21 March 2022

5 things we learned as F1’s new era made an action-packed start in Bahrain

21 March 2022

Formula One fired up for a new season in Bahrain on Sunday, 98 days after last December’s contentious finale in Abu Dhabi.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five things we learned from the opening round of the campaign.

Red Bull implosion papers over Mercedes cracks

It is not often Lewis Hamilton celebrates third like a victory, but his podium finish, coupled with rival Max Verstappen’s no-score, has to be considered a strong result for the British driver and his struggling Mercedes team.

Hamilton became the first F1 driver to appear on the podium for 16 consecutive years, and the first to score points in 250 races, but he will be well aware of the seismic task he now faces to compete for a record eighth championship. Mercedes were the best part of a second off the pace in Bahrain, and without the late safety car and Red Bull’s double DNF, Hamilton would have finished a very distant fifth.

It seems unfathomable that Mercedes will not improve, but it is also difficult to recall a season where a team has started so far behind and ended it by producing a world champion.

Ferrari are back

Charles Leclerc delivered possibly the best weekend of his F1 career to convert his 10th pole position into a third victory.

Ferrari are convinced that Leclerc is the man to end a championship drought which stretches back 15 years, and to his credit, the Monegasque did not put a foot wrong in Bahrain, with team-mate Carlos Sainz following him home to complete a dream one-two for the Italian team.

After a number of poor seasons, hats off to team principal Mattia Binotto for spearheading Ferrari’s comeback by taking advantage of the sport’s rule change and producing a race-winning machine straight out of the blocks. On the early evidence of the new campaign, the Scuderia will be title challengers.

Should Verstappen have learnt from his mistakes?

While Verstappen could do nothing to stop the mechanical failure which brought a premature end to his evening, questions might be asked of the world champion’s race craft during his ding-dong duel with Leclerc.

On two consecutive laps, Verstappen passed Leclerc at the opening corner only to see the Ferrari driver overtake him at Turn 4. Verstappen tried for a third occasion at the first bend, but arrived from too far back, braked too late, and damaged his rubber.

Would Verstappen not have been better off by learning from the previous two laps, and followed Leclerc through the opening turn before getting the job done at Turn 4, rather than a kamikaze move at the first corner?

McLaren all at sea in Bahrain

Lando Norris, who finished 15th of the 17 classified drivers, painted a very gloomy picture for McLaren on Sunday night when he said: “I am expecting pain and everyone needs to know there will be pain. This is where we are, and we have to get used to it.”

McLaren have been on an upward trajectory in recent years – with Daniel Ricciardo, who finished just one place ahead of Norris, securing the British team’s first win in nine seasons at last September’s Italian Grand Prix.

But McLaren’s sobering weekend in Bahrain suggests a long and painful campaign is up ahead. And Norris, 22, might be questioning why he committed to stay with the team for four more seasons just last month.

Jury out on new regulations

The regulations have been changed this season (Hassan Ammar/AP) (AP)

The cars have been radically revised this year in a bid to make it easy to follow and create closer racing. But there seemed very little difference to previous seasons with drivers still relying on the overtaking gimmick, DRS, to make a move stick.

The other major concern is that the performance spread appears greater than last season, with Ferrari and Red Bull holding a hefty advantage over the rest of the field.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox