Fiery Start to F1 Season
Two races into the 2022 season and Ferrari have laid down a marker as the Prancing Horse leads the Constructor’s Championship by 40 points.
The new F1 season has started with a bang and if the opening two races are anything to go by, we should be in for a cracking year of racing. After pre-season testing gave us a first glimpse of the new machineries in action, the first two races at Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have left followers craving more of the world’s most exciting form of motorsport.
Charles Leclerc started on Pole at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, qualifying one-tenth of a second quicker than defending Driver’s Champion Max Verstappen. Carlos Sainz qualified P3 by a mere six-thousandths shy of Verstappen. Sergio Pérez kept Sainz company on the second row, with Sir Lewis Hamilton starting P5. Valtteri Bottas started P6 alongside his former Mercedes teammate, while George Russell qualified in P9.
Leclerc had himself a fine start and was able to fend off Verstappen after lights out, while Hamilton made gains on Pérez into P4. Pérez bounced back and reclaimed the position from Hamilton on lap 10. By then Hamilton's new teammate Russell had climbed into P6 ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Fernando Alonso.
Leclerc and Verstappen had themselves a scrap over the course of three laps, starting on the 17th when the latter made a lunge at the pit straight and placed his Red Bull in front of the Ferrari, but Leclerc immediately responded with DRS approaching turn 4 and he duly retook the lead from Verstappen. Déjà vu occurred as Verstappen snatched the lead for the second lap running albeit Leclerc once again utilised DRS to put his car back ahead at turn 4. It was third time unlucky for Verstappen who locked up at turn 1 on lap 19, leaving Leclerc with ample room to maintain position at the front of the pack.
Leclerc stretched the gap between himself and his closest challenger as both he and Verstappen boxed for fresh tyres. The gap was closed with 11 laps remaining when Pierre Gasly was forced to retire after his AlphaTauri lost power, overheated and set alight which resulted in the safety car coming out.
Racing resumed on lap 51/57 with the top five cars unchanged from the starting order. The drama began to unfold with a handful of laps to go. Leclerc had built a four-second lead in the space of four laps before Verstappen started losing power and was passed by the other Ferrari of Sainz as well as by Pérez and both the Mercedes cars, leaving the reigning world champion to limp home into the pits on lap 54.
Matters went from bad to worse for Christian Horner and his team as Pérez radioed that he, too, was losing power at the start of the final lap of the race and the Mexican was out of the race shortly after. Mercedes took full advantage of Red Bull's blunders and the eight-time defending Constructor's champions were elevated to P3 and P4 behind the pair of Ferraris.
After going winless in both 2020 and 2021, Ferrari claimed their first victory in 46 Grands Prix, the team’s longest wait for a race win for 28 years. Sainz followed Leclerc over the line for the Scuderia to bag a one-two for the first time since 2019 in Singapore, which was the last time the team from Maranello took the chequered flag. Leclerc also set the fastest lap as Ferrari left Bahrain with a maximum 44 points.
Hamilton’s P3 finish means the British driver has now stood on the podium in 16 consecutive years since 2007, surpassing Michael Schumacher‘s previous record of finishing on the podium for 15 successive years from 1992-2006. Russell claimed P4 in his first outing as a permanent Mercedes driver.
Magnussen scored a fantastic P5 for Haas to place on the scoreboard in the first race of the season after failing to score across all 22 events last year. Alfa Romeo took home nine points, four fewer than the team collected during all of last year. Guanyu Zhou came P10 to become the 66th driver to finish in the points on their F1 debut.
A total six teams ended in the points at Bahrain. While Ferrari were on top of the world, their classic rivals McLaren failed to finish in the points as Daniel Ricciardo finished P14 and Lando Norris P15.
The paddock remained in the Arabian Peninsula moving 1,400km westwards to the Jeddah Corniche Street Circuit in Saudi Arabia, 16 weeks after the penultimate race of 2021 and the inaugural GP at the fastest street circuit on the F1 calendar.
Leclerc set the fastest time in both free practice sessions on Friday, edging Verstappen by one-tenth in each session. Friday was also of considerable significance to the race weekend as a whole, after a widely reported missile attack on an Aramco petroleum depot, roughly 12 miles east of the track.
More drama ensued during qualifying on an eventful Saturday evening. First, Hamilton failed to make it to Q2 for the first time since 2017 as the seven-time world champion could not clock a lap time better than a 1:30.343 – 1,5 seconds off pacesetter Sainz.
Later, Q2 was red flagged with five minutes of the session remaining when Mick Schumacher was involved in a terrible shunt at turn 12. The German driver was noted conscious but was taken to the medical centre for precautionary checks before being transported to a hospital in Jeddah, four days after celebrating his 23rd birthday.
In final qualifying, Pérez dramatically snatched pole from Leclerc with a lap time of 1:28.200 for the Mexican to take a maiden Pole position in his 215th race weekend. Leclerc settled for a P2 starting position with Sainz and Verstappen forming the second row. Russell qualified P6, sandwiched by the two Alpine cars.
After failing to set a qualifying time on Saturday, Yuki Tsunoda encountered car trouble on his way to the grid for the start of the race. Schumacher did not take part in the Grand Prix following his horrific crash 24 hours prior. Thus, the Saudi Arabian GP started with just 18 of the 20 drivers.
At lights out on Sunday, Pérez got off the line well and was followed closely by the Ferraris, however Sainz lost P3 to Verstappen at the first corner. In the opening laps Pérez strengthened his lead at the front while Hamilton gradually worked his way up the field. Early on Alonso and Esteban Ocon were involved in an intra-Alpine tussle as the latter was reluctant to give way to his senior teammate.
It was rotten luck for Pérez who came in for new tyres on lap 15 right before Williams' Nicholas Latifi went into the wall on the very next lap which saw the introduction of the safety car. The cars ahead of Pérez capitalised by boxing for fresh tyres and they conceded less time than Pérez did during his pit stop. Leclerc inherited the race lead with Verstappen close behind him, whilst Pérez found himself down in P4 after being instructed to give back 3rd place to Sainz once racing had resumed.
Laps 36-37 saw three separate driver retirements as the experienced trio of Alonso, Bottas and Ricciardo had all run their race after being struck by respective car issues. This left just 14 cars in the running as the Virtual Safety Car temporarily neutralised the race.
The VSC ended on lap 41, leaving Verstappen and Leclerc take part in a compelling dual over the final nine laps. Similarly to in Bahrain seven days earlier, the two traded the race lead several times. With four laps left Verstappen moved for the lead and made it stick, and the Dutchman was able to keep his rival Leclerc at bay. It was the Red Bull that came out on top – for what was perhaps the narrowest of Verstappen’s 21 race wins – beating Leclerc’s Ferrari to the finish line by a slender margin of 0,549s.
Sainz was P3 and took his third consecutive podium finish including last year’s season-ending Abu Dhabi GP, and the Spaniard has also finished in the points in each of the last 17 races. Much to his dismay Pérez earned a P4 finish and together with Verstappen’s victory collected Red Bull’s first points of 2022. For the second successive race, Leclerc set the fastest lap.
Going one better than in Bahrain, there were seven different teams to collect points at Jeddah. McLaren took their first points of the season as Norris finished P7, behind Ocon and ahead of Gasly. Mercedes mustered 11 points with Russell ending P5 and Hamilton P10.
The next race comes from Melbourne for the first Australian GP since 2019, after the event was omitted from the calendar in both of the last two years due to the effects of the pandemic.
There have been several changes made to the Albert Park track which now contains two corners fewer than in years gone by. Turns 9 and 10 have been removed to make way for a long straight from turn 8 all the way through to the old turn 11 (now turn 9). In addition, the right-handers at turns 1, 3, and 6 have all been made significantly wider.
Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz occupy the top two spots in the WDC, with Championship leader Leclerc 20 points clear of current champion Max Verstappen. Ferrari have a 40-point buffer over Mercedes, with Red Bull one point shy of the Silver Arrows.