Last season, we saw a tense drivers’ championship that had Mercedes and Red Bull resolute in prioritizing one driver over another. Team orders were given on several occasions, and the number two drivers in both teams quickly settled into their roles. However, this season comes with changes that could make this kind of strategy much trickier to implement.
Track layout changes
The Miami and Melbourne circuits are two examples of tracks where layout changes have been made to improve overtaking for their 2022 events. In the case of Albert Park, we even saw four DRS zones in play. Therefore, if teammates qualify next to each other on the grid or their starts bring them close in the opening laps, they are likely to battle each other assertively.
We have seen this with the thrilling Alpine battle in Jeddah during the second race. It wasn’t until tire management and time loss concerns came in that we saw the two Alpine drivers settling into position. And Ocon, who was behind, ended up getting overtaken by Bottas.
So while the pit wall will maintain a good sense of which driver has more pace as the race evolves, there will be more instances of drivers jostling for position and pushing their crews to reconsider race strategies. It’s also worth remembering that the new cars can closely follow each other, as the new regulations intended. This factor will definitely add to every driver’s confidence in attempting an overtake on the car ahead, even when it’s a teammate.
A renewed constructors’ battle
Last season, it was easier for Red Bull to accept that while Perez was a solid pick, he wouldn’t score highly from the get-go. Even after his race win in Baku, he still had to sacrifice a points-finish to take the fastest lap point away from Hamilton at Silverstone. He did the same at Interlagos, though in this case, it wasn’t at the cost of a points-finish.
Red Bull’s willingness to forgo a constructors’ championship point to keep Verstappen in contention for the drivers’ championship early in the season showed their priority. However, this season is quite different. It’s the first season with a new set of regulations that are a massive overhaul compared to what we’d seen since the start of the V6 Hybrid era in 2014.
Every team will want to show that they took the right direction, and it’s no wonder that car performance have dominated the talk so far this season. Being one of those who got it right and moved up the grid means you could lock in some new long-term sponsorships since you’re likely to get more screen time during races and garner attention from the media.
Therefore, many teams will want to extract as many constructors’ championship points as possible from whichever one of their drivers can score them at any given time.
Driving style categories
In an interview on Sky Sports’ Any Driven Monday, Mercedes simulator driver Anthony Davidson pointed out the preferences that drivers have regarding car balance. He said that some drivers like a car with a little more understeer, while others prefer more oversteer.
But with many teams trying to work around the porpoising by increasing ride height and sacrificing rear downforce, drivers who prefer cars that oversteer might be at a disadvantage.
And when you consider factors like the variation in downforce demands from track to track, you can see just how much this issue is exacerbated. Depending on how quickly a team can work around the issues, some drivers might have to do more adapting than others, which is hard to commit to if you’re hoping things will soon go back to how you prefer them.
The spotlight isn’t just on the teams and innovations. People will also be watching the drivers to see who’s settling in better just in case they need to change their driver line-up down the road. Drivers will have extra motivation to show that they are on top of the new regulations, which extend to things like DRS zone strategy, safety car restarts, track limits and more.
As we wrap up, let’s remain aware of the heat in the constructors’ battle. The Mercedes car is still behind, but they are second in the constructors due to Red Bull’s poor reliability so far.
They are also not far off from the seemingly dominant Ferrari, which had technical issues that ruined Sainz’s qualifying at Albert Park, coupled with a late steering wheel change, anti-stall at the race start, and a driver error on Sainz’s part that culminated in a significant points-loss.
All this shows that every team will have to keep mistakes at the absolute minimum, which will intensify inter and intra-team battles in this new era. As fans of the sport, we can only rub our hands together as we try to contain our excitement over the scintillating action to come.
Aijuka Duncan Ngabirano is a motorsport junkie with a passion for storytelling through various media, and hodling crypto.