New cars will put the drivers closer together than ever before.
The first race of the 2022 Formula 1 season is still more than a month away, but already the drama is starting.
Testing is set to take place in late February in Barcelona, which means car unveiling time. During the next week or so, you'll see various top-tier teams unveil their new cars. And unlike previous years, the vehicles are noticeably new. New regulations will make the cars a little slower, but the payoff will be closer racing. In theory, at least. We all know how good F1's engineers are at finding loopholes…
But back to the drama. Sir Hamilton, now a knight of the realm of Britain, made his triumphant return to social media. Verstappen is doing multiple interviews following the launch of the all-new RB18 racing car.
Already the media are casting the heroes and villains of the 2022 season. The British press is incredibly motivated to cast Verstappen as the King Joffrey Baratheon of F1.
Oddly, it's not the driver's behavior that we were appalled by last year. Apart from Hamilton and Verstappen's poor conduct at the inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix last year, the two have generally conducted themselves exceptionally well.
Hamilton congratulating Verstappen on the podium after his controversial world championship win was pure class. He must have been hurting at the time. He just lost out on what would have been a record-setting eighth world championship following a highly contentious decision by Masi.
Do we think Verstappen's championship is tainted as a result? No, Masi made the right call. Ending the best F1 season in nearly two decades under a safety car would have been a slap in the face to the fans.
We can argue at great length about the safety and lapped cars. The fact is, Masi gave the fans a race. Yes, Verstappen was on newer tires, but the same option was available to Hamilton.
Who knows what the result would have been if he also pitted for new tires? He asked the team multiple times, and they kept him out there to keep his lead over Verstappen. If anything, Mercedes is to blame. Had Hamilton been on fresher tires, he would have walked away from Verstappen, as he did multiple times in the second half of the season.
Hamilton is also no stranger to using the safety car to his advantage. There are numerous examples we can point to during his long career. He's also no stranger to controversy and has been labeled hot-headed in various F1 biographies.
But that's enough about that particular controversy. The real bad boys here are the team bosses. Neither Toto Wolff nor Christian Horner displayed the kind of gentlemanly etiquette expected from team principles.
They're supposed to be calm under pressure, keeping their drivers from blowing their lids. You can understand a driver doing or saying something controversial. What do you expect from a person after huge lumps of adrenaline have been pumped into their system for two hours?
Yet Toto Wolff kept smashing headsets, and Horner lambasted the media whenever they asked a perfectly valid question about his golden boy. They shamefully dragged the sport off the track and into the courts.
The drivers, meanwhile, kept calm during the annual break. Max Verstappen went about his usual routine, posting on social media and racing in various sim races. He constantly has to defend his title to every media outlet, but this is hardly the first ever controversial championship win.
Schumacher tried to win by crashing at least twice that we know of. It worked in 1994, but his attempt against Jacques Villeneuve was less successful. These controversial moments do not define his career, and people have short memories.
Hamilton took a more dramatic approach, ditching social media for the duration of the break. The world collectively lost its mind.
"Is Lewis going to retire?" We got so sick of that question. Why would he?
There are two main reasons why he wouldn't, with the first being the most obvious. He's a racing driver, and he needs one more championship to best the most successful racing driver of all time.
Also, why would you give up a job as an F1 driver? You get to travel the world in a private jet, make millions, and drive an F1 car. Not to mention perks like having a Mercedes-AMG One as a company car.
As for the break from social media. He's not some deity. He has emotions like the rest of us. Combine that with a job that scrutinizes your every move for ten out of twelve months a year. What would you do during your holiday?
He likely rented an island or something and simply enjoyed not being in the spotlight.
The good news is that both drivers are going into the 2022 season on equal footing. Not just with each other, but with other great drivers as well. There are now four world champions on the grid and a bunch of young talent. And they're in almost entirely new cars, which tends to shake things up.
We don't have a favorite driver. As long as the racing is good, we could care less who wins. One week we'll be in love with Max, the next week Lewis. But don't be surprised if some like Norris or Leclerc becomes a frontrunner as the new cars should even the field this year.
All we'd say is: stop trying to set the plot before we even begin.