Can F1 2022 live up to 2021? | Thank Frankel it's Friday

17th December 2021
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

I write this on the day that the Mercedes-Benz F1 team chose no longer to appeal the result of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and therefore the destination of the Drivers World Championship. It is also the day on which the FIA Motor Sport Council announced it was going to investigate the whole shabby business, and then blamed F1 teams, drivers and fans for bringing the sport’s name into disrepute. And there was I thinking it was their management of the race.


But the good news is I’m not going to dissect that all over again. I have never known a race attract so much controversy, well at least not since the Belgian Grand Prix this year and as that wasn’t actually a race, it doesn’t count. Let’s instead stop looking over our shoulders and forward to next season and what, at this early stage can and cannot be deduced.

There are questions aplenty, the most recent of which is whether Lewis Hamilton will even be on the grid. The most Toto Wolff has said is “I would very much hope Lewis continues racing… but we have to overcome the pain that was caused upon him on Sunday.” Hardly dripping with confidence you will agree. And if Lewis doesn’t turn up in Bahrain in March to drive his Mercedes, who will?

But let’s say, as I think is likely, that when the dust settles Lewis will find himself relishing the prospect of wresting back the title that was so dramatically torn from his grasp. How’s he going to fare against George Russell?


Well, it’s going to be a whole lot harder than it ever was with Valtteri Bottas. Indeed in the one race Russell has done in a Mercedes to date – the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix – he performed against Bottas in much the same way as you might expect Lewis to have done: he missed pole by 26 thousandths of a second in a car he’d never driven before, then drove away from his temporary team-mate until mechanical maladies not of his creation stole away what looked like certain victory. And he still took fastest lap.

Also, remember 2007 when a youngster joined the top F1 team and then ran his multi-World Championship winning team-mate ragged all season. That was Lewis making life hard for Fernando Alonso at McLaren. With George now at Mercedes, will the boot be on the other foot? Probably not: the Mercedes team is built around Lewis, and George is no newbie. He’s a smart lad who’ll know that if he plays his cards right, he has as good a chance of being champion one day as anyone on the grid. Then again, he’s also a racing driver, and if a gap opens up, is he really not going to take it?


But probably the most crucial question of all is what will the racing be like? Here the news is both good and bad. On the positive side, new rules designed to make F1 cars develop a greater proportion of their downforce under the car and therefore reduce the influence of the rear wing should make them far less difficult to follow through high speed corners and therefore easier to overtake on the straight beyond. On the downside, the last time F1 had a Ground Effect era it resulted in cars that were atrocious to drive and already drivers are concerned their 2022 steeds are going to be more ‘on edge’ than in 2021. This means they’ll probably slide less and therefore look less dramatic. I don’t expect them to be going significantly slower though.

And will there be another nail-biting title race? Possibly, but I doubt it. Probably the single biggest factor in the Mercedes-Red Bull war this year was that the two top teams had worked for years to the same set of rules, each modification to their cars within those rules bringing a diminishing marginal return. In the end, both had gone as far as they could go and were jammed up against the same ceiling. In such circumstances, it’s not too surprising there was little to tell between them on pace.


Finally, presuming Lewis stays, who will come out on top? Mercedes should be favourite because of the top two teams, they diverted more resources earlier to their 2022 car than did Red Bull, who chucked everything at an ultimately successful 2021 campaign (though the Constructors’ title did stay with Benz). Also Red Bull replaces Honda as its own powertrain constructor next year and who knows what strain on resources that will create.

Then again, Red Bull has Adrian Newey, and there’s no one in the world better at interpreting a rulebook than Adrian, especially if it’s brand, spanking new. But let me add one more name to the mix. Do not rule out a resurgent Ferrari: they have a cracking driver line-up and having come sixth in the constructors last year, they were third this time around. Maintain that progress and it could be a three-way fight to the finish. At least I hope so.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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