The 2022 Formula One season opener was one for the ages as an early favorite retired, one team ended its win drought and a late driver addition seems to be a dark horse for the season.
Charles Leclerc managed to fend off reigning World Champion Max Verstappen, coming out on top after a wheel-to-wheel showdown following their first pit stops. The Monegasque driver went on to win the Bahrain Grand Prix, and teammate Carlos Sainz took second after Verstappen had to retire in the final laps. Verstappen had been chasing Leclerc most of the race.
One Red Bull driver remained in contention for points, but Sergio Perez said over the radio that he was losing power, eventually spinning out on the final lap. This left Lewis Hamilton taking P3, rounding out the podium Sunday after surviving Mercedes’ pace struggles.
“Ferrari is back, the hard work has paid off. Congratulations to Charles, and I managed to bring the 1-2 back for the team,” Sainz said.
Aside from Leclerc’s victory showing the rising talent of the new generation of Formula One drivers, there is much to take from the Bahrain Grand Prix, which saw Pierre Gasly’s car start to flame and Haas F1's Kevin Magnussen finishing fifth.
Here's three takeaways from the drama-filled season opener.
A Resurgence of Ferrari
Ferrari had not won a race in 910 days entering Sunday, with its last victory coming the 2019 Singapore GP.
The Italy-based team is the only squad to compete in every season since the world championship began, in 1950. Since then, Ferrari has tallied 16 world titles and finished first in 239 races.
Well, make that 240.
Ferrari used to run with the big dogs, winning a then-unprecedented five consecutive title doubles (driver and constructor) during the 2000s era with Michael Schumacher. However, it has not won a constructors’ title since ’08 and the last world title was in ’07 with Kimi Raikkonen.
Sainz was added to Ferrari in 2021, and the Spaniard and Leclerc seemed to click. Sainz, who is the son of a double World Rally champion, outscored Leclerc, but combined, they lifted Ferrari, accumulating more than double their ’20 points tally.
The Bahrain Grand Prix ended similarly to the ‘19 Singapore GP for Ferrari. Sebastian Vettel, who raced for the Prancing Horse at the time, drove to victory while Leclerc took second. Vettel had been in a Grand Prix drought, his last win coming 392 days prior at Belgium.
Like Sunday, Leclerc was the pole-sitter for the Singapore race as well, and he had set the pace of the field as he fended off Hamilton in 2019. A strategic pit stop for Vettel allowed him to later undercut Leclerc, a call that the Monegasque questioned at the time.
Now, more than 900 days later, Leclerc powered Ferrari back to its winning ways. Given Red Bull and Mercedes’ evident problems, the Prancing Horse is likely a force to be reckoned with in 2022.
“Yes, yes, so happy,” Leclerc said after the Bahrain win, per Formula1.com. “Again, I keep repeating myself, but the last two years have been incredibly difficult for the team, and we knew this was going to be a big opportunity for the team and the guys have done such an incredible job building this amazing car.”
“So for now it’s starting in the best way possible. Pole position, victory, fastest lap, one-two today with Carlos, we couldn’t hope for better. Thank you to all of you guys who kept supporting us, it hasn’t been easy, but it’s incredible to be back at the top.”
What Happened to Red Bull?
It looked like Verstappen would take second and Perez would not have been too far behind in the Bahrain Grand Prix. But in the span of three laps, Red Bull’s day went from hopeful to the worst-case scenario.
Verstappen's complaints about his car started with approximately ten laps before he retired, explaining that his steering wheel felt too heavy heading into corners. A safety car was deployed after Gasly’s vehicle started to flame, and shortly after the race went green, the Dutchman started asking about the battery.
Just three laps to go, the reigning World Champion slowed, pulling down into the pits.
The development placed Ferrari 1-2, Perez fighting off Hamilton to hang onto third place. However, he started having problems of his own, the engine suddenly stopping as he spun on the last lap.
After the race, Red Bull tweeted that they “need to do a full investigation, but it looks like both Bulls suffered from a suspected fuel pump issue.”
Let's Talk About Haas F1
It has been a rough stretch for Haas F1 over the last few seasons, whether it was harrowing moments like Romain Grosjean’s fiery wreck that almost cost the Switzerland-born driver his life or the high-profile termination during the 2022 preseason of driver Nikita Mazepin and Uralkali.
The American-owned team has struggled to be competitive, sometimes neither of its drivers finishing a race. But could they be turning a corner with their late driver addition or is it just a lucky break?
Haas announced the return of Kevin Magnussen nearly two weeks ago, marking his fifth F1 season. He filled in the gap left by Mazepin and joined Mick Schumacher. Magnussen had last competed for Haas from 2017 to ’20, according to BBC, and he negotiated his release from endurance racing commitments with Chip Ganassi Racing in the U.S. and Peugeot in Europe so he could return.
It seems like the investment is worthwhile for Haas after Magnussen not only scored points for the team, but finished P5—the team's best result since Austria 2018. Magnussen’s result almost scored more points than Haas has tallied in the last two years combined. Meanwhile, Schumacher nearly scored his first F1 points on Sunday, finishing P11.
The question remains—can Haas keep up the pace come Saudi Arabia next weekend and beyond?
Final Bahrain GP Results
- Charles Leclerc
- Carlos Sainz
- Lewis Hamilton
- George Russell
- Kevin Magnussen
- Valtteri Bottas
- Esteban Ocon
- Yuki Tsunoda
- Fernando Alonso
- Zhou Guanyu
- Mick Schumacher
- Lance Stroll
- Alexander Albon
- Daniel Ricciardo
- Lando Norris
- Nicholas Latifi
- Nico Hulkenberg
- Sergio Perez (DNF)
- Max Verstappen (DNF)
- Pierre Gasly (DNF)
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