Everything new is old again, or something like that. In what seems like a surprising situation, Ferrari head to this weekendʻs race at Imola holding down the lead in both the driverʻs and constructorʻs standings. Not since 2018, have the Tifosi had a reason to feel this positive heading into the fourth race of the season.
While in 2018, there seemed to be a reason to doubt Ferrariʻs success, with the sense that Mercedes would recover, this year feels different. In that season, Ferrari was undone by their interpretation of the rules governing fuel and oil, with the FIA ultimately ripping the heart out of any Ferrari challenge and doing so to such an extent that the proceedings were sealed–something that irks many in the sport to this day.
After bottoming out with a disastrous 2020 season, the team began their regrouping with an eye toward the new regulations in 2021, then set for 2022 after the pandemic. What came about as an odd element is the success the Prancing Horse found in 2021, besting McLaren for the third spot in the championship. It should be noted that 2021, was a peculiar year in the sport.
Teams balanced their desire to be forward-thinking against the prospect of a competitive 2022 season while racing during a COVID-influenced 2021 season. As the spending cap took over the sport, teams looked in two directions and attempted to find either a balance or a complete focus on the future, but with varying degrees of actual performance
The first three races of the season have shown that McLaren are not close to the competitiveness they displayed last year and yet they threw away advancing their 2021 car after the midpoint and suffered as a result. In contrast, Ferrari had already been focusing on the 2022 car and began upgrading the 2021 version late in the season, adjustments that gave them an advantage both last year and now in 2022.
But for the Tifosi, seeing Ferrari return home leading the standings is a sight to behold; one of optimism, one a joy, and one that portends a return to the top of the sport. If anything, the Maranello-based team looks stable and impressive, a claim that comes after its cruise to victory in Australia where Red Bull offered no challenge and Mercedes appeared adrift.
Every team is expected to bring upgrades to the first European race of the season. The proximity to team headquarters strewn throughout Europe encourages a more manageable shipping of parts and the week off after the Australian GP provided a perfect break for drivers and away-personnel to reconnect with their factories. These upgrades are merely camouflage, tweaks to eke out more performance from a platform that may or may not have already hit a ceiling. Ferrari is not playing catch-up, however. The team has a stable platform that is already holding down the lead and all the upgrades it brings will serve only to cement its place in the lead.
After all the drama surrounding the team over the past decade, things look to be once again returning to a level where team personnel and fans expect them to be. The issue will not be with this weekend or the next, or even the next, but rather whether the team can maintain its performance under the weight of the expectations surrounding it. Will the drama return or will the steely resolve that has taken them to title favorites continue and steer them through the rough patches that hit any championship-caliber team?
This weekend marks the return of the sprint race qualifying format with added points. If these races seem to come across as a weird infomercial to you, youʻre not alone. Itʻs not that the idea is a bad one as much as the attempts to sell it as a good one come across as disingenuous.
Consider the weekend schedule:
The order of things still makes little sense, with one of the big questions that arise being–how is it that qualifying even matters if the spring race determines the starting order. It is almost like the sport is unable to divest itself from traditional ideas yet is trying to accept new ones and comes across like a grandfather trying to be hip to appeal to his grandchildren by wearing the latest kicks and listening to Doja Cat. The enthusiasm is there but the overall effect is confusing.
That points are awarded for both qualifying and then the sprint race all the way to the eight-place finisher makes this race weekend look like a points handout for anyone that can be decently competitive and even more so for those at the front. Why not just make it: Free points for everyone! Email or call, FIA operators are standing by.
The sprint race concept may or may not turn out to be a good one but the overall construct of the race weekend needs to make it more meaningful if it is supposed to remain part of the sport.
About the author
As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.
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