98 days on from THAT controversial yet sensational championship decider at Abu Dhabi, a new era of Formula One began, in spectacular fashion, under the lights at the Bahrain International Circuit.
One of the biggest regulation changes in the history of the sport threatened to shuffle up the grid order, and that’s exactly what we witnessed over the course of the weekend, as Ferrari returned to the summit of the podium as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished first and second respectively and late retirements from both Red Bulls saw Lewis Hamilton take P3. Here are my takeaways from the epic race weekend…
Ferrari lay down the marker
The clampdown of Ferrari’s 2019 engine ensured a tough couple of years for the Scuderia, which saw them fall down the constructors’ championship ladder, gradually fighting their way back to the top ever since. When an opportunity to regain the top spot, in the form of a change in regulations, presented itself, they didn’t need telling twice to make the most of it.
Under the leadership of the pragmatic Mattia Binotto, the team switched focus to develop their 2022 car early and it certainly seems to have paid dividends. With a strong car at their disposal, Leclerc and Sainz proved that Ferrari might well be a force to be reckoned with. They seemed to have the best car as Leclerc edged out Verstappen for pole, while having superior pace during the race and comfortably finishing first. While Sainz was still trying to get to grips with the car, he wasn’t at his best, but he hung in there in third place, ready to pick up the scraps as Verstappen retired during the closing stages, to finish P2 at the end.
It’s still very early to predict anything, with in-season vehicle development set to play a huge role in the proceedings, but is this finally the year the Scuderia and the Tifosi have been waiting for over the better part of a decade? Only time will tell…
Potential Verstappen vs Leclerc battle for the Championship
Last year saw one of the best championship fights in the history of Formula One, as the young Max Verstappen went toe to toe with and won against arguably the greatest driver in the sport, Lewis Hamilton. This year, the reigning champion might be going up against someone who he’s raced since his childhood, in the shape of Charles Leclerc. They’ve known each other since their karting days, both been earmarked as generational talents owing to dazzling performances in their junior series. Now, with nearly matched cars, I’m sure they’re going to relish the prospect of going at each other for the championship as we prepare ourselves for a mouthwatering championship fight.
Massive shuffle of the pack
It was expected that there would be a grid shuffle with this new set of regulations and building on from pre-season testing, that fact was confirmed here at Bahrain with some teams losing out and others gaining. The biggest surprise seems to be the fact that Mercedes seems to have dropped the ball slightly- perhaps because of their own ridiculously high standards over the last 8 years. Everyone shrugged off Mercedes’ preseason struggles as sandbags and while they did make decent progress over this race weekend, they’re still a bit behind Ferrari and Red Bull. Aston Martin and McLaren too have endured a torrid start to the season, as both teams were languishing towards the back end of the grid. Alfa Romeo and Haas, on the other hand, seem to have established themselves in the thick of the midfield, at the expense of the previously mentioned teams, which is remarkable considering the fact that these were the bottom two teams last year. There’s more to come from teams as they try to get on top of their issues, paving the way for a fascinating developmental battle over the course of the next 9 months.
More exciting racing to come?
The basis for these sweeping new changes was to totally change the aerodynamic concept of the cars and make close racing increasingly possible. From what we saw in flashes throughout the race, we can look forward to an exciting new era of Formula One. The brief battle between Leclerc and Verstappen proved that it has indeed become possible to closely follow the car in front, leading to purer and harder racing, which is great for the fans and for the sport. With a record breaking 23 races on the calendar, with a maiden visit to the new track in Miami, this season already looks certain to be a blockbuster. Next up, is another night race, with the teams setting up camp at the stunning Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia.