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16 March 2022
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The 2022 Formula 1 World Championship gets under way with this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, and there’s no better time than now to grill our experts for some hot takes and bold predictions about the season ahead. Will Buxton, Lawrence Barretto, David Tremayne, Mark Hughes and Samarth Kanal are put on the spot before the campaign kicks off.
Will Buxton (F1 Digital Presenter): Haas. They arrived at Barcelona with a car which got everyone talking, given the huge lead time and work put into it after they sacrificed 2021 to focus on the new rules. But then freight delays, the removal of their biggest sponsor and termination of the contract of one of their drivers put them on the backfoot.
While the financial aspect may still prove to be of concern, Nikita Mazepin’s replacement with Kevin Magnussen immediately seemed to lift the team. There’s confidence at Haas that they’ve produced a decent car, and the glory runs they put in shone a ray of bright light on a team that have been under a cloud for too long. In how they bounced back from tremendous difficulty, they’re my stars of testing.
Samarth Kanal (Staff Writer): Ferrari showed the way. No real reliability issues, some blistering laps, and two happy drivers who had to start playing down their own chances.
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Lawrence Barretto (F1 Correspondent & Presenter): Ferrari. The Prancing Horses won pre-season with sensational reliability and ruthless efficiency. It honestly couldn’t have gone any better for the Italians and gives them a platform in which to take the fight to Red Bull and Mercedes.
David Tremayne (Hall of Fame F1 Journalist): Red Bull might have been the fastest in testing in Bahrain last week, on the C5 Pirellis, but for me the most outstanding were Ferrari. Charles Leclerc was seven-tenths slower, but was running the harder-compound C4s. The F1-75 looks beautiful, was quick right from the start, and was always there or thereabouts in Barcelona and Bahrain. And its reliability enabled Charles and Carlos Sainz to rack up a lot of mileage. So Ferrari got off to a great start, as one of the strongest of all driver pairings got the job done thoroughly and without histrionics.
Mark Hughes (Special Contributor): Probably Haas. Not just because of the difficult lead-up to it but because they had basically put themselves on the competitive backburner for two years until the new regs came in. Yet immediately they seem to have bounced right back to where they used to be before that hiatus.
MH: At the moment, with present time bias it seems hard to look past Red Bull and Max Verstappen. But I have a feeling that the Mercedes, when properly unlocked, is going to be devastatingly good. So I’ll go with Mercedes for the constructors’ but Verstappen for the drivers’ – because Max doesn’t have a George Russell-calibre of driver in his own team to take points off him.
WB: Do we really believe Mercedes are on the backfoot? While I do believe both Russell and Lewis Hamilton’s protestations that they’re not on top of things, this is Mercedes and we cannot write them off. Red Bull looked strong throughout. But, and I really don’t want to jinx it, Ferrari have had the most consistent and impressive form across the six days of pre-season running of any team. Ferrari go in as favourites. For me, team champions. Drivers’? Lewis wins number eight.
READ MORE: Hamilton warns rivals he’s as ‘dangerous’ as ever ahead of 2022 season kick-off
SK: I lost a few hours of sleep thanks to this question but I’ll just bite the bullet and say: Carlos Sainz of Ferrari. The team? Mercedes. They will ace the development war and win a ninth title in a row, but miss out on the drivers’ championship.
LB: I think we’re in for a repeat of last year’s result, with Max Verstappen successfully defending his title – helped in part by Red Bull having the best package early in the year – and George Russell beating Sergio Perez often enough to give Mercedes a ninth constructors’ championship.
DT: Given their reliability in testing, and the speed that the RB18 revealed on the final day in Bahrain, plus the omnipresence of Adrian Newey in a new formula that will once again be dominated by aerodynamics rather than the power unit, I’d say at this stage Max Verstappen and Red Bull look a pretty decent bet. But Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, now with George Russell, will give him a really hard time. It will benefit the new world champion that he’ll be the primary focus of his team’s efforts, however, whereas Merc will as ever allow their drivers to race.
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DT: George Russell and Mercedes will be my primary focus among the new combinations. I’m a huge fan of George’s, and his track record in the lower formulae, his pace in a less-than-fully competitive Williams, his refusal to be cowed by that, and the way he went in his one-off for Mercedes in Sakhir in 2020 all suggest he will be right up the sharp end. There’s a lot in him that reminds me of Roger Williamson, and I can’t wait to see how quickly he justifies his deserved inclusion at last in a top team. Very exciting!
MH: George Russell and Mercedes, of course. The dynamic and competition between him and Hamilton is going to be fascinating.
WB: George and Lewis. Mercedes have a gargantuan task on their hands of handling this relationship well, and it will not be easy. Lewis Hamilton is keen not just to win his eighth world championship but to do so emphatically, to put beyond any doubt his position as the greatest driver of his generation and potentially of all time.
But if he is determined to come out swinging and to demolish the opposition, that opposition includes George, a driver tasked with taking Mercedes into the future – and Mercedes could see all their work in developing their future star undone. If, however, George proves capable of matching or even beating Hamilton, how will that dynamic play out? Could we see a Rosberg scenario? Will they back him, or attempt to ease him into a supporting role for their undoubted number one?
READ MORE: An uncertain pecking order and question marks over Mercedes – 5 key storylines ahead of the Bahrain GP
SK: George Russell at Mercedes. That Mercedes might not be the easiest car to handle in the first few races, and Lewis Hamilton certainly won’t be the easiest team mate to contend with. I can’t wait to see how the intra-team dynamic unfolds.
LB: Alex Albon is exactly the kind of driver Williams needs right now. He’s hungry to prove he still has what it takes to race in F1, has invaluable experience from working with Red Bull and is very fast. If the Williams delivers, Albon will make the most of it.
READ MORE: How all 10 teams fared in Bahrain’s Official Pre-Season Test
LB: I don’t think Ferrari are going to be title contenders, but they will be regular podium contenders and have the pace at certain races to challenge for victories.
DT: Can you call third and fourth the midfield? If so, I expect Ferrari to be much more competitive with Red Bull and Mercedes. Ditto McLaren. But of the rest, the genuine midfield… that’s tricky. AlphaTauri could climb if they can build on last year’s strength. Likewise Alpine, if their new power unit is reliable. Aston Martin should be there, but I also see Williams doing a lot better, and Alfa Romeo too. Whether any of this quintet can get close to the actual front is debatable, but I’ll plump for Alpine on the strength of their driver line-up.
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MH: Probably Aston Martin if we accept that McLaren are going to be towards the front on a fairly regular basis. I don’t think we saw their true competitive pace in testing as they tend to run pretty heavy.
WB: Again, it’s almost impossible to say, but Ferrari look to have broken away from McLaren at the head of the midfield pack to place themselves into the fight at the top again.
SK: Apart from Ferrari, who are tipped by some as frontrunners this season, my answer has to be Alpine given that the works team pulled out some stellar results in 2021 and have a crack technical team working with two-time champion Fernando Alonso and team mate Esteban Ocon. Alonso’s lap on Day 3 of testing was a warning shot.
SK: Haas. Having sacrificed their 2021 season to develop this year’s car, the Kannapolis team must have a better showing and avoid another point-less season. And I’m sure they will.
LB: Aston Martin need to make a solid step forward this year and prove to billionaire owner Lawrence Stroll that the cash he’s inexorably pumping in is starting to show dividends. A top-five finish will be a minimum.
DT: It’s a cheap shot to say Haas, and an obvious one, too. Most everyone falls into this category, but all the others scored points in 2021 so let’s stick with Gene’s team here. Their last season was horrible, since they focused everything on the VF-22. But previously they’ve looked pretty decent at times, so I’m hoping the new deal of cards will enable them to move upward again. The VF-22 looks nice, and with Kevin Magnussen coming back to keep Mick Schumacher on his toes, I’d be surprised if they don’t score at times.
READ MORE: Schumacher calls new Haas team mate Magnussen ‘a good benchmark’ for 2022
MH: Aston Martin and Alpine. They are both big-budget, serious manufacturer teams now and competing in the midfield and pulling the occasional podium in attrition races isn’t really enough any more.
WB: The obvious answer is Haas because, let’s face it, 2021 couldn’t have been much worse. But both Aston Martin and Alpine have a huge task on their hands. Not only do they have the weight of expectation from the very top of their parent companies, but they are both fielding world champions who know what it takes to mix it at the front. Neither will be willing to hang around should that potential either not be realised, or they lose faith that the team is capable of making it forward in the short term.
WB: Lewis Hamilton. And Max Verstappen. After 2021, it can’t be anyone else.
SK: Charles Leclerc. Ferrari will give him a car capable of showing off his immense talent. The headlines will write themselves when he goes wheel-to-wheel with Sainz.
LB: Max Verstappen. He’s made a habit of hitting the headlines ever since his debut – and was in them more than ever last year. I see no reason why that will change for 2022.
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DT: It has to be Max, doesn’t it? He is one of those characters, partly because he pushes so hard and is so quick and partly because for those reasons things happen to and around him so that he naturally draws the spotlight’s focus. He’s said that the “desperation to win” isn’t so intense now that he has a crown to his name, but despite other things he’s said to the contrary I think he will be very motivated to prove that he doesn’t just wear it because of what happened last year in Abu Dhabi.
MH: Oh it’s always Lewis Hamilton, isn’t it? He has the biggest spotlight upon him, and as the most successful driver of all time, the biggest target on his back – and he’s not afraid to speak his mind on a whole range of issues. So it will always be him.
MH: Oscar Piastri will make his Grand Prix debut.
WB: You know me, I never leave it at just one. Haas to score points in the first four races. Aston Martin to finish P9 in the constructors’ (just to stay true to my just-for-fun 2025 driver predictions backstory). Valtteri Bottas scores a podium somewhere, somehow. Alonso celebrates his 41st birthday at the Hungaroring and retires. Piastri completes the season for Alpine. Ferrari constructors’ champion. Hamilton eighth world crown and retires, along with Sebastian Vettel.
SK: Another bold prediction, you say? Red Bull, AlphaTauri, McLaren and Alpine will change their line-ups for 2023.
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LB: Eight out of 10 teams managed a podium last year, with Haas and Alfa Romeo missing the cut. I expect all 10 to reach the rostrum at least once.
DT: Okay, one prediction… But it involves three people. George Russell, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris will all really keep their team mates on their mettle, and each will join the list of Grand Prix winners.
Leclerc blazes to Baku pole as Perez joins him on the front row in Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying
HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the action from the second practice session in Baku
HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the action from the first practice session at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Red Bull pair confident they can close up to Ferrari in Baku despite ‘tricky’ Friday
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