Imola curveballs can disrupt F1 2022’s early status quo…

Carlos Sainz and Ferrari have looked very strong so far..

Carlos Sainz and Ferrari have looked very strong so far..

There’s nothing predictable or boring about the 2022 Formula 1 season so far but a status quo has been established: Ferrari and Red Bull are the main contenders and Ferrari has an edge. That trend has still lent itself to three interesting races to start the year, including the mega Charles Leclerc/Max Verstappen fights in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. But a bit of unpredictability goes a long way and we might just have that this weekend. 

The opening day of the Imola event has already been heavily disrupted by bad weather, even if F1’s first practice session went ahead as planned. That has given us a wet qualifying session and potentially a dry sprint race/grand prix combination, with zero running on the slick tyres before locking the set-ups in and the cars going into parc ferme conditions.

Some, especially those constantly pushing the F1 sprint race agenda, will have banked on Imola throwing some curveballs this weekend anyway because of the different format. But the sprint itself can never be counted on to be transformative. However, a sprint race in a weather-disrupted weekend – now that’s a proper curveball.

The best cars in the dry are usually pretty handy in the wet as well so there’s no reason to think Ferrari and Red Bull will suddenly be all at sea (pun not intended) because there has been heavy rain. That doesn’t look the case for Ferrari based on the opening practice session, which they dominated, but the conditions are constantly changing.

This is something that has the potential to catch out teams in terms of set-up, expose certain flaws in a car design, give a helping hand to other cars that have problems in normal conditions, or make drivers more vulnerable to mistakes.

Especially as the new, stiffer, lower 2022 cars have not really been run properly in the wet before (some light work on the final afternoon of the Barcelona test is the only non-dry running this year so far).

And the sprint weekend format means this could all be punished more heavily. A set-up error in FP1 is going to put teams and drivers on the back foot and maybe condemn them to a full weekend with a flawed car. Guessing the compromise between a wet and dry set-up is going to be a very tricky call. Working out what the car might need for the rest of the weekend is almost a complete lottery.

There are changes to the sprint event itself, but they are minor. I certainly don’t expect increasing the number of points to eighth to transform the racing, mainly because the area of the grid that it affects the most is the midfield – which is already ultra-competitive and good fun.

Still, the sprint races are designed to be a break from F1 normality. At the moment that is exactly what the Imola weekend is shaping up to be – even if Ferrari looked typically strong in first practice, and will be hoping the natural order is retained when it matters come Sunday.