The Four Best F1 Driver Line-ups This Season
We’re less than four weeks away from the first official “Lights out and away we go” of the 2022 Formula 1 season. Rhonan Colquhoun takes a look at the quartet of track tandems ready to vie for the top titles this year.
To win the Constructors’ Championship is every team’s dream. It’s the trophy that the owners value the most – having plunged millions of pounds to get the outfit into a title-contending state. To be within a chance of clinching the title, every race needs to be executed to perfection. From the strategy calls when the weather takes a turn for the worse, to the men and women in the heat of the pit-lane.
Ultimately, the team’s hopes are pinned on the two pilots driving their machinery and this is why teams require the best drivers available to take them to glory. Of the ten teams on the grid preparing to undertake a new, exciting and exhilarating season of racing, it’s expected that these four teams below have the line-up it takes to achieve title success.
McLaren – Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo
McLaren pulled-off a PR masterclass by pairing the young British jokester and the King of Late-Breaking last season. Ever since they shared that iconic and hysterical press conference in 2019 – making jokes about puberty – their friendship and competitiveness to beat each other has grown.
Not only did Ricciardo win last season’s Italian GP – giving the Papaya team their first victory in the sport since 2012, but Norris also secured second in the same race. This ended up being the one and only one-two finish by any team last season. The season was dominated by incredible performances from Mercedes and Red Bull, but even the two behemoths couldn’t manager this feat, only underlining how remarkable an achievement it was for the McLaren boys.
In his first season with the team, Ricciardo struggled to perform consistently with the eight-time race winner unable to have full confidence on the brakes – a trait that’s he’s honed throughout his career. For a long time, Norris occupied third in the standings as three podium finishes launched him into the top five fight. The 21-year-old lost out as McLaren’s dip in performance in the final few rounds proved costly, allowing old rivals Ferrari to pip the Woking team to third.
McLaren fans could have been treated to two fantastic wins on the bounce as Norris claimed a stunning maiden Pole Position round the Sochi Autodrom in Russia in tricky weather conditions. If it wasn’t for the Brit staying out on track just a lap too late, slipping and sliding to the heartache of fans, a first victory would have been his.
If Ricciardo can tame the MCL36 and if Norris can keep performing at his best, recently being awarded with a deserved contract extension, McLaren will undeniably be a major threat to both championships.
Red Bull – Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez
After five long and dominant years, Lewis Hamilton’s reign at the top of the
Driver’s Championship was finally over as Max Verstappen clinched his first title in controversial fashion. The Dutch superstar became the first driver for Red Bull to lift the crown since Sebastian Vettel in 2013. While Red Bull got close, and even ahead at some points, the energy drinks company fell short and unable to overthrow Mercedes in the Constructor’s Championship.
Stepping into the second seat at the team, partnering Verstappen, was former F1’s King of the Midfield Mexico’s Sergio Perez. Ousted by Racing Point, now known as Aston Martin, despite scoring his maiden victory at the Sakhir GP in 2020, Perez was left without a drive until Red Bull came knocking. Hoping to solve their second driver dilemma, Red Bull hired a driver outside of their academy in the hope of challenging Verstappen consistently.
Perez’s form varied throughout the season – from the highs of winning the Azerbaijan GP, where a high-speed puncture ended Verstappen’s race to a lowly 16th finish at Silverstone after a costly spin in the sprint race. A trio of great podium performances came at the right time in Turkey through to his home race round the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez where he received a hero’s welcome.
What can’t be missed is the Mexican’s greatest skill during the race, his defence. There were several times last season where he battled hard to keep his opponents behind, including Hamilton during the crucial title-decider.
It’s expected that Red Bull will be near the front of the grid this season in the hope to give Verstappen the best platform to retain his title. Perez hopes to challenge the Dutchman, but at the level Verstappen’s driving at, it’ll be a tough ask. Brimming with confidence, the reigning champion is carrying the coveted number one on his RB18 and is adamant that his driving style isn’t going to change any time soon.
Ferrari – Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr
The almighty Scuderia enter this season after a fantastic comeback last year to spring from sixth to third in the Championship. Their winless streak continues and podiums are only occasional, but it seems like the team who have competed in every single race in the sport, are finally ready to challenge for the title again.
After a major dip in performance in 2020, Ferrari signed Spain’s Carlos Sainz Jr to partner the team’s golden boy Monegasque Charles Leclerc. It marked a major change in philosophy – in the past, experience is favoured over youth, but this combination has all the right ingredients to make the Tifosi proud. So far it’s paid off as the Scuderia secured five podium finishes, two pole positions and climbed back into the top three of the Championship.
Sainz electing to enter what many view as Leclerc’s team was a bold decision, but the Spaniard made the most of their first season as team-mates. By embracing the culture and learning how Ferrari operates, the Madrid native finished fifth in the championship, beating Leclerc in the standings. From the start of the season, the two drivers were given level status and ended up being potentially the most equally-matched driver pairing on the whole grid.
Fans and pundits have praised Leclerc even before he stepped into the mediocre Alfa Romeo Sauber in 2018 following on-the-trot title success in the GP3 Series and the sport’s feeder series, F2. Since Leclerc first stepped foot into the scarlet car in 2019, there’s now an abundance of hope that the Prancing Horse have found a driver who can lead the team to victory.
It would be the perfect time if the title was brought back home to the team’s headquarters in Maranello, since their last driver’s title came in 2007 with Kimi Raikkonen. A year later, they clinched the Constructor’s Championship. If Ferrari’s F1-75 is as fast as it looks, Leclerc and Sainz is the best pairing to deliver the Tifosi the success.
Mercedes – Lewis Hamilton and George Russell
This is a driver line-up Formula One fans have waited three years for. With the amount of talent this young driver has, it’s been hard to see him compete at the rear of the grid in an uncompetitive team. Now able to demonstrate what he’s got, alongside one of the legends of the sport, it’s a lip-smacking, mouth-watering prospect and one hell of a driver line-up.
Mercedes field an all-British driver line-up with protégé George Russell stepping up to the Silver Arrows, replacing Valtteri Bottas, to partner seven-time World Champion, and statistically one of the greatest drivers ever, Sir Lewis Hamilton.
Russell joins Mercedes after three seasons with Williams Racing, offered that seat after a dominant display in F2 where he was crowned champion in 2018. The young Brit hauled his poor machinery to incredible highs, such as top ten shoot-outs in qualifying, front-row starts, and even a remarkable podium finish at the sodden Belgian GP last year.
In late 2020, the sport got a glimpse of what Russell could do in a top car. Replacing Hamilton as the Brit contracted Covid-19 for the Sakhir GP, Russell narrowly lost out to Bottas in qualifying, but jumped the Finn to lead the majority of the race. Unfortunately for the stand-in driver, Mercedes had a rare calamity in motorsport. During a pit-stop, the team fitted the Brit’s Merc with the wrong tyres. To add insult to injury, a slow puncture was detected a few laps later. A heart-broken Russell did everything right that day under the night-sky, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Hamilton resurfaces after a much-needed winter break with the Brit staying clear of social media to gather his thoughts and mentally reset following the conclusion of the last season. While there were some instances of cracks in his armour – sliding off the track in Imola while trying to lap backmarkers and throwing away the race win in Azerbaijan by pressing the wrong button on his steering wheel – Hamilton remains focused and more determined to right the wrong of last year.
It’s heavily predicted that one of these will go onto clinch this year’s trophy. However, every team on the grid this season is eager to start this new and unpredictable era of racing on the winning foot. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens next.