Bully For Max, Woes for Lewis …& the 2022 F1 Season is Only Beginning

Drivers pose on the starting grid during the first day of Formula One (F1) pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit in the city of Sakhir on March 10, 2022. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP) (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

The sixth and final day of 2022 Formula 1 pre-season testing concluded last Saturday. It was the first time rival teams and fans got genuine clues as to who will be the team to beat and who will be battling for podiums and points finishes during the year ahead.

Remarkably seven individual teams filled the top seven places on the final day’s timesheets. But, at the top and someway clear, was Red Bull’s newly crowned World Champion, Max Verstappen.

Despite being over half a second behind Verstappen, it was Haas driver, Mick Schumacher, that set the second-fastest time of the day. This was a huge surprise. Haas has only scored three World Championship points during the past two seasons and the team have had a hectic few weeks with the loss of their Russian backers and Russian driver, Nikita Mazepin.

Magnussen Replaces ‘Mazaspin’

Nikita Mazepin has been replaced by Kevin Magnussen at Haas. The Danish driver spent four seasons with Haas but raced in the IMSA SportsCar Championship in 2021. His return to the team surprised many – a ‘pay driver’ was expected to take the vacant seat.

Magnussen’s experience – he has raced for McLaren and Renault in the past – is sure to give a true handle of the ability of Schumacher Jnr.

The German has looked very impressive so far but Mazepin – who spun off more times than he raced last season (22 vs 21) – was no true gauge to his abilities. No matter which driver proves best at Haas, the American team appear to have their fastest car since 2018.

Red Ferrari Tamed by the Red Bull

Finishing third on the final day’s timesheets was Ferrari’s, Charles Leclerc. Veteran Fernando Alonso, Mercedes new-boy George Russell, Alfa Romeo newcomer Valtteri Bottas and Yuki Tsunoda in an Alpha Tauri rounded out the top-seven.

Ferrari had looked the car to beat in early testing. It had sat at the head of the timesheets in all sessions – both Bahrain and Barcelona – but when new parts, including a side-pod design, were applied to the new-look Red Bull on Saturday the car looked invincible.

“Red Bull have moved the game on today in terms of raw pace, long run pace,” said former racer and Sky F1 pundit Martin Brundle on Saturday evening. He later added: “They’ve got a race on their hands with Ferrari, though.”

Mercedes Lack of Pace is a Big Surprise

But the biggest question of all … where are Mercedes? The German carmaker is seeking its ninth consecutive Constructors Championship but on Saturday’s evidence, the team is a second per-lap off the pace.

Speaking after the morning session on the third and final day of testing in Bahrain, Lewis Hamilton indicated his team is unlikely to compete for race wins anytime soon.

“We are not the quickest at the moment,” he told the waiting press. “Ferrari look quickest, then perhaps Red Bull, and maybe McLaren. But we’re currently not at the top. We have a significant amount of pace to find.”

F1 Betting Shakeup

The upshot of the intriguing final test sessions is a shake-up in the betting for the World Drivers’ Championship and World Constructors’ Championship.

  • Lewis Hamilton, 4/5 favourite to win the Drivers’ title at the start of the year is out to 7/4 (888sport / Paddy Power)
  • Max Verstappen is now into 15/8 from 5/2
  • Mercedes, 2/5 in January for the World Constructors’ Championship, is now 5/6
  • Ferrari is the big mover in this market. They follow at 3/1 (from 7s)
  • Red Bull are 7/2

Leclerc Looks the Obvious Early Call

Remarkably the bookies are still playing shy with Hamilton’s chances at the forthcoming season-opening contest in Bahrain this weekend. The Brit is just 5/2 to win the race. Verstappen is the marginal favourite at 9/4, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is 5/1.

With that in mind, at 7/1, Charles Leclerc does look the best bet in the World Drivers’ Championship market. The Monegasque is a proven race winner and undoubted his team’s number one.

His Italian team may well have been developing their 2022 car while Red Bull and Mercedes were using their resources to improve their battling 2021 car throughout the latter half of that year.

William Hill has a ‘without the big-four’ market. It omits both Red Bull and both Mercedes drivers. Here Leclerc is quoted at 8/11. The firm clearly believes he is the one to tackle the traditional big two teams.

But if Mercedes fails to find its traditional pace quickly – and Red Bull repeatedly use Sergio Perez to scupper the chances of his rivals forfeiting potential points in the process – it is easy to envisage Charles Leclerc collecting a hatful of points and finishing far better than fifth (behind the big four).

2022 Formula One Race Calendar

Bahrain is the starting point for the Formula 1 season for a second consecutive year. The first six races of the season will be staged a fortnight apart.

  • 20 March: Bahrain (Sakhir)
  • 27 March: Saudi Arabia (Jeddah)
  • 10 April: Australia (Melbourne)
  • 24 April: Emilia Romagna (Imola)
  • 8 May: Miami (Miami)
  • 22 May: Spain (Barcelona)
  • 29 May: Monaco (Monaco)
  • 12 June: Azerbaijan (Baku)
  • 19 June: Canada (Montreal)
  • 3 July: Great Britain (Silverstone)
  • 10 July: Austria (Spielberg)
  • 24 July: France (Le Castellet)
  • 31 July: Hungary (Budapest)
  • 28 August: Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps)
  • 4 September: Netherlands (Zandvoort)
  • 11 September: Italy (Monza)
  • 2 October: Singapore (Marina Bay)
  • 9 October: Japan (Suzuka)
  • 23 October: USA (Austin)
  • 30 October: Mexico (Mexico City)
  • 13 November: Brazil (Sao Paulo)
  • 20 November: Abu Dhabi (Yas Marina)

* The cancelled Russian Grand Prix was originally scheduled for September 25. Rumours suggest Turkey may join the 23 race calendar as a replacement.