Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin
It was pretty much impossible to fairly judge Schumacher or Mazepin against the rest of the field given how far off the pace Haas’ 2021 challenger was, though they did find themselves engaging in some spirited battles with rivals on occasion.
Based on their performances and both drivers’ fair share of rookie errors and needless accidents over the course of the year, as well as considering their lack of experience relative to the rest of the team’s line-ups, the Haas duo take last place.
Nicholas Latifi and Alex Albon
Albon will certainly have a point to prove as he returns to F1 following a bruising spell at Red Bull alongside Max Verstappen, but the Anglo Thai racer may need some time to adapt and get up to speed after a year on the sidelines.
Albon formed a strong relationship with Latifi when they were teammates in F2 and Williams will be hoping that translates to F1. With two full seasons under his belt, Williams will be looking towards Latifi to step up following the departure of George Russell, whose absence will be felt.
There is no doubt that Williams will miss Russell’s starring displays, but Latifi’s improvement and Albon’s promise gives them reason to be optimistic in 2022. Whether the combination will be enough to drag the Grove squad further up the grid remains to be seen.
8 Alfa Romeo
Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou
Headline signing Bottas’ capture is a massive coup for Alfa Romeo. After spending five years battling it out for wins and podiums with Mercedes, the Finn will bring invaluable experience to Alfa Romeo in its bid to move up F1’s pecking order.
Formula 2 frontrunner Zhou is something of an unknown quantity as the only rookie on the grid, and F1’s first-ever Chinese racer faces a potentially tough introduction in going up against a driver who on his day has outpaced and beat Lewis Hamilton.
Regardless of how Zhou handles the step up, Bottas’ arrival should guarantee that points become more frequent for the only team opting to field a completely revised line-up.
7 Aston Martin
Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll
Aston Martin fields the same line-up for the second year of its new era going into a season it hopes will prove much more fruitful after its 2021 struggles.
Vettel looked at home at Aston Martin last season after some early bedding-in issues following his winter switch from Ferrari and the four-time world champion will be expected to head the team’s charge once more in 2022.
Lance Stroll has occasional flashes of brilliance and has proved himself to be a capable grand prix driver, yet he was unable to reach Vettel’s heights last year. A step forward in 2022 would go some way in preventing the Canadian from being viewed as the team’s weakest link.
Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda
AlphaTauri boasts a line-up that is bursting with promise.
Gasly was one of the standout drivers last season thanks to a superbly consistent campaign. He made the most of AlphaTauri’s ultra-fast AT02 machine as he continues to impressively rebuild his reputation following his Red Bull demotion.
At AlphaTauri, Gasly has flourished and developed into a strong team leader, while the Frenchman has repeatedly turned in the sort of performances that make him deserving of another shot in a front-running car.
His teammate Tsunoda had a difficult learning year in a rookie season that was overshadowed by several clumsy crashes, but the Japanese youngster also showed glimpses of brilliance and raw speed.
Mistakes were less frequent for Tsunoda as he found his feet and he got into a promising rhythm towards the end of the season. If he can harness his potential and iron out the rough edges, he could be a real star in 2022.
Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo
Norris took a clear step forward in his third F1 campaign with some outstanding performances across the 2021 season. He fell just shy of becoming a grand prix winner but it seems just a matter of time until he will get that breakthrough victory.
The 22-year-old Briton led the way for McLaren and eclipsed new teammate Ricciardo, whose struggles to adapt at Woking came as a surprise. As did his often sizeable deficit to Norris, especially over one lap. However, the Australian proved his class with a brilliant victory at Monza during a much more convincing second half of the year.
If Ricciardo can hit the levels we have come to expect from him in 2022 and Norris continues at his current trajectory, McLaren will be a strong force.
Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon
Alpine had one of the most evenly-matched driver line-ups in 2021, something that bodes well going into the new season.
After a slow start by his own high standards, Alonso marked his F1 comeback with a strong campaign that was capped off by his first visit to the podium since 2014. There were several magic moments including his brilliant defence against Hamilton in Hungary, which proved key to helping teammate Ocon secure his maiden win.
Alonso and Ocon worked brilliantly together and formed a fantastic partnership to help Alpine clinch fifth place in the constructors’ championship. Teamwork, strategy and some dogged displays from both drivers were key to beating a faster opponent in AlphaTauri.
The Alonso-Ocon combination will be one to watch if Alpine can make the sort of gains it hopes to in 2022.
3 Red Bull
Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez
Red Bull appears to have finally found the teammate it needs to partner Verstappen in the shape of Perez, whose arrival strengthened the team as it fought for F1 world championships on two fronts in 2021.
Despite his struggles to get close to Verstappen on a Saturday, Perez proved to be a much stronger ally on Sundays on his way to taking fourth-place in the championship with 190 points, including a victory and five podiums. It marked the best performance from a Red Bull driver other than Verstappen since Ricciardo’s departure.
Several staunch defences against Hamilton at key moments of the season also boosted Verstappen’s successful title bid and demonstrated Perez is a team player. Although Red Bull ultimately fell short of the constructors’ crown, Perez had a key role in helping the team deliver its best campaign since 2013.
Alongside Verstappen’s brilliance, Perez brings priceless experience, excellent race craft and a consistent pair of hands to form a very strong pairing.
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell
The Hamilton-Russell combination is a mouth-watering partnership of multiple world championship-winning experience and precocious raw talent and speed could turn out to be something truly special if Hamilton and Russell can coexist at Mercedes and avoid previous tensions seen when Nico Rosberg was Hamilton’s teammate.
Hamilton formed a hugely successful five-year pairing with Bottas but there is massive anticipation surrounding Russell’s graduation, with many tipping the 22-year-old Brit to provide seven-time world champion Hamilton with a much sterner challenge than his previous teammate.
In pure excitement terms, this line-up arguably comes out on top, with the most successful driver on the grid paired with one of F1’s biggest new talents.
However there is also uncertainty over how Hamilton and Russell will work together, something that remains a big unknown and will ultimately be key to how successful Mercedes’ 2022 season is. In his sole previous outing for Mercedes, Russell delivered. But how will he fare in the spotlight across a 23-race season against the best in the business when there is no hiding place?
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto believes his side boasts the strongest driver line-up in F1 and I am inclined to agree considering Leclerc and Sainz’s performances across 2021.
Sainz was one of the stars of the season thanks to a fast adaptation to Ferrari as he settled into his new team with impressive speed. The Spaniard kept Leclerc honest and the pair were closely-matched for much of the season, with Sainz ultimately coming out on top as he claimed a career-best P5 in the championship with his fourth rostrum of the year in Abu Dhabi.
The combination of pace and consistency was a pivotal ingredient that ensured Ferrari beat McLaren to third place in the constructors’ championship. A few clumsy crashes were the only blemishes on an otherwise brilliantly-executed campaign from both drivers.
Crucially, Leclerc and Sainz showed they are willing to work together for the overall benefit of the team. It remains to be seen whether that would be the case if they found themselves squabbling for the big prizes, but underlying trust and a solid team harmony is already in place.
With more competitive, race-winning machinery at their disposal, there is no doubt that Leclerc and Sainz would be a formidable threat – one that has all the potential to challenge for and win world titles.