Long Read | The most highly-anticipated test in F1 history

Long Read | The most highly-anticipated test in F1 history

23 February - 07:00 Last update: 07:54

With pre-season testing just around the corner, the F1 world is ready to buckle in and get ready for another exciting season. While preseason tests in the past ma have been slightly dull, there are definitely not a lack of talking points that will emerge from when the cars will take to the track in both Barcelona & Bahrain.

New cars

The phrase on everyone’s lips is the “new regulations”. The 2022 season welcomes sweeping changes to all aspects of the cars, the first major change since 2017. The air-disturbing & complex cars have been replaced by newer, shorter and simplified designs aiming to reduce the turbulent wake. With this, F1 expects that the racing spectacle will be a lot more closely contended, with driver ability & car setup able to make more of a difference. The new car shape, as well as the new tyre constructions, mean that both visibility from the car & the way it manoeuvres through the corners will be vastly different, potentially affecting driving styles and catching the drivers out on several occasions as well.

Livery designs are something to note of as well, with a lot of anticipation & excitement built from the pre-season car launches. From this, we can learn more about the brand image that the teams hold and want to shape themselves with. Appealing colour schemes & rafts of sponsor signings provide interesting points of discussion for everyone surrounding the racing world. Overall, the changes brought forth, are visible for everyone to see and show a turning over of a new leaf for the sport itself.

Design choices

A variety of aerodynamic philosophies have been settled on by all of the F1 teams. With the few photos distributed from both launches & filming days, we can see the diversity amongst the teams & how they’ve adapted to the cars. Nose and front wing concepts are varied, with the likes of Aston Martin opting for greater width, while the McLaren remains somewhat narrower in comparison. The underfloor design will be a strong point of interest, with a reduction in bargeboard aerodynamic elements, air wake control for the channels underneath will need to be precise in order to try and claw back the lost downforce. Mercedes have settled for a wavy underfloor section closer to the front, an item that was tested in the 2021 season. Therefore, with winter testing, we can slowly garner an idea of which areas the teams are focusing on & slowly attribute them to the resultant performances as the laps register on the timing sheets.

Changes by the FIA 

The rapid response of F1 to viewer demands/wishes is one of the most notable changes to the sport in recent history. Sprint Races were introduced in 2021 to enhance the racing spectacle & provide something new to F1, but it did have its flaws. The lack of points in relation to the effort, as well as the finishing positions registering as “qualifying positions” lead many to register their concern. As such, these were changed before the start of the 2022 season, with a new points system and an adjustment in award attribution brought about. Also, after the controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, many were fervently demanding Michael Masi’s total removal from F1. The FIA subsequently executed the best plan available by moving Masi to an alternate role and replacing him with two other members to share the duties. With this, we can see that F1 as a whole is more conscious of the united voice from the fanbase and is cognizant of how it affects the way the sport is perceived. 

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Budget cap

We also get to observe the effects of the tightened cost cap in the 2022 season. Brought down to $140 million (a drop accelerated by revenue loss from Covid-19), the teams will now have to grapple with the financial constraints to make the most efficient decisions possible in order to remain competitive in F1. Damage, part losses and other incidents will bear much more concern for the teams, which may show their effects in pre-season testing. We will likely see the more financially “well-off” teams make reference to their difficulties in decision-making while ascending challengers will be fixated on the opportunity to push up into the fight at the front.

Driver changes

Such excitement surrounds the driver changes for a new season. Seeing the drivers in new overalls & interacting with their environment is always interesting to see, making us hopeful for their future within their new teams. In this season, we will see the return of the hardworking Alex Albon, whose complex ties to both Red Bull & now Williams will lead to some interesting dynamics as he partners with Nicholas Latifi to push the Grove-based outfit forward. The complete lineup change in Alfa Romeo sees Mercedes veteran Valtteri Bottas become the defacto “team leader”, with the highly-rated Guanyu Zhou coming in, thus severing his ties with the Alpine academy. Finally, George Russell has received his full-time call-up to the Mercedes works team, completing a path of significant success through motorsport. After two successive titles in F3 & F2, as well as a 3-year period with Williams, Mercedes have to know thrown him in the deep end, where he will partner seven-time world champion, Sir Lewis Hamilton, in the pursuit of continuing Mercedes’ dominance. Pre-season testing will provide an early insight into how well a driver has integrated with the constructor over the winter. Early hints can be given as to how well the driver feels comfortable in the team and where they are willing to set their sights in order to achieve a “successful” season.

A new champion

With the entrance of the 2022 season, F1 beckons a newly crowned champion to the fold. Max Verstappen’s world driver’s championship victory brought elation around the world as many celebrated the first non-Mercedes victory since 2013. The highly-rated Dutchman changed his status from “future world champion” now to “reigning champion” and is surely eyeing the opportunity to continue his success in 2022. Aiming to dominate from the front again, he will be ready to charge out of the blocks once more. Some concern surrounds Red Bull’s ability to hold their performance once more, as it was widely reported that they left no stone unturned in order to achieve success in their 2021 campaign. The focus will definitely lie on both driver & constructor to see if they can uphold their standard into the coming season.

Hamilton's return

While he may have made a return in the public eye, a return to racing is another world. Sir Lewis Hamilton’s disappearance left many concerned whether he truly lost his love for racing, with the final race’s controversy leaving a horrible mark on his perception of the sport. While his return to social media and frequent appearances in Mercedes’ channels marks a return a commitment, it will be curious to see how he is in person. Body language & interviews could be a dead giveaway on his mental state & how ready he is for the return. If all seems well, we can expect another season of sparks flying as the best battle it out at the front of the pack.

A New Era of F1

While the pre-season test may not show it explicitly, it will hold its place as the first marker of significant evolution in F1. Mohammed bin Sulayem replaces Jean Todt as FIA President, with the latter bowing out after he satisfied his maximum term limit. Stefano Domenicali will hold his second season as F1 CEO, while Ross Brawn continues to hold his status as managing director of the sport. With such significant movements in the management structure, aligning with the change in sporting regulations, F1 may have enough to evolve into an entirely new beast. The transition from Ecclestone to Liberty Media management allowed F1 to elevate its brand through clever & precise marketing. Now, foundations have been laid in place to allow for the sport to correctly balance both the racing spectacle (with the management structure now holding figures who all held some position in motorsport), while balancing it with the marketable product that Liberty Media has designed.

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