Updated: Nov 22, 2022
F1 is back, and it is back with a bang, what a race that was! We knew off the bat the Mercedes where not where they had been last season after testing and qualifying proved who would dominate the start of the season. Bahrain saw the return of two previous drivers to the grid with Kevin Magnusson replacing Nikita Mazepin for the season and Nico Hülkenberg filling in for Sebastian Vettel who had tested positive for Covid-19. Daniel Ricciardo had just returned after having previously testing positive and went out in Q1, which could’ve been down to his lack of time in the car during testing. Guanyu Zhou finished 15th in Q2 after having a lap time removed in his first ever F1 qualifying session. Q3 saw some drama with both Ferraris separated by 0.129 seconds and Max Verstappen. Elsewhere in Q3 it was quite the shock when Valtteri Bottas outqualified George Russell, his replacement and Mercedes, but that was nothing compared to the welcome surprise of Magnussen’s Haas qualifying 7th after the last two seasons for the team.
The first 4 starting positions on the grid were Ferrari, Red Bull, Ferrari, Red Bull with Charles Leclerc on Pole then Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez. Leclerc managed to stay ahead after lights out, as Hamilton swung inside of Perez and claimed P4 with Magnussen challenging them both. During the first lap Esteban Ocon nudged the back of Mick Schumacher’s car causing him to spin and received a 5 second time penalty. While Ocon was in the wrong here I appreciate that after the race Ocon proved his sportsmanship by acknowleding his own error and apologising both publicly and privately to Mick.
It was a nightmare start from McLaren who were P18 and P20 in Lap 3 and did not really improve all race, finishing 14th and 15th, but only because three cars did not make it to the finish line.
After putting in a fastest lap in lap 16 Verstappen, with some help from DRS, made his way into turn 1 and overtook Leclerc, who then two turns later at turn 4 took back the lead. The following few laps remained exciting wheel to wheel racing between the Ferrari and the Red Bull with the lead changing multiple times before Verstappen locked up in lap 19 and Leclerc managed to pull away and start to build up a big lead.
Lap 46 saw the first safety car of the season, after Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri lost power and he had to pull over with the back of the car on fire.
The safety car brought back memories of the closing race of last season, with Verstappen a long way off the race leader to having the gap completely closed down by the time the safety car went in, only for this race it was on lap 50/57 and not the final lap of the season. Leclerc got away quickly and Sainz was right on his tail. Lap 54 saw Verstappen complaining of both steering and battery issues over the radio as Sainz managed to overtake the Red Bull on the inside, Verstappen was then passed by his teammate Perez, Hamilton and Russell between two corners, and ended up having to retire the car with three laps to go.
As gutting as that was for Red Bull, there day was about to get a lot worse as Perez said he was losing power over the radio he spun into turn 1, leaving Hamilton, Russell, Magnussen and Bottas to pass by him in quick succession and forced Perez to retire the second Red Bull. Ferrari opened the season in the best way possible with an emphatic 1-2 finish with Leclerc securing the first win of the season, Mercedes managed a 3-4 finish, something their cars were not deserving of but was a lucky achievement. After seeing Haas struggle so much in recent seasons to have Magnussen finish 5th in his first race back to F1 after a year was a dream start for them, it also placed them 3rd in the constructor’s championship and with more points than they have had in the last two seasons put together. Finally, a special congratulations to Zhou for finishing within the points in his very first Formula One race.