F1 introduces all-new technical regulations
Of course, the biggest storyline heading into 2022 is that of the huge regulation changes. Gone, supposedly, are the fussy aero-dependent cars of 2021 and, in their place, come a much more simplified, robust and versatile field of cars.
A lot of careful research has gone into the new cars, with the intent of improving their raceability. This has been done via a switch to a philosophy of 'ground effect', where the cars are essentially pulled down onto the track via the under-car airflow, rather than being pushed down by the air going over it, as was the case with the old machines.
It's a huge change of philosophy, with the result being far less turbulent air thrown off the cars. This means that pursuing cars, in theory, should be able to stay in much closer proximity without having their own performance curtailed.
This will be the biggest single-year regulation change since the 2008 to 2009 season. On that occasion, the two title-contending teams from 2008 fell off the boil as they initially struggled with the new rules. Having fought over title glory in 2008, McLaren and Ferrari would only score one win apiece in 2009, while Red Bull and Brawn (now Mercedes) stepped forward in their place.
On that occasion, there was no restrictive budget cap in place to prevent McLaren and Ferrari from their 2009 development. Both Red Bull and Mercedes have fought over the 2021 title while also trying to balance their budget for the development of the new cars.
Which team will have done it better? Might both have doomed themselves for 2022?
Can Ferrari, McLaren or even Alpine step up?
One of the most exciting battles of the 2021 season - behind the obvious Red Bull/Mercedes scrap - was that of Ferrari and McLaren going all out for third in the Constructors' Championship.
Ferrari ultimately won out, hitting their stride in the closing stages of the season with an upgraded power unit and a driver partnership of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc that consistently delivered the goods.
Given the progress that both Ferrari and McLaren have been making, and their decisions to switch focus to 2022 fairly early (despite their closely-contested fight), could they be in a position to capitalise on the rules reset?
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff certainly thinks so, adding that Ferrari also had the benefit of more wind tunnel hours after their torrid 2020 campaign.
"They are a great entity, they have all the resources that are needed and, therefore, we absolutely have them on the radar," Wolff recently told media, including RacingNews365.com.
"Not only Ferrari, there's a few other teams which can do really well next year."
Ferrari and McLaren aside, there have been plenty of optimistic words coming from Alpine, which rose to fifth in the standings in 2021, having also made a call to focus on their 2022 challenger very early on. Don't forget Esteban Ocon's victory in Hungary and Fernando Alonso's return to the podium in Qatar.
Could there be a similar leap from Aston Martin? They have been recruiting at pace and building up their operations as part of Lawrence Stroll's grand plan. And what about Haas? Remember, the US-led team stopped developing their car before the 2021 campaign even began.
There may well be a few surprises in store...
Could 2022's silly season be even sillier than usual?
Unlike 2021, where most of the teams and drivers were essentially treading water until the start of the new regulation cycle in 2022, this upcoming season could be just as exciting off-track as on it.
Of the 20 drivers taking part this year, 12 will have their contracts expire at the end of 2022, meaning that if any of them fail to adjust to the new regulations quite rapidly, they could be looking for new seats for 2023.
While most of the big-name teams have at least one of their drivers secured on longer-term deals, there's plenty of potential for exciting changes for 2023 if a driver on a shorter deal, for example like Sergio Perez, Alonso or Sainz, struggle to adjust to the completely different regulations and the different handling of the 2022 cars.
Of course, off-track pressure usually means that drivers sink or swim in such circumstances. It will be thoroughly intriguing to see who is able to bounce back from a tough start to the year to find their pace and consistency, and who will lose their head and drive with increasing desperation.
A new dynamic at Mercedes as Russell joins Hamilton
While Red Bull will enter the 2022 season with an unchanged line-up of Max Verstappen and Perez, Mercedes have chosen to bring in fresh blood.
George Russell, the team's long-term protege, makes the step up from Williams, having spent the early stages of his career in back-of-the-grid and then midfield machinery – marking himself out as a star of the future in the process.
It presents a completely new dynamic at the Silver Arrows, with former GP3 and F2 champion Russell, just 23, going up against seven-time F1 champion Hamilton, now 37. The two drivers are at opposite ends of their careers and it will be fascinating to watch how Russell's eagerness to prove himself coincides with Hamilton's quest to add to his greatness.
So far, it has all been very amicable between the pair, as one would expect. Russell has repeatedly described Hamilton as "the greatest of all time", while Hamilton praised Russell for "rightly earning his spot on our team".
Will this continue when testing gets underway, and Russell and Hamilton get a feeling for each other's pace? Does Russell have it in him to make the next step? And how would Hamilton react if Russell is on terms, or even ahead in Bahrain?
Based on Russell's stand-in performance at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, things could get very interesting...
A plethora of unknowns up and down the F1 grid
There's a whole feast of storylines to keep an eye on throughout 2022.
After being granted a stay of execution after a dreadful start to his career, Yuki Tsunoda will be expected to step up to the plate and more closely match Pierre Gasly at AlphaTauri this year. Can he build upon the learning experiences and setbacks from last year to raise his game?
At Williams, Alex Albon gets his second chance in F1 after rebuilding himself with a year on the sidelines at Red Bull. Now older and wiser and in a lower-pressure environment than he had in 2020, can Albon replicate what Gasly managed and set about becoming one of the highly-rated drivers in the midfield (if the car allows)?
What about Sebastian Vettel and Aston Martin? After a year of not doing a whole lot, albeit with occasional reminders of his brilliance, Vettel will be hoping to take a big leap forward with the team. In fact, it could be a crucial year for Vettel. If it's a poor year, might he choose to walk away from the sport? Or, if he's back fighting towards the front, will we see a revitalised Vettel do what he does best?
It's a similar case at Alpine. Alonso showed during 2021 that he's as sharp and as quick as ever. Given the right car, he can still match anyone. However, while he and Ocon settled into a harmonious rhythm last year, will Alonso's sharper edge come back out if the new car is stronger? Given that it's Ocon, not Alonso, on the longer-term contract, it could become one of the spicier teammate battles on the grid.
At Alfa Romeo, how will Valtteri Bottas fare now that he's freed from the shackles of being Hamilton's number two? Will he prove a surprise and adjust quickly to life in the midfield? Will he show some of the aggression that his racecraft has lacked in recent years? How will he cope with the threat of new teammate Guanyu Zhou who, himself, faces the tough challenge of facing off against a driver who has proven himself to be one of the most resilient, and quickest, on the grid?
Roll on the season-opener!
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