With two races into the 2022 Formula 1 season, David Crofty’s iconic “… and it’s lights out and away we go” will be echoing on people’s televisions nearly every Sunday again. Nevertheless, what motorsport fans will witness throughout the year is not just another season, but a new era in the sport.
The cars that lined up in Bahrain for the first Grand Prix have a strikingly different appearance compared to the ones that crossed the finish line in Abu Dhabi in December 2021. The new season welcomes all fans with a brand new set of rules and regulations that have already altered the dynamics of the sport.
From a technical point of view, the major changes the cars have undergone were dictated by an attempt to improve aerodynamics and enhance competition, while also putting emphasis on simplicity and reduced costs.
The ground effect from the 70s has been reinterpreted to help the cars stick on the track and have better grip and cornering speed, but without the danger that caused this aerodynamic wizardry to be left in the 80s. The tires have increased significantly in size — from 13 to 18 inches — making them more robust and long-lasting. However, this will represent a new challenge for the pitlane crews. Furthermore, a higher and wider rear wing in addition to a simplified front wing — comprising just four elements — was designed to enable overtaking to the millimeter.
After the debated end of a rather eventful season that saw Max Verstappen as maiden world champion, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile was unanimous about a necessary clarification of several guidelines. In memory of Spa 2021, points will be awarded only if the race consists of at least two laps without safety cars. If this occurs, all lapped cars will wave past the leader to avoid Abu Dhabi-like controversies where the world championship was decided by a single lap.
The new grid also provides reasons for excitement, with George Russell racing alongside Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas wearing the Alfa Romeo racing suit and Alex Albon’s second shot at Formula 1.
Overall, this year has all the premises to gift drivers, teams and fans with 23 thrilling races that will resurrect everybody’s passion for the sport after years of redundant podiums and expected outcomes.
Hamilton and Mercedes have asserted their dominance over the last decade time and time again, with seven world titles and eight constructors’ championships, but a change in scenery in the drivers’ standings was long due.
Similar to how Sebastian Vettel’s prime years were also filled with fan hatred, Hamilton’s record-breaking career has become a nuisance to people who desperately wish to see a podium free of the Mercedes’ menacing black suit. According to a 2022 poll by Formula 1 News, 61% of fans voted in favor of his retirement after he failed to secure his eighth title.
Although neither Mercedes nor Hamilton deserve any questioning of their success, Formula 1 — like any other sport — can’t be represented by one face only, especially if it’s for seven seasons in a row.
Redundant race results were seriously endangering the popularity of the sport. Out of the 17 races that were hosted in 2020, Hamilton won 11 of them. With such a streak, why would anyone bother to sit through a two hour race just to see the same athlete celebrate with champagne?
It’s not just the sport’s broad popularity in danger. Whilst the viewership of the 2021 season skyrocketed thanks to the heated fight between Hamilton and Verstappen, recently, F1 has been at risk of losing its own fan base.
Over the last 10 years, only two teams have hegemonized the sport — Red Bull first and then Mercedes. However, Michael Masi’s response to this by making 2021 a unique duel between talents made fans doubt the integrity of the FIA and brought about rancor to the community. Even though Stefano Domenicali, the current CEO of the Formula 1 group, believes that F1 doesn’t need to earn the fans’ trust, fans were more than upset at the farcical decisions made by the FIA.
The addition of new mechanical developments, stricter regulations and a hyper competitive grid are promising a lot of things to look forward to. We are likely to end eras of domination by one team.
The Bahrain Grand Prix showed us this prediction has been coming true, as we finally saw a 1-2 podium from Ferrari and Haas is back at scoring points after a two year hiatus.
With 21 more races to go, we can only hope to see more unexpected results and enjoy a captivating season.