The Formula 1 World Championships have returned with a bang; a new era, new rules, new drivers. And so too has our regular roundup of all the latest action on and off the grid, right here on TrackDays…
The opening Grand Prix to this F1 season at Sakhir in Bahrain was always going to be hotly anticipated; not least of all because it was the first race under which the new track rules laid out by F1 bosses at the end of last year were to come into effect, in particular, those regarding overtaking.
This always had the potential to blow the door wide open for some surprises, and so it has proved. For the driver who opens the new World Championship title pursuit with the first win of the year has neither Hamilton or Verstappen as a last name.
The honour falls instead to Team Scuderia Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who together with his teammate, Spanish driver Carlos Sainz Jr, ensured that Ferrari took the top two positions at Bahrain on Sunday, with Leclerc having the advantage with a final lap time of 1:34:57.
It is a welcome feather in the cap to Monaco born Leclerc, whom, following his feat as the second youngest driver to qualify on pole position three years ago, went onto have two wins at the Belgian Grand Prix and Italian Grand Prix back in 2019, but who in recent years has had to be content with a series of top 5 finishes and the occasional silver honours (such as at last year's British Grand Prix in Silverstone).
Current reigning World Champion, Team Red Bull's Max Verstappen - who was wheel-to-wheel with Leclerc for the first three laps - had a very dodgy start to the season by comparison, finishing a dismal 19th place following a breakdown instigated by fuelling problems, which meant he had no choice but to enter the pit lane.
His boss, Christian Horner, cited this, saying there was "an issue within the fuel system … we know the fuel was in there". Critics however, have argued that of all the teams, Red Bull were the only ones not to do any single race distances during the pre-season testing.
Whose version of events is correct remains to be seen (on balance, both are probably a contributing factor), but his old rival, Team Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton didn't exactly have a fighting chance either despite his top 3 finish.
The problems Mercedes have had with their cars since F1's new track rules came into play will obviously now be a key point of focus ahead of next weekend's Saudi Arabia Grand Prix. However, it wasn't all doom and gloom for them; their new driver, George Russell, who moved over to them from Team Williams Racing at the end of last season, made his debut for Mercedes at Bahrain and finished a very respectable fourth place - his first top 5 finish since he came second at last year's Belgian GP.
Of course, only one race has passed in the F1 calendar for 2022, so it is too early to accurately predict what lies ahead, but based on what we saw at the weekend, it seems that for the first time in a very long while, the unpredictability of what will happen out on track for the rest of this year is very promising.
Could Ferrari provide us with a new World Champion come November? Is Mercedes' new blood a strong contender? Or will Verstappen and Red Bull overcome their mechanical difficulties and walk it for a second year on the trot? We'll have to wait and see.
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