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Five key talking points for the second half of the 2022 F1 season

Formula 1 is back this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix, so what are the major talking points as the 2022 season resumes?

The new technical regulations for the 2022 Formula 1 season have certainly worked as intended, as the pack has been shuffled around. Mercedes got the design of the W13 wrong as Red Bull and Ferrari streaked ahead, leaving the eight-time World Champions fighting for crumbs in the early part of the season. Elsewhere, Haas have managed to drag themselves back into regular midfield runners, a far cry from the doldrums of 2020 and 2021 when they were rooted to the back. There's been bouncing, blunders and brilliant wheel-to-wheel racing in the first 13 Grands Prix of 2022, but what will the major talking points be in the remaining nine as the prizes are handed out?

Can Ferrari reel Red Bull in?

When Ferrari are able to stick the right tyres on, get the quicker driver (the Monegasque one) in front and stop the thing from detonating itself, they have a rather quick car. The F1-75 should be comfortably leading both World Championships, but Charles Leclerc finds himself 80 points behind Max Verstappen, with Ferrari 93 behind Red Bull in the Constructors'. Leclerc has scored just one podium since the Miami Grand Pri,x as his season has imploded through unreliability, strategic blunders and his own mistakes. The noise around Ferrari was at its loudest following the Hungarian Grand Prix, where they inexplicably put Leclerc on the Hard tyre in cold conditions as the other teams tried to avoid it at all costs. He plummeted from a podium spot to lonely sixth place as Verstappen stormed from 10th for an eighth win of the season. The Red Bull is not a package without its weaknesses, such as understeer which has plagued Verstappen at times, especially on the slower, twister circuits such as Monaco. But sharper race execution and trackside operations has allowed the Austrian squad to build a comfortable lead in both championships, despite their own early-season reliability concerns. Verstappen and Leclerc are a level above their teammates, but Carlos Sainz still has a big say in the championship fight. If Ferrari have used the break to clear their collective heads and start afresh, Sainz needs to be taking regular points off Verstappen. He's only finished ahead three times in 2022, and once on merit in Monaco - the others being Bahrain when the Red Bull conked out and Britain where Verstappen had damage. Sainz needs to park his title ambitions for 2022 as they are over for himself, but he can still help Ferrari reel Red Bull in. The question is whether Ferrari will tell him that in uncertain terms and if the Scuderia can execute nine race weekends perfectly...

New rules to combat porpoising

An unintended side effect of the new technical regulations for 2022 has been porpoising – or bouncing. Created by the aerodynamics of the new machines, the effect has been varied across the grid, with teams like Red Bull not as affected, Ferrari able to keep their pace up and Mercedes hampered by it. The effect of porpoising has been violent at times, with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix leaving Lewis Hamilton with a back injury and sending Pierre Gasly into hospital for an MRI. The easiest way to eradicate porpoising is to raise the ride height of the car, but that costs performance, something Gasly admitted he would never do and would race through the pain barrier. However, the FIA have now stepped in and mandated rule changes to combat porpoising in the interest of driver safety. More stringent plank and wear checks will be in place from the Belgian Grand Prix, as Technical Directive 39 comes into force. Teams were believed to be bending the rules to place more load on the floor, thus improving performance, especially Red Bull and Ferrari, while Mercedes played it safe with the W13. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner does not expect the rule change to have a big effect on the order, whereas George Russell believes Mercedes will be closer than the one-second on average it's been slower than the top two. More sweeping rule changes to combat porpoising, including a compulsory ride height increase by 15mm, will be introduced for 2023.

The fall and rise of the Silver Arrows

Mercedes' 2022 season is rather akin to Ferrari's 2005 campaign. Although it was minor tweaks including tyre rules that brought an end to the Michael Schumacher dynasty as opposed to the sweeping ones that he befelled the Hamilton one, the house that Toto and Lewis built will finally be demolished in 2022. But fortunately, the Brackley-based squad have managed to stop the wrecking ball after just one or two swipes. Mercedes will not win either championship this year, so their main goal is to become a nuisance in the title battle, and try to win at least one race with the W13. Hamilton's proud record of a win in every season is at stake. The team are as sharp operationally as they have ever been, with Russell's DNF at Silverstone the only blot on the copybook. They are equal on 11 podiums with Ferrari, and just 30 points behind. In recent races, the team have unlocked some of the potential they believe is somewhere in the W13, with double podiums and a pole position across France and Hungary. Despite the brain-drain that has happened over the past couple of years, the core race team of Mercedes remains the same. You don't win over 100 races and 15 of 16 championships in eight years without overcoming setbacks. Mercedes will come again after their faux pas in 2022, and if they can claim second in the standings with a couple of race wins along the way, that'd be a success. Not the success they are used to, but a success nonetheless as attention turns towards 2023 and the W14.

Midfield battles in fight for fourth

One aim of the 2022 regulations was to close the gap between the top three teams and the midfield. It's fair to say this has not happened with Lando Norris – the only driver outside the top three to take a podium – finishing 62 seconds behind Verstappen in Hungary in seventh place. However, the actual racing in the midfield has been close with Alpine and McLaren locked into a tense battle for 'Best of the Rest' – 99 points plays 95, respectively. While the Alpine duo of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso finally have a respectable package after years of noise from Enstone, McLaren are being hampered by their driver line-up. Norris is doing all the heavy lifting with 76 points to Daniel Ricciardo's measly 19. The two cars are evenly matched, with Alfa Romeo fading after a strong early start to the campaign, meaning they will not be challenged from behind for fourth. The intra-team battles will be something to keep an eye on as Ocon looks to put manners on Alonso before he leaves for Aston Martin. He has generally had the better luck this season and some strong drives has him ahead of Alonso in the standings. If Ocon can legitimately beat the self-proclaimed greatest racing driver the world has ever known, his stock will only rise. As for McLaren, it's a case of how much more punishment Ricciardo can take from Norris. Although the Australian has not delivered for McLaren, he can still play a big part in securing fourth, if only he could even half the gap to Norris.

Racing for your F1 career

In reality, there are three F1 seats up for grabs in 2023 as the cards look set to fall into place. There are vacancies at Alpine, Haas and Williams. Alpine should not have a seat available but thanks to some scary incompetence, they have managed to lose both Alonso and Oscar Piastri within days of each other. Alonso bailed after being insulted by Alpine's contract offer, and believing Alonso would stay for 2023, Piastri signed with McLaren. The logical choice would be to recruit Ricciardo again, but two years after he dumped Enstone, questions remain as to whether they want him back. Does Ricciardo himself even want to continue in F1 after the McLaren horror show? If he does, his former haunt is the only place he'd consider going. Although Haas have not opened contract talks with Mick Schumacher, it is in his hands whether he remains for a third season. Having the Schumacher name racing is a massive boost for F1 and for Haas as a team, but the name can only get you so far. After destroying two chassis, Schumacher finally turned a corner in Canada, set for points before a DNF after an engine failure. Like Ricciardo, there are a dearth of options for Schumacher if he loses his Haas seat. He needs to be beating Kevin Magnussen on a regular basis and bringing home more solid points for the team. The spectre of Antonio Giovinazzi lurking behind him for a race seat ought to spur Schumacher on. As for Williams, Alex Albon is firmly entrenched as team leader with Nicholas Latifi's future uncertain. He is the only full-time driver without a point in 2022, and has struggled to be on terms with Albon. Williams seems the natural landing place for a rookie in 2023, with American F2 driver Logan Sergeant heavily linked. He'll need to come close to the title to warrant being promoted into F1, and not being there as the token American driver F1 craves. Sergeant is 61 points behind leader Felipe Drugovich with four rounds – eight races – left. An F1 seat is there for the taking, if Sergeant can grab it.

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