Red Bull Racing has long given the vibe of a championship-winning team in exile, and at the ninth time of asking since its previous era of domination came to an end, Milton Keynes is back at the top of Formula 1.
Max Verstappen led the way there, but this was a team-driver joint effort to return to the front.
But it’s not the only partnership that found success in 2022, and most teams found reasons to be at least a little bit optimistic that they’d got the new regulatory era off to an at least decent start.
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Here’s how they fared in 2022.
Note that the qualifying gap measures the fastest car of each team relative to the fastest time in qualifying in dry conditions. The development trend is how much this number has improved or degraded over the course of the season based on a theoretical 90-second lap time.
RED BULL RACING — A+
Championship: 1st, 759 points
Average qualifying gap: 0.137 seconds (2nd)
Development trend: improved by 0.222 seconds (2nd)
Despite early reliability troubles, Red Bull Racing enjoyed an almost exclusively positive season with a dominant drivers-constructors title double. The Adrian Newey-led design team nailed the new regulations at the first time of asking. Only weight held back the RB18 early in the season, but once the car was put on a diet, its strengths relative to the field became evident, and the general design philosophy has become the trend early in this rules cycle.
The team can also be pleased that Max Verstappen has continued to evolve into the sport’s leading force. He was a more assured racer in 2022 than he was in his fraught battle with Lewis Hamilton last season, and there’s no question he got the most from the leading machinery at his disposal.
The team suffered enormous reputational damage when it was found to have breached the 2021 cost cap. It unfortunately reignited the controversy of the previous season; Verstappen and the team responded by temporarily banning Sky Sports from interview due to perceptions of bias.
The team then ended the year with tension between Verstappen and Sergio Perez when the former unnecessarily flexed his absolute control over the team by refusing to help the latter score more points via a team order in Brazil.
Perez said Verstappen’s refusal to give up sixth place showed “who he really is”. Verstappen’s camp leaked to the media it was because of a belief Sergio had crashed deliberately in qualifying in Monaco for “reasons”. Verstappen’s mum accused Perez of cheating on his wife on Instagram. It was all just very unpleasant.
Red Bull Racing will almost certainly start 2023 with the fastest car, but there’s a significant question mark over how much the development reduction will hurt it through the year. In effect Ferrari will get around 19 per cent more time in the wind tunnel, while Mercedes will get almost 27 per cent extra development.
The Perez-Verstappen situation will also require far more deft management than we saw in the latter stages of this season, particularly if Ricciardo looms as a potential replacement for the Mexican.
FERRARI — B
Championship: 2nd, 554 points
Average qualifying gap: 0.094 seconds (1st)
Development trend: degraded by 0.335 (7th)
Ferrari’s return to the front of the field was just about complete, with the team firing from the blocks with the fastest car courtesy of a unique take on the regulations. The SF-75 took more than half the season’s pole positions, allowing Charles Leclerc to claim an early championship lead and Carlos Sainz to take his first P1 start and maiden grand prix victory.
While the title proved elusive, this was all representative a considerable step from last season, when it was a distant third in the standings without a win, and a major improvement from the nadir of 2020, when it was a woeful sixth. That sort of progress is rare in Formula 1.
Ferrari was in some respects a victim of its own success. The team didn’t target the championship this year, assuming it to be a step to far, and when it turned out to have an early upper hand, it comprehensively squandered it through unreliability and some embarrassingly poor strategy calls. That combined to cost Mattia Binotto his job after the end of the season.
Sainz failed to step up from his impressive 2021 campaign despite some headline results, though his improvements in the second half of the year were decent. Leclerc also showed some signs of not yet being over his crash-prone ways.
Once Red Bull Racing got going, Ferrari suffered one of the worst relative pace degradations of any team, though the Scuderia put that down to an early switch to 2023 rather than an outright failure to keep up.
Binotto said the team sacrificed much of the second half of this year to return stronger in 2023, but unless the car’s a real killer, it’s hard not to see the roiling politics of Ferrari costing it momentum, particularly while Frédéric Vasseur finds his feet.
Ferrari also has significant questions to answer on the power unit side. The team deliberately traded reliability for power knowing problems could be fixed in the off-season, but that’s contingent on the team fully understanding its problems, which it only just seemed to do in the very final weeks of the campaign. A fast and strong engine will be central to a title challenge.
MERCEDES — C+
Championship: 3rd, 515 points
Average qualifying gap: 0.782 seconds (3rd)
Development trend: improved by 0.121 seconds (5th)
The arrival of George Russell delivered Mercedes the strongest driver line-up in pit lane. The younger Briton finished outside the top five only twice all year, both in unpredictable wet conditions, to finish a superb fourth in the standings ahead of Sainz and teammate Hamilton.
His maiden victory was won with a comprehensive performance in Brazil, and while it lacked a race-long challenger, seeing off Hamilton late in the day was a commendable way to seal the deal.
Hamilton was back at his best after a subdued first half of the year, putting in some excellent drives that will motivate the team to deliver a stronger car next year.
The hitherto dominant constructor of the last eight seasons was out of title contention in the first month of the season, with its ambitious take on the new rules found to be severely and sometimes painfully wanting. There was no point this year at which you felt like the team had a proper handle on its 2022 machine, with even its late-season form punctuated by a woefully uncompetitive showing in Abu Dhabi.
While the team’s 2022 campaign lacked a eureka moment, it did seem genuinely confident late in the year that it had learnt its lessons in time to fix the 2023 car and turn this season into a blip rather than the beginning of a slide. You’d think the team is ideally placed to hit back given its recent successes, and it’ll rest easy knowing its driver pairing will get the most from the machinery.
But putting theory into practice is never straightforward — just ask the likes of the previously dominant McLaren and Williams teams.
ALPINE — B
Championship: 4th, 173 points
Best finish: 4th
Best qualifying: 2nd
Average qualifying gap: 1.238 seconds (5th)
Development trend: degraded by 0.034 seconds (6th)
Alpine demonstrated genuine progress, closing the gap again to the front enough to snatch fourth from McLaren. Although the average raw pace gap the frontrunners was large, some of its 173 points came from duels with Mercedes, particularly early in the season, and it was often closer to Brackley and the Brackley was to the leaders.
Its power unit was notably faster this year, which is a serious positive considering the Renault motor has consistently been one of the least powerful of the turbo-hybrid era. Every aero development the team brought to the car also appeared to work as intended, though it was only enough to only just about tread water relative to the leaders.
This season raised some serious questions about Alpine’s off-track management. In less than two years Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso and Oscar Piastri all took their first opportunity to leave Enstone.
Alonso’s departure this year caused a major internal fracas when the team attempted to promote Piastri to his 2023 seat. Despite clearly not having a contractual right to the Australian, the team dragged the matter to the FIA Contract Recognition Board, which unanimously dismissed Alpine’s claim, embarrassingly contradicting much of team principal Otmar Szafnauer’s proclamations of Piastri disloyalty.
Engine reliability was also particularly bad, and Alonso summed it all up by describing Alpine as being “unprepared” to be a frontrunner.
Despite the driver unpleasantness, Alpine ended up snaring Pierre Gasly to partner Esteban Ocon, which on paper is a solid line-up despite the pair’s historical dislike of each other, something both the drivers and the team have said is behind them.
If Renault can deliver a reliable engine — a big question despite the sound reasoning — and the team can continue its steep development curve, Alpine will be a lock for fourth place, but that will only be meaningful if it can start to close the performance gap to whoever sits third in next year’s pecking order.
McLAREN — C-
Championship: 5th, 159 points
Best finish: 3rd
Best qualifying: 3rd
Average qualifying gap: 1.179 seconds (4th)
Development trend: improved by 0.156 seconds (4th)
Lando Norris confirmed his arrival as one of the sport’s best drivers with a doggedly impressive campaign that got the most out of his car. His drives with tonsillitis and food poisoning were particularly impressive.
Despite an undercooked car, the team’s execution, particularly paired with Norris, was dependably good. It’s why the raw qualifying times show McLaren as having had the fourth quickest car on average ahead of Alpine, with the French team too often fumbling its advantage. That McLaren was able to run Alpine close for fourth is testament to how well drilled a race team it is.
There’s no denying McLaren took a surprising step backward this year after having appeared to be the midfield team with the ascendancy. The first part of its season was coloured by a major miscalculation with its front brakes that left it slowest of all cars in the first race. Fixing that problem is behind what would appear to be an impressive development trend, but even with that problem sorted it was still not quite on Alpine’s level.
Daniel Ricciardo’s terminal struggles with the car meant the team never really stood a chance at outscoring Alpine, and while the Australian’s difficulties were mystifying, the team certainly carries some of the can for being unable to accommodate a driver who had such a powerful reputation before turning up at Woking.
The halt to McLaren’s momentum has forced the team to push back hopes of a return to full competitiveness. It’s now pinning its hopes on a new wind tunnel and simulator that aren’t due to come online until sometime next year — although there’s a circulating rumour that this might be pushed back — meaning they won’t deliver results until 2024 at the earliest.
The loss of Andreas Seidl is also a blow given the solid job he’s done returning the team to operational competence, though the well-regarded Andrea Stella is being promoted from within to continue that legacy.
Still, there’s a lack obvious challengers to fifth in the standings for 2023, and it’s no given that Alpine gets everything right next year. The team will also debut Oscar Piastri in 2023 — the Australian was regarded as a generational talent rising through the junior ranks, and his appearance on the grid is an undoubted good news story for the team.
ALFA ROMEO — B-
Championship: 6th, 55 points
Best finish: 5th
Best qualifying: 5th
Average qualifying gap: 1.443 seconds (6th)
Development trend: degraded by 0.444 seconds (8th)
Sixth in the championship is the Sauber-run Alfa Romeo team’s best finish in a decade, having last done so in 2012. It’s finished higher than sixth only twice in all of its independent history.
Alfa Romeo stole an early march on the midfield by delivering the lightest car of any team, putting it roughly at the head of the midfield in the early rounds — indeed up until the Canadian Grand Prix in June it was a trajectory to overhaul McLaren to finish fifth in the standings. That alone is impressive considering Alpine, McLaren and Aston Martin are all operating much closer to the budget cap than the outlying Swiss-based Sauber-run team.
Valtteri Bottas was also a real standout, with the former Mercedes driver coming into his own as team leader, particularly in qualifying. His early performances when the car was quick ultimately sealed sixth.
Despite the powerful start, in the final 13 rounds of the season Alfa Romeo scored the fewest points of any team in the championship, with a pair of 10th-place finishes and a ninth all the team could scrounge after Canada. The team simply couldn’t develop at the sort of speed required to bake in its early advantage.
It also suffered badly with unreliability, particularly pertaining to the drive train. While the Ferrari motor undoubtedly didn’t help, chronic gearbox and clutch problems meant the C42 failed to finish more races than any other car.
A pessimistic reading of the season is that it rescued sixth thanks only to Aston Martin’s slow start and Haas’s chaotic form.
The biggest question facing the team is who will replace Vasseur as principal. Andreas Seidl will take the reins as CEO for 2023 as what might be viewed as the first Audi appointment; his first task will be to line up someone he can work with to run the racing team.
Holding sixth in the standings will be a lofty target, particularly against a backdrop of the Audi expansion, which will be the team’s chief focus given the dividends it could pay. Still, there are still some gains to be made despite the strong showing this year, particularly when it comes to trackside operations.
Of particular interest will be Zhou Guanyu’s form. The Chinese driver was solid without being spectacular but wasn’t helped by the car’s declining fortunes. He needs to fire in 2023 before his seat becomes considerably more sought after as the Audi transition draws nearer.
ASTON MARTIN — D
Championship: 7th, 55 points
Best finish: 6th
Best qualifying: 7th
Average qualifying gap: 1.911 seconds (9th)
Development trend: improved by 1.089 seconds (1st)
Aston Martin made the unusual decision to persist with two development streams early under the new rules, but it paid dividends when it turned out its launch car wasn’t as competitive as hoped, while its B-spec machine was much closer to the philosophy adopted by Red Bull Racing.
It meant the first half of the season was something of a write-off, but by the end of the year there were some green shoots emerging. While the team’s enormous development gains are somewhat misleading due to the change in concepts, improving by more than a second relative to the pace is still impressive.
Combined with some novel aero solutions, including a rear wing design that broke the regulations and has since been outlawed, Aston Martin can feel relatively satisfied that it’s better equipped for this generation of rules than it first seemed.
But you can’t dine out on promise and optimism, and the bottom line is that the Aston Martin is still much slower than it should be for a team spending this much money, for which less than a third of the points scored by Alpine is a poor return. The team had high hopes that it could nail this rule set. It failed by its own standards, and you’d have to think it’s still several years away from becoming a reliable force.
Aston Martin is on a journey to becoming what it hopes will be a regular frontrunner. Part of that journey is a total rebuild of its factory, but while staff will be in the new building sometime next year, the car won’t benefit from the new wind tunnel until at least 2025. It leaves the team’s potential limited for the next two seasons.
That in turn begs the question of what Fernando Alonso can achieve there in the short term partnered with the only vaguely convincing Lance Stroll short of risk some kind of blow-up in the Spaniard’s trademark style.
HAAS — C-
Championship: 8th, 37 points
Best finish: 5th
Average qualifying gap: 1.832 seconds (8th)
Development trend: degraded by 0.516 seconds (10th)
Haas gambled big on investing virtually all of Nikita Mazepin’s potash roubles on developing a car for the 2022 regulations, and the bet paid off with the team’s best season since 2018. Only twice in its history has it scored more than 37 points and only once has it finished higher than eighth in the standings.
It also managed to offload Mazepin for the better performing Kevin Magnussen, who injected some optimism back into the team and scored that famous Brazil pole position thanks to a brilliant bit of driving and strategising from the pit wall.
Despite the pace gains, the Haas car continued to be an erratic performer, a trait dating back to at least 2019. Case in point: on either side of Magnussen’s pole he qualified 17th and 16th. The team also didn’t have the funds to bring more than one major development to the car — not helped by Mick Schumacher’s enormous crashes — in a year most teams brought regular upgrades. Its single revision in the middle of the year meant it was the worst developing team on the grid, slipping backwards relative to the pace by half a second through the season.
Haas will be optimistic of some upwards mobility in 2023. The arrival of MoneyGram as a major sponsor means it will operate at the cost cap next year, which will improve its development potential markedly. Nico Hulkenberg’s arrival should also help it establish a dependable performance baseline for a regular stream of minor points at least, potentially helping Magnussen to improve his form consistency.
ALPHATAURI — D
Championship: 9th, 35 points
Best finish: 5th
Best qualifying: 6th
Average qualifying gap: 1.585 seconds (7th)
Development trend: degraded by 0.491 seconds (9th)
AlphaTauri suffered a frustrating backwards step featuring limited bright spots. Yuki Tsunoda’s reliability as a points-getter improved somewhat, albeit after some public warnings partway through the season, while the odd Pierre Gasly Q3 performance gave the team something to cheer about, though often temporarily.
AlphaTauri had hoped that closer synergies with Red Bull Racing — to which it is officially the sister team rather than the junior or development team — might have given it a leg up under the new rules, particularly after finishing sixth, seventh and sixth in the last three seasons.
Instead the car started the year slow and ended the season slower, with only Haas developing the car less effectively. The team admitted to correlation problems, which it pinned to moving to Red Bull Racing’s 60 per cent scale wind tunnel last season. It was the last team to move up from 50 per cent scale tunnels.
Combined with some tactical mistakes and unreliability, this formerly upwardly mobile team slid to uncomfortably low on the title table. It clearly killed Gasly’s enthusiasm, which is probably more telling than anything.
De Vries will be one of next year’s most interesting storylines, arriving in Formula 1 a rookie but with a Formula E world championship along with numerous junior accolades. How his form interacts with that of Tsunoda — who is surely in his last season without a major step forward, which this year means taking the team leadership — will be fascinating.
The car’s prospects are less clear. AlphaTauri should have the resources and facilities at its disposal to be a regular midfield contender, but returning there in the short term will depend entirely on how much it had understood about its 2022 struggles.
WILLIAMS — E
Championship: 10th, eight points
Best finish: 9th
Best qualifying: 9th
Average qualifying gap: 2.245 seconds (10th)
Development trend: improved by 0.165 seconds (3rd)
The revival of Alex Albon’s career was an undoubted highlight and masterstroke for Williams. Albon had previously been binned from Formula 1 after 18 difficult months at Red Bull Racing, but the Thai driver slid comfortably into George Russell’s shoes as on-track leader for the struggling Grove team, helping to maximise its meagre performance envelope with some standout drives according to some ambitious strategies.
The promotion of junior driver Logan Sargeant was also a bright spot after the American put in a strong Formula 2 campaign largely undone by unreliability and bad luck in the middle of the year.
Williams slid backwards in the pecking order relative to 2021, and while its points haul last year was inflated by a pair of wacky races in Hungary and Belgium, that still doesn’t explain the disparity in the quality of work with Alfa Romeo and Haas, both of which leapfrogged Grove up the order.
The car was at least a consistent performer — Albon talked about being able to lean on its predictable cornering characteristics — but simply didn’t have the pace. While the team was one of the grid’s more prolific improvers in terms of raw pace, that means little coming off such a low base.
The outlook for Williams is unclear, the team having unexpectedly parted ways with principal Jost Capito and technical director François-Xavier Demaison this week. Replacing them will come with unavoidable lag time as their successors feel their way into the team. It’s difficult to imagine Grove rising above the bottom of the table next year, however, with the team now surely aiming to build for a 2026 reset under new regulations.
Sargeant’s arrival in the place of the well-liked but underperforming Nicholas Latifi might at least inject some optimism into the factory during a difficult winter.