10 things we learned from the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix

The 2022 Formula 1 season began in Bahrain, promising riches with its new technical regulations and potential new competitive order. Autosport has picked out the 10 biggest talking points of the first race with the all-new cars, which hinted at a season just as bombastic as the one just left behind...

10 things we learned from the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix

The dawn of a second ground-effect era for Formula 1 only heightened the anticipation around the first race of a new season, as a fresh competitive order was revealed in Bahrain.

Those lofty expectations were largely met as Charles Leclerc and defending champion Max Verstappen battled hard for victory over three critical laps before the Red Bulls faltered.

That in turn reduced the pressure on Leclerc as he delivered on the promise shown by Ferrari in testing to head a Scuderia 1-2 over his circumspect team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr.

Although Lewis Hamilton bagged a podium after the woe that befell Sergio Perez, it seems Mercedes was right to play down expectations with a car that was third fastest at Sakhir.

Meanwhile, the decision from Haas to pin its hopes on 2022 proved fruitful and points finishes for both Alfa Romeo drivers completed what appeared to be a popular top 10.

And at the other end of the order, three historic British names struggled to get going.

Here are 10 things we learned from the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 1st position, Mattia Binotto, Team Principal, Ferrari

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 1st position, Mattia Binotto, Team Principal, Ferrari

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

1. Leclerc had the spare capacity to scheme and joke his way to victory

When Leclerc emerged from the pits on lap 16 with a fresh, albeit cold, set of soft Pirellis only marginally ahead of Verstappen, it was clear the battle for the spoils was coming to its head - even if the TV director thought the audience might be more interested in an anonymous pitstop for Perez…

After the feed had eventually cut to the right camera showing the main protagonists, Verstappen was soon on a charge using DRS to pass for the lead level with the pit exit. That left it to Leclerc, who had given his rival plenty of room, to fight back around the outside at Turn 4. Next time around, Verstappen left his lunge later. He only drew level with the Ferrari at the 100-metre board on the run into Turn 1. Leclerc used DRS to take back first place at the end of the second straight. For Verstappen’s final attempt on lap 19, the action didn’t happen until the 50-metre board before the Red Bull locked a wheel and Leclerc nailed his apex to surge back past for the eventual win.

Each time, the Ferrari driver increasingly nailed his final corner exit to force Verstappen to make his move later and later down the straight so that apexes would be compromised, and Leclerc could fight back earlier and earlier. It worked out exactly as Leclerc had planned.

“I would always try to brake very early into Turn 1 to get the DRS for Turn 4 and it worked out three times in a row so then I could keep my lead,” said Leclerc.

And that’s not where the games ended, as he still managed to scare the Ferrari pitwall by joking his engine was deteriorating on the last lap. “It gave a heart attack to some of the engineers I'm sure, but everything was fine.” Both revealed a supreme level of confidence inside the cockpit.

Podium: race winner Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, second place Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, third place Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Mattia Binotto, Team Principal, Ferrari

Podium: race winner Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, second place Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, third place Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Mattia Binotto, Team Principal, Ferrari

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

2. Sainz will not follow Ferrari convention and settle for second

There have been sporadic exceptions but in the main, for the last quarter of a century Ferrari has operated with a de facto lead driver. But Sainz wants to rage against that trend as he heaped the pressure on himself to bring the fight to Leclerc.

While Ferrari was cut adrift in 2021, it was the Spaniard who bagged four podiums to Leclerc’s sole visit to beat the Monegasque driver in the final drivers’ standings. And as Ferrari finds its competitive stride once again, Sainz doesn’t want to give an inch to his team-mate.

News of a freshly inked contract to remain at Maranello is understood to be imminent by way of a reward for Sainz and he declared that “Ferrari is back” after the headline-grabbing result in Bahrain. But he was also uber-critical of his performance.

Leclerc had the measure of Sainz in all three practice sessions and squeezed an extra 0.129s from the F1-75 to take pole as Verstappen split the duo for second. A lack of rear grip and confidence soon knocked Sainz out of the lead battle as his team-mate and Red Bull foe stole an early march.

Even though Verstappen’s ultimate retirement ensured Ferrari of a 1-2, Sainz made it out to be a “very tricky weekend” that leaves him “with some homework to do”. For if Ferrari is back in the title picture, Sainz wants to be a major part of it.

Sparks fly as Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, battles with Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Sparks fly as Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, battles with Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

3. Becoming world champion hasn’t quenched Verstappen’s thirst

Verstappen has dreamed of being the F1 world champion since he was a little kid, so he told media last Friday. Although that ambition has now been realised, it’s clear the Dutch racer has lost none of his fight and ambition for further success.

He was suitably aggressive in his fight for the lead on laps 17 to 19 as he barrelled down the inside of Leclerc with the help of DRS on the approach to Turn 1. Then again when he pulled across the track to make his one move in defence on the sprint to Turn 4 or when he attempted to be the last of the late brakers.

PLUS: The unseen Verstappen problem that ensured Leclerc's Bahrain GP win

While he ultimately came up short and was on course for what looked to be second, Verstappen’s colourful radio messages left viewers in no doubt that his drive to win remains. He promised never again to follow orders to conserve his tyres on an out-lap owing to the time lost to the lead Ferrari. He then implored race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase to find a fix as the steering on his RB18 became impaired after the car had been dropped off the jack at the pitstop and bent a track rod.

Cooked brakes and the final nail, fuel starvation, ended a day from which he came away “very disappointed”.

George Russell, Mercedes W13

George Russell, Mercedes W13

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

4. Mercedes was right to temper expectations as testing struggles linger

The three-pointed star has previous for playing down its chances on the eve of a new season. Like the boy who cried ‘Wolff’, many were taking Hamilton’s declaration that Mercedes wasn’t in contention for a win at the weekend with a healthy pinch of salt. Not least Verstappen.

But then the seven-time champion qualified fifth, 0.68s adrift of polesitter Leclerc while George Russell was a further second in arrears to line up ninth. Retirements for both Red Bulls aided Hamilton’s rise to the bottom step of the rostrum and Russell scored a career best F1 result of fourth (depending on how you count his second place in the 2021 Spa washout). That left the team to label Bahrain as an “effective damage limitation weekend”.

The W13 and its radical minimalist sidepod design, as in testing, is still proving hard to unlock as Mercedes is compromised in exploiting ground-effect by running its car too high. This, it reckons, is costing half a second per lap and ensures that in real-world conditions, the car is behind the more encouraging simulator pace shown in Brackley.

As a result, the Silver Arrows sits in a class of one as the third-fastest team - adrift of Red Bull and Ferrari but with no immediate pressure from behind.

Some of the strife at Sakhir was down to the car being “over-winged” due to a lack of parts, and that hurt the works team even more on a day when all Mercedes-powered cars struggled.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-22

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-22

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

5. Haas and Magnussen proved the proverb ‘no pain, no gain’

Haas has been through the wringer. The team opted to field an all-rookie line-up in 2021 as it did not develop a tepid VF-21 challenger. That left the outfit welded to the foot of the standings in a point-less campaign.

Meanwhile, behind closed doors and with the help from some familiar Ferrari races, all available resources were being piled into the rule change to hopefully hit the ground running.

Then amid a growing list of reliability faults in testing at Barcelona, the Russian invasion of Ukraine led to another split with a title sponsor as ties were cut with Uralkali and Nikita Mazepin followed out the door soon after.

Owner Gene Haas and team principal Gunther Steiner quickly settled on recalling Kevin Magnussen, and he exploited the merit of the VF-22 to earn a popular fifth place finish in Bahrain. While that result was elevated by the failures of the Red Bulls, the Dane had qualified an impressive seventh and didn’t botch his start to gain a place over Valtteri Bottas. Magnussen only effectively conceded a place to the Mercedes of Russell.

When Steiner was asked if the result could be repeated by way of proof that Haas ‘understood’ the car, the Italian-American jovially responded “I don't want to understand, I want to live the dream.” It marked the team’s best result since the 2018 Austrian GP.

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C42

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C42

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

6. Alfa Romeo and debutant Zhou have exceeded initial expectations

Alfa Romeo was understood to be struggling with porpoising so much that a hole was ripped in C42’s floor during its private filming day. A camouflage livery for testing in Barcelona didn’t disguise that the car was seldom on track due to a poor reliability record. And when it did emerge, Guanyu Zhou was spat off into the gravel and stopped on the pitstraight.

But there’s already been a marked recovery as Bottas extended his run of consecutive Q3 appearances to 102 on Saturday before he ultimately landed a heady sixth on the grid. He endured too much wheelspin when he launched to fall to 14th on the opening lap, but the recovery back to sixth buoyed the team as it could appreciate how race pace had carried over from the one-lap credentials.

Zhou, meanwhile, was rendered speechless as he grabbed a point on his first F1 start in 10th. The first full-time Chinese driver - who appeared to have been unfairly typecast as a pay driver only, while F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali had to dispel the idea the championship had been involved in his recruitment from F2 for the commercial boon it offered - delivered well. His car tripped into anti-stall down at Turn 1, but he still recovered from 15th on the grid.

It was the complete debut performance in the sense that Zhou battled well but cleanly and didn’t put anyone’s nose out of joint.

Nico Hulkenberg, Aston Martin AMR22, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Nico Hulkenberg, Aston Martin AMR22, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

7. It was a tough weekend for the historic British badges

Lando Norris didn’t want to top the times on the opening day of testing in Barcelona, adding that he would rather have been last than drum up expectations too much. He also was quick to dismiss Hamilton rating McLaren as one of the form teams heading into Bahrain.

But after setting those headline times in Spain and signing a high-profile commercial deal with Google, and even with Daniel Ricciardo’s COVID brush and the team’s Bahrain brake troubles, few predicted quite such a difficult outing for the papaya squad.

Norris had to front a “brave face” to the media on Sunday night as he fell from 13th in qualifying to 15th as team-mate Ricciardo brought his MCL36 home just one place further up. Their problem was a total lack of downforce to create both oversteer and understeer.

Take away the Red Bull powertrain causalities and it left Mercedes engine customers McLaren, Williams (tyre degradation) and Aston Martin (PU cooling) to prop up the classification as three historic marques struggled in the first race of F1’s new era.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A522, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A522

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A522, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A522

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

8. Alpine looks set for another placeholder campaign

When Renault was rebranded to its sportscar firm Alpine for 2021, it came with a 100-race projection for the French concern to climb to the top of F1. It is now 23 races into that predicted ascent but doesn’t appear to have moved forwards.

After the first race of 2022, Alpine sits fifth in the constructors’ table - where it finished last season and where Renault ended up the year before that.

Fernando Alonso led the qualifying assault in eighth to eclipse team-mate Esteban Ocon by three places, before the Hungarian GP winner was dealt a five-second penalty for pitching Mick Schumacher into an early spin - which the Haas driver gathered wonderfully.

The complaints from both drivers weren’t isolated to Alpine, as like their rivals, they too suffered from exaggerated tyre degradation on the way to Ocon finishing seventh and Alonso bringing the car home ninth.

While it was no disaster amid the biggest rule change seen in F1, Alpine seems to be treading water in the competitive order. It is not a match for third-fastest Mercedes and nor has it escaped the clutches of the midfield as its planned F1 summit reaches one-quarter distance.

Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C42

Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C42

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

9. Helmet cams have been worth the wait

F1 has experimented with cameras inside a driver’s crash helmet for the better part of a decade now. Concerns about the extra weight, and the possible implications in a crash meant their introduction has taken some time. But it appears to have been worth the protracted wait.

The technology has been adapted for those running specifically with Bell helmets and is no longer limited to practice sessions as per 2021. That meant viewers could get the best glimpse yet into cockpit conditions in the race.

While helmet cams offered a stunning new perspective of wheel-to-wheel battle and gave a better sensation of speed, they also revealed a wealth of information about what the drivers see on their steering wheel dash display.

The director cut to Zhou as the Alfa Romeo driver was hit with a message about his powertrain beginning to get too hot. Deltas during the safety car were on display and you could more easily detect when drivers where flicking through settings for engines and brakes.

While Formula E has had helmet cameras for a couple of seasons now, the bottom half of the screen is always pixelated as not to reveal battery conditions to rival teams viewing the feed. But the F1 stream was unfiltered and all the better for it.

The Safety Car and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

The Safety Car and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

10. The FIA report on the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP offers some closure

Party lines were largely being followed in the lead up to the FIA publishing its report into last season’s deeply controversial title-decider as Max Verstappen was crowned world champion over Lewis Hamilton. Those affiliated with Mercedes wanted the full report to be released in a show of “transparency”, while others with no ties to the Silver Arrows or Red Bull just wanted to move on.

The latter is now more achievable after the results from Yas Marina were, as expected, upheld despite the wholly unrealistic social media protestations to ‘void lap 58’. That was the outcome from the governing body’s report, one which was timelier than Sue Gray’s.

In the findings, ex-race director Michael Masi was found to have acted in “good faith” but made a “human error” under “immense pressure”. In addition, the wording of the sporting regulations has also been amended to clarify that “all” cars and not “any” are permitted to un-lap themselves during a safety car period.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A522, Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C42, Alex Albon, Williams FW44, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A522

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A522, Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C42, Alex Albon, Williams FW44, Esteban Ocon, Alpine A522

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

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