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Bahrain is less than a week away and we have recently witnessed the final testing session. There are a lot of changes coming into 2022, most notably the cars themselves, so condensing this article down to just ten points was actually rather difficult.
10. Will Valtteri Bottas find his form?
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There is no denying that Valtteri Bottas had a lacklustre stint at Mercedes and who can blame him when he was racing in the shadow of one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport. The Finn amassed a total of 20 poles, coupled with ten wins across five years and 101 races in the German team. I think he, and most viewers, expected more considering the performance he put in for Williams.
With the pressure now off his shoulders and a rookie teammate in the form of Guanyu Zhou, Valtteri could not have asked for a better opportunity to be the number one driver and prove himself once again.
9. Alex Albon gets his second chance
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There was a lot of discussion surrounding the young Thai driver during his stint at Red Bull. He replaced Pierre Gasly midway through 2019, leaving many flabbergasted by how little time the Frenchman was given to prove himself. Relative to Pierre, Alex was given all the time in the world to show what he was capable of. Whilst he demonstrated some incredible race craft at times, he was only able to secure two podiums over his 26 race starts at Red Bull. That combined with being massively off the pace from his teammate Max Verstappen led to Alex being dropped at the end of 2020.
Despite being dropped, Red Bull maintained their ties with the Thai driver and even brought him in as a driver coach for Yuki Tsunoda. Whilst hovering around the F1 paddock, Alex was also competing in the DTM series and had a relatively successful season with four podiums, a race win and finishing sixth in the championship. With George Russell being picked up by Mercedes, Red Bull jumped at the opportunity to bring Alex back into Formula 1 and will be partnered in the Williams by Canada’s Nicholas Latifi. The pressure is on though, asvery few drivers get to return to Formula 1 after leaving it and Alex is going to have to dig deep if he wants to prove that he deserves a seat for 2023. The Williams has been improving year on year and I would be very surprised if we don’t see them picking up more points this year.
8. The Return of the KMag
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Following the removal of title sponsors UralKali, Nikita Mazepin no longer had the financial backing to keep himself in the American team and Haas needed money from somewhere. Cue Kevin Magnussen’s return to his former team after a one year absence spent racing in the DPi class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship against some familiar names such as Kamui Kobayashi, Felipe Nasr and Juan Pablo Montoya.
What many will forget is that this is Kevin’s second time returning to Formula One as he had a one year absence in 2015 and returned for Renault, now Alpine, in 2016 and remained in Formula One until the end of 2020. Kevin is a veteran driver at this point, having hit the ripe age of 29 and having six seasons of Formula One under his belt. He burst onto the scene in 2014 for McLaren when he finished second in his debut race at Melbourne. Sadly for the Dane, it was a result he never got to match, let alone beat. Considering that Haas was the worst performing car in 2021, it does not look like Kevin will have the opportunity to pick up a podium.
However, his teammate Mick Schumacher now has an established driver alongside him and the young German will be hungry to prove himself against a worthy rival. Expect to see some close competition between the Haas drivers and who knows, maybe by the end of the season the car will be competitive enough to challenge for points?
7. Checo Perez and his second season at Red Bull
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2020 was a fantastic season for Checo Perez, the Mexican secured a maiden Formula 1 victory for Racing Point, and looked to be in the form of his life having just earned himself a seat at Red Bull for 2021. Opinion on whether 2021 was successful is up for debate, as whilst the Mexican finished fourth in the championship, he amassed less than half the points of his teammate and Drivers’ Champion, Max Verstappen.
That being said, the Mexican secured four podiums, including a race win, which is something that none of Max’s teammates have been able to achieve since Daniel Ricciardo. Sergio looked promising over parts of the season, and was a key part in many of Red Bull’s pit stop strategies as well as pulling off an incredible defense against Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, which arguably won Verstappen the title. With a year at Red Bull under his belt, the Mexican will have one more chance to prove himself otherwise they will surely look to hand Pierre Gasly, who has recently been incredibly impressive, his former seat back.
6. Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren
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In 2014 when Daniel Ricciardo joined Red Bull, he looked to have all the makings of the next world champion. He beat Sebastian Vettel in his first year in the car and finished third in the championship, behind the incredibly dominant Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
To this day, he is the only driver who has been able to give Max Verstappen a good challenge as a teammate in Formula 1 and even beat him in the 2017 season. Following a torrid 2018 season littered with reliability issues, Daniel decided to switch over to Renault for two years.
2019 was a difficult year with Daniel finishing 9th in the championship, but comfortably clear of teammate Nico Hulkenberg.
2020 brought Estaban Ocon alongside the Australian and again Daniel outperformed his teammate, this time finishing fifth in the Drivers’ Championship and securing two podiums in the process.
However last year was arguably Daniel’s worst performing year. Despite picking up McLaren’s only victory in 2021, his teammate Lando Norris,had the measure of him for the majority of the season and looked to be the better driver.
Will 2022 be Daniel’s year to shine as brightly as his iconic smile?
5. Will Pierre continue to show his class?
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Pierre Gasly has been oozing talent ever since he was dropped at Red Bull for Alex Albon.
With the performances he has been putting in, surely Red Bull are eyeing him up to replace Sergio Perez if the Mexican does not perform this year – and Red Bull are no strangers to mid season swaps between themselves and the sister team.
Last year, Pierre Gasly only failed to out finish his rookie teammate Yuki Tsunoda on one occasion, excluding DNFs, and even picked up a podium in Baku. Can Pierre continue to shine and outperform his Japanese teammate?
4. How good are Ferrari?
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It has been 13 years since 2008, which was when Ferrari last won a constructors championship.
The Italian squad had a brief dip in performance during 2020, when they finished sixth, which after having been title challengers in 2017 & 2018 would have come as a massive disappointment to them. Last year ,Ferrari had their youngest ever line up in the history of the team with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. It’s the most inexperienced line up since the 1993 pairing of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger, who had a combined 13 years of Formula 1 experience at the time.
Charles and Carlos both looked quick last year and you can easily consider both of them as championship contenders in the near future, but can this year’s Ferrari give them that opportunity?
So far, the Italian constructor has looked promising in testing, but the first race weekend of the season could suggest otherwise.
3. Are Mercedes sandbagging again?
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Here we go again… Mercedes came out of pre season testing and as usual, they aren’t up to pace and don’t think they can fight for the championship.
However, we have heard it all before, so surely no one is that gullible this year?
Then again, we have just had the most significant set of rule changes since 2014 and maybe the Mercedes era of dominance has drawn to a close?
2. George Russell vs Lewis Hamilton
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George Russell has been a ‘when’ not ‘if’ story for quite a while now and the when has finally happened. He finds himself in the Silver Arrows as a permanent driver for 2022, but this won’t be his first time racing for the German team.
The 2020 Sahkir Grand Prix presented a spontaneous and golden opportunity for the Brit when Lewis Hamilton was unable to race due to having COVID-19. His debut race was an uphill battle to begin with due to George being significantly taller than Lewis and being unable to fit into the car. George qualified second, less than three hundredths behind teammate Valtteri Bottas. The race start was perfect and the young Brit led the race by turn four, but it was all downhill from there.
A bizarre mistake from Mercedes resulted in Valtteri’s tyres being placed onto George’s car, resulting in a further pitstop being required to remedy the error. George fought and climbed his way back through the field and a race win was looking likely, until he had to pit again due to a slow puncture.
Following the race, many people commented that George was extremely unlucky but I thought the exact opposite. Instead of being given one opportunity to prove himself, George was given three, and in each instance, he showed incredible talent and perseverance. If he wanted to prove to Mercedes that he deserved the drive, this outcome did far more to support his case than a clean and uneventful win would have.
Enough about him though! Hamilton has not been pushed as hard in a championship, as he was by Max Verstappen last year, since his 2016 battle with Nico Rosberg. The difference is, at the end of 2016, Nico retired and in 2022 Max is still racing and is hungry for more titles.
In recent years, Lewis has looked measured and has always had some extra pace up his sleeve. But if he had left anything on the table, that will most certainly not be the case for 2022 and I am hoping that we get to see the feisty and ultra aggressive Lewis that we have not seen since his McLaren days.
With Hamilton performing at his very best, the stage is set for Russell to truly prove himself in a competitive car. The question is, will George play good teammate like Bottas and act as Lewis’s rear gunner against Max, or does he fancy himself to be a part of the championship battle? Only time will tell………
1. Will we finally see close battling?
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If the years of watching Formula 1 could be likened to a roast dinner, we have just finished eating the vegetables. The Brussels sprout years of cars being unable to battle are apparently behind us and we can look forward to some exhilarating wheel-to-wheel battling.
We were told throughout last year that the 2022 regulation changes would result in less dirty air, cars being able to follow each other more easily and as a result more wheel to wheel action. Season testing would seem to support the claims made last year, but Sunday’s race in Bahrain will be the true test.
We were able to see some good battles between Max Verstappen & Lewis Hamilton last year and this year we may all need to keep a defibrillator on standby during races.