Max Verstappen's 2022 F1 dominance set to be challenged in a year full of intrigue

Red Bull unlikely to have it their own way as their rivals gather for an almighty effort

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With hindsight it’s easy to see the 2022 F1 world championship was wrapped up in a great big bow and gifted to Max Verstappen long before this festive season entered people’s minds.

But his record 15-win demolition of his rivals belies just how close the competition really was until the last days of August.

And there are abundant signs 2023 will be anything but a cakewalk for the sport’s double champions.

Historically, radical rule changes, as F1 saw this year, have led to domination that takes years to overcome. Mercedes’ hybrid reign began in 2014 and they were not usurped until 2021. It was the same with Red Bull from 2010, Ferrari from 2000 and the Honda powered teams in the 1980s and 90s.

But this time pacesetters Red Bull take noticeable handicaps into next year. They will be weighed down by an extra 10 per cent loss in wind tunnel and computerised CAD development time dished out in their overspending punishment from the FIA.

For a sport in which laps are measured to thousands of a second, it’s unlikely that kind of hit can simply be engineered out of the equation, even by their resident design genius, Adrian Newey.

And then the growing burden of running their own engine-building operation at Milton Keynes is not to be underestimated as staff numbers double.

On the track, too, there are challenges: simmering discontent between Verstappen and Checo Perez could easily explode again at a vital time as it did last month. The Dutchman publicly refused to help his teammate to runners-up spot because, paddock rumour alleges, he was still fuming at his teammate’s reputedly “fake” crash that cost him victory in Monte Carlo five months before.

Verstappen wins Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2022

Some believe, though, that the advantage Red Bull has already established in conquering the new rules and the complex aerodynamic bottoming issues will take more than a single season to claw back.

As ever, it will all depend just as much on the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes not fumbling their lines as they did in 2022.

Even though they finally won in Brazil, Mercedes ended the season still puzzled by their car’s erratic form. There were events, like Sao Paulo when it was the clear pacesetter but usually the chassis was simply off the pace.

Silver Arrows’s clean cut new boy George Russell was arguably the break out star of the year, living up to the hype as he outraced his legendary teammate for their solitary victory.

Lewis Hamilton’s mojo went missing from the time it became clear he was not a title contender but his late season form - six podiums in the last eight races - suggests he remains hungry enough and fast enough to chase that record eighth title if he gets the machinery.

He said the “hardest season of his career” (and the first in 16 that ended winless) had only made him more determined.

Ferrari can only hang their heads and know this was a championship they threw away. Strategy howlers, notably in Monte Carlo (twice), Silverstone, France, Hungary and Belgium cost them dearly in seven winnable races.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc (r) made too many errors in 2022 to challenge for the title. Reuters

Team leader Charles Leclerc was far from blameless with two unforced crashes.

Okay, Verstappen had eight wins to his three by mid-season but the Ferrari ace had led just eight laps less (298 to 290) and was driving a car that was evidently faster with twice as many pole starts.

The Monegasque admitted Ferrari hearts were finally broken in the first race after the summer break in Belgium. Verstappen won from 14th on the grid, taking just 12 laps to hit the front.

Leclerc never won again and while the laps led stats shared by Verstappen and Leclerc was neck and neck (38 per cent to 37 per cent) before August, it was a staggering (60 per cent to 4 per cent) thereafter.

True to form Ferrari chased off team boss Mattia Binotto for the failure and Fred Vasseur of Sauber became their fifth leader inside a decade. Mercedes and Red Bull have had just one in that time.

Maranello’s overlords appear to have forgotten Binotto, a faithful servant for almost three decades, had lifted them from the doldrums and been responsible for much that was good about Ferrari.

The late season’s severe drop in form suggests Binotto cashed their 2022 chips in early to increase Ferrari’s chances for 2023.

And with resources and finances reduced among the top teams and the rest enjoying increased finance and firepower, the omens for 2023 are fascinating.

Updated: December 25, 2022, 7:31 AM