With barely a handful of races remaining in the Formula 1 racing 2022 season and Max Verstappen within touching distance of a more facile second world drivers championship, focus has shifted not only to the 2023 season but also, how races are conducted following the contentious end to the Imola Grand Prix.

The last race before a forced break caused by the cancellation of the Russian GP has given the Formula 1 world much food for thought. There had already been one contentious race behind the safety car when the race directors and stewards deemed the weather and track conditions too dangerous to start in Monaco.

The high profile Imola grand prix ran into trouble at the start of the race and then again at the end. This calls once more for a review of the safety car, and how races are allowed to finish, keeping audiences in mind. If the race stewards ran into trouble over late disclosure of the starting grid post qualifying, as several drivers were serving penalties, the end of the race was rather anticlimactic, finishing as it did behind the safety car.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton's season has looked increasingly on the rise, but never enough to challenge Verstappen's incredible composure and track presence with a second world drivers championship title in sight. However, there was a moment at the end of the Imola grand prix where conspiracy theories ran about how Hamilton "might have wished" what happened at Imola this year happened at the season ending Abu Dhabi race last year. Then the safety car was released on the last lap with Verstappen leapfrogging Hamilton for a final race win and championship victory.

What the race did was bring into focus what happens when the track cannot be cleared in time. There was conjecture that it would have been better for the red flag to have been pulled out with less than a handful of laps remaining. This would have allowed the marshalls to clear the track of the stopped car and debris and also, allow cars then to race freely to the chequered flag.

Finishing behind the safety car gave off the impression that fans that turned up in hoards were denied the opportunity to see an exciting finish and it was an exciting race given that even the likes of Verstappen had to plough through the field as did Carlos Sainz for Ferrari.

The safety car could come into play if Formula 1 is to play its cards right given how it is expanding into new territories, capitalising on F1's renewed interests and rivalries.

Formula 1 Not Happy with FIA

There are reasons the Formula 1 racing is not entirely happy with the way the FIA, the world motorsport governing body, is running matters. Not only is the issue of safety cars a concern but also, the manner of scheduling of races. That seems to have come back into focus as F1 looks to cash in on the fan euphoria which has surged under the Leclerc versus Verstappen chase and also, with several of the mid field runners also making it interesting despite their age such as Fernando Alonso. However, the timing and regional logistics have apparently left a lot to be desired in the post pandemic world.

Mohammad Ben Sulayem, the FIA President, had this to say of the expanding season next year, "the presence of 24 races on the 2023 FIA Formula One World Championship calendar is further evidence of the growth and appeal of the sport on a global scale."

The next year will have just one more race than the current season which boasted of 23 races before the Russian GP was scuttled over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It is still a significant milestone in terms of races in a single season.

Stefano Domenicali, President and CEO of Formula 1, struck the right note, at least on paper, when he said, "we are excited to announce the 2023 calendar with 24 races around the world. Formula 1 has unprecedented demand to host races and it is important we get the balance right for the entire sport."

While Miami debuted this year and Qatar will return after its debut last year and missing out this year due to the FIFA Football World Cup, there is some disgruntlement about how the races have been stacked.

There are two scheduled triple headers including one with the USA, Mexico and Brazil. The Las Vegas GP debut is scheduled as a Saturday race which is an interesting proposition. The other triple header is an Imola-Monaco-Spain train, making it an European affair.

With the summer break seeing the resumption of Formula 1 with the Dutch GP unlike this season, where the Dutch GP was the last race before the summer break, F1 and their owners, Liberty Media, are attempting to increase their presence and expand their commercial opportunities across regions. It is going to create a few heartburns across traditional tracks. This is not only because of how they might be shuffled but also, with their places threatened. Races like Monaco have managed to keep their foot at the doorstop for the moment despite intense speculation this year.

Verstappen Above the Rest

In a season that started somewhat wobbly with two of the first three races ending up in the Dutchman not finishing the race, defending champion Verstappen has managed to pull 11 wins in this season alone. Continuing in Imola, he now has a sizable lead of 112 points under his belt to second placed Charles Leclerc.

That did not seem to be the cards as Leclerc and Ferrari seemed the surprise early contenders in a season pitted to be a redux of 2021, with Lewis Hamilton nursing a lost world title in a close race with Verstappen last year. However, Leclerc's 46-point lead withered away quickly as Verstappen returned renewed, determined and even more cool and calculative behind the wheel, less impetuous and more daring.

What might have helped in the Dutchman's case might also be the fact that his feisty competition with Leclerc has really revived the on track drama on a more positive note. The fans were also engaged and excited unlike 2021, when every clash between Verstappen and Hamilton became nerve racking with a collision around the corner. While the Dutchman's aura has grown, fans have really taken to the Leclerc-Verstappen rivalry although Ferrari's dodgy calls and moves and Leclerc's own impulsiveness have cost them more than a couple of opportunities to go wheel-to-wheel with Red Bull this season.

Although the season might have looked more open than it has in years with the likes of Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez also throwing their hats into the ring, there has been one man who has towered above the rest. His contention that everything above his first world drivers championship is a bonus seems to hold true given the way he continues to race passionately.

He has also shown remarkable temperament for a 24-year-old in how he handled some of the trickier challenges that came his way this season, by way of rivals, car reliability issues or penalties, being thrown into the deep end of the grid on a couple of occasions. He has shown remarkable attitude and track presence that it has been something of a new page turner in Verstappen's own book of a still youthful legacy.

With six races remaining in the season, the pressure will be on Max to put the drivers championship completely out of reach at Singapore which is the next race on the calendar. Whether Verstappen completes his second championship on the trot in the next race is besides the point. At the moment, what remains to be seen is how much interest Formula 1 can sustain when the season has a clear clincher in sight.