How will luck influence the 2022 F1 title battle?

Will luck (or hard luck) going to decide this years Championship battle?

Will luck (or hard luck) going to decide this years Championship battle?

The two Formula 1 championship contenders could not have had more contrasting races in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola. While Max Verstappen and Red Bull were flawless from start to finish, Max scoring every point available across the sprint and the grand prix including the bonus point for fastest lap, Leclerc had a slightly trickier weekend, from spins in practice to a spin in the grand prix itself.

The championship is still firmly in Leclerc’s control for now in terms of points but it’s clear that Red Bull is throwing everything at this already with a big weight saving programme and a couple of upgrades here and there to try and unlock as much performance from its RB18 as possible.
Whereas Ferrari is still using broadly the same car that it introduced to us back at its launch in February, with the exception of some circuit specific downforce level changes and also the slightly revised floor that was introduced during the second test.

Red Bull and Ferrari know they are in a title fight and will put all their development might into this season as possible. We know that Verstappen and Leclerc are two incredible, prodigious talents and could define Formula 1 for the next decade. If all sides perform to their highest level, what’s it going to take to swing this championship one way or the other? How big a part is luck going to play? And what would you actually define as luck?

Red Bull and Verstappen have dropped quite a lot of points this season, in Bahrain where they suffered a double DNF and in Australia, where Verstappen had to retire. Is that bad luck? For Verstappen you could argue it is. He has no control over the fuel system which failed on both occasions in slightly different circumstances (vapour lock in Bahrain and what sounded like a split fuel pipe in Australia). He was driving good races in both situations and he lost two nailed on second places.

But that’s not bad luck. That’s inferior quality control from Red Bull. OK, it’s probably on the Honda side, but that’s still part of the same package. So Red Bull has to take responsibility for that (especially as it’s claiming the engines in its own name this season). It cost its driver points in Bahrain and Australia. It wasn’t down just to luck.

Obviously, Leclerc was not unlucky at Imola. He made a mistake and he’s owned that, he hasn’t tried to hide behind it. That’s not misfortune, it was a misjudgment. So that’s not luck. Luck is something like Lewis Hamilton making his big mistake at Imola last year, going into the gravel and falling a lap down, but then having a unusual situation in the race go in his favour. It’s not the fact there was specifically a red flag (any normal safety car would have achieved the same thing) but Hamilton was fortunate to have an intervention that put him back on the lead lap, set up the recovery drive he did, and allowed him to still finish second. That’s a stroke of good luck.

You could also argue that a bit of good luck this year for Leclerc was that the problems in Australia that Carlos Sainz suffered were problems for that side of the Ferrari garage, not the Leclerc side. Would Leclerc still have been on pole or won if his car had been the one that didn’t fire up normally at the start of the second runs in Q3. What if it was Leclerc who only got the one lap in? What if it was Leclerc whose first flying lap was completed two or three seconds too late because a red flag had just come? What if it was Leclerc who suffered a steering wheel problem moments before the start of the race that then caused a mapping issue and a terrible start?

There’s an element of fortune as well in the sense that misfortune on the other side of the garage could presumably very easily have happened to Leclerc’s car. However, I think that kind of thing comes down to attention to detail. As that’s ultimately a reliability issue it can be avoided with good preparation and quality validation work.

These are fine margins, they don’t come down exactly to chance. This is all part of sport and especially Formula 1, where there are so many pieces to the puzzle. It’s a fascinating exercise and while it does mean that, ultimately, a driver might get unlucky, they are part of a team that more often than not is actually in control of its own destiny.