'Midfield teams will be challenging for F1 wins in 2022' says Ross Brawn


Ross Brawn led the changes to F1's 2022 regulation. He says they are still on course to level the playing field and explains why doing nothing was not an option — even after the thrilling 2021 season

Aston Martin 2022 car shakedown

Brawn expects some of 2021's midfield teams to be challenging for wins this season. Will we see an Aston Martin driver on the top step?

Aston Martin

When Ross Brawn was hired by new owners Liberty Media as Formula 1’s managing director at the start of 2017 his focus was always on the future.

At that stage year zero was going to be 2021, but then Covid came along and the new technical rule package was postponed by a year. In that interim season with cars that were largely frozen we had the best championship fight we’d seen in years.

Thus 2022 has a lot to live up to. We have a cost cap that reins in the big spenders, we have a sliding scale of aero testing restrictions that gives the most successful teams of 2021 less scope for R&D, we have 18in Pirelli tyres, and we have a 23-race calendar that includes a high-profile new event in Miami. All those and more are part of the big picture of F1 in 2022.

At the heart of it all is the new aero package. The first examples of the new breed of cars have taken to the track in recent days for tentative shakedown or filming day runs, and next week in Barcelona we will see them run in anger for the first time, on proper race tyres.

Williams 2022 car shakedown

Williams FW44 is one of the cars that has already been on-track


It will be a hugely significant test, because at some stage two or more cars will be running close together, and we’ll get the first feedback on whether the changes have done what they are supposed to do, and enabled cars to follow each other closely and thus pass more easily.

“I’m very excited about the coming season,” says Brawn. “We’ve all lived last couple of years with the challenge of Covid, which all of us have all dealt with remarkably well, considering the difficulties.

“These high rake cars looked a bit silly, perched on their nose and waddling their arses in the air!”

“We’ve got to be sensible this season on Covid. But I think we all feel a little bit more optimism going forward. All the races look confirmed at the moment. So that’s good. We’ve got no races that we’re overly-concerned about. You never know with this thing, but certainly today, the calendar looks strong.”

The new aero package is very much Brawn’s baby: “F1 is in a great place. And I think this is another great step. It will take a little while to settle down and bed in. But the alternative, which was to leave the cars alone, really wasn’t a great alternative. We had a year from ‘20 to ’21 when we froze the cars because of the Covid situation.

“If we’d stayed with the same rules I think we would have just gone further down that rabbit hole of the nature of these cars, so we had to break away from that. It will take a little while to settle in. But I think we’re going to be in a far better place going forward with the type of car we’re going to have than we had.

“And there’s lots of optimism for the season. And I think we’ll see some interesting results this year from some of these young hotshoes who are coming through. They get the right car behind them, and we can all have a lot of fun.”

mcl36 2022 f1 car

Is McLaren’s MCL36 the right car to power Lando Norris to his first F1 win?


All bets are riding on what happens when the drivers run close together. Has the sport’s old Achilles heel of cars losing downforce when following another finally been addressed, as the numbers suggest?

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Five years ago a team of engineers put together by Brawn and Pat Symonds began to address the problem. In the past aero research on future rules was entrusted to the teams by the FIA, and it was somewhat haphazardly conducted, which is why changes usually didn’t always work.

F1’s programme for the 2020 regs, supported by the FIA technical department under Nikolas Tombazis, was of a different level entirely, with dedicated wind tunnel running and CFD work.

Led by former Williams aero man Jason Sommerville, the research came up with clear reasons why the old cars couldn’t follow closely, and pinpointed ways to resolve the issue.

And that’s why we have the cars we have in 2022, with the focus moved to downforce generated by ground effect and those brilliantly engineered but ultimately pointless bargeboards now gone.

Ross Brawn

The current set of regulations are just the start – they’ll continue to evolve, says Brawn

Grand Prix Photo

“The system before relied on the teams providing the resource,” says Brawn. “I’ve been part of that. And this sort of initiative is never the priority for the teams, it can never be the number one priority. So you do it as a sideshow, you don’t do it as your main job.

“I think having a group of people that have been working on this as their main priority is very exciting. Due to the nature of new regulations, inevitably when we start the season, we may see some scatter in the performance of the teams.

“I think that’s unavoidable, but also I think it’s unavoidable to go that route. I think staying where we were was just going to get worse and worse. We’ve had a little hiatus in a way with Covid, because the teams have been constrained in what they have been able to do. They’ve had to use the same chassis, and various other parts.

From the archive

“But there’s no doubt the cars would just continue getting worse and worse and worse. There were some quite complex aspects to the cars we were racing, which was causing differentiation between the teams as well.”

Brawn cites an intriguing example of how the overall 2022 package lends itself to levelling the playing field.

It’s always been tricky for the less well-resourced teams to accurately model tyre behaviour in their wind tunnels. However, the new tyres are less compliant under load, don’t change shape as much, and are therefore easier to model – so the big players will have less an advantage.

“If you look at the simple thing like a 13-inch wheel or an 18-inch wheel,” he says, “getting a 13-inch wheel with all the movement of the tyre to be representative in the wind tunnel was a fascinating but massive exercise.

“And as soon as you go to an 18-inch wheel the movement in the sidewall of the tyre is much reduced, and then it’s much less complex for a team to be able to model and represent.

“Every decision we’ve made has been towards not dumbing down the sport but making it more achievable for more of the teams, and to get a closer competition going on for the future. While still leaving it a meritocracy, so the best teams still win.

“I think there’ll be a bit of disparity in the beginning. But I’m not expecting huge disparity, unless somebody makes a complete cock-up. I’m confident that these rules and this regime and this culture will lead to much better racing.”

Pirelli 18in tyre unwrapped from blanket

18in wheels are helping to level the playing field

Since last season Sommerville and his F1 research group colleagues have moved across to join the FIA, so they are working directly with Tombazis. It means that they have official access to all the info and data that the FIA receives from the teams, which was not the case previously.

Brawn stresses that if some tweaking is required after we’ve seen a few races the expanded FIA technical team can react.

“I think the thing to remember is Jason and Nikolas and the team are not stopping here,” says Brawn. “So as soon as the cars start to appear and we can analyse how they’re achieving their performance, we can evolve it, we can start to tune the regulations to keep it going in the right direction.

“We’ll see some of what were the midfield teams challenging – a bigger group of competitive teams”

“Even things like the governance system, where we don’t need 100% agreement to change the rules during the season, that will have an impact on our ability to adjust things during the season.

“If something comes along that’s horrible, that we definitely don’t want and is causing problems, then theoretically as long as eight teams agree and the FIA agree and F1 agree we can change it, which we couldn’t do before.

“I think there’s been changes on so many fronts it gives me even greater optimism for the future that we’re going to have a stronger and better F1 going forward.”

A switch from E5 to E10 fuel has given the power unit manufacturers some extra homework over the winter, but Brawn says the parity between the four suppliers seen last year – at least relative to the early days of the hybrid rules – will also help to ensure that the field is close together.

“We had a fantastic season last season, but if you look over the last seven or eight years, it’s been dominated by Mercedes. Which I think had quite a lot to do with the engines. And one of the reasons I’m reasonably optimistic is I think the engines have actually come together quite well now.

“We’re hitting a sweet spot in terms of power units, there’s no power unit which I think will be well out of the running. We’re blessed in that respect. So we’ve got the power units, where they all look pretty competitive compared to where we started in 2014. And we’ve got these new cars.

“I think we could be entering a great period. But I think whatever we find with them, we have to re-tune them. There’s the capacity to do that. But I’m pretty optimistic that it’s heading in the right direction.”

Haas VF-22

It’s too much to expect Haas to immediately start challenging for victory, says Brawn

Haas F1

Brawn likes what he’s seen of the 2022 cars so far, which are showing more variety that sceptics expected.

“First of all, I think cars are looking great,” he says. “I think that’s one aspect that’s really rewarding, they look like great racing cars. We produced our own model within F1, but it was sort of a fairly plain vanilla if you like interpretation of the regulations. It’s great to see this variation.

“When the regulations were issued there were complaints that they’re all going to look the same. We didn’t believe that, and that’s proved not be the case.

“I have to be honest, I really need to see the cars in the flesh to get a true impression. And I’ll be going to Barcelona for the first test, and then I’ll probably get a much better idea there and in Bahrain how these cars are going to look. But I think that variation is reassuring.

“And I think the fans will be engaged with them. And I think the fact that cars are going to race in a lower stance – I mean, they’ve looked a bit silly, these high rake cars, sort of perched on their nose and waddling their arses in the air! And they never really looked like a racing car should look. I think these ones will look a lot better out on the track as well.”

From the archive

The intention is that the field will be closed up, and we will no longer have just the two dominant teams always fighting for wins. However, Brawn doesn’t expect to see Haas suddenly propelled to the front – indeed, he says that wouldn’t be right.

“I think any win, any victory, has to be on merit. I mean, I honestly don’t think the regulations will change the general order of things dramatically. I think it will bring it a lot closer. And I think we’ll see some of what were the midfield teams challenging. I think we’ll have a bigger group of competitive teams.

“As we know, we either expected a Mercedes or a Red Bull to win the race unless something different happened. But we’re blessed with a number of great drivers in F1 today.

“Lando Norris, the Ferrari drivers, we’ve got George Russell in the Mercedes. I think there’s any number of combinations of drivers that will give us a fantastic season. And if there’s three or four of them mixing it up, that’s even better.

“I’m optimistic about the coming season. I think the good teams will always do a good job. They’ve got the expertise and the experience. Although I’d love to see it, I don’t think we’re going to see Mick Schumacher dominating this year!

“In a way we don’t want that sort of disparity or that shock, unless it’s an unusual race, because that suggests it’s all become a bit random, and it can never be random. It needs to be a meritocracy.”

Brawn is set to leave his current F1 job at the end of 2022, having helped to lead the sport through some of the biggest changes it’s ever seen. It’s going to be fascinating to find out if everything he’s overseen works as intended – and thus what his legacy is.