The penultimate segment in RaceFans’ countdown of the best performing drivers of the 2022 Formula 1 season so far sees the first lot of drivers in the top half of the field.
10 – Carlos Sainz Jnr – Ferrari
|Beat team mate in qualifying||5/13|
|Beat team mate in race||4/9|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||202/327|
When Carlos Sainz Jnr joined Ferrari in 2021 alongside the naturally talented Charles Leclerc, many expected that Sainz would have a major challenge to keep up with his new team mate over the course of the season. That did not prove the case, however, and Sainz even ended up ahead of Leclerc in the final standings.
But with the new cars introduced for the 2022 season, Sainz has been very much the second best driver at Ferrari over the course of the year so far.
Right from the first race of the season in Bahrain, it was clear that Leclerc was more comfortable with the new ground effect F1-75 than his team mate. While he took second after Max Verstappen’s retirement to complete the one-two for Ferrari. He took third place in Jeddah, again behind his team mate, before the troubles truly began.
In Melbourne, back luck struck him when he lost his first Q3 lap with a red flag, then a delay meant he left the garage later than planned. On his eventual flying lap, a big mistake at the high speed chicane left him ninth on the grid, then he spun out on the second lap after having fallen to 14th at the start.
At Imola, he crashed in Q2 in the wet but managed to recover places thanks to the sprint race. However, his grand prix lasted only one corner thanks to Daniel Ricciardo. A third big error in a third consecutive weekend in Miami when he crashed in practice left cynics pondering if Ferrari had made a mistake in committing to him long term, before yet another mistake in Barcelona meant he was lucky not to retire when skidding into the gravel early in the race.
Fortunately, he picked up his form from Monaco. A smart call to switch from wet tyres to slicks moved him ahead of Leclerc and he almost could have won, had he not caught Latifi out of the pits. He also came agonisingly close to a first win in Montreal, but could not hunt down Verstappen in the end.
Eventually his big breakthrough came in Silverstone where he took pole position in the wet and overtook his team mate to win after Ferrari left Leclerc on an island on strategy following a late Safety Car. Car failures in Baku and Austria cost him yet more points through no fault of his own, but he was the consummate professional for Leclerc in Paul Ricard, deliberately towing him to pole and recovering from 19th to fifth in spite of Ferrari’s strategy.
Ferrari’s hopes of a world championship title bid may be almost faded, but that does take the pressure off Sainz for the rest of the season. He would do well to use these races to build himself up ready for 2023.
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9 – Kevin Magnussen – Haas
|Beat team mate in qualifying||11/13|
|Beat team mate in race||7/9|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||320/592|
Thrust back into the Formula 1 spotlight in the most unusual of circumstances, Kevin Magnussen suddenly found himself with a second chance at the highest level of motorsport.
He showed just how keen he was to make the most of this opportunity by sticking his VF-22 seventh on the grid in Bahrain before finishing in fifth place and immediately exercising the ghosts of Haas’ excruciating 2021 season. Made all the more impressive by his year out of the sport and his relative inexperience with with the new ground effect cars. He scored two more points in Jeddah, then added a couple more in Imola to emphasise his decent start to the season.
Then came his two weakest performances of the season. In Miami, Magnussen clashed twice with Lance Stroll, earning a five second time penalty, before his strong qualifying position in Spain was thrown away through unnecessary contact with Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap, ruining his race. Back-to-back mechanical retirements in Monaco and Baku frustrated both him and his team, then his Montreal race was ruined when he was handed a mechanical damage flag by race control and forced to pit out of seventh place.
Haas enjoyed their best weekends since the start of the season at Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring, finishing tenth in Silverstone after being beaten by team mate Mick Schumacher, then managing a misfire at the Red Bull Ring to finish in eighth. That would be his last points finish before the summer break as he clashed with Nicholas Latifi in Paul Ricard before another early black-and-orange flag in Hungary effectively ended his race.
With the benefit of the newly upgraded Haas, Magnussen will be looking for more points and less misfortune over the second half of the season.
8 – Sergio Perez – Red Bull
|Beat team mate in qualifying||3/13|
|Beat team mate in race||3/10|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||153/649|
All throughout 2021 as his team mate Max Verstappen battled for a world championship, Sergio Perez was adamant that he would be far closer to Verstappen in year two, when they both had a fresh start in all new cars.
For the first few races of the 2022 season, that definitely looked like being the case. He ran fourth and was challenging Carlos Sainz Jnr in the opening race in Bahrain after Verstappen retired, before his own car failed at the start of the final lap. Then he stormed to a first career pole position in Jeddah and led the race on merit, before a poorly timed Safety Car dropped his down to fourth.
Perez was able to do a much better job of staying in touch with Verstappen over the first part of the year than he had in 2021, but a familiar pattern emerged where he just wasn’t quite as quick as the world champion on Saturdays and Sundays. In Miami, he finished behind the two Ferraris and his team mate and while many were unhappy to hear Red Bull hand team orders to Perez to let Verstappen by Barcelona, Verstappen showed it was the right call to make by driving away to victory.
In Monaco, Perez was simply quicker than Verstappen across the weekend, out qualifying him with help from a spin at Portier before undercutting Leclerc in the race to take second and then jumping ahead of Sainz when the front runners switched to slicks to take the lead that he would never lose and claim his first Monaco victory. For a brief moment, Perez was discussed as a potential championship contender and added 18 more points to his tally with second in Baku.
He had some misfortune – breaking down early in Montreal and contact with George Russell in Austria effectively ended his race – but crashing in wet qualifying in Montreal having his Q2 times deleted for track limits at the Red Bull Ring did not help his cause either.
Verstappen continued to wrack up the points ahead of him and he fell back behind Leclerc in the standings by the summer break. Given all the problems that have left Leclerc in such a hole in his pursuit of Verstappen, it feels like there’s less of an excuse for Perez not to be in second at this stage of the season.
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7 – Valtteri Bottas – Alfa Romeo
|Beat team mate in qualifying||10/13|
|Beat team mate in race||7/8|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||/514/585|
After five seasons winning constructors’ championships with Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas was supposed to be brought back down to earth by moving to Alfa Romeo – a team that had scored only nine points through the entirety 2021 season. By the end of the third race in Bahrain, Bottas had already helped his new team to match that tally.
Bottas’s form in the early phase of the season was perhaps as strong as anyone’s aside from Leclerc and Verstappen. Over seven rounds, he scooped up 40 points to sit eighth in the drivers’ championship, behind only Lando Norris as ‘best of the rest’. That was despite suffering constantly mechanical setbacks on Fridays and Saturdays which leaves him as having had the least track time of all 19 drivers to have competed in every race weekend this season.
It was not always perfect. Crashing in practice in Miami was not helpful at a new track, while he struggled in Baku and Silverstone and was even beaten for pace by his rookie team mate on both occasions. As Alfa Romeo began to lose ground in the development battle, the opportunities for points became harder to find. However, he climb from the back of the grid in Austria to just miss out of the points in 11th after being passed on the final lap and reached Q3 in Budapest for the first time since Spain but missed out on points when his one stop strategy did not pay off and he eventually stopped with a fuel system failure.
Bottas has given Alfa Romeo everything they were hoping for when they signed him from Mercedes. The aim for the second leg of the season is to start scoring points once again to keep onto the team’s sixth position in the constructors’ championship.
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6 – Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes
|Beat team mate in qualifying||6/13|
|Beat team mate in race||5/12|
|Laps spent ahead of team mate||293/729|
One of the most intriguing storylines heading into the 2022 season involved the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell and how the promising young Mercedes junior would fare against a seven time world champion fired up after being denied an eighth title in the most crushing circumstances imaginable.
Quickly it became clear that, for only the second time since Hamilton joined Mercedes way back in 2013, he would not be in contention for the world championship in 2022. The W13 was simply not as fast as the Red Bull or the Ferrari and suffered from severe aerodynamic porpoising and bouncing along the ground due to its intensely stiff suspension.
But despite the relative lack of performance from Mercedes compared to their rivals ahead, Russell began the season with a streak of nine consecutive top five finishes. Hamilton, the most successful driver ever to step into a Formula 1 car, appeared to be unable to match his much younger team mate in that same span.
Despite take a podium in Bahrain after both Red Bulls retired late, Hamilton endured one of the worst weekends of his illustrious career based on performance in Jeddah the next weekend, being far off the pace of Russell. A decent race in Melbourne followed before Hamilton looked lost again in Imola, floundering behind Pierre Gasly to finish far out of the points while Russell was only one place off the podium.
Some respite came in the form of a major upgrades package in Barcelona that addressed a lot of the concerns with the car, but contact with Magnussen dropped him well off the rest of the pack on the opening lap. For the first time in 2022, we saw the kind of drive we’ve come to expect from Hamilton in Spain as he rose through the field without any Safety Car assistance to finish in a strong fifth at the finish.
Hamilton continued to be out scored by Russell before it emerged that he had been spending the bulk of the season running various experimental parts and settings on his Mercedes in a bid to try and help the team solve their underlying pace issues. He got back onto the podium in Montreal and sat on 77 points after nine rounds. Four races later, he’d almost doubled that total.
Hamilton’s form over the final four rounds was more of what many would have expected to see from him. He thrilled the Silverstone crowd with a battling drive to third and finished on the podium again in Austria despite crashing out in Q3. Paul Ricard and the Hungaroring were probably his best performances of the season, taking second behind Verstappen in France before overcoming a DRS failure in qualifying to move from seventh on the grid to second again in Hungary.
Hamilton is now beating Russell regularly on Sundays as many would have predicted, but even if his early season slump was due to running Frankenstein setups to help Mercedes learn the car, he must rank lower than his team mate due to two outstanding bad weekends. If he keeps up his current form, it may be a different story come the end of the season.
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2022 F1 season
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