The 2022 FIA Formula One World Championship gets underway today beneath the lights of the Bahrain International Circuit. F1Technical’s Balázs Szabó takes a look at what we can expect from the new season.
Following a successful Shakedown Test in Barcelona and the Official Pre Season Test in Bahrain, the field is preparing itself for the debut of the revolutionary new F1 cars.
Sakhir’s 5.412km circuit demonstrated its challenges in pre-season testing, offering a formidable combination of heat, wind and sand for the drivers to contend with, as well as a highly abrasive track surface. The Manama track is a perfect location to kick off the season that sees the arrival of many novelties.
Record-long season - The 2022 Formula 1 world championship includes 23 global events beginning on March 18 in Bahrain and ending on November 20 in Abu Dhabi. Currently, the schedule consists of 22 rounds after the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom, which was scheduled to take place on 25 September as the 17th round of the championship, was initially suspended from the calendar in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, before being ultimately cancelled. However, the sport expects to find a new venue for the vacant spot.
The Chinese Grand Prix was under contract to feature on the 2022 calendar, but was not included due to Chinese travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Grand Prix is due to return in the 2023 championship. However, four other venues are set to make their return with the Australian, Canadian, Japanese and Singapore Grands Prix set to appear on the calendar after a two-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ground-effect cars - Four decades have gone by since the last ground effect cars raced in F1. While the car’s downforce has been mainly generated by the front and rear wings, the ground effect which is downforce produced by the undersides of the cars, will define the main aerodynamic characteristics of the new cars.
Better racing – The sport hopes that the new cars will enable drivers to follow each other more closely which should lead to better on track racing. While a car lost around 46 per cent of its downforce in 2021 when following another car in a distance of 10 metres, the new generation machines are expected to lose only 18 per cent of their downforce.
New fuel – This year’s fuel, the so called E10 contains 10 percent of bio-components which is the first step of the sport’s push for its sustainability ambitions. The aim is to use 100% biofuel in the future, possibly from 2026.
Newcomer – The 2022 field will sport only one rookie driver with Zhou Guanyu set to make history as the first Chinese driver to race full-time in Formula 1. The 22-year-old, who has tested Alpine and Alfa Romeo machinery, will join Alfa Romeo alongside ex-Mercedes Grand Prix winner Valtteri Bottas. Kevin Magnussen has been called back to join Mick Schumacher at Haas after the American team ousted its Russian driver Nikita Mazepin.
New weekend format – Formula One race weekends will look a little different in 2022. Thursday which usually served as a media day, will start a bit later. The FIA will carry out its systems checks and track inspections on Thursday while drivers will also have chance to complete their track walks on Thursday afternoon.
The drivers’ press conferences which used to take place on Thursday will now move to Friday morning. The Team Principals’ press conference will move to Saturday, 1.5 hours before FP3. Due to the tweaks to the press conferences, the Friday’s practice sessions will take place later than previously.
A lower budget cap level – Formula One introduced a budget cap for the very first time last year. The baseline figure was $145 million in 2021 which did not include the drivers’ salaries, the salaries of the three most-earning team members, the cost of the engine development and the marketing costs. This year, this figure has reduced to $142.4m, putting the bigger teams into an even more difficult situation.
Practice for rookie drivers – In 2022, teams will be obliged to give rookies an outing in FP1 on at least two occasions. It means, that the ten F1 outfits will need to use a driver who has started no more than two Grands Prix. The teams can choice when they want to arrange their rookie FP1 sessions across the season.
New tyres - One of the most relevant features in 2022 is the new 18-inch Pirelli tyres. It’s the size of the rim that changes, adding five inches to the diameter that has held sway in grand prix racing since the 1960s; with compact, very wide tyres featuring a 'pot-bellied' sidewall.
There has also been an important tweak to the sporting rules which now does not require the top 10 drivers to start the race on the set of tyres with which they set their fastest Q2 times. It means that the teams have now a free choice of starting tyres which makes the strategy even more open than before.
Another change to the sporting regulation affects the way team can heat their tyres in the garage. In the past, the front tyres could be heated to 100 degrees Celsius but that drops to 70C from 2022 onwards, while the rears were at 80C but now also drop to 70C.
Heavier cars - The revolutionary new cars are set to be the heaviest in the history of the sport, moving from 752kg to 798kg which has happened as a consecuence of the bigger wheels and new stringent safety standards. The chassis strength requirements have been increased by almost 50%, making them able to absorb higher energy impacts from the front, rear and side. Furthermore, the power unit must be able to break away from the chassis without rupturing the fuel tank which is a reaction on Romain Grosjean’s horrific accident at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Return of the sprint races - Three sprint races will be held in 2022 with Imola, the Red Bull Ring and Interlagos set to host the special events. The F1 Sprint was introduced last season with Silverstone, Monza and Interlagos hosting the special format which involves a 100km dash with each lasting around 25-30 minutes. As it was last year, Qualifying will continue to determine the grid for Saturday’s F1 Sprint, with the result of the Sprint forming the line-up for the start of Sunday’s Grand Prix.
The point system has also been altered with the first eight drivers set to earn points instead the top three finishers. The driver who finishes P1 will receive eight points, down to one point for the driver in P8.
New race directors – Following Michael Masi’s departure, Portuguese Eduardo Freitas, World Endurance Championship race director, and German Niels Wittich, ex-DTM race director, will work as Formula One’s new race directors. They will alternate over the 23-race season.
FIA has brought back Herbie Blash, long-time deputy to former race director Charlie Whiting, who will serve as 'permanent senior adviser'. New FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has also set up a virtual race control which will have remote assistance from an off-site FIA facility.