When Red Bull’s Max Verstappen edged out Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton for the 2021 Driver’s Championship, it was expected that he and Hamilton would once again be the top challengers for the individual crown. Not only that, it seemed as if Red Bull would be the main threat to put an end to a record eight consecutive Constructors’ Championships for Mercedes.
But a new challenger has emerged, and it is the historic team that is looking to exorcise its demons from the past few years: Ferrari.
Make no mistake, there is still a long way to go in the season. Hamilton and his new teammate, George Russell, still might be able to find a way to keep Mercedes’ championship streak alive. However, newly extended driver Charles Leclerc, aided by a first- and second-place finish in the opening two races of the 2022 Formula 1 season, has Ferrari in sole possession of first place in the Constructors’ — ahead of Red Bull by 40 points.
The results are not entirely surprising. Ferrari arguably showed the most improvement during pre-season testing, while Mercedes struggled on straight-line speeds. The impressive showings have made their way onto the track. Ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the opening race of the season, Leclerc secured pole position, or a starting position in first place, which historically bodes well for drivers — 40% of Formula 1 races have been won by a driver sitting in pole position. Teammate Carlos Sainz secured third on the starting grid, while Verstappen came in second.
Leclerc and Sainz parlayed the favorable position into the first 1-2 finish for Ferrari since 2019. Leclerc stayed ahead for the majority of the race, save for a little cat-and-mouse game with Verstappen during multiple laps, with both drivers overtaking the other. Ferrari also got a major boost as both Red Bull cars — Verstappen’s and that of Sergio Perez — retired due to fuel pressure issues.
If the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix was any indication, however, Red Bull still has skin in the game. This time it was Perez who secured pole position for the first time in his career. It broke his poleless streak of 215 races, the longest in F1 history. However, Ferrari still claimed the next two positions, with Leclerc and Sainz rounding out the top three.
For a while, it looked like Perez would be the one to take home the Grand Prix crown. Pole position granted him the ability to avoid the necessity of overtaking, and no matter how close Leclerc came, Perez was able to hold him off.
In shades of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a virtual safety car brought on due to a crash by Williams driver Nicholas Latifi changed the complexion of the whole race.
This time, there was no controversial decision from the race director. An unlucky situation befell Perez, who pitted for fresh tires before the accident. With the safety car, other drivers were able to pit without losing their position. All of a sudden, Perez dropped behind the top of the grid, and the battle for first place shifted to Leclerc and Verstappen. Verstappen emerged victorious after using DRS to reduce drag and gain a faster top speed.
“It wasn’t enough but oh my god, I really enjoyed the race,” Leclerc said. “Again, it was hard racing, but fair. Every race should be like this. It was fun. I am of course disappointed — I wanted to win … It was very, very tricky. I tried to have the DRS in the last corner. It worked twice, but it didn’t the last time.”
With the 2022 season underway, fans will most likely be treated to many more exciting races. With the individual and team championships at stake, as well as the millions of dollars awarded for each rise in the team standings, the attention now turns to the Australian Grand Prix on April 9.
Ali Fazal covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].