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F1: The End to the Season

What a season we’ve had so far. Finally, we’ve been given the close-fought title battle we’ve needed since Hamilton and Rosberg’s 2016 showdown, when the German clinched the championship by five points. But not since Sebastian Vettel’s quadruple championship during the Red Bull era have we had a properly close, tight title fight with drivers from more than one team; the midfield battles have also given fans much to root for. With the season in its final stages, anything could happen. A DNF or mid-race collision could throw everything into the air, for any driver and any team, not just the championship contenders.

So, what have we learned from this season? What does the future hold for F1, with the new rule changes for 2022 on thehorizon? Here are some of the questions on everyone’s lips — with a few predictions thrown in for the final few races.

Who will be world champion?

Lewis Hamilton has been virtually unreachable and unbeatable since Rosberg’s retirement, winning four championships in a row to match Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles. He’s also smashed the pole and race win records. Heading into this year, it was expected that his dominance would continue.

Enter Max Verstappen. Having finished third the last two seasons and promised much with determined drives and skilled qualifications, he has been impressively consistent throughout this packed F1 season. With one of Red Bull’s best cars in recent history underneath him, he has won the most races so far and has more than double the pole positions of the second-best qualifier.

But — there are still three races to go. And Verstappen may not believe in momentum, but surely the weight is behind Hamilton after his astounding drive in Brazil. Having been disqualified from qualification after a technical infringement, Hamilton started last for Saturday’s sprint race, which set the Grand Prix line-up. He scythed through the pack to fifth, before a five-place grid penalty for a new engine dropped him to 10th for Sunday’s race. And yet, his rapid pace stunned even him and his team; throughout the weekend he made up 25 places. Tyre strategy gave Hamilton an advantage with which to chase down frontrunner Verstappen in the lead, and in the end completed a comfortable overtake with eleven laps to go.

Had Verstappen won, and taken the point for fastest lap, he could have moved 28 points clear, — a huge ask for Hamilton to turn around. Instead, at time of writing — before the Qatar Grand Prix — the gap sits at 18 points.

The next tracks are expected to favour the Mercedes cars, which, coupled with the straight-line speed Mercedes had at Interlagos, would suggest that Lewis is very much the driver to beat over the next month.

Which team will win the Constructor’s’ Championship?

Mercedes currently leads Red Bull, but just like between Verstappen and Hamilton, it’s very tight. Both teams have produced cars worthy of the title, and in another year, maybe Red Bull would have been able to clinch it, due to the strength of its driver pairing in Verstappen and Perez, and the leaps and bounds the team has made in research and development. The departure of Honda is a blow, but hopefully one which doesn’t hinder its ability to continue to challenge well into the future.

Mercedes has evidently found the performance of Valtteri Bottas lacking this season. He is on his way to Alfa Romeo next year, being replaced by George Russell, whose stint for the Silver Arrows when Hamilton caught COVID-19 last year was admirable. Perhaps had Russell been in the car this year, the team would have had a more comfortable gap ahead of Christian Horner’s team.

Which teams will come out on top in the midfield?

The midfield battle has been close all season long, but towards the latter stages has fragmented into pairings or trios. Poor Haas — everyone’s favourite constructor to watch behind-the-scenes on Drive to Survive — is the only team to score nil points so far. Not many have been impressed by Nikita Mazepin’s performances, and Mick Schumacher has had no luck at all. The team has seemingly swapped places with Williams; thanks to George Russell’s impressive qualifying and some lucky points scored by Nicholas Latifi, eighth place looks to be solidly theirs.

Alpha Tauri and Alpine are level on 112 points, and it could very easily go either way. Both cars perform similarly at the same circuits, and while the Alpine drivers have consistency on their side, Tsunoda’s hard beginnings in F1 have been balanced out by Gasly’s high-scoring finishes.

McLaren continues its revival, sitting comfortably in fourth place and threatening to unseat the Prancing Horse from third place —– the “best of the rest” spot. But Ferrari’s drastic improvement on last year’s results arguably overshadows the extent of McLaren’s technical gains.

The difference in prize money between positions incentivises the team to get the maximum out of its cars in the final few races, making the battles for on-track position even more tense.

Is there a “‘Driver of the Season”?’

Formula 1 awards “‘Driver of the Day”’ to whoever secures the most votes in a mid-race poll., The winner is chosen by fans at home, allowing them to show their support for the best performances, even if the drivers fail to secure silverware. For the “Driver of the Season” award, my two candidates would both be F2 graduates.

Lando Norris is currently outscoring both Ferrari drivers, and already has half as many points as he finished with last year. His fandom has reached new heights this year, too, and many will be predicting more podiums – and even some race wins – in 2022.

Charles Leclerc is the other driver who deserves a mention. He’s led Ferrari’s points-scoring, with only four finishes outside of the points; for two of those he didn’t make the chequered flag. He’s also secured two pole positions, and was unlucky not to be able to start his home Grand Prix in Monaco from the front row.

What does 2022 hold?

Rule changes are on their way. In 2022 the cars will sport bigger wheels, different front and rear wings for increased aerodynamics and more sustainable fuels (despite the same power units). It’s impossible to know which team these changes will suit best, although it’s very unlikely that Mercedes will fade away completely. But if these new rules open the door for more drivers and more teams to score more points, pulling the pack even closer together, then that will make the racing closer, leading to more enthralling championships like this year. Here’s to hoping.

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