The current season of Formula 1 is now in its “summer break”. While we’re more than halfway done with the calendar, it’d still be fair to call it the mid-season break. Since we’ve not covered any individual races from 2022, it seemed fair to at least do a mid-season review of the biggest events and stories from the season thus far.
New Car Troubles
The brand new era of F1 cars has been a major talking point of the season. The most common headline is how these new designs seem to have crippled the dominance of the Mercedes team. But all teams have suffered in varying degrees from the same base issue — porpoising. That’s the name of the hopping phenomenon that makes these racecars hop down a seemingly smooth stretch of tarmac, mainly the straights. It is caused by the aerodynamic effects from the return of ground effect. The exact process is a cycle of the car loading and unloading due to aerodynamic downforce. Mercedes seems to be among the worst affected while Ferrari and Red Bull have been quick to overcome, at least to an extent.
There are discussions between the FIA and the teams to allow for structural changes that would help teams like Mercedes address the severe porpoising that can be hazardous for the driver during a race.
Leclerc vs Verstappen – Is it already over?
Since the start of the 2022 season, Red Bull has been ahead of the pack with the only challenge coming from a resurgent Ferrari crew. The Reds seemed to have the kind of pace that got them investigated in 2019, but the top speed advantage seemed to lie with the Bulls. Both teams’ efforts have been spearheaded by their lead drivers as the clear title contenders.
Leclerc got a head start with technical DNFs for Verstappen at the start, but the defending World Champion would soon seem unbeatable after his car became more reliable. Things have been pretty much downhill for the Monegasque driver since his rough weekend at the Emilia Romagna GP. Leclerc further endured his share of DNFs due to both mechanical failures and driver errors and often missed out on strong results due to horrendous strategy calls from the Ferrari pit wall. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen has won 8 of the 12 races so far. Statistically, even if Leclerc wins all the remaining GPs and Verstappen finished second, the Dutchman would retain his crown. Add to the fact that Super Max is not showing any weaknesses apart from technical issues, it seems highly unlikely that he will not be winning any of the next 10 races and Leclerc is very likely to be sabotaged by strategy multiple times still.
Realistically speaking, Charles is out of contention from the current championship battle unless his rival is struck with a streak of racing misfortune. I have made peace with that highly likely outcome and am already rooting for the Monegasque to mount a better-prepared title fight in 2023.
Red Bull Might Finally Win A Constructor’s Trophy Again
After a double DNF at the start of the season, Red Bull Racing has made quite a comeback. With the combination of Max’s fantastic form, Ferrari’s self-sabotage and Mercedes’ porpoising problems, Red Bull is comfortably leading the 2022 Constructor’s Championship. In its first season without Honda as a factory partner, Red Bull has managed to build the fastest car on the grid in the season so far. It already has a significant lead over its rivals, and with no signs of slowing down and more wins expected, Red Bull could be well on its way to ending Mercedes’ record streak of F1 manufacturer titles.
Sainz and Perez on the come-up
No serious sports person ever wants to admit it, but everyone knows where they stand at the start of a season. In F1, there is a lead driver and a second driver for every front-running team. The second driver’s role is to be just behind the lead and or make the most of any unexpected events that would place them ahead of everyone else. A solid second driver is key to winning a world championship, especially when you don’t have a car faster than all others in every possible circumstance.
For Ferrari, that secondary role was placed on the shoulders of Carlos Sainz, and on Sergio Perez for Red Bull. The Spaniard had outperformed his teammate in the previous season but started the 2022 campaign with 0 wins. Meanwhile, Checo had proven his support abilities in the dramatic finale of 2021 that helped Max take the world title. Now more than ever, both drivers need to deliver the best performances of their careers so far.
Chilli and Checo have so far given very similar performances in 2022 for their teams. They both have one win and five podiums each and have had issues in qualifying. Sainz had a rough patch of back-to-back DNFs from beaching himself in the gravel in the first half of the race. He has also had two technical DNFs so far. Perez has three DNFs to his name, including one from a predictable mistake on the opening lap of the Austrian GP.
Both drivers have done well in their supporting roles so far but need to do better for the sake of their racing careers. Perez is the oldest of the top 5 in the driver’s standings, and he still has the potential to win a few more races before the end of the 2022 season. Carlos has more years left in the sport and will have to be more impressive to keep his seat among the front-runners in the future.
Lingering threat of Mercedes consistency
Mercedes is yet to win a race in the 2022 F1 season, but it has managed to capitalize on the mistakes of Red Bull and Ferrari. It has picked up numerous podiums and P4 results, being third in the constructor’s championship and only 30 points behind Ferrari. Lewis Hamilton has six podiums to his name including two P2 results in the last two races before the break. Meanwhile, George Russel has also picked up five podiums and his consistency has placed him fourth in the driver’s standings, 15 points behind Sergio Perez.
It does not seem like Mercedes will be able to catch the front runners on pace alone, but its reliability could keep it in the hunt for the constructor’s title for now.
Haas’ mega comeback
The only American-owned team in the American-owned era of Formula 1 is enjoying its best season in years. Haas has had a run of bad luck with driver issues and a lacklustre power unit from Ferrari since 2019. In fact, its all-rookie lineup failed to score a single championship point in 2021. However, it has made an impressive comeback with the new-gen F1 car and a high-performing Ferrari engine in 2022. Both drivers have managed to score some points so far, the returning Kevin Magnussen banking 22 to Mick Schumacher’s 12.
However, Mick has had some expensive accidents already putting more economic strain on Haas. The money problem is exacerbated by the budget caps that limit a team’s spending per season. If Haas can finish seventh or better in the 2022 constructor’s standings, it would be a solid result, and we might see a happy Gunther Steiner near the end of the year.
The other Ferrari-customer team on the grid, Alfa Romeo Racing, is also having its best season in three years. It is ahead of Haas in the standings with consistently strong results from Valtteri Bottas and 5 points scored by rookie Guanyu Zhou.
Teams that are struggling
The Mercedes team does not have the best package for the 2022 season. It would make sense that all of its customer teams are struggling too.
With Ferrari in the mix, McLaren is gunning for fourth-best and still struggling. It failed to score points in three races and is currently fifth in the constructor’s standings. 80 percent of McLaren’s points were earned by Lando Norris, including a podium at the Emilia Romagna GP. Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo has only finished in the points 5 times out of 12 and with a season-best of P6.
Aston Martin has slid further back in the standings now that Ferrari-powered teams have more pace than before. It is ninth in the constructor’s standings with 20 points, 16 of them scored by Sebastian Vettel. Williams is once again at the back of the grid. A couple of strong performances from new signee Alexander Albon have given the team a few points.
Another midfield team that is struggling in the 2022 season is AlphaTauri. While doing better than the Mercedes-powered Aston Martin and Williams, AlphaTauri is somehow lacking the pace to keep up with Alpine and McLaren. While Pierre Gasly has struggled to score points like he usually does, there will be more pressure on Yuki Tsunoda to get consistent top-10 finishes in the remainder of the season.
The driver market – retirement and potential transfers
All the top seats are taken, some of them for years to come. Perez has extended his time with Red Bull until 2024, while Verstappen is signed till the end of 2028. Sainz’s contract at Ferrari has also been extended till the end of 2024, and the Mercedes duo are already on multi-year contracts. But there’s plenty of action going on among the others with the driver market getting quite active just ahead of the summer break.
Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement from Formula 1 before the Hungarian GP, opening a spot at Aston Martin. The following Monday, news broke that Fernando Alonso will be filling the seat vacated by his former rival and on a multi-year contract. That opened up a seat at Alpine. Alpine announced soon afterwards that Esteban Ocon will be joined by the team’s current reserve driver Oscar Piastri for the 2023 season. It’s all typical F1 so far, but then Piastri stated that he is NOT driving for Alpine next year and has no intentions of doing so.
The Australian driver has his eyes on a seat at McLaren, potentially replacing fellow Aussie Daniel Ricciardo. However, he may be taken to court by his current employer (Alpine) over a possible breach of contract.
Daniel has a contract with McLaren until the end of 2023, but his poor run of form may cause the Woking-based outfit to end their partnership prematurely for a steep cancellation fee. This is an ongoing drama and is expected to be settled soon after the summer break, i.e. late August.
Other midfield teams have at least one driver confirmed for the 2023 season with the other seat yet to be finalised. AlphaTauri has retained Gasly, Williams has resigned Albon on a multi-year deal, while McLaren extended Norris’ contract till the end of 2025. Schumacher, Tsunoda and Zhou have nine races to try and save their seats while Nicholas Latifi is expected to be ousted from Williams by the end of the season. Potential drivers in waiting include Nick de Vries, Theo Pourchaire, Nico Hulkenberg and Antonio Giovinazzi.
Best races so far (and the worst)
We’ve had 12 races with the new-gen F1 cars and while we haven’t exactly seen much diversity on the podium, we’ve had closer battles on track than before. Of course, the amount of action also depends on the track layout so we all know Monaco was a dud for TV viewers as per usual.
The season opener at Bahrain was a great race with the first head-to-head between Leclerc and Verstappen since Austria 2019. The Ferrari man used clever strategy to overcome the pace deficit to the faster Red Bull. There was also last-lap drama with the DNFs. These two also gave us a great show in the Saudi Arabian GP and then at the Austrian GP. The newly added Miami GP was better than expected as the layout does allow for overtaking action. But the best race of the season by far was the British GP. From the dramatic crash at the start to the intense racing towards the end, it was a race you can watch a few times over from Lap 1 to the chequered flag.
The Baku GP turned out to be kind of boring, as were the Australian GP and the Canadian GP. They weren’t awful but there was little action of significance or skill with most of the outcomes being decided by pit strategy. The Emilia Romagna GP made a display of how the new cars behave in the wet but didn’t offer a whole lot of excitement. The other races we didn’t mention were alright, or as we like to say, tense but not intense.
Of course, which team/driver you support will sway your outlook over a race and we’ve tried to keep our biases to a minimum with our picks.
The Championship Standings
This has been the Auto Loons’ mid-season review of F1 2022. The racing action resumes at Spa from August 26-28, so be sure to tune in. Don’t forget to subscribe to the Auto Loons blog for more cool updates from the car world. You can also follow us on Instagram for more automotive content.