Preview – 2022 Bahrain GP
We’re nearly there. As the 2022 F1 season finally gets underway in Bahrain on Sunday, Rhonan Colquhoun gives the rundown of what to expect from the curtain raiser.
The start of a brand-new era of Formula One is just on the horizon and with less than 24 hours until the new cars hit the track, excitement has reached fever-pitch. Hundreds of laps have been logged, various race programmes have been completed and modifications have been tweaked, but there’s still gaps in the knowledge of both drivers and teams.
Pre-season testing has been completed and the F1 Paddock is still unclear on who the favourites are heading into the season-opening race in Bahrain.
Bahrain will play host to this incredibly unpredictable season with a further 21 races to look forward to this season. It’ll be the fourth time since the race appeared on the F1 calendar back in 2004 that it’ll host the opening race having done so last year.
The 15-turn Bahrain International Circuit has been the scene of many iconic racing moments in the pas,t with Fernando Alonso winning on debut for Ferrari in 2010, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton racing wheel-to-wheel as Mercedes showed early signs of their dominance in 2014, while last year’s race went down to the wire as Hamilton and Verstappen duelled under the floodlights.
This weekend’s race will add another chapter in the history of the sport as fans eagerly wait to see how the teams and drivers cope with the new and most dramatic regulation change in 40 years.
Which teams will be in the hunt for victory?
Aiming to start the season on the winning foot, defending World Champion Max Verstappen is confident of retaining his title. His performance on-track and belief in Red Bull was shown as the Dutchman put pen to paper on a long-term contract extension.
Red Bull had a solid pre-season test and were the most impressive team over the three days. Early data shows that Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez have a seriously competitive machine at their disposal. With this season leaning towards a development battle, Red Bull are known for their incredible ability to evolve their cars during the season.
Red Bull weren’t the only team to show incredible pace and reliability over the test – The [rancing horse of Ferrari galloped to the top of the timing sheets on two of the three days. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr remain cautious, but the evidence so far is that the Scuderia have finally closed the gap.
Reigning Constructor’s Champions Mercedes had a mixed pre-season and once again seem to be struggling for outright pace and finding the right balance of the F1 W13. After doubts over his commitment to the sport, Lewis Hamilton has warned his rivals that he’s as “dangerous” as ever, but admitted his team was lagging slightly behind.
Mercedes protégé George Russell steps up to the Silver Arrows and is looking to make his mark, but going up against Hamilton is no simple task. The Mercedes duo might be just out of the picture for the first few races, though expect them to spring a surprise sooner rather than later.
The Mid-Field Fight
Pre-season wasn’t as productive as McLaren would have hoped for as Daniel Ricciardo tested positive for Covid-19, which meant that Lando Norris completed all of the team’s running. The Australian is scheduled to race this weekend and will hope to get to grips with the MCL36 quickly if the Woking team is to fight with the three outfits previously mentioned.
Data from pre-eason has suggested that for the first time in a long while, there won’t be a clear divide between the mid-field teams and the those at the rear of the field. However, Alfa Romeo and Williams are the two teams with work to do in order to be right in the mix with the others.
It’ll be a welcome relief for returning driver Kevin Magnussen and the whole of the Haas F1 Team that the American outfit isn’t as far away from the points as they have been for the past number of seasons. Magnussen makes a sensational return to the sport and to the team he last raced for in 2020 as the Dane replaces Nikita Mazepin to line-up alongside Mick Schumacher.
Magnussen’s return has seemed to have lifted Haas’ spirits as well as the competitive pace of the VF-22. The team have been in the headlines more than they expected as they decided to terminate Mazepin’s contract and that of their title sponsor Uralkali, due to links with Russia as the country’s invasion of Ukraine continues.
It’s still looking incredibly close between AlphaTauri, Alpine and Aston Martin, who all had relatively solid running over the three days of pre-season. There’ll be a noticeable change regarding the Alpine livery as the French team will run the main colour of their sponsor BWT for the opening two races of the season. Watch out for the duo of two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon who’ll be driving the A522 in a pink livery.
Four Time World Champion and Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel will miss this weekend’s race having tested positive for Covid-19 and will be replaced by Nico Hulkenberg, the team’s reserve driver.
The Race Weekend
Come Sunday, the drivers will lap the Bahrain International Circuit 57 times, and it’ll be the first time that they’ll get to fully open the taps and put pedal to the metal. Before the race, the drivers and teams will have three practice sessions (two on Friday, one on Saturday) – totalling three hours in order to fine-tune and set the car up for qualifying on Saturday.
One of the major rule changes for this season is that drivers won’t need to start the race on the same tyre they qualified on, which will hopefully see a number of strategies being adopted by the teams.
The new regulations have come into force with the aim to increase overtaking and therefore inspire closer racing. The paddock has already gotten a small glimpse of racing action as drivers such as Verstappen and Sainz couldn’t help themselves in getting their elbows out during pre-season testing.
Anticipation ahead of the season is higher than ever before. All 20 drivers and 10 teams will be racing into the unknown but let’s not forget, this has all the ingredients to be a bumper-packed season with levels of drama and excitement never seen before.