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Formula 1

10 battles still being fought in F1 2022’s final two races

by Matt Beer
12 min read

Formula 1 2022’s concluding double-header in Brazil and Abu Dhabi has an ‘end of term’ feeling given both championships have already been settled.

But while that means things won’t be as ferociously tense as the end of the 2021 season was, there are still plenty of smaller-stakes battles being fought.

Some of those are over still-significant lower championship positions. Others are more a case of drivers battling themselves to make sure they can look back on 2022 with at least some fondness, or even to firm up their 2023 F1 presence.

Ferrari vs Mercedes for second

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Second in the constructors’ championship isn’t what either Ferrari or Mercedes covet, but it would be a significant achievement for both for very different reasons. And it’s lucrative too given The Race estimates that each step in the standings will be worth somewhere in the region of $11-12million.

Ferrari is 40 points ahead with just 103 left to play for, so is the short-odds favourite to hold on and needs only to pick up some solid finishes in the remaining two races (plus the Interlagos sprint) to ensure it stays ahead of Mercedes.

For Ferrari, second would also reflect genuine progress – given it finished third last year and sixth in 2020 – despite its title challenge tailing off spectacularly.

For Mercedes, second would be a failure by its recent standards of eight consecutive constructors’ titles. But considering the difficulties it has had with the troublesome Mercedes W13, even to be in with an outside chance of nicking second confirms how well it has recovered and the extent to which it has made the most of the car.

Given it will only require Ferrari to outscore Mercedes by four points across the Interlagos weekend, this could be decided with a race to spare. – Edd Straw


Motor Racing Formula One World Championship United States Grand Prix Race Day Austin, Usa

This all depends on which version of Daniel Ricciardo shows up. Suzuka Q1 Ricciardo looked much more at home in the updated MCL36 and showed Lando Norris-beating pace, Austin Ricciardo was miserably slow and looked as though he might be best to just call it a day right then and there.

Mexico City Ricciardo was back within a sniff of making Q3 and racing superbly in that final stint – properly feeling the car underneath him at last, no longer feeling like a passenger in a McLaren that has usually been just too unpredictable on corner entry for him to consistently show the best version of himself.

Even Ricciardo himself has given up trying to predict how it will go. He simply doesn’t know until he hits the track and feels the car underneath him, or not…

If the grip is there for him, the confidence will flow and he can finish on a high. To the outside world, this will mean something – because it will suggest the Ricciardo of old still lurks within and can come back and still absolutely get the job done in 2024, or whenever the opening he somehow foresees in F1’s driver market appears.

To the man himself, it will be less significant – because his self-belief is much deeper rooted than that. – Ben Anderson

The battle for sixth

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Dutch Grand Prix Race Day Zandvoort, Netherlands

The suggestion that Alfa Romeo would be under threat from Aston Martin for sixth in the constructors’ championship in the closing stages of the season would once have seemed ludicrous. The Sauber-run Alfa Romeo team’s great start to the season meant that after the ninth race of the season in Canada, it had 51 points to Aston Martin’s paltry 16.

Since then, Alfa Romeo’s results have slumped, with just two points in the last 11 races.

Aston Martin, meanwhile, has proved much more consistent and brought home points in eight of those races. Its hauls in the Singapore/Suzuka double-header have been particularly important in closing the gap to its current four points.

Alfa Romeo has the quicker car, particularly after introducing floor/diffuser and front wing upgrades in recent races that have made it a Q3 contender once again. But its execution and reliability has been disappointing.

That makes this a battle of a faster, less well-run Alfa Romeo machine versus a slower Aston Martin that the team generally makes the most of.

It’s only for sixth in the standings, but both the money and the kudos of beating a rival means this one is likely to go to the last lap in Abu Dhabi. – ES


Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Race Day Mexico City, Mexico

For a team of serial winners like Mercedes, a single race victory in 2022 shouldn’t matter all that much. But psychologically speaking, it would put a positive spin on an otherwise disastrous campaign.

Toto Wolff even said when asked directly that he would prefer Mercedes win one of the remaining two races than beat Ferrari in the points, because “the win would be proof our car is back to fight for wins”.

Wolff also says Mercedes’ simulations still suggest a victory from the final two races is doable, but given Mercedes couldn’t beat Red Bull in a straight fight at maximum altitude in Mexico – with all the advantages that brought in terms of minimising the W13’s drag on high downforce settings while not having to excessively compromise the stability of its aero platform over bumps – it’s difficult to see how Brazil or Abu Dhabi offer a better chance.

The fact Interlagos is more abrasive than Mexico City, with a shorter main straight, should favour Mercedes – but more bumps might mean ride height compromises, and the lower altitude will increase the drag penalty and play to Red Bull’s inherent aerodynamic efficiency.

Mercedes being Red Bull’s nearest challenger again is certainly feasible – in Brazil especially – but it’s probably going to take favourable circumstances, plus some more Lewis Hamilton Interlagos magic.

More likely, Mercedes is going to finish winless for the first time since 2011, and Hamilton’s streak of winning in every one of his F1 seasons so far is about to end at the 15th attempt. – BA

Will Alonso be outscored by his team-mate?

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Fernando Alonso has only been outscored once by his team-mate in Formula 1. But Esteban Ocon has an 11-point advantage over his fellow Alpine driver and could join Jenson Button (at McLaren in 2015) and become the second driver to achieve this rare feat.

While Alonso has also been beaten by his team-mates on countback in the past, by Hamilton in 2007 and Tarso Marques in 2001 (albeit with both on zero in this case), to bring in more points than the double champion would be a feather in Ocon’s cap.

Jul 08 : S4 E1: Alonso's rookie heroics with Minardi in 2001

As Alonso has been quick to point out, he’s been hit by significant reliability problems this season that have contributed to this situation given, overall, he has been the higher-performing Alpine driver.

But Ocon has also had problems, for example his gearbox problem in Q1 at Imola, fuel pump breakage at Silverstone and engine failure in Singapore. And he’s delivered consistent results.

Alonso is likely to need to outscore Ocon by 12 points over the final two races given the Frenchman has the better overall result (fourth in Japan) for the countback tiebreaker.

That’s a big ask given the Alpines are generally fighting for minor points positions and Ocon is likely to get on the scoreboard in both races if he doesn’t hit problems.

And don’t for one minute imagine that beating Ocon doesn’t matter to Alonso, even if it is only for eighth in the championship. – ES


Motor Racing Formula One World Championship United States Grand Prix Practice Day Austin, Usa

This is highly significant in the sense Williams has promoted a driver who, as things stand, technically doesn’t qualify to race in F1 next season.

But it also should be totally insignificant, because if Sargeant is good enough to be a grand prix driver next year then he should also be more than capable of finishing his Formula 2 season in a manner that allows him to comfortably make the grade.

He currently sits third in the F2 standings, and if he stays there it will be more than enough. But only 25 points separates him from 10th placed Juri Vips heading into the final two races of the season in Abu Dhabi.

If Sargeant has a nightmare weekend and slips out of the top six, he could find himself in trouble.

That’s why Williams is taking no chances over Sargeant’s Mexico GP FP1 run, which fell slightly below the 100km minimum needed to become eligible for a superlicence bonus point. He gets an extra run in Brazil FP2 – which due to the sprint format is the Saturday session – to compensate.

Sargeant’s recent F2 form is a concern – only one top-five finish from his past 10 races – but everything is in his hands. Williams admits it currently has no Plan B, so Sargeant’s future is secure so long as he doesn’t capitulate in Abu Dhabi.

If that goes horribly wrong, then Williams has a difficult decision to make. – BA

Red Bull’s last uncompleted achievement

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Race Day Mexico City, Mexico

Sergio Perez has a slender five-point advantage over Charles Leclerc in the battle for second in the drivers’ championship. And while no driver dreams of being runner-up in the standings, it would improve his previous best finish of fourth last year by two positions. The situation is similar for Leclerc, who finished fourth back in 2019.

It will also be important for Red Bull given the one thing it has left to achieve in F1 is a one-two in the drivers’ championship. With Max Verstappen’s title and the constructors’ crown long since sewn up, securing second for Perez will be a focus for the team.

But what is clear is that Perez can’t rely on help from Verstappen to do it.

Understandably, Verstappen is determined to add another two victories to his record tally of 14 for the season. As he said in Mexico when asked about the possibility of helping Perez to victory in his home grand prix and therefore assisting his team-mate’s bid for seventh: “I think as long as he finishes ahead of Charles, that’s the main target every race – and I’m here to win”.

Perez has momentum on his side given he’s finished ahead of Leclerc in three of the past four races. But with 60 points still to play for thanks to the extra eight points available for the Interlagos sprint race, it’s very much a 50/50 call on whether Perez or Leclerc bags the runner-up spot. – ES


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For these two teams there is something much more significant at play within F1’s bigger picture than who finishes fourth in 2022.

For McLaren, fourth would represent stasis after a particularly challenging season – in which the team hasn’t kicked on in the manner hoped after battling so closely with Ferrari in 2021.

But even last year’s result represented a backward step, despite Ricciardo’s Monza victory and Lando Norris’s Sochi near-miss, because McLaren was third in 2020.

And so in the bigger sense, the final finishing position won’t make a huge difference to a team which knows it has already reached F1’s midfield ceiling and is still waiting on infrastructure investments – particularly a new windtunnel and simulator – to come online so it can properly attempt to break through that ceiling in 2024.

For Alpine, finishing fourth this season would represent the Renault works team’s best championship run since 2018. But more significant this year is the fact Alpine has produced the fastest car outside the top three teams and looks more likely than any other right now to bridge the gap to the front.

This should encourage Renault that its own recent overhaul of Alpine’s Enstone base is paying dividends. Viry-Chatillon now needs to engineer in some extra engine reliability over the winter, following the aggressive architecture overhaul that came in for 2022.

Had Alpine enjoyed greater reliability this season, on Fernando Alonso’s car especially, this battle for fourth would be nowhere near a close-run thing. – BA

Vettel’s push for the top 10

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship United States Grand Prix Race Day Austin, Usa

Sebastian Vettel will bid farewell to F1 as a driver after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. And while it would hardly be the greatest achievement of his illustrious career he still has a chance of nicking 10th place in the drivers’ championship from Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas.

This makes the Alfa Romeo vs Aston Martin battle even more significant. While Bottas has an 11-point advantage, Vettel’s recent form: top-eight finishes in three of the last four races – including a strong sixth in Singapore – means it’s not impossible he could sneak into the top 10.

The Aston Martin has improved significantly as the season has progressed, with the key change the introduction of a dramatically different sidepod/underfloor concept for the sixth race of the season in Spain.

Vettel has produced some impressive performances this year, notably early on at Imola while the car was still poor and in Singapore, so he could grab the points needed to overhaul Bottas.

Realistically, though, the ball is in Bottas’s court. While he’s only scored one point in the last 11 races, he made Q3 in the USA and Mexico thanks to recently-introduced upgrades and realistically only needs to pick up one top-10 result to put the position out of Vettel’s reach. – ES


Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Race Day Mexico City, Mexico

This is a very important decision for Guenther Steiner and Gene Haas to make – but it’s also one they don’t need to hurry.

Steiner was probably hoping Ricciardo would decide life on F1’s sidelines was less appealing than actually racing in 2023, but having appeared to rule himself out of taking the final seat on the grid in favour of a mooted reserve role with either Mercedes or Red Bull (not confirmed yet), Ricciardo clears the way for a Nico Hulkenberg versus Mick Schumacher showdown.

Schumacher enjoys ‘home advantage’ on the basis the seat is currently his to lose, but it doesn’t seem as though his improved qualifying form versus Kevin Magnussen (a closer 4-3 to Magnussen since the August break) will be enough to overcome tense relations with Schumacher’s management outside the car – and Schumacher’s various expensive crashes inside it. The fact Ferrari looks set to drop Schumacher from its driver academy won’t be doing him any favours either.

You’d expect a young driver like him to have a higher potential ceiling than Hulkenberg, but if Haas was convinced of that then it probably would have re-signed Schumacher already.

Hulkenberg is a known quantity, a safe pair of hands, a very fast and effective driver, someone capable of dropping in at a moment’s notice and outqualifying his team-mates as F1’s recent go-to COVID super-sub.

He was perhaps unfortunate to drop off the grid when Renault decided to bring Ocon back onto it, and if three seasons (mostly) on the sidelines have properly re-motivated Hulkenberg then he could be a really shrewd signing.

At his best, there was not much to choose between him and Ricciardo during their season as Renault team-mates in 2019. – BA

Gasly flirting with a ban

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Qualifying Day Mexico City, Mexico

A driver hasn’t been banned from a Formula 1 race since Romain Grosjean in 2012, but Pierre Gasly is walking a tightrope having taken his tally of superlicence penalty points to 10.

That means if he picks up two more, not only in the final two races of 2022 but also across the first seven events next year, a one-race ban will be automatically triggered.

Gasly is heading into his final two races as an AlphaTauri driver and said in Mexico that he was aiming to score points in two of the final three races. He didn’t do so in Mexico, so will be gunning for top 10s both in Brazil and Abu Dhabi as AlphaTauri fights to beat Haas to eighth in the constructors’ championship.

That makes the stakes high not only for the team, but also for the driver. After all, being banned for his planned AlphaTauri swansong having become the team’s most successful driver – or worse still, for his Alpine debut in next year’s Bahrain Grand Prix – would be a disaster. – ES

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