Ferrari’s return to the top sparks excitement as F1’s new era begins in Bahrain

While Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s title battle last season was enthralling, the emergence of Ferrari as a championship contender has brought a new buzz as the 2022 season began at the Bahrain Grand Prix

Jamie Braidwood
Monday 21 March 2022 18:28
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<p>Ferrari celebrated their first win since the Singapore Grand Prix in 2019 </p>

Ferrari celebrated their first win since the Singapore Grand Prix in 2019

Ferrari aren’t just back, they’re “properly back”. Carlos Sainz wanted to spell it out, clear and simple, after helping the Italian team to a sensational one-two at the Bahrain Grand Prix. As even though impressive performances in pre-season testing and a pole position for Charles Leclerc in qualifying had generated excitement, a team of the size, history and prestige of Ferrari would not have truly returned until they were stood at the top of the podium on the opening weekend of the season.

It has been two full campaigns since the standings were coloured with the famous red of the Scuderia and few wins this year will be as popular as Leclerc’s as Formula One entered its new era this past weekend. The whispers that Ferrari had taken the biggest step forward following the overhaul of regulations ahead of the start of the 2022 season were confirmed as Leclerc held off the challenge of Max Verstappen, before the defending champion’s dramatic late retirement led to Sainz joining his teammate on the podium.

We may be only one step into what is scheduled to be a record 23-race campaign but the early narrative has been set and the rest of the field are already playing catch up. Last year in Bahrain, Verstappen’s duel with Lewis Hamilton set the tone for what would be one of the most competitive title races in F1 history, one that went right down to the wire in Abu Dhabi. Meanwhile, Ferrari were watching, planning and getting ahead of the competition. The two seasons of sacrifice hurt but this was a reward for their patience.

“I keep repeating myself, but the last two years have been incredibly difficult for the team and we knew this was going to be a big opportunity,” Leclerc said. “The guys have done such an incredible job building this amazing car, so for now it's starting in the best way possible: pole position victory, fastest lap, one-two today with Carlos. We could not hope for better. It hasn’t been easy but it’s incredible to be back at the top.”

And if anyone had earned this victory it would be Leclerc, who was waited two years for a third race victory after the buzz that greeted his rookie season in 2019. It was a deserved win, too, one controlled from start to finish even as Verstappen pushed hard following the first round of pit stops. Ferrari reacted smartly to Red Bull’s moves late on and Leclerc was set for a comfortable win even before Verstappen retired from the race due to a fuel-flow issue. Leclerc even had time to joke with his engineers that he had suffered a late technical issue himself.

It capped a brilliant first grand prix for Ferrari – and an encouraging opening weekend for the sport overall. The timing of Formula One hitting the reset button was perhaps unfortunate given it came at the end of one the most exciting seasons in a generation, but the changes have been greeted positively by the drivers and the evidence from Bahrain bodes well ahead of the rest of the campaign.

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz make up a formidable partnership

The objective of altering the regulations to allow for more competitive racing and an increase in overtaking opportunities received two big ticks after Leclerc and Verstappen’s thrilling duel early in the race, in which they exchanged places over four gripping laps. On the whole, drivers reported that cars were easier to follow and the order has certainly been shaken up, with Kevin Magnussen producing an outstanding performance on his return to Haas to finish fifth – in what was arguably the story of the weekend.

Not that we are short of plotlines ahead of next weekend’s Saudi Arabia Grand Prix. Red Bull are now faced with questions over their reliability issues, after Sergio Perez retired with an identical problem to Verstappen’s and Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri also failed to finish. Not mentioning Hamilton or George Russell until this late in the piece sums up where Mercedes are at, with the defending constructors’ champions having accepted that they are essentially still in pre-season testing mode, insisting they do not think they will be competitive, at least for race wins, for several weeks.

Red Bull and Mercedes are playing catch up, working on the fly in the middle of back-to-back grand prix as F1 returns to Jeddah this weekend. It leaves Ferrari as the team to beat – a prospect many predicted after studying the pre-season timesheets but held off from proclaiming. It’s hard to ignore Ferrari, however, when there’s a Prancing Pony at the top of the podium.

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