The wait is over: three months after his spectacular victory in Abu Dhabi, Max Verstappen (Red Bull) starts the fight for his second title in Bahrain on Sunday against his rival, seeking revenge, Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) and with Ferrari determined to fight again for the top positions.
The synopsis is promising with the revolution in Formula 1: in addition to the record of 23 Grand Prix, this season also brings the new regulations, with a complete review of the single-seaters. The objective is to offer more spectacle and allow more teams to win.
But a revolution can be slow. The results obtained during the winter tests, first in Barcelona and then in Bahrain, have left Mercedes and Red Bull occupying the top positions. Will the duel of the titans between Verstappen and Hamilton, won with controversy by the former in the controversy of the last seconds of Abu Dhabi, be repeated again?
Verstappen, in any case, seems ready to play the same role again. After being the best driver of 2021 (10 wins against 8 for Hamilton, 10 poles against 5), the 24-year-old Dutchman finished the preseason in the lead.
Eighth title for the British?
Between his title and the performance of his Red Bull, Verstappen arrives full of confidence. Jos’s son, also a former F1 driver, had been waiting for this moment since his arrival at the elite in 2015, at the age of 17. Born to win, he wants to catch up with Hamilton in the pantheon.
But the Briton is once again aiming for a record eighth world title, to overtake German Michael Schumacher at the top of the standings. An eighth title that he thought he had achieved, before being overtaken on the last lap of the last race on December 12.
However, ahead of his duel with Verstappen, the 37-year-old Briton seemed pessimistic on Saturday: “At the moment, I don’t think we can fight for victory, but the car has the potential to get there,” he explained on the last day of testing. .
It may be a bluff, we will have to see what both Hamilton (16th time in Bahrain practice) and his new partner, his ambitious compatriot George Russell (5th time) can do.
Russell’s role for Hamilton will also have to be seen: will he be a fellow model, like his predecessor Finn Valtteri Bottas, now at Alfa-Romeo? Or will he be a headache? At Red Bull, the answer should be simpler, without the Mexican Sergio Pérez presenting a threat to the number one of his team.
Will there be a pilot behind that can surprise? In any case, that is the intention: to redistribute the cards with new aerodynamic rules and a budget ceiling in force from 2021 (142.4 million dollars in 2022).
The rebirth of the Scuderia?
Formula 1 presents as a novelty the return of ground effect, prohibited in the 1980s, which sticks single-seaters to the asphalt. In theory, this should allow a car to better resist airflows escaping from the car in front in order to overtake more easily.
Announced in 2019 and delayed a year due to the pandemic, now is the time and all of Italy is watching. Because if Ferrari is synonymous with Formula 1, the team no longer shines so much. Since 2008 he hasn’t won a constructors’ title and since 2007 a driver (Kimi Raikkonen) hasn’t.
After a year to forget in 2020, the worst in the last 40 years, the red team recovers sensations. In 2021, the team was the third strongest and has shown promising signs in preseason. Thanks to a car with better performance and a good driver duo, with the Monegasque Charles Leclerc (24 years old) and the Spanish Carlos Sainz (27 years old), the team with the most titles in history wants to be reborn.
In the same vein, McLaren is also hoping to return to the limelight, with 22-year-old Briton Lando Norris and 32-year-old Australian Daniel Ricciardo. Fourth in 2021, the team has not won a constructors’ title since 1998 and since 2008 in drivers, with a young Lewis Hamilton.
The French Alpine team, fifth in 2021 with its drivers Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, is also looking to improve this year. But the traffic will be heavy, especially with AlphaTauri (Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda) and also Aston Martin (Sebastian Vettel – Lance Stroll).
All these teams dream of repeating the feat of Brawn GP in 2009, a year also of great regulatory change, in which that British team and the British driver Jenson Button surprised all forecasts, becoming champions.