The new technical regulations for the 2022 Formula 1 season have certainly worked as expected, as the field has been revamped.
Mercedes got the design of the W13 wrong as Red Bull and Ferrari took the lead, leaving the eight-time world champions to fight for crumbs at the start of the season.
Elsewhere, Haas has managed to get back into regular midfield, away from the slump of 2020 and 2021 when rooted at the back.
There were bounces, blunders and brilliant wheel-to-wheel races in the first 13 Grands Prix of 2022, but what will be the main talking points in the remaining nine when the awards show?
Can Ferrari catch up with Red Bull?
When Ferrari is able to get the right tires on, put the fastest driver (the Monegasque) in front and keep the thing from blowing up, they have a pretty fast car.
The F1-75 should comfortably lead both world championships, but Charles Leclerc finds himself 80 points behind Max Verstappen, with Ferrari 93 behind Red Bull at the constructors.
Leclerc has scored just one podium since the Miami Grand Prix, as his season imploded due to unreliability, strategic errors and his own mistakes.
The noise around Ferrari was at its peak after the Hungarian Grand Prix, where they inexplicably put Leclerc on the hard tire in cold weather as the other teams tried to avoid him at all costs.
He went from a podium finish to a solitary sixth as Verstappen stormed into 10th place for an eighth win of the season.
The Red Bull is not a package without its weaknesses, like the understeer that has plagued Verstappen at times, especially on slower, twisty circuits like Monaco.
But more precise race execution and trackside operations have given the Austrian team a comfortable lead in both championships, despite their own early-season reliability issues.
Verstappen and Leclerc are a level above their teammates, but Carlos Sainz still has a say in the championship fight.
If Ferrari took advantage of the break to clear its head and start from scratch, Sainz must regularly take points from Verstappen.
He has only finished ahead three times in 2022, and once on merit at Monaco – the others being Bahrain when Red Bull collapsed and Britain where Verstappen suffered damage.
Sainz has to park his 2022 title ambitions as they are over for himself, but he can still help Ferrari bring Red Bull back.
The question is whether Ferrari will tell him that in uncertain terms and whether the Scuderia can perfectly execute nine race weekends…
New rules to fight against 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 was varied on the grid, with teams like Red Bull less affected, Ferrari able to maintain their pace and Mercedes hampered by it.
The effect of the porpoising was violent at times, with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix leaving Lewis Hamilton with a back injury and sending Pierre Gasly to hospital for an MRI.
The easiest way to eradicate porpoising is to raise the ride height of the car, but that costs performance, which Gasly admitted he would never do and break the pain barrier.
However, the FIA has now stepped in and imposed rule changes to combat porpoising in the interest of driver safety.
Stricter controls of boards and wear will be put in place from the Belgian Grand Prix, with the entry into force of Technical Directive 39.
Teams were thought to bend the rules to put more load on the ground, 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, while George Russell believes Mercedes will be closer than the second on average he has was slower than the first two.
More sweeping changes to the rules to tackle porpoising, including a mandatory 15mm ride height increase, will be introduced for 2023.
The Fall and Rise of the Silver Arrows
Mercedes’ 2022 season is more like Ferrari’s 2005 campaign.
While it was minor changes, including tire rules, that ended the Michael Schumacher dynasty, as opposed to the drastic ones he inflicted on Hamilton’s, the house Toto and Lewis built will finally demolished in 2022.
But luckily the Brackley-based team managed to stop the wrecking ball after just one or two hits.
Mercedes won’t win any championships 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 winning record each season hangs in the balance.
The team is as operationally sharp as it has ever been, with Russell’s DNF at Silverstone being the only blemish on the notebook. They are tied on 11 podiums with Ferrari, and just 30 points behind.
In recent races the team has unlocked some of the potential it believes is somewhere in the W13, with double podiums and pole position across France and Hungary.
Despite the brain drain that has occurred over the past two years, Mercedes’ core racing team remains the same. You don’t win more than 100 races and 15 of 16 championships in eight years without overcoming setbacks.
Mercedes will come back after their misstep in 2022, and if they can claim second place in the standings with a few wins along the way, that would be a success.
Not the success they are used to, but success nonetheless as attention turns to 2023 and the W14.
Midfield battles in the fight for fourth
One of the aims of the 2022 regulations was to close the gap between the top three teams and the midfield.
It’s fair to say that didn’t happen with Lando Norris – the only driver outside the top three to make the podium – finishing 62 seconds behind Verstappen in Hungary in seventh place.
However, the actual race in midfield was tight with Alpine and McLaren locked in a tense battle for ‘Best of the Rest’ – 99 points against 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 hampered by their crew.
Norris does all the heavy lifting with 76 points to Daniel Ricciardo’s meager 19.
Both cars are tied, with Alfa Romeo fading after a strong start to the campaign, meaning they will not be challenged from behind for fourth place.
Intra-squad battles will be something to watch as Ocon looks to put some manners on Alonso ahead of his move to Aston Martin. He’s generally been luckier this season and strong training puts 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 increase.
As for McLaren, it’s about how much more punishment Ricciardo can take from Norris. Although the Aussie didn’t deliver for McLaren, he can still play a big role in securing fourth place, if only he could even close 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 shouldn’t have a seat available but through frightening incompetence they managed to lose Alonso and Oscar Piastri within days of each other.
Alonso bailed out 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 sign Ricciardo again, but two years after he dumped Enstone, questions remain over whether they want him back.
Does Ricciardo himself even want to continue in F1 after McLaren’s horror show? If he does, his old lair is the only place he would consider going.
Although Haas has not entered into contract negotiations with Mick Schumacher, it is in his hands whether he stays for a third season.
Having the Schumacher name in the race is a huge boost for F1 and for Haas as a team, but the name can only get you so far. After destroying two chassis, Schumacher finally hit a milestone in Canada, pitting ahead of a DNF after engine failure.
Like Ricciardo, there are few options for Schumacher if he loses his Haas seat. He needs to beat Kevin Magnussen consistently and bring more solid points to the team.
The specter of Antonio Giovinazzi lurking behind him for a racing seat should boost Schumacher.
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 is struggling to be on good terms with Albon.
Williams seems the natural landing spot for a rookie in 2023, with American F2 driver Logan Sergeant strongly linked. He will have to get closer to the title to justify being promoted to F1, and not being there as the symbolic American driver wants.
The sergeant is 61 points behind leader Felipe Drugovich with four laps – eight races – to go. An F1 seat is there for the taking, if the sergeant can grab it.