Has the Championship Door Opened for Mercedes After the Spanish GP?
Ferrari and Red Bull have been up and down to start 2022 but could that open the door for a rival waiting in the wings?
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The 2022 Spanish Grand Prix was a crucial turning point in this year's championship as we've had our first points lead change at the top of the table. After cruising out in front, disaster struck for Charles Leclerc and Ferrari as a power unit issue forced the race leader to retire and handed the victory to his rival Max Verstappen. Not only did Verstappen collect the race win, he also overtook Leclerc as championship leader with his team also now sitting P1 in the constructor's table. Despite terrific results from both Ferrari and Red Bull in 2022, it hasn't been without issues or headaches as both Leclerc and Verstappen have dropped points due to reliability. With such a turnaround in the championship, did the 2022 Spanish Grand Prix open the door for another championship contender that has been quietly waiting in the wings?
Ferrari & Red Bull Are Vulnerable
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Ferrari looked near bulletproof to start the 2022 season but since then they have shown a few chinks in the armor that can make them vulnerable. Their Spanish Grand Prix upgrades were working quite well as Leclerc took another pole position and was in control of the race while his rivals made errors. But as Leclerc reported a loss of power on lap 27, the Scuderia and Tifosi's hearts sank as a perfect day turned into a disaster. The suspected issue on the Ferrari power unit was either a MGU-H or Turbo failure but the team will do a full investigation back at Maranello. Leclerc's retirement probably wasn't helped by the fact that rapper Drake placed his first Formula 1 bet on Leclerc to win the Spanish Grand Prix...
The retirement handed the victory to Red Bull who was having a roller coaster weekend once again with a ton of issues. Next to Verstappen's spin at Turn 4, the reigning World Champion was suffering from DRS issues that plagued his ability to overtake the likes of George Russell. The issues were a result of Red Bull going to extreme lengths to save weight on the car which led to the malfunctions on the rear wing. But that wasn't all of Red Bull's troubles either. Verstappen and Perez almost had to start the race from the pitlane or the back of the grid due to fuel temperature being too low before going to the grid. Similar to the issues Aston Martin had in Miami, Red Bull were at risk of compromising their grid starts but luckily for them, they avoided a penalty and ended up scoring another 1-2 finish. It means Max Verstappen keeps up his 2022 record of winning every race he's finished in but he and the team knows this is not a sustainable model. And on Ferrari's side, the performance of the F1-75 is there and Leclerc is delivering at a high level, but the struggles from the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz is really hurting the team in more ways then one. Points are being lost ever so slightly, but this is opening the door for a familiar rival who might have just unlocked the potential of their 2022 machine.
Mercedes Back in the Fight?
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Mercedes have been in damage limitation mode to start the 2022 season as their W13 has been a handful to drive. Spain was a highly anticipated weekend for them as it is the typical location for a big upgrade package. The updates to the W13 seemed to have worked very well as Russell scored another podium and Hamilton fought back to finish in 5th. The main area of focus for the Barcelona upgrade was on the floor of the Mercedes which seems to have helped reduce the aggressive porpising plaguing the drivers. It's one of the first weekends of 2022 where Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has been overly positive saying that Hamilton probably had the fastest race car today after recovering from his opening lap contact with Kevin Magnussen. Although Mercedes might not be on par with Red Bull and Ferrari in terms of pace, they've been steady enough in 2022 to stay in the fight. George Russell is the only driver in 2022 to finish all 6 races in the top 5. The Brit looked right at home fending off Max Verstappen for a couple of laps and his consistency sees him only 36 points off of the championship lead.
And consider this, after Australia, Charles Leclerc led the championship by 46 points over Verstappen. Here we are 3 races later, Verstappen is now championship leader by 6 points, Red Bull have taken over the Constructor's and Leclerc hasn't won a race since Melbourne. If Mercedes can start unlocking the performance of the W13, Russell will be right there to punish the mistakes from Red Bull and Ferrari. Reliability will be key in 2022 as even Mercedes had serious overheating issues toward the end of the Spanish GP but this race just goes to show how quickly things can change in F1. Ferrari is still incredibly quick and should be strong at Monaco and Red Bull have got themselves a fast car as well. But if your car doesn't make it to the end, maybe it will be the slow and steady who wins the race or even the championship...