There is plenty to be excited for as the 72nd season of Formula One sweeps in this weekend, 14 weeks after a most dramatic season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Following an utterly jaw-dropping climax in the desert where Max Verstappen pipped Sir Lewis Hamilton to the World Driver’s Championship, F1 returns for another ground-breaking season of the most anointed form of motorsport.
Pierre Gasly was quickest during first practice on Friday before Verstappen set the fastest lap in both second and final practice in Bahrain. Qualifying starts at 18h00 local time (15h00 GMT) on Saturday, with lights out coming 24 hours later.
Sebastian Vettel has been ruled out of the first race of the season after the Aston Martin driver tested Covid positive, and his countryman Nico Hulkenberg fills in for the four-time world champion in the desert.
Newly-elected FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem issued a statement on 17 February to address the refereeing system in F1 and it was announced that Michael Masi has been removed as race director after three years in the role. Ben Sulayem added that Masi was to be offered a new position within the FIA.
Masi came under a plethora of scrutiny following the mammoth Championship decider on 12 December in Abu Dhabi, where the Australian official controversially allowed for five lapped cars – those in between the two title protagonists – to overtake the safety car and unlap themselves, while the three remaining lapped cars were not afforded this opportunity. The safety car then came in with one lap to go, leaving Verstappen to snatch the WDC out of Hamilton’s grasp on the very last lap of the season.
Replacing Masi as race director are two experienced FIA officials in Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, who are to share the role in alternative races. Herbie Blash has been instilled as senior advisor on a permanent basis. In addition the FIA have conducted surveys amongst all drivers, with their findings to be released ahead of the season-opening race.
A new chapter in the sport officially gets underway eight years after the last major regulation changes were introduced. Since the start of the V6 turbo-hybrid era in 2014 until the end of last year, Hamilton won more than half of the 160 Grands Prix from 2014-2021 as the seven-time world champion took 81 race wins. Verstappen and Nico Rosberg claimed 20 wins apiece, while Vettel took the chequered flag 11 times.
Verstappen has committed his long-term future to Red Bull Racing, after the 24-year-old agreed a bumper five-year extension on top of his existing deal at the team from Milton Keynes. The new agreement runs through until 2028 with the reigning Driver’s Champion reportedly set to pocket in the region of €40m per year.
Lando Norris signed a new four-year deal with McLaren Racing, two days before the team’s launch of its MCL36 car for the upcoming season.
The high-profile driver change this year has seen George Russell move to Mercedes after five years as a member of the team’s Junior Programme. Russell, 24, joins the Silver Arrows where he partners with fellow Briton Hamilton, replacing the departed Valtteri Bottas who left for Alfa Romeo.
British-Thai driver Alex Albon has filled Russell’s old seat at Williams after serving as Red Bull’s reserve driver in 2021.
Bottas succeeds retired countryman Kimi Räikkönen who hung up his gloves after racing for two decades, during which time the Iceman started 349 Grands Prix. Alfa Romeo released Antonio Giovinazzi and signed Guanyu Zhou who finished 3rd in the F2 Championship last year. Zhou, 21, becomes the first Chinese driver in F1.
Nikita Mazepin‘s contract with Haas was terminated at the start of March amidst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Haas parted ways with Mazepin after the team initially ended its sponsorship with Russian fertiliser company Uralkali – a subsidiary of the Uralchem Group which is chaired by Mazepin’s father, Dmitry.
After a single season in F1, Mazepin is replaced by Kevin Magnussen who returns to the team after one year away from the sport. Magnussen previously drove for Haas for four years until the end of 2020 and the Danish driver has made a comeback to the American constructor where he is set to partner with Mick Schumacher.
There have also been a handful of personnel changes within the garages. Otmar Szafnauer left his role as Aston Martin team boss in the first week of 2022, and owner Lawrence Stroll hired Michael Krack as his new team principal.
Szafnauer switched to Alpine after the French constructor bode farewell to Marcin Budkowski and a host of other personnel in a management revamp, which also saw legendary driver Alain Prost dismissed from his advisory role. Alpine promoted Pat Fry to Chief Technical Officer, with Matt Harman named its new Technical Director.
Also making a grand entrance to the F1 grid in 2022 are new car regulations which have arrived a year later than initially expected due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Several changes have been enforced to the machineries, coming eight years after the last major reg changes.
First and foremost the sport’s development team have adopted a new approach to the cars’ aerodynamics, moving away from the pre-existing overflow effect and now leaning more towards a ground-effect philosophy. The primary aim of the changes is to promote closer racing from one car to the next.
The cars’ front wings have been made bigger in size and are now constructed with simpler elements, intended to reduce the turbulent air produced. The Y250 vortex has been eradicated and the new front wings are expected to help make it easier to follow another car more closely.
The rear wings, too, have been optimised to allow for cars to closely follow one another. The idea behind the new design, which features rolled tips, is to push the turbulent airflow higher up into the air and above the following car. This should reduce the effect of the dirty air exerted from one car to the next.
F1 cars are being equipped with 3D floors for the first time in 40 years. With the introduction of floor tunneling we expect to see a greater proportion of car performance generated from the flooring – hence the ground-effect philosophy.
The new and updated chassis also consists of a longer nose, which now sits higher above the ground than in past years, in order to help maintain aero performance when following another car. Tyres have been altered from a 13-inch to an 18-inch diameter. The upshot is believed to last longer and wear slower, increasing the likelihood of more one-stop races from this year onwards.
The new reg changes have been in the making for more than four years, and the development team are said to have taken into consideration the fatal accident of Anthoine Hubert at Spa in 2019 as well as Romain Grosjean’s horrific crash at Bahrain in 2020.
Moreover the budget cap has been reduced to $140m, down from $145m last year. This includes funds spent on car development, component manufacturing and testing/racing operations. Ross Brawn has welcomed the new regulations, adding that these revolutionary changes should allow for F1 to reaffirm itself as the most exciting motorsport on the planet.
It was confirmed last month that the sprint format is set to return for three events in 2022. The race weekends of the Emilia Romagna GP at Imola (22-24 April), the Austrian GP at Spielberg (8-10 July) and the Brazilian GP at Interlagos (11-13 November) will all be contested under the sprint format.
2021 also hosted three sprints with points awarded to the top three finishers. The points have been adjusted for this year, both in terms of the amount of points on offer as well as how many drivers to score points in a sprint race. The winner will claim eight points with each following position earning one point fewer, down to a solitary point for P8. The fastest driver in Friday qualifying will be recorded as the Polesitter for statistical purposes.
With two winter testing sessions completed in Spain and Bahrain, the 2022 F1 season officially gets underway this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix. Following on from that the grid makes the short trip to Saudi Arabia next weekend, followed by the Australian GP a fortnight later.
F1 organisers intended for 2022 to stage a record 23 Grands Prix however the Russian GP has since been cancelled in response to the state’s invasion of Ukraine.
The 2022 Russian GP was penciled for 25 September and was scheduled to be the final F1 race at the Sochi Autodrom before moving to Saint Petersburg from 2023. As it stands there will no longer be any F1 events in Russia due to the treacherous and inhumane actions of President Vladimir Putin. It remains to be seen whether another race will be added elsewhere to fulfil the 23-race pledge.
Constructor Chassis Drivers
Mercedes W13 Hamilton/Russell
Red Bull RB18 Verstappen/Perez
Ferrari F1-75 Leclerc/Sainz
McLaren MCL36 Norris/Ricciardo
Alpine A522 Alonso/Ocon
AlphaTauri AT03 Gasly/Tsunoda
Aston Martin AMR22 Vettel/Stroll
Williams FW44 Albon/Latifi
Alfa Romeo C42 Bottas/Zhou
Haas VF22 Magnussen/Schumacher