August 20, 2022

At the start of the 2022 season in Bahrain, all attention was on Mercedes’ struggles, while Ferrari grabbed the spotlight with an impressive full package that managed to circumvent the brand’s porpoising of 2022 cars without sacrificing too much. performance.

Behind the bigger teams, it looked like Haas and Alfa Romeo had stolen a march on the rest of the midfield runners, with McLaren and Aston Martin particularly disappointing.

While McLaren managed to resolve its brake overheating issues and get back to where the car’s inherent performance allowed, Aston Martin pinned its hopes on a B-spec dubbed Red Bull Green because of its similarities to the RB18.

During the early races, however, all of the midfield runners seemed to come closer and closer as they overcame some early-stage gremlins and the setup mannerisms inherent in an all-new concept car.

But rather than following a predictable pattern like at the end of 2021, when McLaren was clearly fourth after losing touch with Ferrari, it remains to be seen how the midfield battle of 2022 will unfold with performance still swaying. wildly from one weekend to the next.

“In terms of competitiveness, it’s hard to predict at the moment,” said McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl. “We have taken a good step forward compared to Barcelona. We fixed some weaknesses of the car.

“At the same time, a lot of other cars have done the same. Baku and Montreal are different tracks again, so I think it’s really hard to predict. We’ve seen big fluctuations in the pecking order this year. and so I am very careful to make predictions.

“Our objective is clear, we want to fight for this P4 in the championship. I think we have everything in the team with Lando and Daniel to achieve this. We know that the competition will not stop, so we have to make sure to continue to grow.” this car too.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR22, Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT03

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

McLaren were one of several teams to introduce a significant upgrade package at Barcelona, ​​as was Alfa Romeo. But as Alfa, one of the surprise forfeits of 2022, qualified solidly sixth in Spain with Valtteri Bottas, the Finn was confused to have beaten Kevin Magnussen by less than a tenth, including the Haas car had received no improvement at all.

As Steiner explained at the time, for the team it made sense to use the familiar Barcelona track as a test bed to dive deep into the current Haas package and really understand its strengths and weaknesses. rather than banging on coins without having a good understanding of what he actually needed.

“You are making improvements at Barcelona because you know the race track, but I thought, okay, you know the race track, so now is a good time to get the most out of this car.

“If we had put updates we wouldn’t have understood them and we might even have been slower instead of faster. So we used that to get the most out of this car, so that the next race hopefully we can keep that base.” and then we’ll make updates.”

It remains to be seen when Haas will present their upgrades, as Monaco was such an outlier, as were the upcoming races in Baku and Montreal. July’s British Grand Prix at Silverstone will be the next “traditional” circuit with high-speed corners that requires an excellent full package.

Steiner also points out that bringing in upgrades doesn’t guarantee performance right out of the garage. The budget cap means teams are limited in the number of upgrades they can throw at a car, which means every part is carefully considered and should net the most lap times.

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C42, Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-22

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C42, Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-22

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

But it may still take time to get the most out of the updates, especially as the current race of street circuits makes it harder to gauge progress.

With teams continuing to max out their upgrades from the Spanish GP and others, like Haas, introducing parts later, the midfield picture could still change drastically in the coming weeks, setting up a frenetic and fascinating race of six races towards the summer break.

“It’s still so early with these new cars, you’ve seen how they can go from track to track,” Seidl added. “Most teams have updated their cars for Barcelona. Obviously Monaco was a very specific track. And what all that means now, the upgrades that everyone has made for these upcoming tracks, to be honest, are impossible predictable.

“And also we have to remember that the competition is so tough, one or two tenths up or down means that instead of being able to fight for a P7 or P8, you’re suddenly in P13, P14.”

AlphaTauri chief technology officer Jody Egginton, whose team has been in the mix at various times over the first seven races, said 2022’s steep development curve will continue to surprise, as Alfa Romeo does not. being nowhere in Monaco despite its vaunted low speed. prowess.

“I think there were ups and downs in midfield. In Spain we were in the midfield rankings in a lower position than normal. But before that we thought our car was reasonably constant,” he said.

“The order has changed again [in Monaco]. Many people suggested that the Alfa Romeos could be particularly strong, and they had a tough weekend.

“I think in part we’re still learning about the car. Our launch car was a million miles from where we are now, so the rate of development is pretty high at the moment. And the feature of the car back in the first test in Spain was quite different from the race.

“I think it’s just a collective learning about where we’re going with the car. But yeah, in midfield there’s a lot more change in the standings.”

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT03, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR22

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT03, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR22

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Such is the wickedly temperamental nature of the midfield, that even with all the teams having good and bad weekends, just 19 points separate McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Alpine in the battle for fourth place, along with AlphaTauri, Haas and Aston Martin who are catching up.

Steiner felt the midfield convergence should also be attributed to F1’s budget cap, which has come under pressure from bigger teams pushing for a raise to cover skyrocketing spending in 2022.

“You can see the midfielder has come a lot closer,” Steiner said. “McLaren was strong in some races, then went nowhere, then all of a sudden the Alpines were strong in one race. It’s a mix.

“In the medium to long term, I think it will get even closer, but therefore we shouldn’t change the budget cap now and increase it, because it’s actually good for the midfield race. Now you never know who is the best of the rest.

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“Alfa Romeo in Barcelona was by far the best in my opinion. But the Alfa Romeo maybe three races ago wasn’t as good, so it mixes a lot.

“And I think if we continue with the budget cap, we’ll get even closer to the big guys.”

While McLaren have emerged as favorites to seal fourth place again this year, the Woking-based team won’t be too comfortable yet.