As the 2022 Formula 1 season headed to its conclusion with both titles wrapped up for Max Verstappen and Red Bull, the final events became dead rubbers – to be endured for some but with opportunity for others.
After an action-packed Brazilian Grand Prix weekend, F1 now knows Verstappen’s quest for a perfect run to close out the campaign won’t end that way for the world champion, who also now has a team orders quandary with team-mate Sergio Perez to address.
That shock development at Red Bull following Verstappen’s refusal to allow Perez by to claim sixth late-on at Interlagos on Sunday might otherwise have been the main talking point had that race not been an entertaining romp packed with additional storylines.
There was George Russell’s brilliant first F1 win, which underlined Mercedes’ good work in engineering its way from a porpoising plague to a victory return. Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen collided yet again in circumstances that dramatically increase intrigue over the 2023 title fight if Mercedes is indeed ‘back’. Plus, there was more woe at Ferrari and war at Alpine.
These takeaways and more are what we learned from F1’s latest visit to Sao Paulo.
Mercedes predicted it could fight for wins by the end of 2022 after its nightmare start
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
1. Mercedes managed its ‘McLaren 2009’ turnaround
Given where it started the season and the dominance Red Bull and Max Verstappen have produced since Ferrari’s title challenge imploded, it’s very impressive that Mercedes has gone from so far off the 2022 pace to clinching a victory.
It has had chances before – most notably at Zandvoort with its aggressive one-stop strategy and last time out at Mexico, where its drag penalty was reduced (plus a small chance for Hamilton to keep Verstappen behind at Austin after the latter’s long stop). But in Brazil, Mercedes took the fight to Red Bull across the final sprint weekend of 2022. By winning both races, the W13 package that was on average a full second off the pace over the first five races of this season is now an official grand prix winner.
Mercedes’ floor and wing updates Austin upgrade package has been key to its late-season revival. It made the W13 lighter and unlocked downforce that had previously been throttled by the car’s ongoing porpoising/bouncing issues.
Much has been made of comparisons with McLaren’s 2009 turnaround to go from backmarker to winner with the MP4-24. But, although there was Q1 exit peril, severely tempered expectations and Hamilton driving both cars, Mercedes secured a podium in the opening race and McLaren actually had a slightly bigger gap to close, ending 2009 with the outright quickest car in Abu Dhabi. Mercedes is unlikely to do that in 2022, but its in-season gains in a cost cap era have been remarkable.
After outduelling Verstappen in the sprint, Russell controlled the race from the front on Sunday to capture his maiden Formula 1 grand prix win
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
2. Russell makes good on the promise he’s long shown
Karting star, BRDC Formula 4 champion, GP3 champion, Formula 2 champion, all those brilliant Williams qualifying performances and then points, plus the agonising lost victory in the 2020 Sakhir GP. Despite all that, Russell still had plenty of detractors as his first season as a works Mercedes drivers headed towards its conclusion. Baffling.
Going into the Brazil weekend, his 15-point gap over Hamilton suggested a tremendous start to life at the Silver Arrows. This was tempered by his team-mate not getting the rub of the green in a slew of virtual and real safety car calls, and Hamilton completing extreme set-up work early in 2022 to try and mitigate Mercedes’ porpoising in moves that stymied his confidence. But it was still very impressive – a view enhanced by suggestions from inside Mercedes that in the first part of the season Russell actually adapted quicker to the W13’s unpredictable handling, which is still not fully solved even with the Austin upgrade gains.
And then there was his poor run of form through October with those crashes in Singapore and Austin. But Russell didn’t let that become a lengthy trend and it’s understood he’s taken steps to address public feedback on his team radio comments in those incidents too.
The combination of a rejuvenated Russell and a resurgent Mercedes brilliantly stole the weekend. Russell still isn’t the fully-polished finished article – as his qualifying off and then gravel spin showed – but he aced absolutely everything else. The start, two safety car restarts, tyre management and holding off a charging Hamilton – the last element with a car that was out of water coolant, not that he knew it. Promise well and truly fulfilled, and he’s essentially all but sealed a points victory over Hamilton in the standings – something only Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg have done before.
Flashbacks of 2021 as Verstappen and Hamilton clashed early on in the race
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
3. Hamilton/Verstappen crash shows neither has backed down from 2021
That’s what was missing from 2021 in 2022: Hamilton and Verstappen colliding in a crash that really could’ve been avoided. It sent fresh toxicity through F1’s online fanbase, but it was also thrilling.
Verstappen ended up penalised. It was an understandable call given 2022’s racing guidelines require an attacking car to have its front wheels ahead at a corner apex, but at the same time Hamilton could’ve given the Red Bull driver more room. The stewards even acknowledged that he “could possibly have given a little more room at the apex of Turn 2”, which makes it all the more strange a penalty was handed down and Verstappen adjudged “predominantly” at fault, rather than a racing incident.
Unlike all their crashes in 2021, where one or the other was at fault in each case, really both were equally to blame for this one. Verstappen said as much post-race, stating: “I saw he had no intention to give me space, and I had no intention to back out”.
The main takeaways from this clash are: that Verstappen does race Hamilton differently to other drivers. He had the whole race ahead to mount a pass and even if the Dutchman insists his tyre degradation was worse and therefore the win was never on against Mercedes on Sunday, the RB18 is still the faster car and the crash and subsequent recoveries eliminated evidence this was definitively the case. And the other is that Hamilton won’t back down against Verstappen either.
He wouldn’t be drawn on offering his full view of the collision, other than saying “you know how it is with Max” in parc ferme and then “it’s natural when you have the success and the numbers on your chest, that you become a bit of a target” in the post-race press conference.
But this was the first showing of steel from the seven-time world champion to back up his strong pre-season words about making a statement strike back after his devastating 2021 title loss. Mercedes’ poor package prevented that for so long, but if it’s truly in the fight again next year, the Interlagos incident suggests F1 will see the Copse 2021 Hamilton matching Verstappen’s aggression rather than the turning out of clashes.
On the podium together in Mexico, but Verstappen and Perez were fractious after a team orders call in Brazil
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
4. Red Bull has an unexpected team orders problem…
Red Bull heads to Abu Dhabi with both 2022 titles secure, but it must now deal with the fallout of its bizarre ending at Interlagos.
Despite repeated instructions to do so, there Verstappen refused to hand sixth place to team-mate Perez, which leaves Perez level with Leclerc in second place in the drivers’ standings. Red Bull is very keen to secure its first-ever championship 1-2, to go along with all its other 2022 achievements.
Verstappen said after crossing the line that “I told you already last time, you guys don’t ask that again to me, OK? Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons and I stand by it”, with reports in the Dutch press – particularly from De Telegraaf journalist Erik van Haren – suggesting the issue goes all the way back to Perez’s Monaco qualifying crash. That prevented Verstappen nipping ahead and threatening Ferrari’s front row lockout as he was on course to do and after Verstappen was then stymied even in the wet race by a track where overtaking is all but impossible, his camp was livid. Jos Verstappen even wrote a blogpost in confirmation.
Verstappen said, after talks with Red Bull’s management immediately post-race on Sunday, that he will now support Perez in Abu Dhabi if required, but this was a strange own goal from the champion squad. Plus, his radio message suggests perhaps Red Bull had already raised a position swap at Perez’s home race in Mexico last time out, only to be rebuffed and then not have it required anyway with Hamilton splitting the pair.
From here on, Perez is sensible enough not to rock the boat more than necessary and imperil his position at F1’s top team – where he has financial and contractual security that weren’t so common in his Force India days, plus the chance to score regular big results.
But this forceful choice from Verstappen risks Perez perhaps not going as all out as he did in Abu Dhabi last year to help his team-mate in the future. Given that was critical in the end result of those controversial events, the wiser choice would surely have been to gift Perez a meaningless (to the world champion) extra two points. But then again, the best sportspeople are just wired differently, a key part of their extra edges.
Leclerc and Sainz almost had their own team orders dilemma, but Ferrari has bigger problems to solve
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
5…Ferrari doesn’t, but hasn’t solved its other issues
It wasn’t just Red Bull that had position orchestrating on its collective mind late in the Brazil race, with Leclerc also urging Ferrari to “please think about the championship, every point” with Carlos Sainz running third and up the road ahead.
Leclerc had put in a remarkable comeback drive after being punted off by Lando Norris in the aftermath of the Verstappen/Hamilton shunt – aided by the late race safety car closing up the pack. Sainz even said “whatever would’ve come, I would’ve done”, a generous position given F1 podiums are so hard-won that speaks to his character and hindsight’s benefit.
Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto also confirmed after the race that his squad was considering making good on a pre-race conversation with its drivers to try and help Leclerc in his battle with Perez. But two things ultimately prevented this. The main one was that Leclerc had the also late-charging and impressive Fernando Alonso just 1.2s behind on the final lap, with Verstappen threatening too.
But an added element was Ferrari’s concern Sainz might be handed a 5s time penalty for passing Yuki Tsunoda under the safety car during the confusion over the AlphaTauri driver not unlapping himself during the late race safety car (more on that later). This might’ve dropped Sainz even further back and cost Ferrari points in its constructors’ battle with Mercedes that is down to just 19 points with one race left, so it took the cautious approach.
In regards to the team orders call, Ferrari appears to be doing it what it can to help Leclerc claim what would be a symbolic achievement in this ultimately painful season, with Sainz’s support. And its decision to start the GP on the mediums was bold and potentially a strong choice getting the unfavoured tyre out of the way early. Leclerc’s crash and Sainz getting a visor tear off stuck in his right-rear brake meant F1 never got to see this play out as they both ended up on three-stoppers.
But the team’s awful flopping over fitting new softs to Leclerc’s car early in qualifying – leaving him sat in the pitlane without tyres for an age – plus its terrible call to give him intermediates for the critical start of Q3 shows it’s still yet to fully address its 2022 strategy issues.
Gasly will remain on the cusp of a race ban until late May due to his penalty points situation
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
6. Gasly sails close to the wind on penalty points ban
After his penalty for running wide passing Lance Stroll in Mexico City, Pierre Gasly arrived in Brazil on the verge of a race ban if he gets two more penalty points – a situation that will extend to May next year before the first points come off his licence a year after he hit and spun Stroll during the 2022 Spanish GP.
The AlphaTauri driver railed against his apparent plight in the pre-event press conference at Interlagos, arguing that it was “a bit embarrassing to be standing in a position where I could be banned”. Gasly is apparently particularly concerned that any ban, if it does come, will now occur after he moves to Alpine, which is a fair point only if F1’s team-sport nature is ignored. He would do better to own the situation and focus on avoiding any further incident and punishment, as in clashes such as the one in Mexico he had the power to avoid a penalty by handing the place back.
Analysis: Does F1 need a penalty points rethink?
In Sunday’s race, Gasly picked up a pitlane speeding penalty, which is generally handled via a team fine in practice or qualifying. In the race a time addition is typical, and indeed was used here, but without additional penalty points. It, also however, demonstrated Gasly sailing close to the wind with officials, considering his ban risk. Then there was the post-sprint stewards’ investigation regarding Gasly driving too slowly on his final pre-sprint recon lap, for which he was given a warning.
In an amusing event footnote alongside Gasly’s sprint investigation, Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Zhou Guanyu were under scrutiny for possibly being out of position on that grid. It was later determined that the situation came from the grid boxes somehow being too small, and these were painted over ahead of the GP start – leaving just the front lines to denote where the drivers should start.
Ocon and Alonso clashed twice on the opening lap of the sprint race
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
7. Alonso’s Alpine era ending in acrimony
Although Alonso put in a stunning drive to rise from 17th to fifth on a bold GP three-stopper – like Leclerc aided by the late safety car – it was his and Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon’s driving in the sprint race that will be most vividly remembered from last weekend.
The pair came close to contact at the first event’s opening corners, then Alonso briefly speared sideways into Ocon’s right-rear floor out of Turn 4, a result of catching a big slide over the kerbs following his team-mate squeezing the outside line. Running down the pitstraight later in the lap, Alonso clipped his team-mate’s right rear and broke his front wing.
This ruined Alonso’s sprint and earned a five-second penalty, with Ocon later falling down the order as a result of his damage and his car then catching fire in parc ferme due to a fuel leak. Afterwards Alonso said: “I just want to go to Abu Dhabi and test the green car.”
Alonso is right to be frustrated at how things have panned out at Alpine with its reliability woes this year. And, questions must be asked of Ocon regarding why team-mate beef is such a regular occurrence at his squads, with further angst over allowing Alonso by at the second GP safety car restart following on Sunday.
But it’s mainly just sad to see Alonso’s time at the team that helped him win two world titles nearly 20 years go end so acrimoniously before he leaves to join Aston Martin.
Magnussen grabbed his and the team’s maiden F1 pole position on Friday night
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
8. Magnussen gains most from F1’s sprint pole stat rethink, with further format twists possible
It was revealed over the Brazil weekend that F1 is not done tinkering with its sprint race format, which will of course now appear at six events in 2022. This is the consideration that the championship may use Friday qualifying as the grid-setting session for both races in the future, in a bid to encourage more overtaking in the sprint.
Whatever anyone’s thoughts on that, and F1 sporting boss Ross Brawn urged caution on making more changes, the suggestion took a backseat following Saturday’s action, where Russell ruined Verstappen’s attempts to take a season-sprint-sweep.
Verstappen’s mediums wearing out faster in the cooler conditions than the softs all his rivals ran was the key factor, with Red Bull apparently having one of those occasional weekends where it just gets its tyre calculations wrong, not helped, per Christian Horner, by having just one practice session to nail set-ups.
With a surprise winner and action throughout the field, that was surely F1’s best sprint so far. But given how Sunday played out for Russell, and for the same reason at Haas, the driver taking away the most from the first race was Kevin Magnussen even though he ‘only’ finished eighth. This was thanks to his shock pole in the wet qualifying, which came from the Dane nailing his first lap on slicks in Q3, benefitting from Haas’s pitbox being at the far end of the pitlane, and Verstappen making a mistake behind.
It was fine driving and a joy to watch for the likeable driver and team combo. Plus, with F1 and the FIA having addressed the awful decision to award the pole position stat to the sprint winner in 2021, Magnussen will forever be listed as an F1 pole-winner. A worthy achievement in his unexpected career revival.
In a bizarre sequence of events, Tsunoda ended up being lapped by the pack at the final safety car restart
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
9. Another F1 officiating system needs addressing
In the aftermath of the Abu Dhabi officiating shambles last year, the FIA tweaked F1’s timing systems to automate the procedure of letting lapped cars overtake and join the queue during safety cars. That all seems sensible, but an unexpected problem occurred with this system in Brazil.
Tsunoda ended up not able to unlap himself as technically he already had when he pitted at the end of the first safety car lap following Norris’s late stoppage, from behind Russell at the head of the queue. By arriving at the first safety car line first and then being able to run at full speed through the pit entry, Tsunoda briefly unlapped himself getting to the control line ahead on his way to take more mediums. This meant, per the automated system, he could not be waved through after rejoining in the snake behind Sainz, as Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi later would do.
When the order for the Williams pair to overtake the safety car was given, Tsunoda initially passed Sainz, but gave the place back, causing Ferrari’s late-race concern, and then remained lapped until the restart, where he let the rest of the pack pass by. This cemented his last-place finish and came about because an anomaly in the automated system meant he could not be ordered to pass by as, technically, he had already done so.
While the pitlane entry layout in Brazil was a factor, the FIA will assess how to tweak the automated system “at future Sporting Advisory Committees as part of the normal review procedures”, per a governing body statement.
Schumacher appears set to be replaced by Hulkenberg at Haas for 2023
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
10. F1’s 2022 silly season is nearly over
Heading to the season finale, technically there are only two slots left to be filled on the 2023. In reality, there’s actually only one – but even that comes from assuming Logan Sargeant will get the places and points required to gain a superlicence following his latest practice appearance at Williams, which netted one more to his total accrued so far.
The final seat mystery at Haas may well be resolved before the race starts at the Yas Marina track, with multiple reports suggesting the American squad will unveil Nico Hulkenberg as a 2023 replacement for Mick Schumacher. If this happens, speculation will increase that the German driver may then become Mercedes’ reserve driver in 2023 after Toto Wolff said following Russell’s win that he makes “no secret of the fact that the Schumacher family is part of Mercedes, that we value Mick very much as a personality and as a racing driver”.
While Oscar Piastri has been granted permission to test for McLaren in the post-Abu Dhabi test by Alpine – with Alonso also set to drive there for Aston and Gasly for Alpine too – the driver he is replacing is still without a confirmed 2023 programme. Should Schumacher end up as Mercedes reserve, a role Daniel Ricciardo has also been in negotiations over securing, it has emerged that the same job at Red Bull could become his instead.
Should that happen, it would be a remarkable circumstances swing for the Australian since he opted to leave the Red Bull camp in 2018. If Ricciardo, who was dumped out of the Brazil GP following another bad misjudgement to turn Magnussen around on the opening lap, does end up back where his F1 journey really began, that would heap pressure on Perez just at a time an unexpected fracture in his relationship with Verstappen has appeared.
Could Ricciardo be on his way back to Red Bull?
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images