Bahrain Grand Prix 2022: Ferrari's triumphant start in the season opener
The 2022 Formula One season got off to a blistering start as lights went out at the Bahrain International Circuit this weekend.
Charles Leclerc, backed by his team-mate Carlos Sainz led Ferrari to the perfect start as they sealed a one-two finish at the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix.
In a dramatic end to the race, both Red Bulls bowed out consecutively at the death, only to give Lewis Hamilton the final spot on the podium.
The prancing horse of Ferrari has leaped over the Red Bulls; it was one team’s triumph and another one’s disaster that transpired in dramatic fashion at the season opener in the desert.
Here are the top takeaways from how the race at Sakhir played out.
Max Verstappen vs Charles Leclerc
The 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix was no short of what seemed to be the first episode of an enthralling Max Verstappen vs Charles Leclerc saga.
Defending world champion, Verstappen started the race from P2 on the grid and attempted to take on Charles Leclerc in his first stint on track, only to be tamed by the Ferrari’s raw pace.
His next best plan was to undercut the F1-75 and he tried to do so by pitting on Lap 15. This reduced the Red Bull’s 3.5s deficit only to a mere 0.35s behind Charles’ Ferrari, but was not good enough to make the undercut stick and give him the lead after Leclerc emerged from the pits in the next lap.
This was followed by an intense, jaw dropping battle from laps 17 to 19 when Max and Leclerc went wheel to wheel in three consecutive laps. Max, known for his ruthless driving, brought the fight to his rival by using DRS on the main straight and taking the lead into turn 1.
Closely pursued by Leclerc, the most remarkable moment came when Charles went along the outside, used the racing line to his advantage and snatched the lead back from the reigning WDC. He deftly stepped on the brakes late and made the Ferrari stick firmly through turn 4 in sublime fashion to re-emerge as the race leader.
Verstappen’s next move was to try the undercut a second time by entering the pits on lap 31 and rolling on the medium compound tyres.
However, this time Leclerc had a far more comfortable lead than he did earlier. Ferrari mirrored the Red Bull’s strategy by pitting in the next lap and Leclerc remained unaffected by Max.
In a surprising twist, Redbull went on to opt for a three-stop strategy for Verstappen’s RB18 and boxed the car on lap 44.
Verstappen got onto the fastest set of tyres - the soft compound and was gearing up to bring a final fight to the F1-75, only to be stalled by a safety car brought on as a result of Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri catching fire on lap 46.
Leclerc maximized this opportunity and got onto a set of softs too. The safety car diluted the gap Charles created for himself ahead of his biggest rival, but he was fully prepared to defend himself against the Red Bull on his tail.
As the race resumed on lap 51, in a sudden turn of events, Verstappen was left on the back foot due to a steering issue and Charles sped away in the distance.
With the further suspicion of a newly developed problem with the power unit and battery, the Red Bull could not keep up. Reliability issues forced Verstappen to retire his car on lap 54 and the battle for first came to an unfortunate end for the Red Bull.
Despite Verstappen’s occasional threats, Charles and his Ferrari made it seem like a straight-won fight through most of the race.
Verstappen’s biggest rival this season could potentially be Leclerc after the showdown at the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix. His stellar performance allowed him to clench pole position, the fastest lap and the race win - all in the opening weekend of the new season.
With race-winning machinery under his command, the Monaqesque driver has already established a comfortable 26 point lead over Verstappen, and has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with this season.
Mercedes on the podium
All odds were against Mercedes as they lined up on the grid in the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix.
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton only managed to bag P5 during Saturday’s qualifying and his team-mate George Russel was even further behind after being outdone by Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, starting at P9.
After a lack of pace all weekend, they were not the favourites on race day. The best they could hope for was maximizing damage limitation.
However, their end result on track tells a different story as Hamilton was able to finish on the podium in third place and reaped the full benefits of Red Bull’s double retirement in the death.
Earlier on in the race, Russel showed Mercedes’ pace supremacy against the midfield cars by moving upto P6, from P9. Hamilton was able to overtake Perez but not for long as the Mexican snatched his lead back very soon. This did not stop Lewis’ silver arrows as he was on Perez’ tail for most of the race. In the final few laps, it seemed like the stars had aligned for Mercedes as Verstappen’s retirement in lap 54 and Perez’ spin on the last lap propelled Hamilton to finish third and pushed George Russel upto fourth - an unimaginable end to the race weekend given how all the bets were against Mercedes to bag a good number of points.
"A big, big congratulations to Ferrari, I’m so happy to see them doing well again, they are such a historic and epic team. It was a difficult race for us today, we’ve struggled throughout practice and this is really the best result we could have got. Of course it was unfortunate for the other two drivers but we did the best we could and we are grateful for these points."
~ Lewis Hamilton
Kevin Magnussen, the comeback kid
The dream return for Kevin Magnussen continued on Sunday as he sensationally ended the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix up in fifth place, ending Haas’ 28-race pointless streak.
Until a few days ago, the Dane did not even expect to be anywhere around the F1 paddock, let alone finishing fifth on the grid. He was urgently called upon to replace Nikita Mazepin and he clearly did not need much time to settle back in.
His performance all weekend showcased his prior F1 experience as he bagged a P7 in Saturday’s qualifying. His stints on the track during free practice sessions also reinforced that we can expect a lot more from Haas this year, to be competing for those top midfield spots.
Although helped by the retirement of both Red Bulls, Magnussen fought valiantly and defended his position throughout the race, managing to finish two positions higher than he started. He propelled Haas to finish with 10 points, which is more than what they scored in both their previous seasons combined.
This was the team’s best result since the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix. Haas now sit third in the Constructors’ championship, with a point more than Alfa Romeo.
“If you think about the last two years and then coming back like this, you cannot write a story like this in my opinion. But the guys on the racetrack, for the last two years they had tough times but they kept their heads [down], learned, and the pit stops today were good, and everything was just fine."
"They took the last year to get ready for a better car and the guys delivered a good car this year. It’s all down to the team. They can all be very proud. I am very proud of them."
~Haas Team Principal, Guenther Steiner.
Red Bull’s brutal start to the season
After stellar runs during free practices and qualifying, Red Bull was predicted to take the Bahrain International Circuit by storm and bring a fierce fight to Ferrari - which they did, until it all went wrong with three laps to go.
We were all prepared for a close contest between Red Bull and Ferrari at the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix as Verstappen and Leclerc shared the front row on the starting grid, with Carlos Sainz in P3 and Sergio Perez in P4.
Despite being tamed by Charles’ F1-75 for most of the race, Verstappen was set to go all out after he put on the soft compound tyres on lap 44.
This did not go to plan as his RB18 was bombarded with steering issues, a power unit malfunction as well as a fuel pump problem - all at once. This forced the reigning world champion to retire and forfeit the fight to his biggest rival of the race.
Only a few moments later, Red Bull were struck by another heavy blow as Sergio Perez began to face similar technical issues. With Hamilton on his tail, Perez tried to make it through turn 1 on the final lap only to spin his car into retirement at the fate of a dying engine.
This catastrophe made way for Carlos Sainz to end Ferrari’s triumphant night with a one-two, and also pushed Hamilton to a podium finish in the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix.
What seemed to be a great start for Red Bull with a massive points haul in the cusp of their hands, turned into their worst nightmare - with their two biggest competitors way ahead of them after the first race weekend.
The only solace Red Bull can find from the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix is that they have a fast and competitive car with great potential.
If they can get their reliability issues fixed in time, there is no doubt the Red Bulls will be back, bringing another fierce fight to the prancing horse of Ferrari this coming weekend at Jeddah