This weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix marks the return to action for Formula 1 after the summer break. And with plenty of racing to come in this entertaining season under brand new F1 regulations, we asked former Grand Prix driver and F1.com analyst Jolyon Palmer to take a look at five key questions which must be answered in the remaining nine races of 2022. …
Will Mercedes be there?
Although no one outside Mercedes ruled them out as their struggles became apparent at the start of the season, it now seems impossible for them to climb any level of championship bid from here.
But sights have been recalibrated at the Silver Arrows and now the focus is on winning a race or two this year rather than challenging for the title. Lewis Hamilton is just nine races away from completing his first-ever season without a win in Formula 1.
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The team have grown closer, gained more knowledge of their car at the European rounds before the summer break and will be in contention for victory again in the second phase of the year, as they were at Silverstone. Hamilton has also gotten the better of the car and team-mate George Russell more often as the season goes on, so he may well be in a position to secure that elusive victory in 2022.
There is also the impact of the coming into force of a new technical directive in Belgium which restricts soft floors – an area which Mercedes say has helped Red Bull and Ferrari this season so far.
Can Ferrari solve its problems?
The summer break surely came at the right time for the Scuderia, who needed a bit of a reset after a series of sobering results. Even their victories at Silverstone and Austria were partly overshadowed by problems on the other side of the garage, as they suffered strategic missteps and engine failures – two key issues that derailed the title challenge of Ferrari this season.
Either the team or the strategy process surely needs an overhaul, but the concern is that boss Mattia Binotto has never accepted Ferrari’s strategy mistakes, at least publicly, making it hard to draw conclusions from them. lessons and avoid repeating them in the future. I am sure that in Maranello there must have been major investigations behind closed doors.
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Changes can be made to improve power unit reliability mid-season and both drivers have already suffered network drops for exceeding their PU allowances. However, major reliability overhauls would usually take a while to implement, so they’re probably not clear yet this year.
Finally, the drivers need to regain confidence in the team and in themselves, which Sainz has done well after a difficult start to the year. Perhaps the summer break has been the perfect tonic for Leclerc and he can approach the rest of the season as fresh and composed as he was in the opening rounds.
Can someone stop Max?
Ferrari should have been the team to give Red Bull headaches, but it didn’t work out that way, and Mercedes aren’t in a position to worry Red Bull either at this stage.
After Monaco, it was thought the biggest test for Verstappen might come from his team-mate, but Sergio Perez’s own challenge has waned since retiring at the Canadian Grand Prix. As Verstappen strengthens at Red Bull this season, Perez is drifting further and further from the front – he’s barely half a second off pole since a fine effort in Baku in early June.
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So, with an 80-point championship lead and only nine races to go, perhaps only Max can stop Max at this point. He’s a rider who has looked more assured this year coming back as champion, and it will take more than a monumental effort from anyone else to turn the tide.
They will need a few Max Errors or Red Bull slip-ups to help cut the deficit and add pressure, or maybe this new technical directive will have a bigger effect on the order than expected.
Can Ricciardo take over the McLaren?
With just four points to his name and exactly a quarter of team-mate Lando Norris’ points total, it’s no surprise McLaren have weighed their options for 2023, and word is they’ve reached a deal with the champion. of F2 Oscar Piastri, albeit with some contractual complexities to play out.
I consider Norris to be one of the fastest riders on the board, but for an eight-time Grand Prix winner to be beaten like this, something clearly just hasn’t clicked for Ricciardo in the team. . He can be a top Formula 1 driver in the right environment – he’s shown that throughout his career – but for some reason his time at McLaren turned into a nightmare that threatened his future. in F1.
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He could do poorly with another remarkable Monza-style result to remind everyone of his abilities right now and that opportunity could still come his way. I doubt that after a year and a half he will ever manage to dominate the McLaren, but I suspect he will do better next year anyway. And it looks like there could be a seat at Alpine that could well bear his name if he finds himself out of time in his current squad.
Who else can surprise this season?
The season so far has seen very few surprise results, despite a number of problems for the big teams and a huge setback in Mercedes’ relative performance. So far, there’s always been at least one Ferrari or Red Bull that’s managed to survive an entire weekend unscathed to win when other dramas strike, and Mercedes’ rock-solid reliability has gotten them there too. allowed to stand on the podium.
This means that after 13 races, Lando Norris is the only driver outside the top three teams to reach the podium. He finished P3 at Imola – a race where both Ferrari drivers crashed and Mercedes was too slow to pick up the pieces.
But the remaining races should still offer good chances for the rest of the field. Mixed weather at Spa can create opportunities, Monza have had shock winners in the past two seasons and then there’s the return of some punishing circuits like Singapore and Suzuka.
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The other thing we’ll see more of for the rest of the season will be reliability issues or teams taking network penalties for replacing components as they start to hit or exceed their PU allowances, with circuits power hungry on the horizon as well.
It’s been relatively unsuccessful so far in terms of outstanding results for the midfielder, but I expect there are still good opportunities to come.