Our F1 correspondent, Nick van der Meulen, delves into the season-opening, drama-filled Formula One Grand Prix in his race report F1 Review Bahrain 2022.

What started as a quiet Bahrain Grand Prix, ended in drama as both Red Bull Racing machines of F1 title-holder Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez suffered reliability issues. The Dutchman stuttered into pit lane with three laps to go and the Mexican spun out at Turn 1 on the final lap. This, after Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri engine failed and caught fire. This brought out a safety car in the closing stages of the race, ensuring a seven-lap sprint to the chequered flag…

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Prancing into a new era

When both Red Bulls ground to a halt, they were running competitively in second and fourth positions, respectively. But they had no answer to Charles Leclerc, who ended Ferrari’s 46-race win drought in dominant fashion. The Monegasque took pole position and led from the start. The feisty Verstappen attempted to wrest the lead away after the first pit stops (lap 16). A heated battle ensued between the two race protagonists, with the lead swapping no fewer than six times in three laps.

Once Leclerc retook the lead for the final time on lap 19, he stamped his authority on the race for once and for all and was never headed again as he charged towards the chequered flag. The title holder complained loudly to his team about having to take it easy on his out laps, after which his team told him he was free to push. He had no answer to Leclerc, though, as the Monegasque continued to pull away. Teammate Carlos Sainz benefitted from Red Bull’s misfortune to make it a 1-2 finish for the legendary Italian marque. 

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Damage limitation

The Mercedes team performance at Bahrain confirmed their concerns in testing. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell struggled for pace in qualifying, as well as the race. They did demonstrate they were the third-best team on the grid thus far and Hamilton and Russell wrestled their machines to third and fourth place, respectively.

There were some pleasant and unpleasant surprises after watching the first round of the 2022 F1 world championship. Firstly, Haas-Ferrari genuinely have pace, as Kevin Magnussen drove superbly to finish a fine fifth. Meanwhile teammate Mick Schumacher narrowly missed out on scoring his first point in F1. The other Ferrari customer team, Alfa Romeo, had their best result since Brazil 2019 when Valtteri Bottas finished sixth. Debutant Zhou Guanyu managed tenth after an excellent first outing for the team.

Also rans

The Alpine and Alpha Tauri teams looked solid, if unspectacular, as they vied for the final points on offer. The Alpine racers, Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, finished seventh and ninth; while the sole-surviving Alpha Tauri of Yuki Tsunoda finished eighth.

The unpleasant surprises were the shockingly poor pace of McLaren-Mercedes and Aston Martin-Mercedes, respectively. Both McLarens drivers started on medium rubber (while the rest of the field were on soft tyres). This meant that both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were out of contention from the get-go. It was astonishing to see Schumacher make short work of Norris for position on Lap 21…

Unlucky Seb

Aston Martin started on the back foot. Their star driver, Sebastian Vettel, testing positive for Covid-19 and leaving the team to bring in Nico Hulkenberg at short notice. The Hulk was impressive and had the measure of teammate Lance Stroll throughout the weekend, but lost out to his Canadian rival at the end of the race.

There is not much time for the struggling teams to do anything about their plight, as the next round of the world championship is less than a week away – at Saudi Arabia. Red Bull will be hoping to sort out their reliability issues, as they have the speed, while Ferrari will hope this turn of form is no fluke…