough to critique on. From bouncing cars to tumbling titans, maiden victories to shock podiums, we have had plenty of racing action and drama both on and off track.
We had real championship challenge this time around, but then again we also saw that dwindle in the face of mistakes not cured immediately. Ferrari were touted to be the favourites even before the season opener at Bahrain, while Red Bull’s initial performance perils meant the Italian giants were able to get themselves a comfortable lead into the championship. Or so they thought.
New regulations brought along with them improved racing, but also dragged along porpoising. This was a season of reliability issues, with Ferrari majorly bottling their championship owing to that! Meanwhile, lower down we had Haas resurge with all of their might, and Kevin Magnussen even managing to bag a pole position at Brazil.
So, let’s sit back and rewind all the way to March, and reminisce on what surely cannot be called the most interesting of seasons (to be honest, our expectations are a bit too high after 2021).
Red Bull’s Double DNF Debut
Red Bull had the worst start they could have asked for 2022; their first double DNF at Bahrain since Austria 2020, owing to hydraulic and fuel system issues. Ferrari, with arguably the most complete package of the grid, went on to start their campaign with a 1-2 and a rude reckoning for Red Bull.
Their desert duel was far from over at Jeddah, where Red Bull recovered form and finished 1st and 3rd, but that were only to be a fleeting instance.
Australia followed, with yet another DNF from Verstappen, complemented by an audacious Grand Chelem from Leclerc at Albert Park.
Red Bull’s reliability was making people second guess their championship credibility for the season. Pundits and fans alike were starting to get passé on the Milton Keynes outfit’s ability to recover from Ferrari’s humongous 46 point lead (also incidentally the largest margin ever won from in an Formula 1 championship).
Ferrari’s Strategy Shenanigans
Well, this doesn’t need much explanation: Ferrari and their strategy team this year was in shambles. Right when Red Bull started to crawl back into the championship, the Scarlet Scuderia seemed to have suddenly forgot to switch on their number crunching machines.
At Monaco, Ferrari’s tire misjudgement snatched away their home driver’s sure-shot victory. A pit stop jumble meant Verstappen bested Leclerc and emerged out in front of him, for which the no. 16 driver was evidently angry as he violently reiterated on his team radio.
Hungarian Grand Prix, arguably the worst mistake by Ferrari all year. You know Ferrari messed up gloriously, when Verstappen’s win from 10th on the grid wasn’t even the hottest talking point of the weekend. Not only did their display of superior intellect cost Charles a potential win, but also lost the team a considerable chunk of points when Red Bull was at cruising speed with eyes on the prize. Here’s an explainer of the incident in detail if you are up for a laugh.
Verstappen and Red bull’s record breaking conquest, amidst budget breaches
If for some reason you need a refresher onto how freakishly fast Verstappen and Red Bull were in Formula 1 2022, here’s a list of records they broke this season:
Most number of wins in one season: 15 for Verstappen (17 for Red Bull; highest ever for the team)
Most Points scored by a driver in a single championship season: 454
Largest points deficit overturned to become champion: 46
Wins from most varied grid slots in a year for a driver: 7
Most wins in a season from outside pole position for a driver: 9
Most consecutive finishes in the top two by a team: 19
and finally if not most controversially, the 2022 budget cap for car development
The Verstappen-Red Bull campaign was indeed untouchable, but with their own pangs and fallacies. It was revealed toward the tail-end of the season (incidentally, right after the Dutchman clinched his title at Japan) that the team had violated their 2022 budget cap allocation, which Red Bull interestingly slid under the accounts as “excessive catering fees and sick leaves”, and were quick to refute any performance gains from said breach.
The FIA penalised them, in my opinion to a rightful magnitude, with a $7Million fine on top of a 10% reduction in wind tunnel testing time for a duration of 12 months. Rivals played ball with the controversy, with the highly educated F1 twitter even calling for Formula 1 to strip Verstappen off his title. But the penalties were somewhat well received all throughout the paddock, most reiterating it as significant.
Leclerc’s Pressure Perils
This is no longer a debate: Charles Leclerc falters under pressure. From spinning off a kerb fighting Perez for P2 at Imola to spinning out of the lead in France with a terrific roar of disgust, Leclerc has given enough reasons to his doubters to flash out the tin-foil hats. A fantastic Saturday performer, but points are of course given out on Sunday. The Monegasque did not have the calibre to be relied upon when Ferrari needed their star performer to go neck and neck with the tantalising force that Verstappen was this year. It was even Leclerc’s recklessness that gifted Verstappen the title at Japan, albeit unbeknownst to the latter.
Mercedes’ and McLaren’s mediocrity
Perhaps the biggest shock apart from Ferrari’s colossal strategy pin-balling, is of course, “what the f*** happened to Mercedes?!”
So yes, they pulled up to pre-season testing with a revolutionary “aerospace tech” zero side pod design, and people were quick to worship the Brackley outfit’s latest rendition. Little did they know, their entire car would be riddled with porpoising issues and an overall lack of pace throughout the season. So much so, that even during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend, whispers were abuzz in the paddock that the team was in fact planning to get back to the conventional side pod design.
Mercedes limped along with consistency, and was even the only team to finish every race. George Russell finished in the top 5 in every race but thrice, as gifted Mercedes their season’s only win at Sao Paulo (complemented by a P2 for his teammate). Lewis Hamilton did have a lacklustre showing but also managed to bag his share of podium streaks.
But, it is safe to say that no one in the Mercedes garage will be missing their drivers’ back massage machine.
Meanwhile, McLaren were out there running for “Bust of the Year” award for Formula 1, with an overall package that can only be christened “abysmal”. Yes, Lando Norris still managed to beat Ricciardo 116 to 34 on points, perhaps triggering the Australian’s premature contract termination (and his subsequent return to Red Bull as reserve for 2023).
McLaren’s their audacious pull-rod-push-rod switch for the suspension philosophy was questioned by many, and the papaya team was also plagued with brake overheat issues at the initiation of the season. Although they did improve over its course, pace was nowhere near enough to shield them from the resurgence trajectory that Alpine was on for P4 in the constructors.
Alpine’s battle with McLaren wasn’t only limited to on track and on points; they went full on Suits!
Here’s a two-liner (here if you want to delve more into it): Alpine loaned Piastri to McLaren as a reserve but declared him as their 2023 replacement for Alonso without the consent of the Australian F2 champ. Meanwhile McLaren were cooking up his contract as a replacement for Daniel Ricciardo, which did not sit well with Alpine, taking to court, or specifically, the Contract Recognitions Board.
The CRB gave its verdict in McLaren’s favour and Piastri was confirmed as Norris’ 2023 teammate. Unironically, Piastri was never heard from again until the curtain dropped on the Formula 1 season, and Alpine silently accepted defeat off track against McLaren while losing two of their best drivers in a span of 36hours.
Ricciardo’s pain, Alonso’s agony
Daniel Ricciardo was once again under the spanner for his sub-par performance in his sub-par MCL36. While most people called him washed, and his driving just somehow could not align with his setup. Nonetheless, his skills on track have been well documented for over the years, albeit his fans now no doubt miss the 2017 beast that he was.
Fernando Alonso took a shock switch of careers to Aston Martin for 2023 like he’s racking up work experience for his racing resume. Although initially “excited” by Alpine’s engine improvements, the Spaniard’s 2022 season was basically marred with utterly unlucky DNF’s and missed podium opportunities. Among his 6 DNF’s including even at Abu Dhabi, every single one were of mechanical origin. Tensions had surmounted such that the two-time champ was publicly critical of his team’s outlook towards reliability.
The 2022 season brought along the heaviest technical changes since 2014, and the new ground effect cars tagged along some serious problems as they did in similar fashion in the 1980’s. The problem of porpoising, as it was colloquially named.
The new regulations gifted closer racing but was a pain in the back, literally, for the drivers. The jumping of the cars sent shocks thorough the drivers’ spines, so much so that the FIA had to intervene mid-season with new floor height dimensions for the sake of driver safety. Some teams bounced more, like Mercedes who essentially took the entire calendar’s worth of time to fix the issue, and Ferrari (who were at least fast, unlike the disaster-struck Mercedes) while Red Bull seemed to have applied yet another Adrian Newey masterclass managing porpoising better than most.
That said, the 2023 regulations are bringing about changes in the floor once again, so expect to have even lesser of this marine monstrosity (porpoises are cute, though).
Closer racing, despite single driver dominance
New regulations enforced in 2022 had simply one goal in mind: closer racing. While we have had boring races for sure, some were vastly improved and were relatively more enjoyable to watch because of how closer these cars were to attack against. Tire supplier Pirelli crunched the numbers, and came up with a 30% improvement in overtaking compared to 2021. The new regulations made way for better following, and we surely wouldn’t have been party to a bevy of jaw dropping moves like this 5-abreast battle at Austria, if not for the new rulebook.
Yes, we had a domination by one team, essentially by only one driver even. But that doesn’t take any light off the immensely close battle for 2nd in both the drivers as well as the constructors championships (the former was again decided on the last lap of the final race; déjà vu anyone?). Verstappen’s crushing cruise is again a testament to the Dutchman’s talent, as well as how well Red Bull have been able to accommodate to the new changes.
New players, new engines
Audi finally stepped into the Formula 1 world as an engine manufacturer as well as a works team, but not until 2026. It will take over the workings of Sauber F1’s team, after the latter’s contract with Alfa Romeo expires past 2023. Audi’s VW Group sister company Porsche was also slated for a venture with Red Bull by taking over the Red Bull Powertrain division from the world champion team, but the deal fell through owing to a disagreement of terms.
Meanwhile, Formula 1 overhauled the engine regulations for 2026, removing the MGU-H thereby reducing engine complexity in conjunction to a greater focus on electrification and sustainability, in turn attracting new engine manufacturers into the game. Here’s a run-down of what the new regulations are and what they mean.
And finally, sundown on a glorious career
Sebastian Vettel, a revered and loved figure in the entirety of the paddock and Formula 1 world, decided to hang up his boots after his final race at Abu Dhabi. Perhaps as a shock to some (including me), Vettel put a period on an illustrious and career both on and off track, as he says there is “still a race to win”. Sebastian says now he will spend more time with his family and focus on his sustainability projects, while the rest of the fan base will miss a gem and the sheer outspoken idol that the king of Singapore streets was for fans worldwide.
Winner of every single Indian Grand prix from 2011-2013, Sebastian Vettel racked up 4 championships in a row from 2010 to 2013 with a display of dominance and class. His stellar numbers speak for themselves: 53 wins from 299 race starts, and 122 podiums; I need not elaborate more. The stint at Ferrari wasn’t too shabby either, with 14 victories and even a championship challenge in 2018 and 2017, coming 2nd in both occasions. The no.5’s Aston Martin outing is surely not something anyone had wanted, but he was sure to bless us with a podium at Baku 2021.
Needless to say, one can only long for his return to Formula 1…..
2023 will not see major changes to the cars, but some significant switches between drivers, and even a highly anticipated return of Nico Hulkenberg. In the meantime, enjoy the break, and of course, the car launches.