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Is Sir Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes dominance over forever?

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THINGS MAY not have come down to the wire quite like they did last year, but the 2022 Formula 1 season was far from disappointing, writes Gemma Cockrell.

Following the season finale in Abu Dhabi this weekend, we look back at the season that saw Max Verstappen become a double world champion.

2022 saw the enforcement of a new set of technical regulations, deemed as the most significant changes since 1983 by Red Bull car designer Adrian Newey. This added a layer of uncertainty for fans, drivers, and teams alike.

At pre-season testing, it seemed that the dominance that seven times world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes had exerted since 2014 might finally be over. They were particularly affected by porpoising, a phenomenon defined as a “violent bouncing on the suspension at high speeds.”

By the end of the first round, which took place in Bahrain, it was already cemented that the championship battle would be firmly between Ferrari and Red Bull. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had the upper hand at this early stage of the season, achieving pole position and winning the race. Meanwhile, Red Bull seems to be struggling with reliability. Both drivers had to retire from the opening race of the season, citing fuel issues.

DOUBLE: Max Verstappen Photo by Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images

But it wouldn’t be an easy ride for Ferrari, either. They had problems of their own, including a string of poor tire strategy calls that left them unable to compete for wins or podiums at races including Hungary where Leclerc finished P6. His accident-prone nature would also cost him valuable points, resulting in avoidable crashes such as the incident at the French Grand Prix.

This race would later be seen as the turning point of the season when things really started to favor Verstappen. Six races later, at the Japanese Grand Prix, the Red Bull driver would take the championship with an insurmountable lead of 113 points. But he wasn’t aware that he’d won the title when he crossed the line.

It would be awarded post-race, when Leclerc was given a penalty for leaving the track and gained an advantage in the final lap.

The Japanese Grand Prix was also clouded by an entirely different talking point. A recovery vehicle that was placed on the track in poor weather conditions was criticized by Pierre Gasly due to similarity to the conditions that had resulted in the death of Jules Bianchi.

Safety measures have come a long way in Formula 1, but this demonstrated that there is still much that needs to be done to ensure that as many precautions are taken as possible.

Following Verstappen’s championship win, Red Bull would continue to make the headlines throughout the remainder of the season. It was revealed that they had exceeded the $145 million cost cap in 2021, a breach that would be punished with a $7 million fine and an aerodynamic testing reduction.

Then, at the United States Grand Prix, the tragic news broke that the founder of the team, Dietrich Mateschitz, had sadly passed away.

The Red Bull camp remained tumultuous until the penultimate round, when Verstappen refused to swap positions with his teammate Sergio Pérez to assist his fight for second place in the championship, making some ambiguous comments about Pérez’s crash in Monaco qualifying earlier in the year. This left a sour taste in many fans’ mouths and hinted that the relationship between the two drivers has not been smooth sailing this year.

Whether Pérez would succeed remained undecided until Abu Dhabi, with the Mexican driver going into the final race on the same number of points as Leclerc.

As often happens at Abu Dhabi, things came down to the final lap. Ultimately, Pérez simply didn’t have enough pace to overtake Leclerc, who managed to snatch second place in the championship. Both drivers still finished on the podium, while achieving the best championship results of their respective careers.

The sprint race format was retained for 2022; love it or hate it, it’s here to stay. Amendments were made after its initial trial last year, including an increase in the number of points to be awarded, making it more meaningful towards the championship. It succeeded in Brazil, when George Russell overtook Verstappen in the sprint to take his maiden P1 in Formula 1. This allowed him to go on to win the main race, despite Mercedes not being in contention for much of the season.

Russell, alongside Sainz, Pérez and Magnussen, all achieved their first Formula 1 pole positions this year. Four drivers – Latifi, Schumacher, Ricciardo, and Vettel – also announced that they were leaving the sport at the end of 2022.

Due to his legacy as a four-time world champion, the latter was the most emotional of the farewells and messages of ‘Danke Seb’ were displayed in Abu Dhabi, where he was awarded Driver of the Day.

Looking to 2023, Formula E champion Nyck de Vries will replace Gasly at Alpha Tauri when the Frenchman moves to Alpine. 2020 Formula 2 champion Oscar Piastri was expected to fill that Alpine seat, but after some contract confusion he will be heading to McLaren instead. Fernando Alonso will replace Vettel at Aston Martin, and Nico Hulkenberg will leave his Aston Martin reserve driver role to take a seat at Haas.

American rookie Logan Sargeant will step up to Williams, coinciding with the sport’s rapidly increasing following in the US. 2023 will also see the addition of a third race in the States, to make up a calendar of 24 races altogether. This is the highest number that there has ever been in a season of Formula 1, but thanks to 2022 having the earliest finish to a Formula 1 season since 2010, the teams and drivers will be able to embark on a long, well-deserved winter break.

In 2023, Formula 1 will return with pre-season testing in Bahrain on 23 February before the first race, also held in Bahrain, will take place on 5 March.

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