Happy New Year everyone! How are we feeling? Heavier? Me too.
You regularly get honest confessions from me in these columns, and once again I’ve got to admit something: I don’t think I’m ready for 2022 yet. The 2021 season only ended three weeks ago and it was hardly a case of, ‘Well I’m glad that’s over, let’s move on’, was it?
But entering January automatically brings with it thoughts of the future and what is to come over the next 12 months. And it has become a bit of a tradition for me to outline a few (usually realistic) things I want from the coming season in Formula 1, so here goes…
Mercedes and Red Bull to be competitive again
I know, how boring? But hear me out. Firstly, I’m not saying I don’t want other teams to be challenging them – in fact I really want more of that, as you’ll see below – but before we move onto the fallout from Abu Dhabi, we’ve got to acknowledge what an incredible battle both Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton gave us in 2021.
Before the final race I said I’d got what I wanted in terms of the championship being decided at the last round, and at that point if I could plan it out, I’d have had Max winning the title with Lewis hitting back to take his eighth in 2022. That’s because in my opinion Hamilton still doesn’t get the full respect he deserves, and there were still some casual fans who will have felt it was boring for the Hamilton/Mercedes success to clinch another championship double despite the challenge from Verstappen.
Whereas if it’s Hamilton who comes out on top this coming year, moving clear of Michael Schumacher in the process, I think it does even more for his legacy than a fourth straight title would have last year.
But that all falls apart if one (or both) of Mercedes and Red Bull are uncompetitive and we don’t get to see the epic rivalry continue. Verstappen and Hamilton deserve race-winning cars, but more than that, they deserve the chance to race each other again next year, not for one to watch the other disappear up the road each weekend.
At least one serious challenger to the top two
Last year I said I didn’t want Ferrari becoming too competitive because of the way it opened up midfield opportunities to score podiums and even wins, and thankfully that came true. Without the top six positions being regularly locked out by the same three teams, we saw a McLaren one-two, an Alpine victory, and podiums for eight of the 10 teams. (Granted, that includes Williams and George Russell in Spa).
With such a change in regulations, it’s a lot to ask for specific teams to be in specific positions, and for the whole field to be closely matched. But the worst thing at this point would be for one dominant car to walk away with the season.
Two teams fighting it out would be great, but I get to be greedy here so I’d want a third in the mix. It would set the whole era up really well, and there are so many exciting talents in so many different teams that I really don’t mind who it is, but wouldn’t it be great to see McLaren and Ferrari regularly fighting for wins again? Oh, and Fernando Alonso, and Sebastian Vettel… Yeah, my original point stands.
A hint at the potential of the new cars
There has been a lot of time, effort and resource put into the 2022 regulations to try and improve the quality of racing by allowing cars to follow each other more closely without struggling massively in dirty air. But what regulations tend to do is spread the field out.
There’s not a lot F1 and the FIA can do about that aside from BoP or even more restrictive regulations, and that’s completely against what the sport is supposed to be about. So we might see a wide range of differing car performances that hurt the opportunity for that close racing to take place.
So this is a realistic request: I want to see – or more likely hear – the drivers be encouraged by how hard they can push, and closely they can follow each other when there are behind another car, so the concept is proven to be a step in the right direction. That’s crucial, because then the rules can be tweaked as required in the coming seasons, while the grid tends to converge anyway.
Less controversy of a specific kind
F1 is a sport (honestly, it’s not scripted entertainment), so we are never going to hit a point where there aren’t controversial incidents. And who would want to? Controversy gets people talking, it promotes different opinions and debates and highlights passion for the sport, even if it means those chats over dinner where you spend hours going over the same ground and nobody changing their opinion.
I want more of that when it’s between teams and between drivers, and it’s a competitor v competitor controversy, because having winners and losers, good and bad, heroes and villains is great.
But when it’s competitor v regulator? Less of that, please. What happened in Abu Dhabi can’t happen again. What happened at other races is acceptable because you don’t get absolute consistency in officiating decisions in any sport, so we’ll argue over what is and isn’t a penalty for the rest of time, but I don’t want to be talking about regulations being questionably adapted ever again.
A proper response from the FIA
And to that end, I really hope the FIA comes out with a clear, firm response to 2021. The “detailed analysis” of the final laps in Abu Dhabi that is ongoing cannot be allowed to be used as a delaying tactic to let time be the healer. The FIA created the situation, and it alone has to resolve it.
That doesn’t necessarily mean firing Michael Masi, but identifying and explaining exactly how and why he made the decision he did, who had input, and specific action that will prevent a repeat. I know that’s a big ask, but it’s an incredible opportunity for new FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem to make his mark early in his tenure.
This year to be the last time the Indy 500 clashes with two races
I’m biased, because I want to be able to cover both Monaco and Indianapolis, but I appreciate what an amazing day of racing it can be for fans to watch the Monaco Grand Prix and Indy 500 within a few hours of each other. So while I see the argument against giving them independent weekends, I’m still banging the drum this year.
That’s because the Spanish Grand Prix is back-to-back with Monaco, meaning both qualifying weekend and race day at the 500 clashes with F1 events. And that’s just not cool.
The 500 is an amazing, massive, sporting spectacle. The Monaco Grand Prix the same, although one tends to deliver far better racing than the other. And each should get their share of the limelight. F1 is squeezing all 23 races in by the end of November to avoid a clash with a very different sport in the FIFA World Cup (as a huge soccer fan, I’m glad of that) but to hit both big weekends at the Brickyard is a real shame.
A stronger Haas
This one’s pretty simple. There were two rookies in that team and we learned little about them from a racing perspective, so to see how they get on – and if Mick Schumacher continues to improve at the rate we’ve seen in his junior career – requires them to have a more competitive car.
Miami to be a success
F1 has built up some clear momentum in the United States and the impact of the team at Circuit of The Americas can’t be underestimated. When that project was started, the sport had really mistreated its U.S. fanbase and had a lot of work to do to improve the situation, but Austin is a success story.
So hopefully Miami follows suit, but not just in terms of providing a great event for the fans that attend it, or another race on a favorable timezone for those following in the States. No, I want it to be an exciting racing venue that fans all over the world are positive about.
By building the track in the parking lot, it’s basically impossible to shake off the tag of it being a parking lot circuit, so it’s already on the back foot. But a lot of planning and design effort has gone into the Miami International Autodrome, so it would be great if it manages to exceed some of the expectations and provide a better spectacle for all fans so that the U.S. growth benefits everyone.
And finally, for the full schedule to be completed as it’s currently planned, because that will mean further progress after the crappy past two years with COVID. And that’s just a good thing whoever you are.