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F1 2022

The four F1 drivers who need to step up after the first five races

Five races have come and gone in a flash as F1's new era settles into a rhythm. But which drivers have struggled to make an impression so far? And could they be at risk of losing their seats? RacingNews365.com looks at four names who need to start turning their seasons around.

Sainz crash Miami
Analysis
To news overview © XPB

Carlos Sainz

It might seem harsh to include Carlos Sainz on this list after he collected three podiums across the first five races, but he has been in the shadow of Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc - in qualifying and race trim - since Bahrain.

With an all-new set of regulations, requiring a different approach behind the wheel, it is natural that some drivers will hit the ground running, while others will take more time – Leclerc in the former category, and Sainz, by his own admission, in the latter.

Having trailed Leclerc from start to finish at the season opener, Sainz pointed to a lack of confidence in the F1-75 that he hoped would be tackled by a quick return to Saudi Arabia, where he could benchmark his speed against Ferrari’s 2021 challenger.

But that optimism has been followed by an extremely challenging spell, with back-to-back DNFs in Australia, where he was too rash in his efforts to make up for a compromised qualifying session, and Imola, where he was slightly out of position on the grid after a crash in qualifying and clashed with Daniel Ricciardo at the first corner.

Sure, misfortune has played its part, such as a red flag and fire-up issue during qualifying at Albert Park, but the situation has been exacerbated at times by the usually cool and collected Sainz making uncharacteristic errors, seemingly in his over-eagerness to keep pace with a teammate who is maximising the package underneath him.

All of this, of course, comes with the added pressure and scrutiny of driving a Ferrari, and a highly competitive one at that, with the Italian public - and media - expecting greatness at every turn.

Leclerc (104) is only two points away from having double Sainz's (53) points tally and, unless the Spaniard can buck the trend soon, the Scuderia will surely be thinking about throwing their weight behind the championship leader – especially given the ever-improving nature of main rivals Red Bull.

The main positive for Sainz in the last few weeks has been Ferrari keeping their faith and offering him the comfort of a new two-year deal. After yet another crash during practice last time out in Miami, Sainz needs to build on what was a more measured display in qualifying and the race if he is to keep himself in the mix for this year's top prize.

			© XPB Images
	© XPB Images

Daniel Ricciardo

Questions around Daniel Ricciardo's future have been asked since the early stages of his time at McLaren and they keep coming back, despite occasional flashes of promise.

On paper, Ricciardo has everything it takes to play a key role in McLaren’s push to return to race- and title-winning ways, but for whatever reason, it is just not clicking for the Australian – at least not on a consistent basis.

Putting his victory at last year's Italian Grand Prix to one side, it is much younger teammate Lando Norris who is taking the spoils - in qualifying sessions and races - and looking more like the leader in the camp.

Heading into the new season, much was made about the rules reset and how the 2022 cars might better suit Ricciardo's driving style, with a change of brake supplier also potentially helping him bring back his trademark bold overtakes.

But, simply put, that has not yet transpired. Norris is dominating the qualifying head-to-head 5-0, having taken front row starts for the Australian GP and Emilia Romagna Sprint, and holds 35 of the 46 points scored so far, including a fine podium finish at Imola.

It was another 'head in hands' moment for Ricciardo in Miami, where he dropped out in Q2 moments after Norris stormed to the third-fastest time. It is not so crucial for McLaren right now, with a car still much slower than leaders Ferrari and Red Bull, but it will be if the team get back to the sharp end.

With the season set to enter a non-stop run of double-header and triple-header weekends to the final chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, time in an already fast-moving sport will pass quicker than ever, and Ricciardo is at risk of being left behind.

Perhaps the upcoming rounds in Monaco and Azerbaijan, where Ricciardo has won in the past with gutsy performances, can help to rebuild some confidence and trigger some momentum. If he wants to keep his seat at McLaren, he needs to make it happen.

			© McLaren
	© McLaren

Mick Schumacher

Mick Schumacher has typically kicked on during his second season in any motorsport category, putting the experiences and data gathered from rookie campaigns to good use. But, for various reasons, he is not yet making the same impact in F1.

In ADAC Formula 4, he rose from 10th to runner-up; in European F3, he jumped from 12th in the rankings to champion; and in Formula 2, he went from 12th to champion. In F1, after finishing 19th in his debut season, he holds the same position after five races in 2022.

There are a few factors to consider, one being a new teammate in the form of Kevin Magnussen. While he easily had a hold over Nikita Mazepin last year, the experienced, Haas-aligned Dane - drafted in as a replacement for the axed Russian - offers a much tougher benchmark.

At the first round in Bahrain, Magnussen stole the show as he used the competitive VF-22 - a world away from the team's 2021 car - to secure a Q3 appearance and a top-five finish, with Schumacher fighting to keep up throughout the weekend.

Although not a disaster at that stage, the size of the performance step Schumacher still needed to take immediately became clear, and perhaps played a role in his frightening, high-speed qualifying crash next time out in Saudi Arabia, which ruled him out of the race.

Some progress has been made in this area, with Schumacher out-qualifying Magnussen for the first time at the Australian GP, and backing this up at the Miami GP, but there are plenty of rough edges he needs to round off - especially in terms of racecraft - if he is to cement his place at Haas, and retain his hopes of a future Ferrari seat.

After a clear opportunity to score points went begging with his crash at Jeddah (which cost Haas between half a million and a million dollars), this was repeated in race conditions in Imola and Miami, where he was involved in questionable incidents with Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel respectively – a trait he is struggling to get on top of.

Securing a seat in F1 is one thing, and staying there is another. It's clear that Schumacher still has plenty of work to do if he is to secure a place in the latter group and build a successful career.

			© XPB
	© XPB

Nicholas Latifi

Having edged closer to George Russell during their two seasons together at Williams, Nicholas Latifi harboured hopes of stepping up and becoming the team's leader in 2022.

However, after the first five races, Latifi is arguably the most under-pressure of the drivers on this list, having been comfortably out-performed by new teammate Alex Albon - who replaced the Mercedes-bound Russell - in all areas.

While Albon charged to impressive points-scoring races in Australia and Miami, Latifi has been struggling to keep the car on track, at one stage describing his feelings behind the wheel as a "very dangerous" situation in terms of confidence.

That confidence first took a knock in Saudi Arabia, where he crashed in qualifying and then in the race, and his weekend at the following round in Australia was also compromised by a bizarre collision with Lance Stroll – albeit his fellow Canadian taking the blame for that incident.

In Imola and Miami, it was more a question of whether Latifi would keep the car in one piece and get through the weekend, rather than if he could take the fight to Albon, who is looking more and more at ease after each passing race.

Indeed, Latifi declared after Imola that he was simply happy to make the chequered flag in wet-dry conditions, having been lacking confidence "everywhere". Far from the ideal scenario for a driver looking to build his career in the sport and - like Schumacher - ensure that he is here to stay.

Miami marked a more encouraging weekend for Latifi, as he got within a tenth of Albon in qualifying, having been the best part of a second adrift in certain sessions earlier this season, and he kept the gap on race day within a more respectable 20 seconds.

But with plenty of drivers knocking on F1's door, and the likes of Alpine-backed F2 champion Oscar Piastri sitting on the sidelines (his team already expressing a willingness to loan him out to McLaren when Daniel Ricciardo was struck down with Covid), Latifi is in a race against time to get on terms with Albon and convince Williams he has what it takes for the future – his father's financial input aside.

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