The winter tests had given a glimpse of it and this Friday’s free practice session of the Bahrain Grand Prix seems to confirm that the current world champion Max Verstappen (Red Bull) and the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr are the ones that arrive best to the first race of the Formula 1 world championship.
In the second session of free practice, the only representative since it was held in race conditions at dusk, Verstappen covered the 5.412 km of the Sakhir circuit in 1:31.939, beating the Monegasque Charles Leclerc by 87 thousandths and the second by 584 thousandths Ferrari driver, the Spanish Carlos Sainz Jr.
“You can see that Ferrari is attacking hard and is very close, it’s exciting,” Verstappen said after the session, although he warned: “No one is in qualifying mode and I think everyone still has a lot to give.”
The British George Russell, new Mercedes driver, and the Spanish Fernando Alonso (Alpine) complete the Top 5, 593 and 941 thousandths of Verstappen’s time.
The seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), could only be 9th, 1,208 seconds behind his rival for the title last season.
The other Red Bull driver, the Mexican Sergio Pérez, finished with the 7th fastest time, just over a second behind his Dutch teammate (1:32.958).
If Red Bull, which last season won the two championships, drivers and constructors, and Ferrari, which seeks to recover the splendor of yesteryear taking advantage of the change in regulations, seem well adapted to the new rules that govern the premier category of motorsport this season, the doubt remains regarding Mercedes, the ultra-dominating team since 2014 (eight world titles).
The German team has opted for an aerodynamic design very different from that of the competition for its single-seaters, where the almost absence of pontoons on the flanks stands out, and it seems that it has not found either the stability or the performance of its cars so far.
During the second pre-season tests last week, Hamilton already warned that Mercedes was not in a position to fight for victory “for now”. “It is not a bluff”, he insisted this Friday before the distrust of his rivals.
“Listening to them, it seems that they will be last. I think they have a horrible car, like every year since 2017 during the preseason,” Verstappen joked even this Friday at a press conference. “No, we’ll see but I’m sure they’re competitive,” he added more seriously.
But Hamilton insisted: “This year we are facing much bigger problems and everything we have tried to solve them is not working … And it seems that it will take time.”
According to the English driver, Red Bull has an advantage of 8 or 9 tenths per lap compared to Mercedes and Ferrari 6 tenths.
– Vettel absent due to covid –
Who has the reason? It will start to be seen in qualifying on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. local time (3:00 p.m. GMT), the same time that the race will start on Sunday.
At Aston Martin, the German Nico Hülkenberg had to unexpectedly replace his compatriot Sebastian Vettel, positive for covid-19.
The Australian Daniel Ricciardo returned to training with McLaren this Friday after missing the pre-season tests last week, also due to the coronavirus.
After Vettel did it, it was the Frenchman Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) who jumped onto the track wearing a helmet with the colors of Ukraine and the message ‘No to war’, referring to Russia’s invasion of its neighbor. The French pilot also supports a Unicef campaign in favor of Ukrainian children.
The 2022 season must be revolutionary, with completely different single-seaters, with aerodynamics not only based on the wings and the numerous appendages on the chassis, but also because of the ground effect, comparable to a suction cup under the car.
This change should reduce the performance differences between the teams and allow more overtaking, as it is easier to follow the car in front.
The 2022 calendar foresees 23 Grand Prix, a record in the discipline.
The grid welcomes a rookie, Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo), the first Chinese in the history of Formula 1, and two returns, those of the Thai Alexander Albon (Williams) and the Danish Kevin Magnussen (Haas), who replaces at the last minute Russian Nikita Mazepin, persona non grata after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (AFP)