Kimi Räikkönen retired from F1 at the end of last year in the knowledge that the rules and regulation changes for the 2022 season will in theory create a more even playing field. His Alfa Romeo team did not have too many highs last year, and the pending changes were not enough to convince the Finn to stay around for another season, and a recent interview suggests he may have little interest in F1 from now on.
"I may never set foot in the paddock again," Räikkönen said. "Formula One was never my life. There were always things that were more important to me. Nothing will change about that. I didn't stop because I didn't have the strength but because I have better things to do than sit on planes and stay in hotels."
Even though Räikkönen may not miss F1, Fernando Alonso said F1 will miss him.
"I'm happy to have shared so many years with Kimi," Alonso said. "He is a very good character in Formula One and this year we will miss him a lot.
"He's sincere. He's not playing games. He is what you see. Part of this mask that we see from him, being very cold and not talking too much and things like that, there is a different person inside. Not the 'Iceman'.
"I share many of his ideas and thoughts about Formula One and this world. What we live here is a bubble and not real life. We travel in good planes, we are in five-star hotels, we have all the help from everyone but, on Sunday night, we are normal people and we tend to laugh about how fake this world becomes," Alonso added.
Alfa Romeo will have two new drivers this season, as apart from Räikkönen retiring, a rather frustrated Antonio Giovinazzi lost his drive – something he was not happy about.
"It is emotion, talent, car, risk, speed," Giovinazzi told Insider.com.
"But when money rules, it can be ruthless."
Räikkönen sympathised with Giovinazzi, who was his teammate for the past three seasons.
"Obviously it's a shame for him," Räikkönen said when it was announced that Giovinazzi would be replaced by F2 driver Guanyu Zhou, who will become the first Chinese driver to compete in F1.
"He's a very nice guy. We've known each other for quite a while, since the Ferrari days. But that's how it sometimes goes. Hopefully he'll find something good to do, and hopefully one day he has another chance to be in F1."
Giovinazzi has secured some work for 2022. He will remain involved in F1 as a Ferrari reserve driver along with Haas driver Mick Schumacher, and also race for the Dragon Penske Autosport Formula E team.
Zhou's presence in F1 is expected to open up new marketing avenues via the Chinese community, perhaps confirming Giovinazzi's belief that talent can be replaced by money when it comes to recruiting F1 drivers.
While Zhou is the only newcomer to the 2022 F1 grid, former Red Bull driver Alex Albon will return to replace George Russell at Williams. The latter is in turn replacing Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes to partner Lewis Hamilton, assuming he returns after taking his championship loss Max Verstappen badly.
Bottas will take the seat vacated by Räikkönen to complete F1's version of musical chairs. But it is the changes to the regulations that has the media buzzing about the prospects of Mercedes and Red Bull facing challenges from the other eight teams.
The main change is a switch to ground-effect aerodynamics, which were last seen in F1 in the early 1980s. But unlike the ground effect cars of that era, the 2022 cars won't have sliding skirts, but rather a range of fins underneath to minimise any air disturbance. A standard tea-tray will be developed to attach to the front of the car's floor.
The tyres will change from a 13in rim to an 18in rim. The current complex bargeboards will be replaced by "wheel bodywork" to minimise the effects of the wake produced by the wheels as they rotate. Wheel covers return and the front wheels will now have a deflector over the top.
The FIA tests to date indicate that when there is a car length between cars, the following car will have about 86 per cent of its usual downforce, compared with 55 per cent currently, meaning closely following another car should be much easier. Gearboxes will be frozen until the end of 2025, with only one upgrade allowed in that time. The front wing will have a maximum of four elements, and there will be a single endplate upturned like an airplane's wing. The rear wing is designed to slash the strength of vortices produced at the rear of the car, which is blamed for cars being unable to follow each other.
Ferrari, who will launch their car on 17 February, have called in Rory Byrne to assist them in designing his year's car, given he was the chief designer when Ferrari dominated between 1999 and 2004. Byrne began in F1 with Toleman in the 1980s, so his experience could prove invaluable. Ferrari is reported to have gone for an aggressive nose design.
F1 CEO Ross Brawn, who produced the Brawn car with its innovative double diffuser exhaust system in 2009 with which Jenson Button won the world championship, says the new regulations will continue to evolve beyond the start of the season.
"Our process won't stop," he told the New York Times. "Once we see the new cars race, we'll see the solutions the teams have come up with, and we'll evaluate them and make sure we're not losing the momentum on this initiative to make the cars more raceable."
He believes the new cars will only lose 10-15 per cent of the performance when two car lengths behind another car, whereas the 2021 car lost half its performance in that scenario.
"When the teams first saw the regulations, there were moans and groans about the fact we had taken so much scope away from them," Brawn noted. "But as they explored them, they realised there was still plenty of potential. There has long been this suspicion the cars are not very friendly when they were racing each other. The performance of the following car was affected very badly by being in the wake of the car in front. It starts to lose performance the closer it gets and that doesn't aid good racing."
Purists may argue there was no need to change anything, because the racing in last year's championship was incredibly close and intense. But it only involved two drivers, albeit from different teams, and the idea behind the FIA introducing budget caps and changing the rules is to give all the teams a chance of winning.
The best car usually wins the championship. Think Lotus in the mid-60s, McLaren from 1984 to 1991, Ferrari from 2000 to 2004, Red Bull from 2010 to 2013 and Mercedes since then. Although Verstappen won narrowly last year, and the merit or otherwise of that championship is still going on, Mercedes still took the Constructors' title for the 8th consecutive year.
Brawn said he doesn't expect the cars will necessarily be evenly matched initially, but that the situation would change.
"There may be a bit of disparity in performance when we start off because everyone's going to come up with different solutions," Brawn said. "But once we've settled down this will be a much better platform for the cars to be designed around."
Former F1 driver Nico Hülkenberg has been doing simulator runs in the 2022 cars and said they were "pretty damn fast and not necessarily slower than the last generation".
He thought it would be difficult to follow in dirty air but hoped we would be pleasantly surprised.
Technical aspects aside, much is expected of Russell in the Mercedes. Alonso said: "I said at the beginning of the championship [last year] as well, before it had even started, in Bahrain, that the driver that impressed me more when I as at home watching on TV was George, on the performance in the Williams, and Max. Those two guys that I was switching on the TV for."
Hopefully in 2022 there will be other drivers worth turning on the TV for, including Alonso himself in his second year with Alpine since his successful return last year after a two-year absence. There has been a shake-up at Alpine, with Executive Director Marcin Budkowski leaving, as is Alain Prost from his advisory role. The first new car we may see launched is the Aston Martin on 10 February, who have started the new year by parting ways with team boss Otmar Szafnauer, who is reportedly headed to Alpine. McLaren will unveil its new car for Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo on 11 February as the build up to the season of change continues.