What Made The 2022 British Grand Prix So Good?
When Carlos Sainz won the 2022 British Grand Prix, his victory was the final scene after over two hours of brilliant and suspenseful Formula One racing. As Lewis Hamilton commented, the Grand Prix was “F1 at its best”. With last year’s Formula One World Championship fight being so spectacularly competitive, 2022 hasn’t quite lived up to the same hype, considering the much-discussed regulation changes not turning the running order upside down as some might’ve hoped. But why exactly was Silverstone’s Sunday so sensational?
Let’s summarize what transpired during that afternoon. First, we had an utterly terrifying, yet somehow injury-free, multi-car crash. Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou was hit, flipped upside down, and flew over the barriers. As scary as the scenes were, F1’s safety precautions have vastly improved over the years and Zhou had some preliminary medical examinations after the crash and could walk around the paddock shortly after.
Furthermore, there were two standing race starts, meaning that the competitors were as proximally close as they could be twice in one Grand Prix, allowing for more tight wheel-to-wheel racing. The fastest man on track, Max Verstappen, had his wings clipped with damage to prevent him from flying off into the sunset. The sister Red Bull of Sergio Perez had to recover from the back after its own front wing issues. There were passes for the lead, intra-team politics for P1 at Ferrari, and home hero Hamilton found an extra 10%, as he often does at Silverstone, to be an ever-present threat. And it all culminated with a late-race Safety Car when multiple strategies got pitted against one another. Thanks to so much action, even the summary takes a while to cover in detail.
Let’s go from the top, and call out an uncomfortable truth for some readers. We never hope for a driver to be injured, but millions will frantically watch, and rewatch an F1 crash. The more dramatic the shunt, the more visceral, and memorable it will be. A car skidding upside down and careening over a tire barrier is, thankfully, extremely uncommon today, but such a rare scene will have even non-motorsports fans watch the YouTube replays.
With the Grand Prix equivalent of a blockbuster set piece done, the actual racing, particularly that final rush to the flag, ensured everyone’s attention remained until the third act to labor the movie metaphor further. A simple way to ensure F1 racing is entertaining is to have the fastest cars at the back and the slowest cars at the front. The late Safety Car allowed that situation to occur with the top four positions thanks to Ferrari’s split strategy and Perez benefitting from a ‘free’ pit stop.
Charles Leclerc led, equipped with the slowest tires, and a rebounding Perez sat in fourth place with the fastest car on race pace. Sandwiched between them were two drivers with separate agendas for wanting to win. Sainz sat in second place, desperate to finally become an F1 race winner after seven years in the sport. Hamilton was in third, eager to electrify his home supporters by seizing a record-breaking ninth win at the same circuit. All four drivers had a shot of reaching a prize that only one could claim– a rare occurrence in F1.
Moreover, should any from this quartet crash into one another, the extremely capable Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris sat close behind, ready to leverage any slight opportunity. With the wheel-to-wheel racing ahead of them, a collision wasn’t unlikely, either. The high-speed battles literally went over the line, and time penalties could’ve demoted Perez or Leclerc down the order in their scraps for P2. Those final frenetic few laps of fighting were the best we’ve seen in 2022.
It’s easy to forget that the race entertained long before the Safety Car. The second restart was crucial to everything that followed before this point. After Ferrari hamstrung Sainz with harder tires on the first start, they put the polesitter on the same tire compound as Verstappen to give their driver a fighting chance to retain his lead. Not only did the Spaniard impressively manage to keep P1, but his defensive positioning let Perez and Leclerc attack Verstappen, resulting in bodywork damage to the world champion’s car. This in turn neutralized any possibility that Max could get to the front, and enjoy a serene victory where he manages the gap as we’re growing accustomed to seeing.
Later, we had the rivalry elements of Sainz and Leclerc come to the fore with the Scuderia not opting for a number one driver role within their team. Against a backdrop of Ferrari’s engine costing both drivers this season, and the Monaco pit stop blunder still stinging Leclerc, the strategic calls to try and keep a Ferrari in the lead were fascinating. Even better, there was the added pressure of time on any Ferrari decision-making thanks to Hamilton repeatedly setting fastest laps behind. The whole race had many subplots to add intrigue to the main 200mph main event.
For me, the lack of shock made the race so thrilling. There wasn’t an external factor like rain or a tire explosion or something else unexpected. Esteban Ocon trundling to a halt wasn’t a ‘wow’ moment, but it laid the chess pieces out perfectly for us to see how unpredictable the Grand Prix’s final laps would be. It was like watching a thrilling final act of a suspenseful movie where every scene, or in this case, lap was tenser than the last. This (abridged) quote from Alfred Hitchcock describes shock and suspense.
Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene of no special consequence.
Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table, and the public knows it. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode, and the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you, and it is about to explode!”
F1 can often be shocking, but the 2022 British Grand Prix was an exercise in suspense, which is why this race was a masterpiece.
Originally published at Fortloc.com