Ferrari and Red Bull were the teams gunning for big rewards in the first race of 2022, with Mercedes looking a long way off their performance at the start of this new season
Charles Leclerc threw the gauntlet down at Max Verstappen’s feet as he dominated the Bahrain Grand Prix to take the first victory of the season.
It was a dream day for Ferrari as they led every lap of a race for the first time since the Belgian Grand Prix in 2018. Not only that, but Carlos Sainz took advantage of Verstappen’s mechanical issues to move into second and secure a one-two for the Italian team to start the season.
Sergio Perez was on track to at least secure third and some pride for Red Bull, but he had an engine lock up which saw him spin out of the race on the last lap and left Red Bull with no points. Lewis Hamilton was the beneficiary, as damage limitations turned into a surprise podium for the Mercedes star.
There was a relatively clean start to the opening race of the season, as every car made it safely through the first corner which can often be chaotic. Hamilton gained a place overtaking the Red Bull of Perez, while Kevin Magnussen had a dream start by manoeuvring his Haas up into fifth.
It was disastrous, however, for Valtteri Bottas, who had qualified so well ahead of George Russell and alongside his old Mercedes team-mate Hamilton in sixth, but fell down to 14th on the first lap. Mick Schumacher also suffered, after being spun by Esteban Ocon who was slapped with a five-second penalty as a result.
If it was bad for them, it was a disaster for McLaren. Their car is clearly nowhere near as competitive as they need it to be, and by lap 11 both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo had fallen to 18th and 20th respectively as the first race of the season quickly turned into an extension of pre-season testing, for all it was worth.
The first bit of real battling at the front came on lap 17, when Verstappen launched his first assault on Leclerc after having closed by three seconds thanks to a perfectly-timed pit stop. He dived up the inside of the Ferrari into turn one, but couldn’t make it stick as Leclerc came back to reclaim the lead a couple of corners later.
Their epic dogfight continued as the Dutchman had a go on the very next lap. He got ahead again, but it ended up the same way as before. And on the third attempt on lap 19, a lock-up from Verstappen led to concerns that he was overheating his tyres and brakes with his repeated attempts to take the lead.
Tyres were a factor for everyone, with degradation high and a two-stop race turning into one which required three visits to the pits for some. Red Bull gambled with 13 laps to go by bringing in both racers. Ferrari responded with Sainz, but left Leclerc out on track as he led the race.
It looked as though Verstappen would at least take second, but a mechanical issue with just three laps to go saw him fall out of the race. It meant a nightmare start to the campaign for him and Red Bull, compounded as Perez suffered a mechanical failure which saw him also tumble out of the points.
Hamilton was the main beneficiary with a surprise podium, and Russell moved up to fourth to start his Mercedes career. Haas were also in dreamland, as Magnussen found himself crossing the finish line in fifth as their long points drought finally came to an end in style.
It was also a great start to the season for Alfa Romeo, who scored double points along with Alpine. Bottas finished sixth in what was a pleasing performance from the Finn, while Zhou Guanyu celebrated becoming the first Chinese racer ever to compete in F1 by sneaking into the points. Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso came seventh an ninth respectively, sandwiching Yuki Tsunoda.
His AlphaTauri team-mate Pierre Gasly had looked set to finish in the top 10, but his car overheated and caught fire with 10 laps to go. Meanwhile, McLaren will hope for better things with both Norris and Ricciardo a long way off the points. The same is true for Aston Martin, with Lance Stroll and stand-in Nico Hulkenberg struggling for pace.