Alex Pennington provides his penultimate article in the F1 2022 prediction series, this time expanding on two of F1’s old-timers: McLaren and Ferrari.
It’s been a season of two halves for McLaren. They started solidly, with Lando Norris even holding P4 in the championship for quite some time, and always seemed to be one step ahead of rivals Ferrari. This culminated in their stunning 1-2 finish in Monza, with Daniel Ricciardo taking his first win since leaving Red Bull.
Since then, they’ve seen a bit of a rough patch in form. During the recent triple-header they scored just three points, all courtesy of Norris, and with the exception of his P3 in qualifying for this weekend’s season finale, they haven’t quite seemed to have the same pace as earlier in the season.
Looking to next year, however, there are reasons to be optimistic. Firstly, the team’s recent financial struggles seem to have been resolved, with a new leasing agreement on their HQ and factory, as well as a massive influx of sponsors over the last two seasons. This gives them a stable platform to work from in F1’s new era in their push back to the top of the sport.
Then there is their driver line-up. Lando Norris has truly come of age this year, a transformation which started during the final year of his partnership with Carlos Sainz. He has been consistent and hugely quick, and heading into Abu Dhabi he remains just 4 points away from P5 in the championship, despite the team as a whole sitting 39.5 points behind Ferrari.
The cause of most of that deficit is, unfortunately, Daniel Ricciardo. He has had perhaps one of the toughest seasons of his career so far, being outpaced and outraced by his teammate more often than not and struggling with the McLaren’s handling in the mid-corner. Next year, however, is a blank slate, with every driver starting from zero: for Ricciardo, it’s in a car which he will now have had development input into. It’s been a tough season for sure, but Ricciardo is an absolute top-level driver, and the combination of these two should be a dangerous one in the new car.
The team’s leadership is also one of the strongest on the grid, with the enigmatic Zak Brown its figurehead, and Andreas Seidl providing a calmer, more reserved Team Principal, but one who commands respect and is very well-liked within the team. They are in very good shape heading into 2022, and I think we’ll see them fighting for podiums and wins more regularly, with at least a P3 constructors’ finish on the cards.
It’s been quite the turnaround for the Scuderia in 2021. Off the back of their worst constructors’ championship placing since the 1980s in 2020, they have bounced back in style: they lead McLaren by almost 40 points heading into Abu Dhabi, almost certain to take a convincing 3rd in the standings.
So far in this series, it’s been normal for me to write a small section on a team’s finances, but this is almost not worth doing here. As is well-known, Ferrari are one of the wealthiest teams on the grid- even with the new cost cap in force, they will have had a substantial head-start on spending when the regulations were announced in 2019, before the cap was implemented. This immediately gives them a boost going into next year.
Then, there is the driver line-up. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz have both been superb in 2021. There have been mistakes, of course, with Leclerc’s crash in Monaco which cost him a potential race win being the most obvious of these, but on the whole they have been one of the best pairings on the grid. Sainz has been particularly impressive, almost matching his teammate in his first year at Ferrari and showing that he will not accept being a definite number two drive going forward. With the possible exception of Mercedes, I think that this is the strongest pairing on the grid for 2022. Editor’s note: Carlos went on to beat his teammate in the driver’s standings, topping off his year with a 5th place overall.
The team also has momentum, both in terms of results and development. Coming into this year, Ferrari’s engine was woefully underpowered and likely the worst on the grid. Now, they are solidly competitive, with what several other teams believe to be the best hybrid system on the grid, allowing them to deploy energy earlier, and for longer down the straights, than any other car. This year’s engines are carried over to next year, and development then frozen until 2025. This puts them in a good position going forward.
Other kinks and weaknesses have also been worked out this year. Their famously inconsistent pit stops have been mostly resolved, with competitive times in the box now being the norm. The strategy team also appears to be in good shape, with clear instructions to the drivers and a smooth double-stack allowing them to pull off a one-stop in Qatar while their rivals were hit with punctures.
This year has been one of redemption for Ferrari, and of course for Mattia Binotto, whose job was in question heading into it. He has seemed calm, collected, and in control, even while splitting his responsibilities between the track and Maranello, putting his engineering expertise to use on development of the new car.
Make no mistake, Ferrari is a team on the up again. At the risk of jinxing them with the famous ‘next year…’ phrase that has become so common when talking about the prancing horse, keep a serious eye on them. I would not be surprised to see them fighting for – and maybe even winning – both championships next year.
Next week, it’s the final article in the series. With this year’s championship decided, we look at its protagonists, and what to expect from them next year. Have they pushed too hard and compromised themselves? Or will the two-team dominance seen since 2010 continue into F1’s next era?