F1’s New Era Kicks Off in Bahrain


Ferrari drives away with a big win at Bahrain. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Over the weekend, the 2022 Formula 1 season kicked off with the Bahrain Grand Prix. Heading into the season, there were revolutionary changes to the cars with the overall goal to promote closer racing and increase overtaking.

In the first three practices during the weekend, we saw the shake-up of the pecking order with many of the cars such as Haas and Alfa Romeo, who struggled to get off the back of the grid last year now in a position where they could fight for points. On the other side, there were teams that were struggling, such as McLaren, with one of its drivers Daniel Ricciardo having limited time in the session due to mechanical issues with the car. After the practice sessions, it seemed that the favorites for pole position were either the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez or the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

When it came time for qualifying, it was Leclerc who grabbed the first pole position of the year, followed by Verstappen in second, Sainz in third and Perez in fourth. The reigning Constructors’ Mercedes qualified fifth and ninth with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell respectively. Two standout performances were with the Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas and the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, who qualified sixth and seventh respectively. One huge difference from last year is that all of the drivers this year are given a free choice of tires, allowing everyone to choose their starting tire for the race, which helps them decide their strategy.

When the lights went out on Sunday to start the race, Leclerc got away cleanly alongside Verstappen and Sainz. Perez fell down the order into sixth, but it was Bottas who had the worst start, falling down to 14th. Leclerc then created a gap from Verstappen who in turn also created a gap from Sainz and were pulling away from the field. Meanwhile, after a few laps, Perez eventually got back into fourth after passing Magnussen and then Hamilton.

On lap 15, Verstappen blinked first and entered into the pits, immediately followed by Sainz. They emerged in the same order and the following lap, Leclerc pitted for fresh tires. However, with that extra lap with fresh tires, Verstappen closed that three-second gap to less than a second. On lap 17, Verstappen sent a huge divebomb into turn one, taking the lead of the race. Leclerc wasn’t going to give up without a fight, and as the pair headed into turn four, Leclerc had DRS and retook the lead. The following lap, Verstappen once again repeated the divebomb in the exact same location and once again took the lead. Like the previous lap, Leclerc retook the lead going into turn four. On lap 19, for the third time in a row, Verstappen attempted a divebomb but locked up, allowing Leclerc to easily reclaim the position.

Verstappen never got closer than that, with Leclerc keeping a consistent gap in front of the world champion. Verstappen pitted once again in an attempt to undercut Leclerc, but once Leclerc responded, Verstappen wasn’t as close as the previous round of pit stops and Leclerc was able to keep the gap ahead of Verstappen. However, on lap 43, both Red Bulls rolled the dice and pitted again for a third time in an attempt to get fresh tires to overtake the Ferraris, who were first and third. Sainz responded by pitting, but the leader Leclerc didn’t react, trying to make it to the end on the current tires. After pitting, Verstappen was on the radio, saying that he was having an issue with the car, specifically with the steering.

However, on lap 46, the race was turned on its head with the retirement of Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly due to an overheating issue. The back of the car was on fire with marshals trying to put it out with fire extinguishers. Under the safety car, Leclerc pitted and retained the lead due to the fact that under safety car conditions, all cars must slow down, which means that a car pitting doesn’t lose as much time compared to normal race conditions. Safety car conditions also bunch the entire pack, with any gap to a car eliminated. The top four at the time were Leclerc, Verstappen, Sainz and Perez. With the laps dwindling down, this was going to be a sprint race. With everyone either pitting right before or under the safety car, all teams had fresh tires and were going to go all out to improve their positions. 

On lap 51, the safety car was in and the race continued with Leclerc catching Verstappen by surprise and was able to create a gap with Sainz putting pressure on Red Bull. Verstappen was on the radio, saying that the car was getting worse and on lap 54 was overtaken by Sainz. Shortly after being overtaken by Sainz, Verstappen started to plummet down the order before retiring from the race with a mechanical problem with the car. This promoted Sainz into second and Perez into third, with Hamilton right behind them in fourth. On lap 56, the second-to-last lap, Perez was on the radio saying that there was an issue with the engine, but continued to defend from Hamilton for the final place on the podium. As they started the final lap, Perez spun into turn one, with an engine failure, forcing  him  to retire from the race and promoting Hamilton into third.

After 57 laps, Leclerc crossed the finish line to win the Bahrain Grand Prix with Sainz in second and Hamilton in third. Russell finished fourth with Magnussen in fifth, the team’s best result since 2018 and scoring more points in this race alone (10) then they did in the past two years combined (three). This was also Ferrari’s first win and one-two finish since 2019 in Singapore. On the other side, Red Bull had their first double DNF since 2020. Red Bull are investigating what caused the issue, with nothing confirmed yet. Another team that had a race to forget was McLaren, who finished 14th and 15th, leaving them a mountain to climb to continue their uptick in form in the past couple of years. You can take a look at the current Drivers’ and Constructors’ standings here.

With one race done, there is no time to rest with the next race this week in Jeddah for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Several teams such as Red Bull or McLaren need to discover what went wrong in Bahrain and fix it quickly because if not, then they can kiss any chance at their goals in either championship goodbye. Based on what happened in last year’s race in Jeddah, this should be another fascinating race as Formula 1’s new era is underway.