Formula One is in the middle of a three-week break due to the cancellation of the Russian Grand Prix, so I’ve been thinking about the 2022 season so far. I dug into the results from 2018 to now — roughly the Drive to Survive era; any further back and most of the drivers and teams are different. Here’s a look at some of my conclusions.
The Big Three teams are dominating
Through sixteen races thus far, there has been one occurrence of a driver making the podium for a team not named Mercedes, Red Bull, or Ferrari. That was Lando Norris, finishing P3 in just the fourth race of the season. For context, in both 2021 and 2020, drivers from outside the Big Three finished on the podium 10 times, including two race wins. Twice in 2020, full podiums were swept by drivers from mid-pack teams.
In 2022, other drivers have had little shot to even break the top six unless a driver from one of the Big Three teams fails to finish the race. Of the 19 times a non-Big Three driver has finished in the top six, 14 of those were aided by a Big Three driver DNF. This year, everyone is more or less racing for P7.
The strength of the Big Three in 2022 is not unheard of, though. There were three podium finishes by non-Big Three drivers in 2019 and one in 2018. During these years, almost all of the seats at Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari were filled with experienced drivers turning in consistent results, much like they are in 2022. The slight increase in parity during ’20 and ’21 can be partly attributed to a decrease in performance at Ferrari and Red Bull’s journey to find a second driver to pair with Max Verstappen, which appears to be settled with Checo Pérez’ success in the role. With all six drivers returning to their teams in 2023, one has to assume that we will see much of the same dominance next year.
Mercedes is astonishingly consistent
We’ve been writing in our TGS race recaps for a while about how Mercedes doesn’t screw up — allowing them to creep up on a certain team that does — but I don’t think I realized just how reliable they are. Mercedes drivers each have one DNF this season. ONE. Lewis Hamilton caused an accident that led to his retirement from the Belgian Grand Prix and George Russell was forced to retire after he left his car to go check on Zhou Guanyu after a scary crash at Silverstone. If he had not gotten out, he likely would have been able to continue and would have zero DNFs.
Verstappen has the next fewest DNFs in the Big Three with two. Pérez and Charles Leclerc have three apiece and Carlos Sainz has four. Accounted for by constructor: Mercedes 2, Red Bull 5, Ferrari 7. That’s a huge advantage.
More importantly, and probably not surprising to those who have followed F1 for a while, is that this is not an anomaly. Hamilton had two years in this time period (2019 and 2020) in which he did not DNF at all. As a team, they totaled 3 (2018), 2 (2019), 1 (2020), and 5 in 2021 (four of which were from Valtteri Bottas).
We probably have been too hard on Ferrari
To be clear, they deserve scrutiny for their head-scratching strategy calls and pit road miscues, especially given how close they looked to the championship at times. But given what we have seen of Red Bull’s power, which seems to be getting even more pronounced, I think it’s fair to wonder if some of those errors would have made much difference.
Instead, I think they deserve credit for how much they have improved in 2022. Ferrari did not win a race in 2021 or 2020. They recorded five podium finishes in 2021 and three in 2020. Lance Stroll of ASTON MARTIN had two podiums in 2020. This year, they got Sainz his first win and Leclerc added three more. They have 14 podiums so far.
I’ll say it again: They went from having a car that was not good enough to win races to winning at least four in a season that will go down as one of the most dominant by one driver (Verstappen) in F1 history. They have competed for and won poles. The driver lineup is extremely solid. The only question is will they continue to build on this tremendous step forward next year or will they take two steps back?
If I had to guess, I’d say the COVID-19 pandemic — which hit Italy very hard — probably played a big role in the team’s struggles during that time. I’m more concerned with their ability to catch Red Bull and not fall behind Mercedes, who I expect to be extremely motivated to improve after the uncharacteristic poor form of 2022. Toto Wolff will stop sleeping and eating before he lets these results continue.
Max Verstappen is unreal
Everyone knows this from watching the races, but it’s still wild to quantify. Verstappen won 11 of 16 completed races in 2022. Of the five other races, he has two DNFs — both in the first three races of the season. Since those failures, he has been lights out. His other three non-wins are a third place finish at Monaco; P7 at Silverstone where he had debris from an accident lodged in the floor of his car, impacting the aerodynamics; and runner-up result at Austria. He then went on a cute five-race winning streak. It’s been so amazing to watch, I’m not even mad at the predictability — I’m just impressed.