As exciting as the 2021 Formula 1 title fight was, it was a surprise to have close competition under the current regulations where the racing historically hasn’t been close. That prompted sweeping changes for 2022, where cars will utilize ground effects and do away with much of the furniture atop bodywork that makes following and side-by-side running difficult. Then we should have a real, multi-team battle on our hands — you know, if all goes according to plan.
The other key to a hard-fought, fun-to-watch season next year is what attention Mercedes’ and Red Bull’s efforts for 2021 may have pulled away from their 2022 preparations. Ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen won his first driver’s title, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner foreshadowed that he wouldn’t be surprised if Ferrari, for example, leaped up to the level of the two top teams next year, considering Maranello hasn’t had a current championship battle to divert focus from its long-term goals.
“When Ferrari turn up with the fastest car and smash us out of the park at the first race then you’ll have to say that it probably did [distract us],” Horner said over the last race weekend, according to the New York Times.
Scuderia Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto recently spoke on gains his crew is making for 2022, saying that the new car will feature “a lot of innovation,” particularly in the internal combustion engine and discreet chassis components. Per Motorsport.com:
“But the rest [of the power unit], especially on the internal combustion engine, I have to say is significantly different. We’ve got a new fuel, which is the 10 percent ethanol, which somehow changed a lot the combustion. We are all losing more or less 20 horsepower, which means somehow that the combustion itself is quite changed. So there were a lot of opportunities in development on the power unit and we changed it quite a lot.”
Talking about the chassis, Binotto added: “I think that the way we approached the exercise was really open minded. And when looking at the car concept, what was possible or not, it is not only the external shapes but whatever you could have done under the bodywork, in terms of layout, in terms of suspension design in terms of full architecture, including as well the power unit and its architecture.
A couple things here: yes, Binotto is speaking in vague terms and he’s more than likely gassing up the car’s development to some degree, as every team’s personnel does. Using the word “innovation” within the presence of a journalist’s microphone is kind of his job, among many.
But I’ll give it to him here and ascribe some faith to his comments, for two reasons. First, as we’ve discussed, the conditions are ripe for a prominent mid-pack team or two — like Ferrari, McLaren, Alpine, AlphaTauri or maybe Aston Martin — to make true strides in 2022. The combination of 2021's all-encompassing frontrunner battle and big, new rules to be exploited has the potential to shake up the pecking order at least somewhat, a-la 2009.
Second, though it may surprise fans critical of Ferrari’s cult of personality, Binotto doesn’t have a history of talking out of his ass. He was candid in his lack of optimism and conservative in his expectations entering the 2020 season when Ferrari took a massive step back, likely due to punishment for infringing the rules with its 2019 power unit. Though of course nobody knew that for sure before the 2020 campaign kicked off.
“I think there will be time to recover eventually,” Binotto hedged in February of that year, as quoted by India’s Firstpost. “I think Ferrari will be a beater if you consider the overall of the season. Will Ferrari be a beater already in Australia? Maybe not.”
It wasn’t a beater in either timeline. Both in the sense that there would be no Australian Grand Prix in 2020, and that even if there had been, Ferrari was unlikely to be competitive in it. It just so happened Charles Leclerc did have a great race in the opening round of 2020, the Austrian Grand Prix, finishing second behind Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas thanks in part to a five-second time penalty given to Lewis Hamilton for causing a collision. But when all was said and done, Leclerc finished eighth on the points table for the season; his then-teammate Sebastian Vettel landed 13th.
All this is to say that there are reasons to believe that Ferrari — which already has a very strong driver pairing — has every opportunity to make a jump in 2022. So does its fiercest competitors. And the guy who runs the team that just claimed the drivers’ title will remind you of that possibility, too.