With Red Bull having secured their second-straight Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship this past weekend, thanks to Max Verstappen’s win at the Japanese Grand Prix, there is no drama to be found at the very top of the table.
But there is drama just one rung below, thanks to the emerging battle between Mercedes and Ferrari for second place in the Constructors’.
In many ways, this battle is a mirror image of what we saw a season ago. Last year, thanks to Ferrari’s hot start, the Scuderia had dreams of perhaps winning a title themselves. But mistakes and failures — the kind of which ultimately cost Mattia Binotto his job — saw Ferrari forced to fend off a late surge from Mercedes for second:
This year, it is Ferrari closing the gap:
Carlos Sainz Jr.’s win at the Singapore Grand Prix brought Ferrari within striking distance, and the team moved four points closer this past weekend as they brought home 20 points from Suzuka, compared with 16 for Mercedes.
The gap between the two teams is now just 20 points. Mercedes has 305 on the year, and Ferrari has 285. Six races remain, and three of which — Qatar, United States, and Brazil — are sprint races. That means there are more than enough points available for Ferrari to close the gap in a hurry.
How might this battle for second shake out? Let’s work through the stages.
Qatar Grand Prix
After a year off due to the 2022 Men’s World Cup, the Qatar Grand Prix returns to the grid this season.
That might be a welcome sight for Mercedes.
The last time this race was held, it was Lewis Hamilton who took home first place, a result that helped set the stage for the climactic finish to the 2021 F1 season.
There is also reason to believe that Lusail International Circuit could favor the Silver Arrows. The configuration of the track, featuring a number of medium- to high-speed corners as well as some tighter turns, leads to Lusail being a high-downforce circuit.
The Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Russell have said throughout the season that such tracks tend to work in their favor. “These type of circuits – the high downforce circuits – we tend to go well [on],” Russell said ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix. “Budapest we were fast. Here was probably one of our most competitive circuits along with Brazil [last year].”
Hamilton agreed with that sentiment ahead of Singapore.
“Singapore is all high downforce and, when we put our high downforce wing on, we generally are a little bit better,” said Hamilton ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix. “Not as bad as here. So I hope I’m right.”
There might be one problem with that comparison, however.
It was Sainz who took the checkered flag at Marina Bay.
Maybe we can call this one a push heading into the race, and Ferrari fans might make the case that they have the advantage given the recent results in Singapore.
As this is an F1 Sprint race, plenty of points are on offer next weekend.
United States Grand Prix
Thanks to a number of different elements, The Circuit of the Americas is a difficult race to predict. There are sections of the track reminiscent of Silverstone, Suzuka, and some other tracks that used to be on the schedule such as the stadium section at Hockenheim. Add in some elevations changes and big turns, and you have a fantastic layout that offers all drivers hope.
As well as peril.
This may be another track where you would consider Mercedes to have the advantage, based on the results a season ago. Last year the Silver Arrows brought home a double-points finish, with Hamilton finishing second and Russell in fifth. While Charles Leclerc took home third for a podium finish of his own, Sainz failed to finish, thanks to a crash on the opening lap.
However, the Ferrari duo of Sainz and Leclerc locked out the front row during qualifying, and it was Sainz who was on pole at the start of the race. As he was battling with Max Verstappen on the opening lap, Russell ran into him, knocking the Ferrari out of the race.
Russell apologized for the incident after the Grand Prix, and Sainz was left fuming.
“I think you don’t need many words,” Sainz said after the race. “You just need the images to see exactly what happened, and the images speak for themselves. I was in the middle of a fight with Max into Turn 1 and suddenly one guy that wasn’t in the battle came from nowhere and bumped into me, so that’s it.”
Perhaps this is another push?
Again, this is an F1 Sprint race so there will be plenty of points for the taking.
Mexican Grand Prix
The next two races seem to favor the Silver Arrows, at least based on last season.
But there are characteristics to both tracks that could give Ferrari an edge.
Up first is the Mexican Grand Prix, the home race for Sergio Pérez. A year ago this was the site of another strong day for Mercedes, as Hamilton notched the second of what would be three-straight podium finishes, placing second behind Verstappen. For his part, Russell finished fourth.
As for the Ferrari duo, Sainz placed fifth with Leclerc right behind him in sixth.
However, there is reason to believe that Ferrari could be strong in Mexico this season. The layout in Mexico has some power elements to it reminiscent of Monza, including a very fast final corner leading into one of the longer straights on the schedule. “Peraltada,” that long final corner, also has some banking to it, allowing for even more speed as the cars sprint into the long straight.
Ferrari was strong at Monza this year, with Sainz capturing pole and Leclerc starting third. They finished third and fourth in the Italian Grand Prix, with the Mercedes duo behind them.
Brazilian Grand Prix
The 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix — or São Paulo Grand Prix as it is technically named — was perhaps the peak of Mercedes’ 2022 season. Under the old Sprint format, Russell captured pole for the Grand Prix thanks to his win in the Sprint race, with Hamilton capturing third in the Sprint race to start right behind his teammate.
Mercedes capitalized on that starting position to lock out the front row in the Grand Prix itself, with Russell finishing first.
That added up to 58 points for the Silver Arrows in the penultimate race of the season, closing their gap to Ferrari down to just 19 points heading into Abu Dhabi.
Certainly Mercedes could put in that kind of performance at Interlagos in a few weeks. But this is also a track where power matters, which could favor Ferrari. The first and third sectors are run mainly flat-out, which could play to Ferrari’s advantage.
The high downforce second sector, featuring a number of twists and turns, could favor Mercedes as outlined above.
Perhaps another push? And yes, this is the final F1 Sprint race of the season, so whichever team has the advantage could bank a big number heading into the final two races.
Las Vegas Grand Prix
One of those final two races will be a voyage of discovery.
As well as a pure spectacle.
The inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix will bring the speed and power of F1 to the Vegas Strip, as drivers wind through the heart of Las Vegas on a Saturday night.
Given that it is the first running, it is hard to know who this track might favor, but based on layout, this seems to be a configuration that will favor Ferrari. Race organizers are promising high speeds, and given the number of straights, that seems the likely result.
In fact, the layout is already drawing comparisons to Monza, which could play to Ferrari’s advantage.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
The season draws to a close at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi, an expensive circuit that offers incredible visuals, but little in the way of overtaking.
In fact, according to this study Yas Marina is near the bottom when it comes to overtakes per race.
The second sector — marked in blue above — consists of two DRS zones. The first and third sectors, however, contain a number of low-speed corners.
So, if you have made it this far you probably know where we are going with this. That second sector may play to Ferrari’s advantage, but the twisty elements in the first and third sectors could offer fertile ground for Mercedes.
When you add this all together what do you get?
A whole lot of unknowns.
Both teams can point to certain tracks — and certain elements within tracks — as moments where they can press an advantage. That means that this battle between Mercedes and Ferrari is likely going to be very tight over the final six races, and every lap, every pit stop, and every strategy call, is going to matter.
(Saying that probably gives Ferrari fans a little heartburn).