February was an exciting month for F1 fans around the world, with the new season’s liveries revealed, Lewis Hamilton’s return to social media the FIA’s comments on the last race of the 2021 season and subsequent action involving Michael Masi, the announcement of the new season of Drive to Survive on Netflix, the first pre-season testing in Barcelona, the Russian Grand Prix replaced with Turkey, and Haas’ position amid the Russian attack on Ukraine. That’s a lot to squeeze into the shortest month on the calendar. I’m going to try and break things down through a timeline with additional comments at the end.
The start of the 2022 season
For many, the car launches signal the start of the new season. However, the drivers start their winter training several weeks earlier. Just because there are about three months between the last race of one season to the next season’s first race doesn’t mean the drivers are chilling all the time. In addition to sweating through various activities and having their physical performance assessed, they put in a lot of work on the simulator. And in a year when the cars and regulations see a significant update, this work was more important than ever.
While there are no rules on when teams reveal their new cars to the public for the first time, February is often considered the unofficial launch month with all the teams creating a lot of hype in the run-up to pre-season testing.
This year, Alfa Romeo teased with a camouflage livery and only revealed their car for the first time today, after the Barcelona pre-testing that concluded on Friday 25 February.
During the car launches, several teams declared that their on-track cars won’t look much like the cars revealed during the launch because the teams continue to work on the cars at testing. So the launch is more of an introduction to the team’s new livery – both for the car and the drivers’ race suits. As you can imagine, it’s also a huge merchandising opportunity. After all, who wants to be seen in last season’s apparel? Hint: those who like a bargain and snapping up old stock on sale.
An overview of February 2022
2 February: Max Verstappen did a full send on ice and snow in his number 1 car.
4 February: Haas is the first team to reveal their new car, with general comments on the livery being it’s a copy-and-paste job.
5 – 6 February: Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher participate in the Race of Champions.
5 February: Lewis Hamilton returns to social media with the simple caption “I’ve been gone. Now I’m back!”
7 February: Pierre Gasly celebrates his 26th birthday
7 February: Lando Norris signs a four-year extension contract with McLaren
9 February: Red Bull reveals their new livery with the same copy-and-paste comment that followed the Haas livery reveal.
9 February: Ferrari reveals a new driver kit, with a white line on the Monegasque Charles Leclerc’s race suit and team shirts, and a yellow line on Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr’s. A slew of memes depicting the drivers as McDonald’s employees follow.
10 February: Aston Martin reveals their livery. However, all everyone talks about is Seb’s hair. Well-known for his different hairstyles, like Lewis Hamilton, the German’s hair was nominated as the ultimate comeback for 2022. On the question of what he plans to name his new car, Seb said he’d welcome suggestions.
10 February: Daniel Ricciardo reveals his 2022 lid, and it’s a peach!
11 February: McLaren reveals their new, vibrant livery across four different racing iterations, with the papaya orange accented by a complimentary curaçao blue. Personally, I think it’s gorgeous. The launch is overshadowed by news that anyone can drive the new car on the Roblox platform before the drivers even take it onto the track. And even this was soon forgotten when behind the scenes shenanigans between Lando and Daniel is released. Poor Charlotte. How she hasn’t gone grey between these two is a testament to how good she is at her job.
11 February: Bahrain GP extension until 2036 is signed.
14 February: Alpha Tauri’s car livery is declared spectacular, and comments celebrate that the new car looks like a different car. I can’t stop looking at Yuki’s hair, which seemed to be styled to make him look like a big boy, not the fun and funny guy we love. Fortunately, by the time press conferences on pre-testing roll around, he’s clearly back in control of his own locks with cheeky flicks at the ends.
14 February: Sprint races are confirmed for Imola (Italy), Red Bull Ring (Austria), and Interlagos (Brazil), with new points allocation extended to the first eight positions.
15 February: Williams Racing reveals a significantly different livery to positive feedback.
15 February: Former Williams Racing driver George Russell celebrates his 24th birthday.
15 February: Charlotte Sefton announces the end of her career at McLaren after more than seven years. She’s not leaving the sport but joining the F1 Communications Team.
16 February: Drive to Survive announces that its fourth season will premiere on Netflix on 11 March.
17 February: Ferrari reveals its new car and with its darker red livery the car looks fast.
17 February: The FIA announces the replacement of race director Michael Masi by Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas will alternate in the race director position and be assisted by Herbie Blash as a permanent senior advisor. In addition, direct radio communications during the race between the teams and the race director will be eliminated to protect the race director from pressure and allow him to make decisions peacefully. The race director may still be contacted through a well-defined and non-intrusive process.
17 February: After Otmar Szafnauer left Aston Martin amid speculation that he would move to Alpine, he’s announced as Alpine’s team principal.
18 February: Mercedes reveals their new livery, returning to the silver arrows after racing in black. It is a very good-looking car.
18 February: The US GP (COTA) contract is renewed until 2026.
20 February: New lid reveals by Mick Schumacher, Pierre Gasly, George Russell, Lewis Hamilton, Alex Albon, and Yuki Tsunoda.
21 February: Alpine reveals not one, but two liveries. With BWT now a sponsor of the team, a special limited edition mostly pink livery will be run for the first two races of the season – Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. For the rest of the season, the livery will be mostly blue with pink accents. Fernando Alonso admits that El Plan is a bit of a mystery but that the team is determined to deliver on it for the long run. Side note - when did Alonso become a snack?
22 February: Lando Norris debuts his new side gig as a paparazzo on Instagram Stories since there’s a media black-out on the pre-test goings-on. It’s adorable, particularly when Daniel repays the favour by sharing a pic of a snoozing Lando. Having so many jobs is tiring, man.
23 February: First day of pre-testing at the Circuit De Barcelona in Catalunya. The fastest lap time is set by Lando Norris at 1:19:568, followed by Charles Leclerc (1:20:165), and Carlos Sainz Jr (1:20:416).
23 February: Charles Leclerc reveals his new lid. The helmet is mostly red and features the white stripe in tribute to his native red-and-white flag. With their balaclavas and fireproof underwear in red this season, I have to confess that if there were any doubts before they are now put to rest: these two drivers look incredible in red.
24 February: The fastest lap time on day two is set by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc (1:19:689), followed by Pierre Gasly (1:19:918), and Daniel Ricciardo (1:20:288).
24 February: Aston Martin is confirmed as the safety and medical car provider for 12 races.
24 February: The FIA announces the cancellation of the Russian GP amid the conflict in Ukraine. Turkey is identified as a replacement race.
25 February: Haas runs an all-white livery after removing Russian title sponsor Uralkali’s branding from the cars. They issued no further comment concerning the team partner agreement. This also fuelled speculation whether Nikita Mazepin will continue to race, with Pietro Fittipaldi named as the driver with the first call if the Russian should lose his seat.
25 February: On the last day of pre-testing in Barcelona, Lewis Hamilton clocked the top lap time at 1:19:138, followed by teammate George Russell (1:19:233), and Sergio Perez (1:19:556). Max Verstappen had the fourth-fastest lap time at 1:19:756.
27 February: Finally, Alfa Romeo reveals the stunning livery that was hidden beneath the camouflage. The vibrant red and white design pops and the vintage lettering of the team name are magnificent. I won’t lie though I wouldn’t mind one of those camo hoodies. It was very cool.
Following pre-season testing
The teams, drivers and analysts agree that people are reading too much into the times set during the three days. However, I think it’s fair to say that there will be strong competition among the sub-30 group of drivers who will make the vets work hard for their honour. But maybe the mature 30% of the grid will remind them who’s boss.
During press conferences, Charles Leclerc said drivers will need to develop new driving styles due to the weight of the car, particularly when it comes to braking. Drivers are also concerned about the visibility on street circuits because of the larger tyres.
Sebastian Vettel said that with the cars racing closer and at a similar pace under the new regulations, the driver can definitely make a difference in the result. On the other hand, Max Verstappen said that the sport is still mostly car-dependent, and the driver won’t have a greater influence on performance than in the past.
Speaking of the heavier cars and drivers needing to adjust, something “porpoising” is a word that flew around a lot. This phenomenon is the severe bouncing on the suspension at high speed, and a lot of drivers have complained about it. It looks intense and intensely uncomfortable. In fact, in a press conference, Yuki Tsunoda mentioned he’d be willing to sacrifice a few memories for the sake of speed. This leads me to wonder, whether, despite all stability and safety features, not to mention the drivers’ fierce neck exercises, there may not be as much protection from an up-and-down movement as for side-to-side.
About Michael Masi
There have been comments that Michael Masi’s dismissal as the race director is proof of Mercedes and Toto Wolff’s power of influence over the FIA. In a press conference where he said Michael was thrown under the bus, Max mentioned that in any sport it’s unthinkable that a team manager will speak directly to the referee about what should be done. However, Mercedes was certainly not the only team to get in touch with Masi about perceived slights.
I think it’s good that direct communication between the teams and race director will now be restricted. Having additional assistance will also make difference in how decisions are made and appealed. Concerning the last race in 2021, I think that certain regulations were not correctly implemented. Why were only some cars allowed to unlap? This, along with regulations on when and how the safety car is recalled, are some of the matters the FIA is reviewing.
Overall, I think Masi did a good job, especially in ensuring the drivers’ safety. There were mentions that track limits weren’t always consistently enforced, but that might be subjective to the particular driver affected.
Let’s go racing
The first race weekend in Bahrain takes place from 18 – 20 March 2022. Before that, there will be another testing session on 10 – 12 March.
One thing that’s clear following the Barcelona testing is that we’re in for a spectacular season of racing.