Written by Marcus Woodhouse, Edited by Ishani Aziz
The pandemic delayed what was supposed to be Formula 1’s drastic change in regulations, aiming to reduce the effect of ‘dirty air’ and allow cars to follow each other much more closely, which only came into effect this season (a year later than initially planned). A lot of time and effort had clearly gone into these alterations, with the end goal to increase overtaking and therefore the drivers’ ability to race each other, following a long period of sheer dominance from Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton. So after the long awaited regulations have been applied, the question remains: has their goal been achieved?
Right in the middle of this intriguing 2022 F1 season, we find ourselves with a shake-up of the pecking order caused mainly by the aerodynamic changes. With different strategies adopted to try to best take advantage of the way the cars are confined by regulations, pre-season was the first time many F1 fans fully got to grips with the fact that Mercedes might not have a quick enough car to even make it into the title fight this year. In previous years, pre-season was all about whether anyone could challenge Mercedes that year, with hopes of a Ferrari resurgence quickly dashed as the season progressed. For this reason, the Tifosi couldn’t afford to get their hopes too high when the Ferrari pairing of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz seemed to be driving the fastest car. However, last year’s champion Max Verstappen also showed blistering pace in his Red Bull, while the Mercedes cars lacked consistency but showed signs of speed too. It was all to play for in the first race of the season, as fans eagerly awaited not only seeing Ferrari at the front again, but also how effectively the aerodynamic regulations could improve the racing overall.
Bahrain was an instant thriller of a race, with battles up and down the order. A Ferrari 1-2 came after both Red Bulls suffered mechanical retirements, with Mercedes taking the vacant positions. The rest of the field definitely defied the past, with Haas and Alfa Romeo looking particularly strong, while McLaren and Aston Martin seemed to have taken a step backwards. More importantly, Bahrain demonstrated some extremely close, side-by-side action on Lap 3, as Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen duelled for half a lap, showcasing the massive improvement in racing already. Soon after, we were privileged enough to witness an epic battle between Leclerc and Verstappen, as they traded places for three consecutive laps, able to stay close enough to each other through the corners to make a move on the straight. The first race of the season was immediate proof of battles that were enabled by the new regulations, as the cars didn’t drop off from each other in the ‘dirty air’ as they had in previous seasons.
Many more similarly spectacular battles ensued in the following races, with notable examples including: the fight between the two Alpines, another at the front with Leclerc and Verstappen in Saudi Arabia, Verstappen and George Russell in Spain, and Hamilton’s smooth overtakes on Pierre Gasly in Baku. Even in Australia, we had three cars side by side with each other as they battled for a position. The British Grand Prix was perhaps the cleanest example of the benefit from the rule changes, with cars following each other at arm’s length, and multi-car battles. Every race provided fascinating action and the fans brought in by last year’s dramatic championship battle were finding themselves unable to stop watching. Of course, we can’t expect every race to resemble the spectacle we saw at Silverstone, with there obviously still being some races without as much action as others. Yet races like Australia and Monaco, the latter being notoriously hard to overtake in, still had key fights in the front and in the midfield.