What a start to the season!!!!
The 2022 cars have begun to work their magic as Charles Leclerc of Ferrari converted his pole to a glittering and well fought out win at the opening round at Bahrain, Sunday evening. A terrible last few laps for Red Bull meant they suffered their first DNF since Austria 2020. The Mercedes’ of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell recovered their lack of qualifying pace into their brilliant 3rd and 4th place finishes respectively.
Finishing in P5 was the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, who on his return with Formula 1 cars after a 14 month hiatus, had put up an absolutely brilliant performance all round. Valtteri Bottas saw the chequered at a very respectable 6th, in addition to his teammate Zhou Guanyu scoring a point on his debut F1 race, giving Alfa Romeo their largest points haul in a long time.
Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso of Alpine both finished in the points at 7th and 9th respectively, with Yuki Tsunoda, the last of the Red Bull (or Honda as you might call) powered cars surviving the race, in 8th. Mick Schumacher closely missed out on his first F1 point finishing 11th with Lance Stroll putting up a commendable recovery drive crossing the line 12th after starting 19th. Albon came 13th followed by a surprisingly difficult McLaren result of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris finishing at 14th and 15th. Nicolas Latifi and super-sub Nico Hulkenberg had a rather uneventful race rounding up the pack at 16th and 17th.
The non-finishers were all Red Bull powered cars: the fateful ones of defending champion Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez, and Pierre Gasly all suffering from certain variations of Power Unit failures.
As it happened.....
Charles Leclerc got a decent start off P2 Max Verstappen as they headed down into turn 1, while Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas had relatively poor starts. This presented Kevin Magnussen with the opportunity to overtake the Red Bull driver and take the fight up to Lewis Hamilton for P5, which was indeed quite the show!
As for on track action, the first of which came real soon as K-Mag locked up his front wheels while fighting for his life against Perez, and went deep into the first corner opening the door for the latter to fifth place, a tussle that had gone along for quite a few corners until Magnussen yielded owing to the sheer superiority of that Bull.
Couple of laps later, Perez had also been able to recover his place lost to Hamilton at the start with a rather easy move into turn 4. For about 8 laps hence, the line-up had started to take a stable shape until Verstappen took the gamble of undercut against the vastly outpaced Ferrari of Charles Leclerc in terms of strategy, because of which he managed to cut a south of 3 second lead to a mere 0.3 seconds one.
This ended up providing our first taste of the brilliant 2022 action: the two young guns battled out for 3 consecutive laps switching back and forth for the race lead, what an absolute treat to the eyes! Verstappen managed to lock up his front right wheels going into turn 1 on his third overtake attempt, enabling Leclerc to keep his dominating lead from the defending world champion.
After a 2nd chain of pit stops around the lap 30 mark, the race had pretty much formed a stagnant order with smaller moves being made here and there in the midfield and lower down, with the likes of Zhou Guanyu getting some neat moves done on his F1 debut. The only other potentially eventful issue being a radio message from Verstappen to his engineer regarding a steering problem; but as he said that, he set the fastest 1st and 3rd sectors overall. Fair to say, he just cried wolf.
On lap 46, the race encountered its first incident: Pierre Gasly’s Red Bull powered Alpha Tauri lost power and immediately caught fire due to overheating. This brought out a temporary virtual safety car followed by a full safety car as teams scrambled to get to the pits for a “cheap pit stop”.
After the pack was bunched up post yellow flag, racing went underway on lap 51 of 57 with the cars in front really too close for comfort to defend against anyone. Leclerc got an amazing run out the final turn with Sainz tantalisingly close to the gearbox of Verstappen, capitalising on a poor restart from the Red Bull, both already duking it out for P2. Slightly at the back, it was Sergio Perez who was tasked to defend from a charging Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, but to not much avail anytime soon.
A handy couple of lap’s worth of battery charging later, Carlos Sainz made the move into turn 10 on Max Verstappen, who had just started to complain against a visible loss of pace because of a suspected energy store issue. This would mean the race had turned on its head over the last couple of laps, as Ferrari charged in front with a 1-2 and Red Bull’s no.1 Verstappen slowing down with yet again an imminent loss of power. Within 30 seconds, Max was overtaken by his teammate and both the Mercedes, while he tried to nurse his car into the pit lane, reporting a total power loss, ruling him out of the race.
This left Red Bull’s only remaining car of Sergio Perez with the tumultuous job of defending his might out of a feisty Hamilton, looking for a podium (even though Mercedes themselves did not expect any of this result). On to the final lap, Perez calls to his engineer “I’m losing power”, as he tried his best to defend form the Mercedes. Going into turn 1, Perez bins it right in front of Hamilton, even him reporting an immediate loss of power. Both Red Bulls were thrown out of the race in a matter of a few laps.
Hamilton went on to complete the podium following a brilliant showing by both Ferrari drivers of Leclerc and Sainz finishing P1 and P2 respectively, giving Leclerc his third win since Monza 2019 while quenching Ferrari’s 910-days of winless drought since Singapore GP 2019.
A special mention goes out to Kevin Magnussen, who finished P5 behind George Russell, a season start of dreams for the Haas team after what can only be called as a disastrous 2021 season to say the least, where they went without scoring a single point.
As for the winners and losers of the opening round of the 2022 season at the Bahrain International Circuit, the first team that comes to mind are the Red Bulls being the biggest losers of this race. Three of their “Red Bull Power Trains” powered cars failed to finish the race. This reliability issue had not been caught all over the weeks of testing periods, and had become apparent with the sudden engine failures of both Red Bull cars and Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri. The Red Bulls were taken out due to a suspected fuel pump failure, and Alpha Tauri had caught fire due to again a suspected MGU-K failure.
The Mercedes powered Astons finished well outside the points, and most importantly a significant drop in performance for the McLaren cars was of absolute stagger to everyone. Granted, McLaren were nursing a headache of a brake overheating problem, but the lack of pace form the Mercedes was rather surprising, to say the least.
Of the top 10, there were 5 cars powered by Ferrari, implying that Ferrari have indeed recovered their power deficit since 2019. This makes them the biggest winners of the opening round. In fact, Ferrari came off with the largest points haul possible for a team in a non-sprint weekend of 44 points, thanks to a 1-2 and the fastest lap.
A few pointers to sum up the race:
- Ferrari currently seem to have the most complete package in terms of engine power and aero balance.
- Mercedes are looking forward to damage limitation until they have their porpoising problems fixed.
- Red Bull, well, no one knows: they came into the weekend as clear favourites but their fate turned on their heads within laps.
- Haas looked to have capitalised on their essentially extra year of car development.
- McLaren are still reeling under their brake problems and lack of pace.
It really is too early to say, but the pecking order for teams are for sure going to change heavily this year.
Considering Sunday’s result, the Monegasque is leading the championship for the first time in his career, and Ferrari momentarily rests on top with a surprise Haas at P3 in the constructor’s standings.
Even though it’s just the first race of the season with anything and everything here bound to change, all the teams now have their benchmark of Ferrari to beat, going into the next race at Saudi Arabia on the fabulous yet controversial Jeddah Corniche Street Circuit, in just a mere week’s time!