In this edition of behind the headlines, I’m going to look at some of the news stories, on track events and what could be ahead in the year ahead. 2022 could see the biggest shake-up in a generation with the new technical regulations. This is not a season prixview we will get to that in March (hopefully).
The year ahead is still I think likely to be dominated by Mercedes and Red Bull, but we never know we given the scale of the regulation changes, could be in for a repeat of 2009. That season could see one of the biggest surprises, if the gap between Red Bull and Mercedes, and the rest of the midfield close up, as you want to see more battles.
2021 was dominated by controversy, on and off track, everyone I think is looking for less of that where the stewards have to get involved. But the FIA need to possibly need to be clearer, and newly elected president Mohammed Ben Sulayem says the governing body needs to be “proactive rather than reactive” in resolving the sporting regulations.
I think the feeling from everyone after last season going into 2022 will be the same when it comes to consistency and fairness with the way the rules and penalties are applied. It’s finding a balance between ‘letting them race’ and ‘keeping it fair,’ not every race but throughout the season.
Time will tell when we start racing in March and we need to see what is going to happen. I hope we go into the season with more than just a Hamilton-Verstappen battle, is going to continue but are we going to see the midfield the likes of Ferrari and McLaren join Red Bull and Mercedes.
We know the cars for this season are designed to create closer racing, and while last year we had a genuine fight until the last race in Abu Dhabi is there a possibility that one team could do a Brawn or Mercedes? That team has over the last decade come off very well in terms of when the regulation change, will it be the same this year?
One of the big questions however is whether we are going into a 2009 or 2014 situation where we get one team going into the season with a clear edge. This could be more interesting as you have the feeling from all the teams that this won’t be the case, that might be because of the financial restrictions.
I think this is a make-or-break year for Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto, he needs to deliver a championship challenge after the team slipped back following the fuel flow ruling at the end of 2019 into 2020. Last year was a better year and maybe they over-delivered, which could hamper them this year.
Renault returned as a manufacturer (now Alpine) in 2019 with a five-year plan to challenge for championships. Since then we know the team has invested heavily in both personnel and infostructure, which needs to start paying off with these regulation changes.
We have a new FIA president Ben Sulayem, the first non-European to be elected to the role. The Emeriti has two big tasks restoring faith in the sport after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as well as navigating the pandemic. We don’t yet know the style of his presidency and how he will seek to run the governing body.
Although we all don’t want another season talking about stewarding and the way rules have been applied, you need to think we will start with a clean stale in Bahrain but we need to hope that similar punishments are given or not given for similar incidents. But, we need fair and quicker decision making so we aren’t waiting hours for results.
Last year we had a more normal season, but still the pandemic caused the cancellation of races as well as like we saw with Novack Jovick some controversy. We obviously don’t know the personal vaccine status for everyone, but we know Michael Masi has spoken about not being vaccinated as he had a prior infection. He hasn’t been vaccinated, but we know he hasn’t said if that has changed? We think we are going to Melbourne in April, but that I think is still not certain.
We have a very interesting driver line up at Mercedes as George Russell joins Lewis Hamilton, we know they have both spoken warmly about each other but while the relationship looks to be strong could we see tension if they are both equally; matched on track. They are obviously at different stages of their careers, but we know that hasn’t always been a good scenario think Hamilton-Alonso, Vettel-Ricciardo and Vettel-Leclerc.
We know, if we are going to get an inter-team with several teams fighting for the title, teamwork is going to be important. The midfield battle has been quite tight in recent years and you need to ask can McLaren or Ferrari, make that next step towards joining the fight between Mercedes and Red Bull.
It was good having a genuine championship fight, but the way it ended last year needs to be avoided. I think we are looking to see if any team has found a loophole that gives them an advantage, that could lead to a drawn-out process if teams start challenging each other with stewards and the FIA courts
I think Mattia Binotto has a make-or-break season as Ferrari team principal, reading Ross Brawn’s book a few years ago he spoke about the team not having much tolerance and almost firing quickly, but that I think has changed as the last four years have been difficult for the team both with on-track performance and personal.
Binotto has made questionable decisions, but he has been honest that the team are rebuilding but with the regulation change, they need to bounce back and at least be fighting for most of the season. Ferrari have I feel over the last two years indirectly pinned a lot on these changes, if they struggle there will be questions.
But we know that history tells us that it could take time for them to settle in, everyone is looking to make progress and the masking which normally happens in testing, it will probably take time as always to understand the pecking order. We need to remember the changes in technical regulations may not shake things up as much as we would like.
We had a much more normal season, but we need to remember that covid is still around I think last year we had several races without any positive tests. But we still face challenges in some countries where it might be difficult going to places like Melbourne.
I hope we can go to Asia this year places like Singapore and Japan, the last two years have felt odd and there was a critic on social media when Suzuka was cancelled following the Olympics. But covid could see races cancelled, I think there will probably be a few cases.
2022 will be a season where we look to have great headlines and racing, but I think everyone is looking forward to a year with less controversy.