F1 enjoyed an exhilarating and action-packed 2021 season as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton went head-to-head in the first true inter-team battle in a decade that concluded with the most intense title finale since 2016. 

Verstappen ultimately prevailed over Hamilton to win his maiden world title in controversial circumstances following a pulsating season of high-drama and excitement, leaving F1 fans with a thirst for more. 

An extensive shake-up to the technical rules, including the introduction of a new generation car, has the potential to result in a complete reset in 2022, with the competitive picture unknown. 

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of drivers who we think could have the best shot of fighting for the world championship in 2022.

5. George Russell 

Assuming Mercedes successfully develops a competitive car going into F1’s new era, George Russell could find himself challenging for a world championship in his first season driving front-running machinery. 

Russell has demonstrated his electric pace over one lap thanks to his starring qualifying displays for backmarkers Williams over the past three years. On his one previous outing for Mercedes, when he stood in for Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, Russell out-performed teammate Valtteri Bottas and came agonisingly close to scoring a fairytale first grand prix victory. 

How Russell handles the pressure of finding himself in the spotlight more than ever before at Mercedes, along with how he stacks up against Hamilton, promises to be one of the most fascinating storylines to follow in 2022. 

Russell is something of an unknown quantity in our list but if he can hit the level many in the paddock believe he is capable of, the 23-year-old Briton could be a dark horse for the title. 

4. Fernando Alonso 

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Fernando Alonso’s 2022 season will depend entirely on the package Alpine gives him, but the fact he has been there and done it all before is the reason we’ve put the Spaniard inside our top five. 

With two world titles to his name and plenty of experience contesting championship battles over the years, the desire and hunger has long been there for Alonso to achieve that as-of-yet elusive third F1 drivers’ crown.  

Despite being the oldest driver on the grid at 40, Alonso proved he has lost none of his magic with some swashbuckling displays during a strong comeback campaign that included a return visit to the podium in Qatar. 

Alpine is hoping the introduction of a new engine concept it has been developing for the last two years, along with new technical rules, can power the team closer to the front of the grid. 

If the Anglo-French squad can provide Alonso with the right car, there is no doubt he has the ability to be a serious factor in the world championship fight. Will 'El Plan' come to fruition? 

3. Charles Leclerc

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Ferrari may be downplaying its chances of returning to winning ways in 2022, but there is a sense of real optimism brewing at Maranello, especially after its closest rivals Mercedes and Red Bull spent the entirety of last season being pre-occupied with their intense-season long scrap for championship glory. 

Charles Leclerc already has two grand prix victories and nine pole positions to his name and the Monegasque now has more experience under his belt than when he was first thrust into the spotlight as a Ferrari driver back in 2019. 

The 24-year-old may have ended up slipping behind teammate Carlos Sainz in the championship on the final day of last season, but he still produced an outstanding 2021 filled with consistent high-quality performances. 

Leclerc continued to prove his exceptional talent both over one lap and in the races, the latter of which was highlighted at Silverstone, where he narrowly missed out on the win with a brilliant drive despite battling engine gremlins. 

If he can iron out his tendency to push too hard and make the odd mistake - such as his qualifying crash at Monaco - Leclerc has all the potential to become a world champion. 

2. Max Verstappen 

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As the reigning world champion, Verstappen will start the 2022 season as one of the clear title favourites. 

The Red Bull driver’s title-winning campaign last year was underlined by reaching a remarkably consistent level of performance, which, impressively, he was able to sustain for the whole 22-race season. 

Verstappen has now proved he can both cope with the pressure of a world championship fight and achieve the rare feat of beating Hamilton in a title head-to-head. 

At just 24 years old, there is still room for improvement for Verstappen, who may be yet to hit his peak in F1 - an ominous prospect for his rivals. 

What remains to be seen is whether Red Bull will pay the price for its aggressive development push last season amid its relentless pursuit to topple Mercedes and win its first drivers’ world title since 2013. 

If Red Bull does find itself in a competitive position once more, Verstappen will surely emerge as one of the leading title protagonists. 

1. Lewis Hamilton

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Going off the assumption that Hamilton does indeed return to the F1 grid this year, we believe the seven-time world champion will be back with a vengeance, determined to hit back after controversially missing out on the title last year. 

Hamilton will be hurting in the wake of the events of last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but if he can channel that anger and Mercedes delivers the goods, the seven-time world champion will be a dangerous opponent in 2022. 

Age shouldn’t be a problem for the recently-turned 37-year-old considering Hamilton was still able to churn out some of his greatest-ever performances in 2021, particularly in the second half of the season. 

Hamilton has shown time and time again that you can never count him out when the chips are down and his back is against the wall. Indeed, it is often in such moments of adversity that the Briton digs deep to produce his best. You only have to look at his stunning fightback victory in Brazil last year to see that. 

The 2022 regulation overhaul will undoubtedly be the biggest threat to Mercedes’ recent supremacy, but the German marquee did manage to stay on top through F1's last significant rule change in 2017. 

Taking all of that into account, Hamilton is our favourite to triumph and seal a record-breaking eighth world title.