The cars have been unveiled, pre-season testing is over, and the 2022 Formula 1 season gets underway this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix. With a brand new set of technical regulations aimed at producing closer racing, the cars look and behave very differently this year, and there is plenty of intrigue as to the natural order of things as F1 enters its new era.
Can Max Verstappen defend his newly-won title? Will Lewis Hamilton win a record eighth championship? Or will a new challenger emerge from elsewhere in the pack? With many questions to answer throughout the grid, Xinhua takes a look at the runners and riders in this year’s championship.
Red Bull Racing (2021: 2nd, 585.5 points): 1. Max Verstappen (2021: 1st, 395.5 points); 33. Sergio Perez (2021: 4th, 190 points)
Despite the hugely contentious circumstances in which he snatched the 2021 title from Lewis Hamilton’s grasp, there can be no doubt that Max Verstappen was a worthy champion, with the two drivers frequently operating on a different plane from their rivals.
Red Bull’s RB18 looked quick and reliable after six days of pre-season testing, and with the team exuding quiet confidence about their prospects, Verstappen appears to have an excellent chance of defending his title, having also inked a new deal that keeps him at Milton Keynes until 2028.
Teammate Sergio Perez was generally closer to Verstappen than Alex Albon had been in 2020, but a wretched run of mid-season form for the Mexican contributed to Red Bull losing out to Mercedes in the constructors’ championship. Verstappen’s ability and status within the team means Perez is very much the number two, and the Mexican will need to up his game in 2022 in order to appease Red Bull’s notoriously trigger-happy management.
Mercedes (2021: 1st, 613.5 points): 44. Lewis Hamilton (2021: 2nd, 387.5 points), 63. George Russell (2021: 15th, 16 points)
After losing the 2021 title in the most dramatic and controversial of circumstances, Lewis Hamilton’s public silence over the winter prompted speculation that the seven-time champion would turn his back on the sport. Ultimately, the Briton did reappear and seems to have lost none of his fight and desire as he bids to win a record eighth world title.
Graduating from his three-year apprenticeship behind the wheel of a recalcitrant Williams, George Russell finally has a chance to show how good he is, but whether he and Hamilton will be the pair to beat remains up for debate.
While Mercedes caught the eye in pre-season with a sidepod-less design, the W13 appeared to struggle particularly with porpoising on the straights, and neither Hamilton nor Russell exuded a great deal of confidence in the car.
The Silver Arrows are notorious for hiding their true pace in testing before blowing the opposition away once the season starts, but this year there seems to be a genuine acceptance that Mercedes will not have the fastest car once the lights go out in Bahrain. Whether they can claw that deficit back will be one of the stories of what promises to be a season full of suspense and intrigue.
Ferrari (2021: 3rd, 323.5 points): 16. Charles Leclerc (2021: 7th, 159 points), 55. Carlos Sainz (2021: 5th, 164.5 points)
Despite another winless year for Ferrari, 2021 was a definite step from the nadir of 2020, and the early signs are that the Prancing Horse are genuine contenders heading into 2022. Both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz completed plenty of laps in an F1-75 that appeared quick, stable and reliable.
Leclerc’s last win came in 2019, and the talented Monegasque will no doubt relish having a car capable of fighting at the front once again, as he seeks to cement his status as a future champion.
Moving to Ferrari from McLaren last year, Carlos Sainz impressed many with his approach and even outscored his illustrious teammate. Though it will be a tall order to overhaul Red Bull, Ferrari appear to have produced their strongest car in years, and have a young and talented driver line-up eager to mix it with the best.
McLaren (2021: 4th, 275 points): 3. Daniel Ricciardo (2021: 8th, 115 points), 4. Lando Norris (2021: 6th, 160 points)
Having scored their first win since 2012 last year, McLaren look to have made another quick car for 2022, but the MCL36 was plagued by brake problems in the three-day Bahrain test. The Woking squad need to get on top of those issues if they are to join what appears to be a three-team battle for the top.
Lando Norris underscored his status as a star of the future with some stellar drives last year, often outpacing quicker cars. The talented Briton has inked a new long-term deal as McLaren look to build for the future around their young charger, and Norris will be hopeful of a first win in 2022.
Despite a deserved victory at Monza, Daniel Ricciardo was generally overshadowed by his less experienced teammate, and after missing a valuable three days of testing due to COVID-19, starts the season very much on the back foot. With Norris signed up for the long haul, Ricciardo will need to impress in 2022 to avoid becoming yesterday’s man at McLaren.
Alpine (2021: 5th, 155 points): 14. Fernando Alonso (2021: 10th, 81 points), 31. Esteban Ocon (2021: 11th, 74 points)
Despite a fortuitous win at Hungary at the hands of Esteban Ocon, Alpine were stuck firmly in the midfield in 2021, and pre-season testing did little to suggest that the French squad will be making a great leap forward this year. Alpine are still in something of a transitional phase after a management reshuffle, but signing Otmar Szafnauer as Team Principal is a wise move.
Fernando Alonso took a few races to adapt after two years away, but showed that he had lost none of his guile, racecraft and consistency even as he enters his fifth decade. Whether the two-time champion will be content to scrap away in the midfield for much longer is a matter for debate, though.
Ocon’s surprising but deserved win in Budapest was the highlight of an otherwise mediocre year. Locked into Alpine until 2024, the Frenchman’s F1 career is in danger of petering out into mid-table obscurity if the Enstone squad don’t provide him with the machinery to compete at the front.
AlphaTauri (2021, 6th, 142 points): 10. Pierre Gasly (2021: 9th, 110 points), 22. Yuki Tsunoda (2021: 14th, 32 points)
Once effectively Red Bull’s B-team, AlphaTauri have become an increasingly independent entity in recent years, and look to have produced a neat and tidy car for 2022 that may show up more moneyed rivals.
Though he couldn’t replicate his shock win in the 2020 Italian Grand Prix, Pierre Gasly cemented his status as one of F1’s best drivers outside the elite with a series of impressive performances in 2021. Heading into F1’s new era, the Frenchman will be eager to show Red Bull they were wrong to drop him in 2019.
Yuki Tsunoda showed flashes of speed in his rookie year, but also found the barriers and the guardrail a little more than his mechanics might have liked. With backers Honda no longer in F1, Tsunoda’s place on the grid isn’t as secure as it might be, and the presence of several talented Red Bull juniors waiting in the wings means the Japanese will have to impress to keep his seat beyond 2022.
Aston Martin (2021, 7th, 77 points): 5. Sebastian Vettel (2021: 12th, 43 points), 18. Lance Stroll (2021: 13th, 34 points)
Following on from a desperately disappointing 2021, the ambitious Aston Martin team will be eager to move up the grid this year. Pre-season testing failed to set the world alight, but the Silverstone squad were focusing more on long-run speed and consistency than single-lap glory runs.
Sebastian Vettel may have lost an ounce of pace from his halcyon Red Bull days, but the four-time champion brings a huge amount of experience with him and, crucially, still seems motivated for the job of dragging Aston Martin up the order.
Teammate Lance Stroll owes his seat to the fact that his father owns the team, and though he has shown a turn of speed, the Canadian appears to lack the consistency necessary to regularly compete at the sharp end. Though the team’s ambitious recruitment and infrastructure projects draw on apace, another season of mid-table mediocrity beckons.
Williams (2021, 8th, 23 points): 6. Nicholas Latifi (2021: 17th, 7 points), 23. Alex Albon (2021: N/A)
Williams rose from tenth to eighth in 2021, as their rebuild and restructuring of the team continues following a disastrous few years in both financial and performance terms.
George Russell’s long-awaited move to Mercedes robs the Grove squad of their star talent, but his replacement Alex Albon will be hungry to prove how good he is after a year on the sidelines following his dismissal from Red Bull in 2020.
Entering his third season in F1, Nicholas Latifi has done little to show that he will be anything other than a journeyman, but the affable Canadian seems content with his lot at Williams, and his family wealth doesn’t hurt either. Anything other than occasional lower points would be a surprise, however.
Alfa Romeo (2021, 9th, 13 points): 24. Zhou Guanyu (2021: N/A), 77. Valtteri Bottas (2021: 3rd, 226 points)
All change at Alfa Romeo for 2022, with Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi being replaced by Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu. After five years in championship-winning machinery at Mercedes, Bottas will have to reacquaint himself with the bottom half of the grid, but the Finn at least has the security of the long-term deal that he was never afforded at the Silver Arrows, and seems to be enjoying being the main man after so long in Hamilton’s shadow.
Zhou will make history at the season-opener in Bahrain, as he becomes the first driver from China to start a Grand Prix. As the only rookie on the grid, and in a car that was ninth quickest last year, 2022 will be very much a learning year for Zhou, who needs to show that he is in F1 on merit, rather than by dint of his potential to affect the growth of F1 in the lucrative Chinese market.
The Alfa Romeo C42 showed reasonably well in testing, though reliability could be a concern in the season’s early races. If the Hinwil squad gets a lid on those problems, and Bottas finds his groove, Alfa could be fighting for regular points.
Haas (2021, 10th, 0 points): 20. Kevin Magnussen (2021: N/A), 47. Mick Schumacher (2021: 19th, 0 points)
A pointless season last year was somewhat to be expected, as Haas elected to focus entirely on the 2022 rules reset rather than develop their 2021 car. Drama occurred at Haas even before the season started, as the team in February dropped their Russian title sponsor and driver Nikita Mazepin, with ex-Haas driver Kevin Magnussen making a late return to the squad he had left in 2020.
The Dane’s speed and experience is a welcome boost to Haas, and both he and Mick Schumacher will relish the chance to fight with other teams instead of being cut adrift at the rear of the field.
Early signs are that Haas’ 2022 challenger is a vast improvement on their 2021 offering, and the team may be confident of scoring their first championship points in two years.