A new era of Formula 1 has well and truly begun. This year a raft of changes graced the world’s fastest form of motorsport: new technical regulations that transformed the cars into sleek fighter jets that could follow each other closely, an upgrade from the old 13-inch wheels to 18-inch Pirelli tyres that looked the part, plenty of new faces and even some new races. But one thing stayed the same: Max Verstappen is world champion.
Last year’s title went the Red Bull star’s way after a final race showdown against Lewis Hamilton. It had ended on a knife-edge, with Verstappen pulling off a last-lap overtake following a controversial safety car period. This time around, Verstappen had made the championship his own and left the rest in his trail well before the season finale: by scoring 454 points and 15 race wins, he broke long-standing records set by Hamilton, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. But it wasn’t always like that…
It’s hard to believe now that early in the season, Verstappen’s title defence looked to be coming off the rails. One race finish from the first three grands prix (even though that was a win in Saudi Arabia) put the Dutchman down to sixth in the drivers’ standings. Instead, it seemed that the door had been opened for Ferrari to make a triumphant return to the top, with Charles Leclerc leading the title race by 34 points after three races. But his hopes of a maiden F1 championship title vanished as he endured a rocky mid-season; the following 11 grands prix delivered one win (Austria), one podium (Miami) and three retirements (Spain, Azerbaijan, France) in amongst his points-scoring performance. His year nonetheless ended on a high, taking second overall from Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull at the season finale.
Verstappen may have crushed the opposition in 2022 but the latter part of the season brings optimism for 2023. Ferrari, though not quite able to beat Red Bull to a win in the latter half of the season, remained firmly in touch. And F1’s hybrid-era powerhouse Mercedes, which won eight constructors’ titles in a row thanks to the efforts of Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Valtteri Bottas, seemingly recovered from a stuttering start to 2022 by winning the Brazilian GP in a one-two formation finish.
There were plenty of milestones further down the grid too. Kimi Raikkonen’s retirement at the end of 2021 opened the door for Zhou Guanyu to become the first ever Chinese driver to hold an F1 race seat, while Kevin Magnussen made an unexpected last-minute comeback with Haas; an emotional pole position during a rain-affected Brazilian GP qualifying for the Haas returnee was one of the season’s great underdog stories.
Another unexpected but highly welcomed underdog success was the emergence of Nyck de Vries. When Williams driver Alex Albon was side-lined with appendicitis on Saturday morning of the Italian Grand Prix; this opened the door for another flying Dutchman on the F1 grid.
Mercedes reserve De Vries had driven for Aston Martin during Friday free practice but suddenly found himself putting on Williams overalls only minutes before final practice on Saturday morning. He finished a spectacular ninth in the Italian Grand Prix – contributing to 25% of Williams’ final points tally for the 2022 season – with his stunning debut helping him to earn a seat at AlphaTauri for 2023.
As new talents emerged, it was also time to say goodbye to another long-tenured world champion. Vettel, four times a winner of F1’s biggest prize, bowed out of grand prix racing after 15 years, 53 wins, 57 pole positions, 122 podiums and 299 races.
After winning his fourth world title back in 2013, Vettel had been fined €25,000 for doing doughnuts on the main straight to celebrate. Nine years on, there was no title to celebrate – but this time around, he was waved through onto the main straight, having been given special permission to sign off his glittering career with one last set of pirouettes for the Abu Dhabi crowd.
McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo will also not be on the grid this year – but there’s a good chance that he will soon be back. It was a similar story for Mick Schumacher: the son of the legendary Michael.
F1’s 2022 revolution brought other changes too. Miami delivered a slice of Monaco-style glamour to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean with its debut as a grand prix debut; next year it will be joined by a night race around the streets of Las Vegas in a packed 24-round race calendar.
When the drivers line up for the first round of the 2023 season, there will be plenty of familiar faces donning new colours. A fascinating game of musical chairs ended with two-time world champion Fernando Alonso taking Vettel’s vacated Aston Martin seat, Pierre Gasly departing AlphaTauri to replace Alonso at Alpine, former Alpine junior Oscar Piastri replacing Ricciardo at McLaren, Haas bringing another experienced F1 driver back from the sidelines by hiring Nico Hulkenberg, and the US getting a new driver to support with Logan Sargeant joining Williams.
Keeping the show on the road – quite literally – were Pirelli’s latest Formula 1 tyres, developed in 18-inch size for the first time to make them more relevant to road-going products and enable more technology transfer from circuit to street. The new Formula 1 tyres proved to be both fast and reliable, offering consistent grip over a wide range of conditions: from track temperatures in excess of 50 degrees to torrential rain. The current generation represent the most technically advanced cars in Formula 1 history, but Pirelli has proved to be the perfect driving companion throughout the fastest era of grand prix racing. That the reason why Pirelli tyres are chosen by the majority of the world’s supercar manufacturers, as well as all the Formula 1 teams.
Pirelli North America is ready for another...