Red Bull are back on top in Formula 1 after making a mockery of a season that started with promises of closer racing but in the end delivered a historic one-man title procession.
Last year’s epic championship duel between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen was always going to be a tough act to follow, but hopes were high that the biggest overhaul of technical regulations seen in the V6 era of F1 for 2022 would reset the grid and produce a genuine title race.
Instead, all it did was give Red Bull and Verstappen a platform to pile up the points and wins as the Dutchman stormed to his second world title in record-breaking fashion.
After some early teething problems, Verstappen would reach heights very few drivers have ever managed, claiming an unprecedented number of wins (15) and points (454) to retain his Drivers’ Championship crown.
Few would have guessed that Red Bull would go on to win 17 of this year’s 22 races following a double DNF in the season-opener in Bahrain.
Another retirement for Verstappen in round three in Australia, coupled with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc winning two of the opening three races, left Red Bull trailing the Scuderia before everything seemed to click for the Milton Keynes-based team at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in round four.
Verstappen led home a Red Bull one-two with a dominant drive and from that point, the Dutchman rarely looked back.
Red Bull would tailor the RB18 more and more to Verstappen’s driving style as the season went on, producing emphatic results with car and driver in perfect harmony at times.
It will go down as a banner year for Verstappen and the team, although it wasn’t without its difficult moments, including the death of Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz and the cost cap breach scandal.
Red Bull accepted they had gone over the financial cap in 2021 and were slapped with a $7million fine after an ugly war of words between team principal Christian Horner and his contemporaries.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was particularly upset with Red Bull’s actions, which saw his organisation’s run of seven successive world titles brought to an end.
Wolff’s exasperation was only heightened by the struggles of the Silver Arrows as they failed to get to grips with the new technical rules.
The W13 was barely drivable at times in the early part of the year due to aerodynamic issues causing porpoising, or bouncing, and leaving Lewis Hamilton and George Russell significantly off the pace.
Improvements were made as the season went on, culminating in Russell breaking Mercedes’ duck for the year in the penultimate round in Brazil, but there’s still a lot of work to do in the winter if they want to seriously challenge Red Bull next year.
Mercedes are 6/4 to regain the Constructors’ Championship next year while Ferrari are 4/1, with the Italians also facing a big off-season after failing to capitalise on a promising start to the campaign.
The Scuderia were neck-and-neck with Red Bull through the first few months but a series of mechanical and strategic errors effectively curtailed Leclerc’s title challenge heading into the summer break.
Ferrari were also restricted by their inability to make the same kind of technical gains as Red Bull and Mercedes managed in the season, the Italians failing to find an answer to the tyre degradation problems that would constantly hinder them in races.
Changes may be needed at Ferrari’s Maranello base to avoid making the same mistakes again next season and if they are to maximise a strong driver line-up with both Leclerc and Carlos Sainz proving capable of competing at the front of the grid.
Ferrari will need to do things differently if they are to challenge and they could maybe seek the advice of their former driver Sebastian Vettel, who is no stranger to breaking from the norm.
Vettel called time on his remarkable 15-year F1 career in 2022, leaving with four world titles and 53 race wins to his name, while he signed off with a series of fine drives behind the wheel of his Aston Martin.
Also departing the grid is Daniel Ricciardo after McLaren decided to cut ties with the Australian. He’s been consistently outperformed by his team mate Lando Norris since joining the Woking-based outfit and although he will still be involved as a test driver for Red Bull in 2023, he may struggle to make a full-time return to the grid.
Mick Schumacher will also be absent from the grid having struggled to live up to his legendary surname at Haas.
The new drivers coming onto the grid in 2023 - Oscar Piastri, Nyck de Vries and Logan Sargeant - face a baptism of fire of a first season after confirmation of a 23-race calendar next year.
Formula 1 will hope the majority of those races will be far closer than some of the processions we saw this year, but there’s also the distinct possibility that Verstappen continues to go from strength to strength and breaks his own F1 records in the longest season in F1 history.