Formula 1 in 2022: Cost caps and driver market overshadow Max Verstappen’s triumph

Verstappen surged to a second world title but his Red Bull team were caught up in an administrative controversy which again took the gloss off his victory

Kieran Jackson
Formula 1 Correspondent
Thursday 29 December 2022 16:03 GMT
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Max Verstappen is world champion after winning Japanese Grand Prix

For a season riding off the coattails of the best campaign in recent history – and a season designed to trigger closer wheel-to-wheel racing due to a vast array of regulation changes – how 2022 surprised and shocked was, in itself, a surprise and a shock. Because while Ferrari entered the fray as a title contender, and Mercedes got their philosophy horribly wrong, the real drama and contention in actual fact played out in the paddock. In the driver market. And in the finances.

Red Bull’s charge to the drivers and constructors’ title was a terrific feat. Their first double success since 2011, spearheaded by Max Verstappen’s irrepressibility and maturity after clinching his maiden title a year earlier. On the back foot early on after two mechanical DNFs in the first three races of the year, the Dutchman stormed back to win 14 of the remaining 19 races, armed with an RB18 that proved over the long grind of the season the most powerful and reliable of the leading contenders. Unsurprisingly, with chief designer Adrian Newey in their midst, the balance was spot-on.

And yet. Much like Verstappen’s 2021 win is tarnished in the eyes of many due to that controversial ending in Abu Dhabi, this year is – to a lesser extent – similar. The cost-cap saga which embroiled the final months of the season undoubtedly took the shine away from Red Bull and their star man. After weeks of speculation, Christian Horner’s team were found to have overspent by £432,652 in the preceding year. The punishment? A £6.07m fine and a 10% reduction in car development time. Will that have an affect? The proof will be in the pudding come 2023.

Max Verstappen won his second world title in a period when Red Bull were under attack due to breaching the 2021 cost cap
Max Verstappen won his second world title in a period when Red Bull were under attack due to breaching the 2021 cost cap (Getty Images)

While Red Bull looked to deflect away from their administrative failures, Ferrari had a season of repeated failures on race-day. Overall, their car was quicker and their return to the top of the leaderboard was refreshing after two years in the wilderness. Yet strategy confusion, engine blow-ups and irritated drivers curtailed their early momentum, particularly for Charles Leclerc – who was not without personal fault either. Two steps forward, one step back was the mantra of a season of frustration, culminating in Mattia Binotto’s removal as team boss. In comes Fred Vasseur, who has plenty to tinker next year.

But beyond the return of the Prancing Horse to the top table, Mercedes’ descent from eight-time constructors’ winners to clearly third-in-the-pack was a bigger surprise. Opting for a unique ‘no sidepods’ design, the W13 bounced and porpoised their chances to the wayside early on, with both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell complaining of back and neck pain. Once those issues were fixed – with the help of an official FIA technical directive – the Silver Arrows competed consistently at the top without, all too often, seriously threatening the Red Bull machine. Only Russell’s maiden F1 win in the penultimate race in Brazil saved Toto Wolff’s blushes and a winless season. Which way their car design swings will be a pivotal aspect to next year’s title race.

For the rest of the pack, hoping for more competitive races, it was general disappointment. Only McLaren’s Lando Norris stood on the podium, once at Imola, out of the remaining seven teams – and even then the Woking-based team underperformed compared to their closest challengers Alpine, who finished fourth. Yet, frankly, the biggest drama of all between these two played out over the summer months, in a driver market saga triggered by the retirement of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

Fernando Alonso replacing the German at Aston Martin caught everybody off guard, not least his team Alpine who erratically unveiled reserve driver and 2021 F2 champion Oscar Piastri as their driver for 2023. Except, Piastri had not been asked. Or told. In fact, it would later emerge he had signed a deal with McLaren a month earlier to replace the flailing Daniel Ricciardo. Some may argue Netflix don’t need to forge a storyline for the next season of Drive to Survive, when F1 creates the ludicrous narratives of their own accord. A contract reconigition board ruled in McLaren’s favour, with Alpine picking up AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. Ricciardo, meanwhile, is without a drive.

Fernando Alonso moving from Alpine to Aston Martin triggered a bizarre chain of events
Fernando Alonso moving from Alpine to Aston Martin triggered a bizarre chain of events (REUTERS)

Given the huge peak of worldwide interest in Formula 1, all off the off-track shenanigans is an area of the sport which is unlikely to dwindle. We also had Lewis Hamilton’s ridiculous rally against the FIA ordering him to remove jewellery, while altogether more important issues such as racial abuse and unacceptable behaviour from the stands shows the sport still has a long way to go in ridding inequality and indecency.

But for a season which on track failed to provide the regular, closely fought drama we all craved, the off-road storylines meant the beat never stopped. With a new race in Las Vegas to come in a record-breaking 2023 calendar, and Mercedes and Ferrari desperate to avert the errors of the year just passed, the ascent of F1 into the hearts and minds of supporters around the globe shows no sign of abating.

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Driver of the year

Max Verstappen – the 25-year-old was supreme in clinching his second world title, with come-from-behind victories in Budapest and Spa particular highlights.

Surprise of the year

Fernando Alonso moving to Aston Martin – Beyond Mercedes’ poor car performance, it has to be the bold and risky move from the Spanish veteran, who wanted more than the one-year deal offered at Alpine. Aston very much struggled in 2022 – but does Alonso know something we don’t for next year?

Race of the year

United States – Silverstone ran it close (it features a tad further down anyhow) but the Circuit of the Americas is fast becoming a staple of the calendar. Lewis Hamilton was so close to maintaining his year-on-year winning record here, before Verstappen pipped him at the death.

Moment of the year

Kevin Magnussen’s pole position – given the lack of surprises throughout the year, Haas’ first pole position in Formula 1, in the fading light of Interlagos, was a joy to behold. They got their strategy spot on in topsy-turvy conditions, giving the Dane his moment in the spotlight.

Overtake of the year

Hamilton overtaking Leclerc and Perez at Silverstone – “Through goes Hamilton!” We all know the line now, and it was indeed the most brilliant manoeuvre of the season. As Leclerc and Perez both went off track at Vale, Hamilton surged down the inside to pass them both. Thrilling.

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