The departure of race director Michael Masi in the aftermath of last season’s controversy was deemed to be a precursor to yet another tense and inevitably tumultuous Mercedes and Red Bull tussle for the championship.
It is safe to say that so far this season has subverted those expectations. Ferrari have clawed their way back from relative obscurity back into the title picture while Max Verstappen is going from strength to strength and taking Red Bull to the top along with him.
Mercedes have struggled to hit the heights of last year and Charles Leclerc has made the most of the opportunity that has been presented to him. There is still a long way to go but the question for now remains whether anyone can stop Verstappen and his charge on the title.
Can anyone stop the Red Bull rout?
Verstappen took yet another step towards reclaiming his world championship with victory in Montreal in an impressive display. His two closest championship rivals started on the grid outside the top ten and the Dutchman took full advantage to further extend his lead at the top of the Drivers’ championship to 46 points and Red Bull’s lead in the Constructors’ to 76.
Those wanting to bet on Verstappen winning his second world title can do so while getting the best betting offers here. The win made it Red Bull’s sixth win in a row and Verstappen’s fifth out of those six to put them firmly in control of the championship as we close in on the halfway stage of the F1 calendar.
Verstappen’s pursuit of a second championship is looking more credible with every passing race and he is quickly turning what was initially looking like a Ferrari resurgence in one of the most dominant seasons of the last decade.
There’s no question that LeClerc had the upper hand in the opening stages winning two of the opening three races with relative ease but Red Bull has been in cruise control ever since and there is little sight of slowing down from here.
Any questions over the Red Bull’s weaknesses that emerged after Melbourne have been emphatically answered and whilst the challenge he has faced from Ferrari thus far has been tough he has dealt with it with maturity and addressed his qualifying issues that plagued him at the start of the campaign.
Their straight-line speed is unrivalled and despite a perceived lack of competence in the corners compared with their Italian counterparts, they have managed to generate speed that very few on the track have been able to contend with.
It is by no means a done deal though; there are 13 races to go and F1 delivers drama year after year unlike anything else.
The backend of the season is when Verstappen began to lose a grip on the title and even though he managed to hold off Hamilton to get over the line by the finest of margins, he will be determined to avoid any remotely similar scenario to develop this time around.
Ferrari’s renaissance on hold
The 2022 campaign began with so much unexpected promise for Ferrari. The progress they have made in the off-season has gone under the radar in large part due to the continuation of the Red Bull vs Mercedes controversy that marred last year’s finale.
No one doubted Leclerc’s credentials as a top-tier driver for one second but he was still yet to realise that potential consistently enough to be deemed a true threat to the might of Red Bull or Mercedes. So when he claimed victory in two of the opening three races it was hard to ignore as F1 fans whetted their appetites for the potential re-emergence of a sleeping giant.
Sadly since that promising start, things have slowed to a near standstill in Ferrari’s championship challenge. They are significantly adrift of the top spot in both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championship and Leclerc’s natural talents and skill have not been enough to cut the deficit.
It’s also hard to ignore his engine issues that have significantly hampered his chances as of late and if Ferrari doesn’t find a quick fix then there’s an all too real threat of the title being wrapped up well in advance of the final third of the season. So how can they make up for the lost ground? The solution is simple really.
The man from Monaco despite the setbacks is still in the fight and is comfortable, confident and can execute under immense pressure. If Ferrari fixes their engine and machinery issues and formulate the right strategy they have a driver behind the wheel that is more than capable of competing with Verstappen for driving’s biggest prize.
Mercedes have fallen off the pace
Mercedes’ era of domination appears to be drawing to a close. Amidst their poor start to the season, speculation has continued to mount as to whether the seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton can muster one more run at the title.
The blow dealt from cruelly missing out on a record eight world championship has seemingly taken its toll on Hamilton as the Brit’s road to recovery and form is not yet complete.
The psychological impact of such a loss is clearly more significant than Toto Wolff would have most people believe. The iconic British driver is languishing in sixth in the F1 Drivers’ standings on 77 points, nearly a full 100 points behind leader Max Verstappen.
In the meantime, George Russell has a lot of untapped potential and is in exceptional physical condition. He is certainly a great prospect for the future and with the right team behind him will see himself up the top of the leaderboard soon, but he has not been able to compensate for Hamilton’s drop down the standings and lacks the experience to drag Mercedes out of the hole they currently find themselves in.
If Hamilton can rediscover his best before the halfway stage then the door is ever so slightly open for a miraculous recovery but if they don’t make the most of their opportunities Verstappen will likely shut it in their face.
The jury is still out on whether this is a blip or a sign of things to come but one thing is for sure, Mercedes need to hit their stride and hit it fast if they are to claw their way back into contention.