A stuttering start for Verstappen and Red Bull
After the cliffhanger climax to the 2021 season, everyone was expecting another battle to the wire again in 2022 with Red Bull and Mercedes favourites to fight it out for the title. But right from the moment Mercedes rolled out their eye-catching 'zero sidepod' W13 in pre-season testing, it was increasingly clear that something had gone wrong at Brackley and that they were already too far too far off the pace, leaving Ferrari as Red Bull's closest competition.
Red Bull wanted to put the first races of the season to maximum effect by establishing an early advantage. But it didn't happen. Charles Leclerc led virtually the whole of the season opener in Bahrain with Max Verstappen in second, until with four laps to go Verstappen suffered a fuel system issue that forced him to retire. A similar problem also dropped Sergio Perez out of the points moments later.
While there were no such problems in Saudi Arabia, allowing Verstappen to take victory in Jeddah, the fuel issue reared its head again in Australia and once again Verstappen failed to last the full race distance. Three races in, the reigning world champion found himself 46 points behind Leclerc in the driver standings. Many felt that the title was already a done deal and that there was no way Red Bull would be able to recover from such a deficit.
But underneath the numbers, a different picture was forming. When the RB18 was working, it was perfectly capable of beating everyone else. All they needed was reliability. And from that point on for the rest of the season, that's exactly what the team achieved: Verstappen didn't have another DNF all season, and he soon reeled in Leclerc and took command of the points standings as early as Spain. Win after win after that soon saw him build an unassailable lead, while meanwhile the early success at Ferrari had turned increasingly sour.