2022 was a long year to be a Formula 1 fan. When the excitement of the Max Verstappen-Lewis Hamilton duel ended in such controversy the year before, it seemed a little inevitable that the new year would be a continuation of the old. With 22 races and three sprint not-races, we were looking at 25 different days where we were expected by Liberty Media to dedicate a large portion of our time to watching the sport we love. The number of F1 fans – really devoted, hardcore F1 fans – who actually managed such a feat, must be very small indeed. It was a saturated, seemingly never-ending year.
It’s not so much that Max Verstappen won 17 of those 25 races – while his official Sunday victories still beat Sebastian Vettel’s previous record held from almost a decade prior – that made it seem never-ending. That is due to stat inflation. In actuality, it’s a continuation of the fatigue that set in around November 2021. F1 managed to cram twenty-two weekends of racing into a period of thirty-nine weeks. Financial inflation hit European markets at home, caused by a war that cost one F1 driver their job before the year even began. Calendar inflation extended an already domineering display, punishing Verstappen’s opponents and the sport’s quieter, more patient viewers. Racing inflation saw yet more and more content dished out by Liberty Media, more and more eager with every passing year to inflate the drama with Netflix, inflate its pockets with a 15-year deal for Saudi Arabia, inflate its prospects by moving from Monaco to Las Vegas, filling the event with bizarre platitudes 18 months ahead of the scheduled event. Everything was more and more, here and now, leaving the series resting on its laurels, comfortable that nothing can break the bubble.
Teams and Drivers
Max Verstappen felt, rightly or wrongly, that he had something to prove after the fallout of Abu Dhabi’s final lap the year before. From the very first race in 2022 he fought tooth and nail with Charles Leclerc, the early benefactor of Red Bull’s reliability weakness. That reliability put the F1 audience on the wrong foot, believing and perhaps hoping in Ferrari’s resurgence, praying that the Italian marque wouldn’t screw it all up. The Scuderia predictably shot themselves in the foot after Australia, and Max’s two lost podiums were nothing when the scores were counted up and he had won the championship by 146 points. With 14 more Sunday wins to his name after Saudi Arabia, he was practically unstoppable. Even in the crazier races, such as when he started further back in Hungary, his rise through the field always seemed inevitable, and even if Ferrari’s incompetence had masked the end result, it seemed like it was going Max’s way whatever had happened, even in spite of efforts from the F1 fraternity to cling onto any hope of a title battle.
His teammate Sergio Perez had a better run the second time around. While not consistent and not the centre of the team, he has been able to fill the required shoes for his job – getting on with his teammate, picking up the pieces when things went wrong, and generally doing what was thought impossible: providing a decent yardstick for the multi-world champion. At least, mostly. At times such as at Monaco and at Saudi Arabia, he had winning pace and a winning attitude. He came close again to victory on various occasions, not least limited to the Spanish Grand Prix, from which the first brewing of intra-team conflict arose. On other occasions he was nowhere, and while not as poor as in 2021, he still suffered the mid-season dip, with races such as Canada being one to forget.
The whole Red Bull team seem to be addicted to media controversy, which is sometimes their fault and sometimes stoked by the kind of organisations who get paid via clicks and impressions. It has come close to overshadowing their proudest on-track moments with off-track gossip and bickering. Interlagos was a case in point, where Max refused to allow his faster teammate past when both were fighting for the lower end of the points. The Dutchman had his championship already, while Sergio and the team wanted the Mexican to finish ahead this one instance to seal Red Bull’s first ever 1-2 finish in the WDC, something they hadn’t achieved even during Sebastian Vettel’s reign. It stank of pettiness and immaturity from the Dutchman. The phrase “having one’s friends close, but their enemies closer” was perhaps taken too literally.
Ferrari took second place in both standings tables, but they had a lot of navel gazing to do. After their early successful run, their drivers were shadows of themselves by the summer break. Sainz threw away any hope in hell of a championship victory with crashes in Australia and Japan, while Leclerc’s dump into the wall and out of the lead at Paul Ricard might go down as his Hockenheim 2018 moment. The team blundered here, there and everywhere, with poor strategy, slow decision-making, public acknowledgement of incompetence – the list goes on. Team principal Mattia Binotto, who should have been celebrating the team’s best chance at a title in five seasons, was instead sacked after Abu Dhabi. Charles Leclerc, mostly blameless for the misfortune that befell him, won’t put up with too many seasons like his 2022. On the other side of the garage, Sainz finally picked up his maiden F1 victory at a wild event around Silverstone, but his year was tarnished with errors and DNFs. The metronomic consistency he displayed in 2020 and 2021 was nowhere to be seen in 2022, and the Spaniard simply cannot afford another messy season in 2023.
Mercedes ended their record run of eight consecutive constructors’ championships in the most Mercedes way possible. Their car was third-best at worst on every race weekend, with a half-second gap at the least to their nearest rearward rival. Their car was again indestructible, allowing them to take podiums when their rivals’ reliability faltered on occasion. They were the centre of a ‘porpoising’ debacle that forced the drivers into eventually coercing a rule change for their own long-term health. Their star Sir Lewis Hamilton, who won six of their seven drivers titles, called the W13 the worst car he had ever driven, which says a lot about the machinery he has been #blessed with for sixteen consecutive Formula 1 seasons. Hamilton went winless and and failed to take a single pole in 2022, even taking a slam dunk Reject of the Race at Imola. George Russell, in his first season driving truly competitive machinery, more than had the measure of his legendary team mate, breaking through at Interlagos to take his maiden victory. Interlagos was a wake-up call for the rest of the field, where the Silver Arrows looked once again like the machine that cleaned up the 2010s.
Alpine, content to place fourth every year, finished fourth in 2022. Esteban Ocon, whom the team have put all their chips on, was mostly reliable and dependable. His teammate Fernando Alonso was the same, if a little more flashy and a little more receptive of the plaudits by year-end. Under the surface of course we had the contract debacle that derailed any conversation regarding the team and its victory over year-long rivals McLaren. With Alonso now out of the door and out of love with the team, they can look forward to an upcoming partnership with Pierre Gasly, surely the man without adjectives in 2022. The team’s pre-emptive announcement of Oscar Piastri blew up in their face, while internal management seemed to get uglier with each passing week of silly season news. The Gasly/Ocon partnership has the potential to become volatile, and Alpine must negotiate choppy waters if they are to progress further in F1.
Piastri ended up with the more promising seat for 2023, at McLaren. However, McLaren effectively fueled the F1 silly season during the summer break, when it seemed that everyone from their mother to Jacques Villeneuve had signed up with the team in some capacity, a saga that embroiled both the F1 and IndyCar paddocks! While Lando Norris continued to illustrate that he is a future world champion, ending the year as the only podium sitter outside the top six, his teammate Daniel Ricciardo disappointed even more so than in his first season at the team. This time there were no shock glories, no moments, even brief, of redemption for the Australian. He left Red Bull four years prior desiring to get out of being Max Verstappen’s number two. He now returns to them as their number three, with his reputation in tatters. One must wait to see if Ricciardo can do an Olivier Panis circa 2000 and rebuild his shattered confidence in a test role.
From behind McLaren things got sketchier. Although a 25-race calendar offers opportunities galore for drivers to flex their muscles on special days, we saw few of those days in 2022, even from teams that had the chances to take them. Alfa Romeo, for example, lost countless points all year with Valtteri Bottas’ mistakes at crucial moments in Miami and Texas, with Guanyu Zhou’s mechanical retirements and terrifying Silverstone crash robbing him of respectable results. With the same poor logistics, strategy, and pitstops that plagued the team when they were struggling to get out of being last in recent years. Alfa Romeo seem like the kind of team who wouldn’t win a race even with an RB18 at their disposal!
Compared to the rest of the also-rans, at least Alfa banked the points when it mattered. Aston Martin, although ending their year on a competitive high note, spent most of it in the absolute doldrums. The AMR22 was a further backwards step for the former Racing Point squad initially; Lance Stroll frequently took out competitors in dangerous and unsighted manoeuvres; Sebastian Vettel often seemed more interested in causes outside the sport and growing his hair plugs. Aston Martin seemed a shoe-in for this website’s coveted Reject of the Year award based on the early season. That being said, when the team finally figured out the car, Baku, Singapore and Suzuka all provided excellent results for the squad, and Vettel was able to retire with a modicum of respectability, rather than the Damon Hill 1999 scenario that people had feared Seb was doomed to repeat.
Haas flattered to deceive in 2022. Replacing their Forti FG01-esque 2021 car with a much more competitive machine, things seemed on the upswing for the American squad. Nikita Mazepin’s controversial career came to a halt the moment Russian tanks started rolling toward Kyiv in late February, leading to returning hero Kevin Magnussen bringing home sizeable points in the early rounds. Mick Schumacher also took his first points in F1 towards the mid-season. Those moments were, with Magnussen’s Interlagos pole included, just about enough to mask the serious performance issues from within the team. Spain was the first of so many opening-lap crashes between Magnussen and his competitors. Schumacher went from the most frequent crasher of the first half of the year, to totally anonymous in the second half. The team were unable to tap all the potential they had, and one wonders what Haas is really ever going to be capable of, if this was the result of an extra season’s development work. The signing of perennial midfielder Nico Hulkenberg to replace Schumacher is an indication of their future, preferring to consolidate results rather than have Mick writing off equipment every other race.
One team whom nobody remembers from 2022 is AlphaTauri. Aside from the occasional blunder, such as Yuki Tsunoda’s embarrassing pit exit at Montréal and taking out his own team mate at Silverstone, we saw very little from Red Bull’s sister team. They have been going on without purpose for some time now – while Pierre Gasly bemoaned his lack of a Red Bull drive, he did little this year to show he is deserving of a top seat, and Yuki’s position in the team seems to be guaranteed less by his performances and more from his employer’s lack of junior alternatives. One season to forget, as they put their hope in Nyck de Vries to swim rather than sink. In any case, hiring de Vries is a massive vote of no-confidence in Red Bull’s junior pipeline, presenting question marks for the continued viability of AlphaTauri.
Lastly, Williams finished rock bottom of the constructors’ championship, but that didn’t tell the whole story. Alex Albon did a commendable job upon his F1 return, although perhaps without the machinery or the ability to really drag a result out of it. Nyck de Vries turned heads when he played supersub at Monza, mixing it up with the midfield and scoring points on debut. Nicholas Latifi, sadly, did not shine so brightly: with Mazepin gone, fingers could quite easily point at the Canadian for the yearly “worst driver on the grid” conversation. His ninth place at the bizarre full-points Suzuka race saved what was threatening to be a hopeless case. Williams are another team looking forward to 2023, as Logan Sargent steps into Latifi’s shoes next year becoming the first American in F1 since the hapless Scott Speed in the 2000s!
Reject of the Year
When analysing what was most rejectful, F1 fans were as usual not lacking choice. 2021, the previous year, had finally seen the implementation of a budget cap, only a decade later than promised. When the transparency reports came out of the FiA late in 2022, it emerged that Aston Martin was on the edge of the cap, while Red Bull had appeared to have gone right over it. Legal arguments ensued, fingers were pointed, and it highlighted just how hard such a cap is to enforce. Red Bull had taken a shaky but necessary premise of a budget cap and put its legitimacy into question after a single season. Their punishment is reduced wind tunnel time for 2023, but the fallout begs us to ask just how many teams will fall afoul next year, and whether the punishment will hamper the marque for next season.
The teams have a hard enough time getting along with one another, but when it came to the prospect of new teams on the grid, there was an overwhelming negative consensus to any such possibility. Andretti had made signals in public about their intention to enter F1 within a few years, but were publicly shot down and made to slither around listlessly as punishment for daring to even propose such an idea. As the championship moves closer towards a state of franchise, new blood on the grid is now seen as sharing the pot, with the entry fee now referred to as the “Dilution Fee”. The teams will always act singularly in their own interests, but the short-term thinking permeating every inch of F1 is likely to hurt them before too long, and before interest dries up once again.
When it came to the on-track action, the reject candidates were squarely AlphaTauri and Aston Martin. The former were nowhere to be seen, with two underperforming drivers and a rather resigned look towards 2023. The latter were unmotivated, unfocussed, with a bad chassis and no real forward momentum. With wins supposedly the target for 2025, the real question is whether backer Lawrence Stroll’s interest lasts long enough to make it there.
When it came to the drivers, Latifi and Schumacher share a huge amount of the reject infamy, with both going almost the whole season pointless. Schumacher’s spark was so brief it has nearly been forgotten, while Latifi spent a significant number of races a minute or more behind his teammate by race end.
When it came to the races themselves, one event stands above any other at the pinnacle of rejecthood: Saudi Arabia. As perhaps the shining example of such short-sightedness, F1’s staff and personnel were held hostage by a hostile and unbenevolent set of hosts, chasing after the dollar, the sportswashing, and the total cover-up of the country’s current and ongoing invasion of Yemen. When all this occurred within months of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine (and subsequently, the cancellation of the Russian Grand Prix), the hypocrisy and self-interest was there at its filthy worst.
Third Place: Ferrari
Ferrari never ceases to impress us. Even after their best season in at least four years, they managed to commit blunder after blunder, ruin strategy after strategy, commit countless poor communications midrace, to waste one of the most talented driver pairing on the grid, and throw away win after win. While now in hindsight we can say that Verstappen’s title charge may have been inevitable, Ferrari’s total collapse while holding all the cards made Red Bull’s job that much easier, and let all the air out of the championship fight before it had truly begun.
Second Place: The McLaren / Alpine Contract Saga
It has been years since we had a public contract saga to chew on every day. Alpine seemingly lost every option they had for 2023 apart from Ocon by the end of it. Their internal management atmosphere appears to be unpleasant and aggressive, their driver management was as bad as it could be. Instead of replacing their double world champion with wunderkind Oscar Piastri, the team had to scramble to sign a below-par Pierre Gasly. Meanwhile McLaren reaped the rewards of hiring everyone from Rubens Barrichello to Rio Haryanto, just because they could, causing chaos for both Alpine and IndyCar’s Chip Ganassi Racing! All because of the catalyst, our Reject of the Year for 2022…
Reject of the Year: Daniel Ricciardo
Arguably, Daniel Ricciardo is where the blame lies for the Alpine/McLaren contretemps. Single-handedly he cost his team fourth in the world championship. For two years McLaren displayed godlike patience for the Australian to find his form and justify his huge salary. Outside of Monza 2021, it never really happened. For the second year running he was trounced by teammate Norris, and this season there were no bright spots. Ricciardo’s contract was terminated a year early, with apparently nowhere to go. What a fall from grace: from potentially the fastest driver in F1 only four years prior, to the biggest anchor on such a high-potential team. Daniel Ricciardo is therefore our Reject of the Year for 2022.
You must be logged in to post a comment.