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Formula 1: New-look season could deliver some surprises

The controversial finish to the 2021 Formula 1 season is still fresh in the mind, but attention will soon turn to the new season, for which preparations are already well under way.

Lewis Hamilton came within a lap of sealing a record-breaking eighth world drivers championship last year, and the Mercedes ace is 5/4 to make amends this time with new champ Max Verstappen 15/8 to defend his crown. New Mercedes driver George Russell is the only other competitor at single-figure odds. The King's Lynn racer is a 11/2 chance.

But several changes to the technical rules mean this year's cars will look very different to the ones that became museum pieces after December's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Upheaval in the rules in Formula 1 often leads to a shuffling of the pack, and a lot can happen during the course of the 23 races that are scheduled to make up the longest ever F1 season.

Radio silence from Hamilton

Hamilton was magnanimous in the immediate aftermath of his championship defeat but he has not appeared in public since.

The 37-year-old, usually very active on social media, has posted nothing on any of his channels since the Saturday of the Abu Dhabi race weekend and did not attend the FIA prize-giving ceremony, which he was obliged to do.

However, there seems little doubt that the seven-time champion will be on the grid in Bahrain come March.

So what has changed for 2022? Quite a lot, actually! The new rules will see the cars looking a lot cleaner and simpler, with most of the aerodynamic appendages that have appeared in recent years now banned.

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The idea is that the cars will be able to follow each other more closely without losing grip as they run in the wake of the cars ahead rather than undisturbed air, which aerodynamic parts need to work efficiently.

This year's models will also have lower-profile tyres, more in keeping with what is seen on most modern road cars.

Will we see a change in the pecking order?

Possibly. Revamps of the rules give underperforming teams the chance to spot a loophole and gain an advantage. After battling for the titles in 2007 and 2008, McLaren and Ferrari got it badly wrong when the regulations changed for 2009, allowing the unheralded Brawn team to claim an unlikely drivers and constructors title double.

Red Bull dominated the early 2010s, but when the sport switched to hybrid power for 2014 they had no answer to Mercedes and Ferrari's new motors.

However, the rule book is pretty rigid this year, giving less freedom for interpretation of the rules, and that makes a big shake-up in the order less likely.

Teams with plenty of resources who perhaps tailed off towards the end of last season as they switched focus to 2022 have the best chance of making a leap.

McLaren fit that bill perfectly and it would be no surprise if Lando Norris outperformed his title odds of 25/1. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo can also be expected to improve after having some issues settling into the team last season.

F1's oldest entrant Ferrari will also be hoping for a new lease of life, and that they can produce a car capable of challenging for titles in the hands of their exciting driver pairing Charles Leclerc (12/1 for the championship) and Carlos Sainz (22/1).

Are there any big driver moves?

The headline move is Mercedes promoting their junior driver George Russell to the works team after three years with Williams.

The 23-year-old has particularly impressed with his speed in qualifying for the midfield strugglers. He also came close to winning when called up to deputise for Hamilton in Sakhir in 2020, holding a commanding lead until a litany of misfortunes derailed his race.

Beyond that, though, there are few significant moves. Valtteri Bottas moves to Alfa Romeo after five years as Hamilton's teammate. He replaces Kimi Raikkonen, who has retired after a 20-year F1 career. Bottas will be partnered by debutant Guanyou Zhou, who will become the first Chinese F1 driver.

Russell's seat at Williams is filled by former Red Bull pilot Alexander Albon, returning from a year in touring cars. Everyone else stays where they were in 2021.

What are the key dates for 2022?

The teams are in the process of announcing the launch dates for their new cars, with Aston Martin currently scheduled to be first to unveil their challenger on 10th February.

The cars will first hit the track on 23rd February for three days of pre-season testing at the Barcelona circuit. A second three-day test begins 10th March at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain, with the first race of the season due to take place at the same venue on 20th March.

The inaugural Miami Grand Prix is slated to be the fifth race of the season on 8th May, while Monaco is in its traditional last-Sunday-in-May slot on the 29th and Silverstone hosts race 10 of the championship on 3rd July.

The unbiased will be hoping the title is decided in the final race at Abu Dhabi on 20th November, albeit in less acrimonious circumstances than in 2021.

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