Fernando Alonso has revealed he has ‘high hopes’ of challenging at the front of the grid in 2022, while George Russell believes as many as five teams could compete for the Formula 1 world title.
A raft of new rule changes plus a budget cap have boosted the hopes of two-time world champion Alonso, and Lewis Hamilton’s new Mercedes teammate agrees the door is open.
2021 saw one of the greatest title battles of all time, and things could get even closerGetty Verstappen and Hamilton were inseparable at the front of the grid, but could have company this seasonGetty 40-year-old Alonso showed he’s still got it last season, and could challenge the top two in the right carGetty
F1 witnessed arguably it’s greatest ever season in 2021 when Hamilton and champion Max Verstappen went wheel to wheel on an unprecedented number of occasions.
The pair were inseparable as they entered the final round level on points, with Verstappen claiming his maiden title on the closing lap of the season, overtaking Hamilton in spectacular and controversial circumstances.
Things could look very different this year though, with new rule changes and a budget cap bringing the potential of a re-jigged grid order, and closer racing.
The cars have been aerodynamically simplified, with a redesign that should create less downforce, making them easier to follow, improving racing and overtaking.
The drivers have had a look at their drastically new car for 2022Getty And the new aerodynamic design could make racing even better than last yearGetty
The lowering of the team’s cost cap to $140million (£103m) should also hinder high-spenders such as Mercedes and Ferrari, allowing more opportunities for other squads to exploit.
And 40-year-old two-time world champion Alonso, who returned to the sport in 2021 with an eye on this year’s rule changes, is seeing signs that his Alpine team could compete.
“I am optimistic, we have the necessary resources,” Alonso said. “We have the commitment of Luca de Meo and Laurent Rossi. Our entire management is committed to Formula 1.
Alonso has already tested the 2022 rims and tyres in Abu DhabiGetty
“The budget cap should help because the best teams no longer have an unlimited budget. Now everyone has more or less the same financial means. Now it’s up to us to build a good car.
“We are strong in many areas, we just need a competitive package.
“We have been working on it for many months and we have high hopes. We definitely have to close the gap in the engine.”
Renault F1 were rebranded as Alpine last year in an effort to market the company’s high-end automotive division, and the French company had an up and down season.
Alonso had an emotional return to the podium in Qatar and hopes to be back there soonGetty
Alonso returned to the podium for the first time in seven years in Qatar, while teammate Esteban Ocon picked up the Enstone-based outfit’s first win since they raced under the name Lotus in 2013.
Rule changes are known to drastically alter the sport though, with teams able to find an extra edge, much like Brawn GP in 2009, Red Bull from 2010 to 2013 and Mercedes from 2014 to 2020.
Mercedes themselves have seen a shake up by replacing Valtteri Bottas with British former F2 and GP3 champion George Russell, putting the 23-year-old alongside seven-time F1 champion Hamilton.
Russell comes with a big reputation after some stunning drives in his backmarker WilliamsGetty The Norfolk-born youngster already had a taste of Mercedes when he stunned the world with an incredible substitute display at the 2020 Shakir Grand PrixGetty
Russell, though, says it’s anyone’s guess who the new changes will benefit.
“A team like Ferrari that has been through a difficult period for the last two years are going to be so hungry – especially with this new rule changes – to come back fighting,” the former Williams driver said. “Similar to McLaren as well.
“These teams have got the infrastructure, the talent within the engineering department, with the drivers as well, to really fight.”
Even when rule changes allow room for unfancied teams to compete, F1 can often be a copycat sport with bigger squads replicating any engineering genius to close the gap mid-season.
Many are tipping Ferrari for a return to the top after they spent the year focusing on 2022AFP
And Russell believes that the development will be vital, with the extra challenge of a budget cap hindering progress.
“I truly believe there are five teams all capable of really doing something special next year, so you’ve got to be absolutely on it, and I think development is going to be absolutely key,” he said.
“It’s not going to be whoever has the fastest car [at testing or the first race], it’s whoever manages to understand the car well and can develop and build from those foundations throughout the year.
“I think all of the teams are going to make big progress from race one to the end of the season.”
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