The Formula One (F1) circus has returned for its iconic, undulating, second half of the season. After a three-week hiatus closed off the grueling first half of the 2022 season, factories have returned from their shutdowns and drivers’ feet are back on the throttle, signalling a return to the tarmac. 

With 15 of 22 races completed, Max Verstappen has taken the lead in the drivers’ standings with 310 points, while Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez are tied at 102 points for second.

Red Bull charges on while Ferrari claws back

Ferrari left the Constructors’ Championship title — which is awarded to teams rather than individual drivers — in the hands of Red Bull after being outclassed by a clinical operation from the Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner.

Verstappen, a driver for Red Bull Racing, is poised to clinch his second consecutive Driver’s Championship — a championship award given to the number one driver. Verstappen is at the top of the leaderboard, clearing Leclerc by 109 points. Verstappen’s teammate, Perez, is tied with Leclerc for second place, further adding insult to injury. 

This considerable lead raises questions as to whether the championship battle is already over, with Red Bull and Verstappen as its victors. 

Multiple setbacks stemming from power unit reliability, front-end grip, and questionable strategy decisions have reduced Ferrari’s campaign for dominance to shambles. Red Bull and Verstappen’s sizable lead is vulnerable because of the slight weaknesses of their car, the RB18. Red Bull’s overweight car suffers from higher tyre degradation and a lack of instantaneous singular lap speed. Both benefit the Maranello-built Ferrari F1-75. 

Ferrari driver Leclerc had a lot to say to F1’s news team about the grand scheme of things at the press release in Belgium: “I still believe in the championship of course; it’s going to be a very difficult challenge, but I will believe in it until the very end… I think we will take [the races] one by one as a team. But, for sure, we need to try and maximize every opportunity that we have ahead.”

Mounting questions

Mercedes, on the other hand, is making headway lately. After being significantly hampered by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile’s technical regulations, George Russell placed second with his teammate, Lewis Hamilton in fourth in the Dutch Grand Prix. Hamilton had a shot to win it all if it weren’t for some internal communications problems. 

Porpoising caused a significant lack of pace for the Mercedes W13. According to ESPN, porpoising is what happens when a car moves up and down, “mimicking the movement of a porpoise as it travels through water.” Porpoising has resulted in Mercedes surrendering the Constructors Championship, ending its eight-year streak of winning. The problems have raised questions as to whether Hamilton can win a race this season, having placed first in a grand prix at least once in the last 10 years. 

“Of course we’ve been improving,” Hamilton said in an interview with F1. “We’ve had this consistency of the recent races and great progress that the team is making, everyone pulling together and continuing to push. The car is becoming more of a racing car, which is not particularly what it was at the start of the year! It’s more like a normal racing car in terms of its characteristics so that’s positive.”

High and dry

Alpine has proven itself to be a tour de force, topping the midfield and vying for fourth place in the Constructors Cup. But the on-track battle has taken a back seat to the vicious ongoing off-track battle since McLaren decided to part ways with driver Daniel Ricciardo at the end of the season in favor of signing Formula Two Champion Oscar Piastri after Ricciardo struggled to come to grips with the car. 

“It’s been a privilege to be a part of the McLaren Racing family for the last two seasons,” said Ricciardo. “Following several months of discussions… [with the McLaren team] we have decided to terminate my contract with the team early and agree to mutually part ways at the end of this season.”

Alpine’s Fernando Alonso threw a spanner in the works after his abrupt decision to leave his seat for a Canadian-owned Aston Martin contract. Piastri soon followed suit, jumping ship from Alpine to McLaren, abandoning the French outfit as their 2023 driver in favor of a papaya-orange seat in one of McLaren’s cars. 

The saga has left everyone wondering what exactly is going on at Alpine that has made two drivers leave Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer high and dry. 

The rumour mill has been hard at work with word of a possible Ricciardo return to Alpine; however, Mick Schumacher has recently been thrown in the mix as a contender for the Alpine seat from his current occupancy at Haas. Haas is making way for Antonio Giovinazzi to drive in two free practice sessions. The Italian driver’s return to F1 comes after a slow Formula E season. The French driver Pierre Gasly has also been singled out as an option for the highly contested Alpine vacancy, which would make for an all French garage alongside Esteban Ocon.    

While the 2023 driver lineup is still up in the air and in discussion, the question looms as to whether or not World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who announced his retirement from the sport, will finish his career off with a top three spot before the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Pris.