Max Verstappen at the Austrian Grand Prix 2021
Max Verstappen at the Austrian Grand Prix 2021 | (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Formula 1 | F1 2022 | Bahrain Grand Prix preview | New F1 era dawns in Sakhir

By Neil Leverett

  • New season of Formula 1 begins this weekend at the Sakhir International Circuit for the Bahrain Grand Prix
  • Tensions continue to simmer after controversial Abu Dhabi finale last December
  • Uncertainty rife in the paddock after widespread regulation changes for 2022
SAKHIR, BAHRAIN – As a new era dawns in F1 for the season’s curtain raiser in Sakhir this weekend, who will rise above uncertainty at the Bahrain Grand Prix?

 

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After a 98-day hiatus – one of the shortest off-seasons in history – the lights will go out this Sunday for the opening race of the 2022 term of Formula 1, as the Sakhir International Circuit hosts the Bahrain Grand Prix once more.

Whilst F1 prepares to emerge into the desert from its latest winter hibernation, a distinct chill still remains in the paddock air after last season’s highly controversial conclusion, which saw Max Verstappen claim his first World Drivers’ Championship in Abu Dhabi.

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With Red Bull and their Dutchman having assumed the role of pantomime villain, last season’s epic tale will do well to be eclipsed in this or any campaign to follow.

However, F1 in 2022 begins with the dawning of a new era, not only with Verstappen on the throne but with the sport set for the biggest shake-up in decades.

 

What’s new?

Barely three months on from one of the most controversial conclusions to any season in any sport during history, argument and ill-feeling still reverberate around the paddock between Mercedes and Red Bull. As recriminations roll on, meanwhile, the changes for the new season are wholesale.

Not only has Race Director Michael Masi taken the fall – some might say deservedly – for his part in the Abu Dhabi debacle last December, so also has the regulations book essentially been torn up and re-written for this campaign and onwards.

This term is the first in the turbo-hybrid era that should see all previous loopholes sealed up which, will prevent one team from having a dominant car and allow for closer competition. In theory.

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As ground effects come into use for the first time since venturi tunnels under cars were banned in 1983, that, in tandem with a simplification of the bodywork are one of the big changes which should encourage more aerodynamic grip. At a fairer consistency also, by reducing the turbulent air in the wake of the cars to allow drivers to follow each other more closely, a similar level of downforce across the grid should also play out compared to previous years.

Further changes to the aerodynamics are aimed at limiting the teams’ ability to control airflow around the front wheels and further reduce the cars’ aerodynamic wake. This includes the elimination of bargeboards, with the front wing and endplates also simplified, reducing the number and complexity of aerodynamic elements.

The rear wings will be wider and mounted higher than in previous years also, where a fairer playing ground is expected to emerge with additional restrictions in place to limit the constructors’ ability to use a car’s exhaust gases to generate downforce – Mercedes, Red Bull and the like will not gain advantage from having better car performance. F1 cars in 2022 are expected also to have up to 30% more downforce than previously.

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If that was not enough to balance the field, teams will be further shackled in the number of aerodynamic upgrades they can introduce to the car, both over the course of a race weekend and over the course of the season. This will also cut the costs of competing for the lower-tier teams.

Finally, another big innovation that was trialled last season will see the lesser successful teams given more time for testing between races and across race weekends. The result of which may see a ‘catch-up’ like system which could help further close the gap throughout the season, if not in points then with performance.

 

Ferrari hype?

With a good deal of uncertainty surrounding the start of the new season then, the early indications however, are the changes may have played into the welcoming hands of Ferrari.

Though it remains to be seen if Scuderia can convert two impressive tests in both Barcelona and here in Bahrain, the proof of the pudding is in the eating for boss Mattia Binotto and that comes in the desert this weekend.

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But The Prancing Horse are trotting around Sakhir akin to a thoroughbred around the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham, and with good reason.

Though it may yet be presumptuous to consider Charles Leclerc or indeed Carlos Sainz as title contenders, given Mercedes’ concerns over reliability and with Red Bull yet to come to terms with the change in downforce, Ferrari are entitled to have a skip in their step.

Only time will tell.

 

Magnussen reflects on ‘dream’ return…

As the new season arrives, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine will never be too far from collective minds in Bahrain. Indeed, its consequences have shaped the term for Haas.

With Nikita Mazepin‘s contract having been terminated, Kevin Magnussen returns to the grid this weekend with his former team after the Russian replaced him in 2021.

After an initial honeymoon period with the US manufacturer alongside Romain Grosjean two years back, this could be a chance at redemption for the 29-year-old Swede and as he told F1.com, his return to the fold feels like a ‘dream’.

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“It means a lot [to be back]. Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, and it has been my dream ever since I was a little kid. I had no idea I was even on the radar of coming back to Formula 1 and then this situation happens, and I get the drive. That just feels super cool.

“I’ve had a few seasons in Formula 1 already but this comeback feels like the dream coming true once again. I’ve kind of been in this situation before; the first time I got an F1 drive, I was of course super excited and happy, but it almost feels as good as the first time because it was so unexpected, such a surprise.”

 

…as Hulkenberg again plays deputy

Magnussen will not be the only familiar face returning to the grid – for this weekend at least – as Nico Hulkenberg once more plays F1’s resident deputy-in-chief, this time for Aston Martin as their reserve driver, with Sebastian Vettel having tested positive for COVID-19.

Having last stepped in for both Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll for Racing Point two seasons ago, the German on all both occasions made an impact, most notably at Silverstone for the 70th Anniversary GP, where Hulkenberg’s drive from the back of the grid to finish P8 earned him Driver of the Day in a sweltering Northamptonshire.

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On Hulkenberg’s side more than ever this time around is the level playing field of sorts at play in Bahrain, so who is to say another typical drive of consistency will not be on show?

 

As the new campaign begins just as the last one ended with back-to-back weekends in the Middle East, the Bahrain GP will be an important milestone in the F1 annuls.

Not only will it see the confluence of two new paths of motor sport history, it also has the unenviable task of playing the follow act to arguably the greatest season ever witnessed – when vintage fans had long since waved the white flag.

Yet, after such an epic story that was written last time out, the consensus is that 2022’s helping could be just as compelling.

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With Lewis Hamilton scorned but now set to go again after initial fears over his retirement, the seven-time champion leads an all-British Silver Arrows’ attack with the burgeoning George Russell in tow.

Alfa Romeo’s new-look line-up is also set to create possibilities as the ever-consistent Valtteri Bottas teams up with the paddock’s newest F2-blooded star in Guanyu Zhou. Throw a motivated Alex Albon and his return for Williams into the mix and those hopes may be more than a mere pipedream.

We cannot wait.

 

The new Formula 1 season begins this weekend with the 2022 F1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir.

 

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