Big Questions For Formula 1’s Second Half

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After an eventful summer break, Formula 1 is back.

With 10 races crammed into less than three months, it’s going to be a spring to the finish. Even after 13 Grands Prix to give us a sense of the current pecking order, there are still lingering questions. 

When we hit pause on the F1 season there were teams in turmoil, teams heating up, engines overheating, and driver changes for next year.

Before the season resumes this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, let’s run through some major talking points.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto
Scuderia Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto has had to answer for his team’s recent shortcomings including strategic mistakes and reliability issues. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Can Ferrari Get Its Act Together?

Of all the teams, Ferrari had to be the happiest about the summer break arriving when it did. The team needed some time to re-center after what has become a season that’s gone somewhat off the rails.

Ferrari started the year looking like contenders, maybe even favorites.

My, how things have changed.

Reliability issues with their very fast (when working properly) power unit cost them massive point hauls in Spain, Azerbaijan, and Austria.

Their drivers — while showing flashes of undeniable greatness at times — have also cost them with untimely mistakes. Carlos Sainz had a nightmare Australian Grand Prix and an opening lap crash with countryman Fernando Alonso. Meanwhile, Charles Leclerc had costly mistakes while in the lead in both Imola and France cost the team significant points.

Then there have been a series of mind-boggling strategy blunders as recently as Hungary. At times it almost seems like the Scuderia is more than happy to give their rivals points.

Ferrari is going to need to get everything in order if they want even a shot of catching Max Verstappen and Red Bull. The SF-75 is often one of the fastest cars on track in any given session, and can usually be expected to find the front row on Saturdays.

If they’re not careful, their focus will have to turn from the team ahead of them, to the team behind them sooner than later.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and George Russell
After a rocky start to the season, Mercedes hit their stride going into the summer break. (Photo by Jure Makovec / AFP) (Photo by JURE MAKOVEC/AFP via Getty Images)

Can Mercedes Continue To Build On Their Recent Success?

While Ferrari was likely thrilled for the break to arrive, Mercedes probably wanted their momentum in the final few races to continue.

For the first part of the season, it was very clear that the Mercedes W13 was a dud, at least by their lofty standards. While George Russell managed to get that at times unwieldy, porpoising-prone car under control for a series of strong finishes early, Lewis Hamilton struggled immensely with the low point coming in the form of a P10 at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

After struggling out of the gate with their eye-catching, sidepod-less design, Mercedes started to get a handle on their car. So did Hamilton, who had five straight podium appearances going into the summer break. 

Mercedes may not be able to catch Red Bull this season, but Ferrari is definitely within their sights. Expect Mercedes to continue their upward trajectory. With just 30 points separating them Ferrari, expect a tight battle for P2 in the Constructor standings that’ll put them.

Haas driver Mick Schumacher
Haas’ Mick Schumacher needs to pick up where he left off with a pair of points finishes before the summer break. He’ll have the rest of this season to prove to the team that he deserves to stay despite some expensive crashes and some costly errors. (Photo by Arthur Thill ATPImages/Getty Images)

Can Some Drivers Prove They Still Belong In F1?

Just before Formula 1 reconvened after the summer break, news broke that Daniel Ricciardo was out at McLaren. While not unexpected, this suddenly threw another wrench into the driver market and made the season’s last 10 races extra important for some current drivers.

One, in particular, is Haas’ Mick Schumacher. Despite being an undeniable fan favorite the son of 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher hasn’t quite been carrying his weight for the vastly improved American team.

Schumacher’s rookie season was wasted as the team froze car development and focused on the big changes that came with the 2022 regulations. That seemed to have worked as the team jumped from being backmarkers to being legitimate midfield contenders. 

However, Schumacher has been shown up by his more experienced teammate Kevin Magnussen for much of the season. While Schumacher did manage to score points in Gret Britain and Austria, it may not be enough for the team to overlook look several costly — both in terms of points and the cost cap — crashes this season.

Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi will all feel the heat as they are still without confirmed rides for next season.

McLaren and Alpine
It looks as though Alpine and McLaren will spend the second half of the season racing each other for P4 in the constructor standings. (Photo by Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Who Will Lock Up The Battle For P4?

While Alpine and Aston Martin’s rivalry is heating up off-track, the French outfit has another fight on-track.

They find themselves at odds with McLaren for P4 in the constructor standings.

Heading into the Belgian Grand Prix, Alpine has 99 points and a 4-point lead over McLaren. Every place in the constructor standings is worth millions of dollars in prize money, so each team will do whatever they can to take the P4.

McLaren’s Lando Norris has a slightly better average finishing position than Alpine’s driver duo Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon.

However, Ricciardo’s average finishing position is 11.75, just outside the points. This is a big problem when Ocon and Alsonso have combined for 19 points finishes, while Norris and Ricciardo have only managed 15.

As it stands, it seems like Alpine’s slightly better scoring consistency will help them to a P4 finish this season, but that could change in an instant.

Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen is in a good position to make it straight drivers’ championships. (Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Can Anyone Catch Verstappen?

Yes, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is in the best position to take the title battle to Abu Dhabi. However, it’s going to require that he and the team be virtually flawless from here on out.

Verstappen is sitting all alone in P1 of the driver standings with 258 points. That’s good for an 80-point lead over Leclerc’s 178 points in P2. It’s not an insurmountable lead, but it is going to be a tall order to keep up with Verstappen and his slippery-in-a-straight-line RB18.

Still, one DNF for Verstappen and a win for Leclerc will be a 25-point swing in favor of the Monegasque. The reigning world champion will almost certainly face an engine penalty in the second half of the season. That will present a big opportunity for Leclerc to make up ground as well.

Both championships are Verstappen and Red Bull’s to lose. Still, you never know what could happen between now and the last checkered flag this November.

Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle

Written by Matt Reigle

Matt is a University of Central Florida graduate and a long-suffering Philadelphia Flyers fan living in Orlando, Florida. He can usually be heard playing guitar, shoe-horning obscure quotes from The Simpsons into conversations, or giving dissertations to captive audiences on why Iron Maiden is the greatest band of all time.

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