While the 2021 Formula 1 season was one of the closest year-long battles for the championship fans have ever witnessed, it was not short of controversy.
Leaving aside the much-criticized conclusion to the race at Abu Dhabi, the questions of sprint races, pole position semantics, and race wins under a safety car have all been topics up for discussion, with the F1 commission taking a few critical decisions before the commencement of the 2022 season.
Avoiding A Repeat Of Spa
Last year’s Belgian Grand Prix was a wash-out, with no green-flag racing. Instead, the “race” was called after just two laps behind the Safety Car, with Max Verstappen declared the winner and half-points for the top ten finishers awarded.
Unsurprisingly, this angered fans — especially those who had made the trek to the venue but were told they wouldn’t be refunded. It also appeared to many as a cop-out, with a valuable haul of points being awarded for what was essentially a finishing order based on qualifying.
Changes to the sporting regulations for 2022 will seek to address this. Now, points won’t be awarded unless the race leader has completed a minimum of two laps without the intervention of a safety car or virtual safety car.
There will also be a sliding scale of points awarded in situations where the complete race distance hasn’t been covered. If more than two laps but less than 25 percent of the scheduled race distance has been completed, only the top five will receive points, with 1st getting six points, as follows:
1st — 6 points
2nd – 4 points
3rd – 3 points
4th – 2 points
5th – 1 point
If a race covered between 25 percent and 75 percent race distance, then the top nine will be awarded points as follows:
1st – 13 points
2nd – 10 points
3rd – 8 points
4th – 6 points
5th – 5 points
6th – 4 points
7th – 3 points
8th – 2 points
9th – 1 point
And finally, if the race leader covers between 50–75 percent of the race distance, then the top ten will be awarded as follows:
1st – 19 points
2nd – 14 points
3rd – 12 points
4th – 9 points
5th – 8 points
6th – 6 points
7th – 5 points
8th – 3 points
9th – 2 points
10th – 1 point
Any race that the leader completes above 75 percent of the race distance will see full points be awarded to the top ten.
Sprint Races Return — More Points, And Pole Position For Qualifying
Last year, Formula 1 trialed a new sprint format for a select number of races. It saw one less practice session, with qualifying held on Friday. On Saturday, drivers would then take part in a “mini race” of sorts, completing a 100km (62 miles) dash which would determine the grid for Sunday’s main race.
Previously in sprint races, only the top three would be awarded points. This year the plan will be for the top eight drivers to be awarded points. Meanwhile, the pole position award, which was previously given to the driver who won the sprint, will revert to whoever sets the fastest time in Friday’s qualifying.
Structural Changes Ahead After Abu Dhabi Fallout
All of the changes to the sporting regulations above are subject to certification by the World Motorsports Council. Meanwhile, an ongoing investigation into how the final laps of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix were handled is currently underway, headed by newly-elected FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.
The FIA has hinted at structural changes within the management of Formula 1, which may see F1 race director Michael Massi reassigned within the operation. Massi has come under fire for not waiting for all lapped cars to rejoin the back of the pack in the closing stages of the title-deciding race. His decision to go racing saw Max Verstappen, who was on fresher tires, overtake Lewis Hamilton, a move that essentially gave Verstappen his first-ever championship title while denying Hamilton a shot at a record-breaking eighth title.