New regulations tend to widen the performance differentials down the grid, as displayed when Mercedes absolutely nailed the hybrid powertrain rules in 2014 as both Renault and Ferrari stumbled out of the blocks. But there’s a sense this time, with stability maintained on engines and all change focused on chassis design and confined by cost caps, that F1’s so-called class B has more to gain than lose.
The new aero regulations should play to Red Bull’s strengths, given Adrian Newey’s continuing preeminence in F1 design; but even with the same powertrain, how will Honda’s withdrawal affect the team as it embarks on an ambitious existence as an independently powered entity? A carefully planned phased transition means the team hopes we will hardly see the join, but the size of the task at hand can’t be underestimated. Nothing can be taken for granted that the old world order won’t be given a shake in 2022.
Crunch time in Maranello
Beyond Red Bull, the form of Ferrari will be under particular scrutiny. The reds haven’t won a race in two seasons and last year trod water to concentrate its resources on the new rules, delayed by a year to 2022 because of the pandemic. Yet despite its relative anonymity in 2021, Ferrari still comfortably outscored McLaren to finish as the third-best team, even if it was a massive 262 points behind second-placed Red Bull. Now the results of its all-on-2022 strategy will be revealed, and with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr still in harness, there’s nowhere for Scuderia boss Mattia Binotto to hide. Pressure is always intense at Ferrari, but still it will step up a notch or three this season.
Will Evans set up?
On the special stages, the Monte Carlo Rally on 20-23 January heralds a new hybrid era for the World Rally Championship as the Rally1 car generation takes its bow.
Reigning eight-time champion Sébastien Ogier is on the entry list, as is his old rival Sébastien Loeb, who at 47 embarks on another WRC cameo, this time in M-Sport’s new Ford Puma. But the old masters are no longer the bigger-picture focus: even if Ogier wins a record-extending ninth Monte, he won’t bid to equal Loeb’s nine WRC titles, because he has committed to only a partial campaign for Toyota as he eyes a potential move into endurance racing.