Max vs Lewis again, midfield challengers emerge as new era begins – F1 narratives for 2022

By Sports Desk March 18, 2022

How does Formula One go about following up the epic 2021 season?

Well, until that stunning campaign stole the show, this year was long seen as the one to look forward to with the introduction of new regulations to encourage competitive racing right down the grid.

Lewis Hamilton might have expected a genuine challenge in 2022; instead, in the form of Max Verstappen, it arrived 12 months early.

Excitement for the coming campaign is therefore at an all-time high, with pre-season testing adding to the theory fans should expect the unexpected.

Forecasting the year ahead is tricky, but Stats Perform seeks to identify the key narratives to follow this season ahead of Sunday's 2022 opener in Bahrain.

Max vs Lewis again

For now at least, Verstappen and Hamilton will expect to be the title frontrunners, which should mean another classic campaign.

Verstappen had never even led the standings until winning last year's Monaco Grand Prix, the first of five consecutive Red Bull wins – including four for the Dutchman.

That sequence ended at Silverstone, where contact with Hamilton sent Verstappen into the wall and set the tone for the rest of a frantic season, in which the pair repeatedly went at one another, crashing at Monza.

A titanic back-and-forth deserved a better ending than to be decided by a contentious call from race director Michael Masi in Abu Dhabi.

Now, defending champion Verstappen can attempt to prove he is better than Hamilton regardless of that decision, while the Mercedes man seeks to show his class once again as he pursues a record eighth title.

The midfield challenge

The game-changing 2022 regulations sought to enforce "closer racing", meaning both Verstappen and Hamilton could come under threat rather than simply blowing away the competition.

Early signs are encouraging on that front, with the two title rivals name-checking Ferrari's superb pre-season showing in the past week.

A resurgent Scuderia represent an obvious danger to those two, but so too do McLaren, Ferrari's midfield neighbours in recent seasons.

Lando Norris had four podiums last season before tailing off to finish sixth in the drivers' championship – still two places ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who endured a tough first year with the team despite a famous win at Monza.

Having been aided by changes to the car for 2022, it is up to Ferrari and McLaren to close the gap considerably to Red Bull and Mercedes.

George a genuine threat?

Of course, Verstappen and Hamilton might typically expect their biggest challenges to come from those in the same cars.

However, Sergio Perez played the role of supporting Red Bull team-mate brilliantly in some key moments last year, while Valtteri Bottas continued to do his own thing without worrying Hamilton.

How a change in the Mercedes garage alters things remains to be seen. Bottas has been replaced by George Russell, who will hope to quickly make his mark.

Russell deputised for Hamilton for a single race the year before last and impressed, so it will be interesting to see if he now intends to push his legendary colleague all the way or will initially settle instead for helping his title bid.

Impact of refereeing reform

It is not only the cars that have had a makeover this year, with the officiating structure reorganised in the aftermath of the criticism aimed at Masi.

He is out as race director, with two men, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, taking his place, while other changes include the introduction of a "virtual race control room" to "assist the race director in the decision-making process".

Whether these changes suitably appease the team principals, who grew increasingly furious with each controversy last year, remains to be seen.

All parties would agree they would rather see the championship decided on the track – but it is not always as straightforward as that.

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