Struggling with who to support in Formula One this year? This is the guide for you.
In compiling this list, it’s difficult to remember another time Formula One had the depth of talent it does right now. There’s a combined 14 championships on the grid and five or six drivers who look more than capable of establishing themselves as F1’s biggest star in the next few seasons.
There’s plenty of candidates for your favourite team or driver in 2022. Here we run down all of them.
The season begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 20, live on ESPN (10.55AM Eastern Time).
Mercedes is the benchmark against which success is measured in F1 right now. Sometimes it’s easier to root against the dominant force but Mercedes have made winning races an art form since 2014 and it is genuinely remarkable how it has continued to raise its own bar in that time. If Mercedes stays on top or remains competitive through another big rule change (it did the same thing in 2018) there would be no denying that this is the greatest F1 dynasty we’ve ever seen.
44. Lewis Hamilton
Fans of Lewis Hamilton have seen him rewrite F1’s history books again and again in recent years and he goes into this year trying to win an unprecedented eighth championship. He was controversially denied that record last year and comes into this season with a score to settle, which is often when he races at his absolute best (see last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix).
Hamilton, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in December, is a spectacular racing driver. He’s amazingly fast, while his smart race craft and brilliant tyre management often open up strategy options for Mercedes that would not exist for most other drivers. As a bonus, his legacy will not just be defined on the race track. Hamilton, the only Black driver in the sport’s 72-year history, has become a real force for social change worldwide, pumping millions of his own money into improving diversity in Formula One.
63. George Russell
After years of waiting patiently for his chance, the time is now for George Russell. We saw how good he might be when he was one botched pit-stop away from winning as Lewis Hamilton’s stand-in at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix and many in the paddock think Russell is a Formula One megastar in the making. If he lives up to expectations Russell will be the future of Mercedes’ F1 project for a long time.
This year Russell races alongside one of the best of all time and he could lay a marker down immediately by beating Hamilton across the season. Famously, Hamilton announced his arrival on the scene by doing the same to reigning two-time champion Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2007. Could history repeat itself in 2022?
Red Bull is one of the best teams of the modern era on and off the race track, a perfect blend of racing pedigree and top level marketing. Whether it’s the giant floating motorhome it brings to the Monte Carlo harbour for the Monaco Grand Prix, conducting a pit-stop at zero-gravity at an altitude of 10,000 metres, or letting Max Verstappen drive one of his cars down a ski slope, you can always count on Red Bull to do something completely different to the rest.
On track, it also happens to be consistently one of the grid’s strongest teams, with chief car designer Adrian Newey still as revered now as he was 15 years ago. Its driver programme remains the best producer of young F1 talent on the grid by a comfortable distance.
1. Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen, F1’s defending champion, has changed the game since his debut in 2015, not just as F1’s youngest race winner, but in completely reshaping the sport’s rules of wheel to wheel racing. His approach is controversial to some but Verstappen can do things with a car few others can match. Like Ayrton Senna, his refusal to give up a corner when going wheel to wheel with another driver has earned him a legion of support – a motorsport survey of 167,000 fans conducted last year named Verstappen F1’s most popular driver.
Most amazingly with Verstappen is how unaffected he is by the adulation and pressure which surrounds him. His pace can be relentless, almost metronomic, such as his untouchable performance at last year’s Dutch Grand Prix, the first ever in his home country since 1985. Verstappen seemed to be the only person in Zandvoort who didn’t see what all the fuss was about.
11. Sergio Perez
Sergio Perez always seemed like he was going to be one of F1’s unfulfilled talents when he was stuck as a midfield driver who regularly out-performed his cars for the odd podium here and there. Then he won in Bahrain last year and moved to Red Bull, presenting the opportunity of a lifetime. It was difficult to argue he didn’t deserve the opportunity.
Perez’s level of support in Mexico borderlines on religious worship and as a racing driver he remains one of F1’s most popular. His style is hard to dislike and at the races he could tame the RB17 Red Bull last year he was really good — he should be even more comfortable at the team this season. Perez also showed his value to Red Bull at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year, earning himself the nickname of Mexico’s Minister of Defence for the way he held off Hamilton at a key point in the race.
How can you not love Ferrari? The Italian team is steeped in history, having been part of every F1 season since the world championship started in 1950, but is entering its 14th straight season without a title. Over the past few years Ferrari’s habit of falling short of expectations and underwhelming racing fans across the globe has felt like a rather cruel joke. This could be the year that all changes, which is enough of a reason to root for the Prancing Horse in 2022.
16. Charles Leclerc
Charles Leclerc was on his way to becoming an superstar in 2019 as a multiple race winner before Ferrari got into trouble with the FIA over its engine and slid down the competitive order in 2020 and 2021. But Leclerc’s remarkable talent is impossible to deny. He claimed pole position at the Monaco Grand Prix last year but a crash at the end of qualifying ultimately stopped him from winning his home race.
Leclerc is a special talent, who has won at every level of racing he’s been at and who almost everyone in the F1 paddock earmarked as a future world champion from the first moment he stepped through its gates.
55. Carlos Sainz
Somehow, Carlos Sainz still feels like an undervalued and underappreciated talent. He’s one of many motor racing stars who have struggled to break out of the shadow of a famous racing surname. Rejected by Red Bull before stints at Renault and McLaren, last year at Ferrari finally felt like a proper breakout for the Spanish driver and he is chasing that first F1 win this season.
But why stop there? He out-performed Leclerc, an established top tier driver, across last season. Leclerc seems like Mr Ferrari and the more logical pick for ‘Ferrari driver who could be champion in 2022’, but Sainz thrives best when he is being written off. If you want to root for the underdog, Sainz is your man.
Like Ferrari, McLaren is a sleeping giant and one of the sport’s most revered teams. However, its last constructors’ championship victory was in 2007 and it’s only just dragged itself out of the dark days of a few years ago when it was struggling to even make it out of the first qualifying session every weekend. McLaren’s enormous F1 headquarters in Woking, England looks like something out of a science fiction movie.
It’s an exciting era for McLaren and this new regulation change feels like its opportunity to move back to the big time. CEO Zak Brown has done a great job rebuilding the F1 team over the past five years while juggling a return to IndyCar and an entry to Exteme E. Brown also seems committed to giving young North American talents like Colton Herta an opportunity to get their foot in the door in Formula One.
4. Lando Norris
Lando Norris seems to be on an unstoppable rise to global superstardom. He’s only 22 but he’s entering his fourth season of Formula One as one of the sport’s most popular drivers. Norris is like F1’s Gen Z star — he loves gaming and still regularly streams to huge numbers on Twitch. He’s happy talking about mental health issues and how he deals with the pressure of arriving in F1 so young and with so many expectations.
Another reason he is so popular away from all that is that his talent matches the hype. He out-performed Daniel Ricciardo last year and should have won the Russian Grand Prix. That first win will come, there’s no doubt about that. Norris seems ready to challenge for a world championship as soon as he has a car capable of taking him there.
3. Daniel Ricciardo
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo sometimes seems more like he’s getting ready to host Saturday Night Live than race in Formula One, but that is all a bit misleading. In the car Ricciardo remains one of F1’s top talents, with eight wins to his name since 2014.
Ricciardo is the driver you want in the car if you have even the faintest sniff at victory, as he seems to find a new level in those moments, like at last year’s Italian Grand Prix for McLaren. On his day Ricciardo is one of F1’s best drivers. He the sport’s best at out-braking another driver into a corner — “lick the stamp and send it”, as he described it. He risked a lot in moving from Red Bull to Renault in 2018 and at McLaren he hopes to return to the winners’ circle more often.
And if all that doesn’t convince you, he also drinks champagne out of his shoe when he’s on the podium.
Alongside Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, Alpine (a sub-brand of Renault) is one of only four F1 teams that builds its own engines. That makes it a true constructor in F1 terms, and in theory it could also make it F1’s sleeping giant. The team based in Enstone has a long history in the sport, dating all the way back to Toleman — the team that gave Ayrton Senna his F1 debut — and includes the title-winning outfits of Benetton and Renault, which helped Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso secure their first titles.
Regular leadership changes in recent years have meant long-term plans have been altered on an almost annual basis, and it remains doubtful that the team will return to the front of the grid under its current five-year plan. Former Aston Martin team boss Otmar Szafnauer is now in charge of making that happen and it will be interesting to see how the team evolves under his command.
Also, if you like pink cars then Alpine is the team for you. The French outfit will run a striking all-pink livery at the first two races before switching back to a mix of its traditional blue and pink for the rest of the season.
14. Fernando Alonso
He hasn’t won a championship in over 15 years, but some say Alonso is still the most complete driver in Formula One. The two-time world champion, who secured his titles back in 2005 and 2006 with Renault, is a tenacious competitor and still a genuine challenger for victories if he ever gets his hands on a car capable of doing so. He can read a race from the cockpit better than some engineers manage from the pit wall, marking him out as a contender for points no matter where he starts on the grid.
And then there’s the story of unfulfilled potential. He’s the driver who ended Schumacher’s dominance in the early 2000s and looked set to challenge the seven-time champion’s records, only for a series of dramas and poorly timed team swaps to put a cap on his success. Alonso could easily be a five-time champion by now, but for so many reasons he’s stuck on two. It would be a huge story if the 40-year-old got one last shot at the title before retiring.
31. Esteban Ocon
Ocon is a true fighter. Unlike many of his contemporaries in F1, he didn’t have a racing driver dad or bucket loads of money to build his career, and instead had to do it purely on raw talent and results. He beat Verstappen to the Formula 3 title in 2014, but still had to work twice as hard to make his debut in F1 two years later with backmarkers Manor.
Just as his career was building momentum at Force India in 2018, he was forced into a year on the sidelines in 2019 when Lawrence Stroll bought the team and drafted in his son, Lance, to replace Ocon. But the Frenchman fought back and returned in 2020 as an even stronger driver before taking the first win of his career at the chaotic 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix.
Had the timing of his arrival in F1 worked out differently, his links with Mercedes could have seen him alongside Hamilton in a world championship-winning car, but for whatever reason it wasn’t meant to be. Nevertheless, don’t rule him out for title success in the future.
It may be Red Bull’s junior team, but AlphaTauri is arguably the coolest outfit in F1. Borrowing its name and its style from Red Bull’s Austrian fashion house means it’s always looking sharp and the car’s crisp blue and white livery is a hit with fans.
But don’t write it off as style over substance; AlphaTauri has a long history of punching above its weight and has twice won its home race, the Italian Grand Prix, in 2020 with Pierre Gasly and in 2008 with Sebastian Vettel when the team was known as Toro Rosso. It’s also been the first step into F1 for all of Red Bull’s home-grown talent, including Vettel, Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo.
Go further back in the team’s history and you’ll find the legendary Minardi name, which fought doggedly as a plucky backmarker in F1 for over two decades.
10. Pierre Gasly
Pierre Gasly is one of two great Red Bull reject redemption stories on the grid. Dropped by the team in summer 2019, he returned to its secondary outfit and won the Italian Grand Prix in 2020, which remains one of the most astonishing race victories in F1 history. Rooting for Gasly, you’re assured of two things — he’ll qualify well and he’ll race hard, with many of the belief he was regularly out-performing the car in 2021.
Gasly still seems unable to convince Red Bull he deserves a second chance, which is all the more reason to jump onto the Team Gasly bandwagon this year.
22. Yuki Tsunoda
It’s difficult to find reasons to dislike Yuki Tsunoda. He’s the first to crack a joke about how small he is (he stands at 5 foot 2 / 1.59m, small even by racing driver standards) and admit he needs to give up Uber Eats and gaming if he wants to stay in F1 long term. As a rookie, he struggled for consistency, but gave endearingly frank self-assessments to the media, which is a rarity in a sport as cut-throat as F1 and in an environment as notoriously unforgiving as Red Bull.
On track the Japanese driver can be one of the most exciting wheel-to-wheel racers of the lot and if he lives up to all his promises of self-improvement in his spare time, he just might be able to show everyone what all the hype was about when he joined F1.
The legendary British sports car brand returned to F1 last year after a 61-year absence. If you know the Aston Martin brand, we won’t have to work too hard to convince you how cool it is, but think James Bond and British engineering as the general vibe.
However, the racing team behind the name dates back to Jordan, which scrapped away as F1’s perennial underdog for nearly two decades before being bought by Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya. It’s latest consortium of owners, led by Lawrence Stroll, have set their sights on buying their way to the front of the grid, so if you want to join a team at the start of its success journey, Aston Martin is not a bad place to look.
5. Sebastian Vettel
After Hamilton, Vettel has won the most titles of any driver on the grid with four to his name from his time at Red Bull. Since then he’s driven and won races for Ferrari, where he was adored by the team but struggled to deliver a title, and last year switched to Aston Martin where he hopes to rekindle his career.
Vettel is not only a talented driver but also one of the best ambassadors for the sport. In the past 12 months he has campaigned for LGBTQ+ rights in Hungary, promoted the importance of recycling after the British Grand Prix and shown his support for Ukraine on his helmet following Russia’s recent invasion.
18. Lance Stroll
The son of team co-owner Lawrence Stroll, Lance looks set to be a permanent fixture at the team for as long as he wants to remain in F1. He’s about as laid back as a driver can be, but has shown glimpses of his underlying passion for F1 when results have gone his way, such as his epic wet weather pole position qualifying lap at the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Williams was a powerhouse in Formula One. The team still sits second as the most successful outfit in terms of constructors’ championship victories — with nine to its name — but hasn’t won a title since 1997. Even though it is no longer owned by the Williams family, everyone in Formula One still has a soft spot for the British team. To see the historic name return to the front of the field would be one of the great feel-good stories in sport, although the chances of that happening this year remain incredibly slim.
23. Alex Albon
In the space of three years, Albon has had a rollercoaster F1 career. At the end of 2018 after a strong showing in Formula 2, it looked like he was set to forge a path in Formula E only for Red Bull to come knocking at the last minute and sign him up to fill a gap at its junior team, Toro Rosso, for 2019. He was so impressive in the first half of the 2019 season that he was promoted to the senior Red Bull team midway through the year and then given a shot at partnering Verstappen for a full season in 2020. Unfortunately things didn’t go his way and by the end of the year he was back out of F1 and racing in Germany’s DTM series in 2021.
But for all the ups and downs, there’s no doubt that Albon deserves another shot at the pinnacle of the sport. At Williams he may have found the perfect environment to build his confidence and prove just how good he is.
6. Nicholas Latifi
He’s one of the nicest guys in F1 and, on his day, has shown the potential to score points in an underperforming car. Over the past two years he struggled to shine alongside Russell at Williams, but that may have been a reflection of how good his former teammate was rather than a mark against his own talent.
Going up against Albon is a good opportunity for Latifi to show he can still challenge the best of F1’s young drivers, and his success in doing so may determine how long he remains in the sport after his current contract expires at the end of the year.
Alfa Romeo has one of the longest motor racing histories of any car company on the planet. Enzo Ferrari started out racing Alfa Romeos in the 1920s and the name is still one of the most evocative in the motor industry. Nowadays, Alfa Romeo’s presence in F1 is a branding exercise as part of a sponsorship deal with the Sauber F1 team — the Swiss-based outfit that still makes and runs the cars. But when the branding looks as good as the livery on this year’s Alfa Romeo C42, that’s simply another reason to get behind the team.
What’s more, Sauber is one of F1’s most likeable teams, with a long history of punching above its weight and the quirky fact it’s the only team not based in either the U.K. or Italy. This year, it appears to have made a step forward under the new regulations, which could make it a regular point scorer once more.
77. Valtteri Bottas
For the past five years, Bottas has been best known for being Lewis Hamilton’s teammate, so the switch to Alfa Romeo is a bit like hitting the reset button on his career. He’d still be at Mercedes if he’d had the choice, but the hope is that the new environment will help re-energise the Finn after so many years playing second fiddle to Hamilton. On his day, he’s clearly one of the fastest drivers in F1 and was capable of beating Hamilton in straight fights on more than one occasion.
If he can find more consistency now the pressure is off, his career could get a second wind that propels him back to the front of the grid. Under the straight-talking exterior there is a brilliantly dry sense of humour, which will hopefully shine through as he leads Alfa Romeo this year.
24. Zhou Guanyu
Zhou is China’s first full-time F1 driver and arrives in the sport with the expectation of nation weighing on his shoulders. F1 has long tried to crack the Chinese market, but despite a small and loyal fanbase that attends each race in Shanghai, the sport has not gone mainstream in the country. F1 hopes Zhou, who he is undoubtedly the most talented driver to emerge from China to date, will change that.
He is also the only rookie driver on the grid this year, which comes with a degree of pressure but also a handy excuse if he makes errors. He performed reasonably well in F2 last year, taking four victories and finishing third overall, but there are many who believe the chance to race in F1 at Alfa Romeo should have gone to the man who beat Zhou to the F2 title, Oscar Piastri. Zhou, naturally, will be trying to prove his doubters wrong in 2022.
It’s endured a few difficult seasons recently, but when F1’s American team is competitive it is the grid’s equivalent of Scrappy-Doo. A small outfit which has at times punched well above its weight on limited resources compared to the rest. Add to that the circumstances this year, where it comes into the season without a title sponsor and with a car that set headline grabbing times in practice, and it might be another great underdog tale.
This one is easy. Mick Schumacher has the most famous surname in motor racing. His father Michael is one of F1’s greatest ever and is beloved by fans so it’s natural to want his son to be a success — Mick feels like an F1 version of Dale Earnhardt Jr in that regard. Like Dale Jr, Mick is determined to be his own man and prove he belongs on merit.
He has a great opportunity to do that in 2022 in what could be a competitive Haas. It’s hard to find many people in racing who don’t want this to be another Schumacher racing success story.
One of the great comeback stories in F1’s recent history, Magnussen doubted he’d ever drive in F1 again at the start of this month, only to be called upon to come back to Haas and replace Nikita Mazepin. Magnussen is a hard-racing driver who battles for every inch of track, which is perfect for what Haas will need in the midfield this year.
When he needs to be, he’s outspoken and as his famous run-in with Nico Hulkenberg shows, he’s never afraid of telling another driver where to go. The Dane’s scrappy attitude perfectly matches the Haas team, which makes ‘K-Mag’ very difficult to root against.