Will new rules serve up a close race? Some suspect tyres may limit potential for passing

2022 Bahrain Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Every year, the first grand prix Sunday dawns with intrigue as Formula 1’s teams and drivers line up on the grid equal on points for the only time this season.

In 2022, the unknowns loom larger than they have for almost a generation – except, perhaps, for the most likely contenders for the first race victory of this longest-ever season.

Throughout the opening two days of the race weekend, the form reflected the pattern that emerged through the two pre-season tests. Ferrari and Red Bull proved all those who had talked them up over the winter months to be correct by jealously hoarding the front two rows of the grid for themselves, barely the click of a pen separating them.

But from fifth position downwards, the sheer volume of potential permutations for how the order could end up after the 57th lap renders this the most unpredictable season-opening in recent memory.

Despite narrowly failing to embark on his championship title defence with pole position, Max Verstappen’s demeanour after qualifying was not one of a driver who was too disappointed to have had to settle for second place. And after his long run pace on Friday evening, in which he was comfortably faster than his competitors, he had every reason for confidence.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022
Hamilton lines up a somewhat unexpected fifth
“For tomorrow, I think we’ve got a good race car,” he said. “All the time when I’ve been on race fuel, the car has been feeling quite stable and good on tyres, – and that’s, of course, very important.”

But Ferrari have every reason to feel that this is a race they can win also. Despite Charles Leclerc only attempting a couple of race simulation laps during Friday’s evening sessions, preferring instead to focus on the single-lap pace, the pole-winner says he has not sacrificed his race pace in the pursuit of pole position.

“I think we did actually quite a bit of high fuel laps during testing so that’s why maybe we – in second practice – we didn’t do as much as we normally do,” Leclerc explained.

“Our priority was still to get some information on the short runs, which we did yesterday, which definitely helped for today’s qualifying performance but I don’t think we have compromised in any way the performance for tomorrow’s race.”

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While Verstappen often only had one Mercedes to worry about last season, he may well have to worry about the Ferrari behind him as much as the one starting ahead. Carlos Sainz Jnr, Verstappen’s first Formula 1 team mate, is pursuing his first grand prix victory. However, he admits to being “not entirely prepared” as he would like to be heading into Sunday.

“The long runs yesterday that I did, I was also slow,” Sainz said. “So that’s my last reference.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Bahrain International Circuit, 2022
Alonso has tyre degradation concerns
“I don’t know if I will manage to translate the qualifying pace into race pace. So, a bit of a question mark there for me. But I will work overnight to try and find out.”

With so much set to be revealed – from the ultimate performance of all 10 teams to whether the new ground effect cars for 2022 really will allow for closer racing – there is one factor that the field appears to agree will be the most crucial in determining the results: tyre degradation.

“The tyre is going to be probably the biggest topic tomorrow. The degradation,” said eighth placed starter Fernando Alonso. “So when you follow too closely, you damage the tyres. I don’t know if it’s clever to be that close, so let’s see.”

“There could be some deg following a car closely,” Sergio Perez concurred. “But it would be interesting how everything turns around, if you are able to stay in the DRS zone. I think none of us really know what to expect for tomorrow’s race.”

Pirelli were surprised that the three hardest compounds they had brought to the Bahrain International Circuit had a higher level of degradation that they predicted over the first two days of running. The lap time deltas between the hard, medium and soft was also greater than expected, leading to Pirelli predicting that a two-stop strategy – two stints on soft and one on mediums – to be the fastest route to the chequered flag.

The relatively closeness of the field behind Red Bull and Ferrari makes the battle for the points almost a free-for-all, with seven teams represented in the top ten starting positions.

Ferrari are targeting their first win since 2019
If it truly is closer to follow, then the characteristics of the Bahrain circuit – long straights into slow corners – could lead to an early DRS train forming that could keep the field more compacted than typical at the Sakhir circuit. There’s plenty of incentive to those drivers who may find themselves lower down the order take a risk on an alternate strategy.

Braking performance will be key for those late lunges at the end of the main straight, which could make McLaren’s challenging weekend even more difficult as they rely on an interim solution to their brake troubles.

After being the single outstanding talking point from testing, the porpoising phenomenon that affect these new ground effect cars did not seem to play a factor in qualifying. Those who were suffering the most with the excessive high-speed bouncing effect may have set up their cars in such a way to limit the proposing, possible compromising overall lap time as a result, but how much of a toll it will take on the cars and the drivers over 300 consecutive kilometres remains to be seen.

It may be planned to be the longest ever season, but with the expected rate of development being so high, scoring early points could end up making a major difference to teams’ final finishing positions in Abu Dhabi. There’s every incentive to fight for every point, even at this stage. Whoever keeps their tyres and their head in the desert heat will likely start their season in the best possible style.

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Charles LeclercFerrari1’31.4711’30.932 (-0.539)1’30.558 (-0.374)
2Max VerstappenRed Bull1’31.7851’30.757 (-1.028)1’30.681 (-0.076)
3Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’31.5671’30.787 (-0.780)1’30.687 (-0.100)
4Sergio PerezRed Bull1’32.3111’31.008 (-1.303)1’30.921 (-0.087)
5Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’32.2851’31.048 (-1.237)1’31.238 (+0.190)
6Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo1’31.9191’31.717 (-0.202)1’31.560 (-0.157)
7Kevin MagnussenHaas1’31.9551’31.461 (-0.494)1’31.808 (+0.347)
8Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’32.3461’31.621 (-0.725)1’32.195 (+0.574)
9George RussellMercedes1’32.2691’31.252 (-1.017)1’32.216 (+0.964)
10Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’32.0961’31.635 (-0.461)1’32.338 (+0.703)
11Esteban OconAlpine1’32.0411’31.782 (-0.259)
12Mick SchumacherHaas1’32.3801’31.998 (-0.382)
13Lando NorrisMcLaren1’32.2391’32.008 (-0.231)
14Alexander AlbonWilliams1’32.7261’32.664 (-0.062)
15Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo1’32.4931’33.543 (+1.050)
16Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’32.750
17Nico HulkenbergAston Martin1’32.777
18Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’32.945
19Lance StrollAston Martin1’33.032
20Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’33.634

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Charles Leclerc29.115 (4)38.702 (1)22.707 (1)
Max Verstappen28.970 (1)38.832 (2)22.761 (4)
Carlos Sainz Jnr29.036 (2)38.842 (3)22.708 (2)
Sergio Perez29.152 (5)38.894 (4)22.746 (3)
Lewis Hamilton29.100 (3)38.965 (5)22.822 (5)
Valtteri Bottas29.203 (7)39.296 (9)22.861 (7)
Kevin Magnussen29.310 (10)39.191 (7)22.879 (8)
Fernando Alonso29.301 (9)39.305 (10)23.010 (10)
George Russell29.197 (6)39.104 (6)22.852 (6)
Pierre Gasly29.253 (8)39.335 (11)23.018 (11)
Esteban Ocon29.407 (11)39.294 (8)23.030 (12)
Mick Schumacher29.538 (13)39.430 (13)22.995 (9)
Lando Norris29.544 (14)39.355 (12)23.093 (14)
Alexander Albon29.564 (15)39.785 (15)23.203 (16)
Zhou Guanyu29.493 (12)39.796 (16)23.065 (13)
Yuki Tsunoda29.724 (16)39.811 (17)23.215 (17)
Nico Hulkenberg29.833 (19)39.760 (14)23.184 (15)
Daniel Ricciardo29.763 (17)39.862 (19)23.320 (20)
Lance Stroll29.906 (20)39.844 (18)23.282 (18)
Nicholas Latifi29.810 (18)40.370 (20)23.300 (19)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Sergio PerezRed BullRed Bull323.2 (200.8)
2Max VerstappenRed BullRed Bull322.9 (200.6)-0.3
3Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault321.5 (199.8)-1.7
4Esteban OconAlpineRenault320.4 (199.1)-2.8
5Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes319.4 (198.5)-3.8
6Mick SchumacherHaasFerrari318.4 (197.8)-4.8
7Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari318.2 (197.7)-5.0
8Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriRed Bull318.1 (197.7)-5.1
9Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriRed Bull317.3 (197.2)-5.9
10Alexander AlbonWilliamsMercedes316.7 (196.8)-6.5
11Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari316.6 (196.7)-6.6
12Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari315.9 (196.3)-7.3
13Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes315.7 (196.2)-7.5
14Valtteri BottasAlfa RomeoFerrari315.5 (196.0)-7.7
15Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes315.4 (196.0)-7.8
16Zhou GuanyuAlfa RomeoFerrari315.1 (195.8)-8.1
17George RussellMercedesMercedes314.0 (195.1)-9.2
18Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes311.6 (193.6)-11.6
19Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes311.5 (193.6)-11.7
20Nico HulkenbergAston MartinMercedes310.0 (192.6)-13.2

Over to you

Who will win the first race of Formula 1’s new era? Will the revised technical regulations deliver from the start?

Share your views on the Bahrain Grand Prix in the comments.

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2022 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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18 comments on “Will new rules serve up a close race? Some suspect tyres may limit potential for passing”

  1. Wonder if any of the top 10 will dare to start on hards or on softs. I predict majority will opt for the medium tyres in the top 10. As I thought, Verstappen had pole until the final corner where he played it safe because he carries a lot less speed than Leclerc. Meanwhile, Mercedes don’t look crazily too far if they hook up their laps together. Can’t say who will though. The race is where these cars have been designed to have the most effect. If the top teams stay close, we could have a crazy race since it is a 2 stop race.

    1. I doubt the front runners will start on mediums. While watching the practice starts at the end of FP3, I noticed the the medium shod cars had a lot of wheel spin on launch. The soft tires did not.

  2. Speed trap is now a bit ironic.

    1. It’s fascinating really, while everybody is focusing on the clearly visual aerodynamic changes and philosophies, the engines (or perhaps fuel formulas?) seem to be where the big gains have been made this year. And considering they’re supposedly locked in for the next 4 years, it could be a period of pain for Mercedes power.

      It’s going to be really interesting as the year goes on. Right now it feels like 2014 where Williams were suddenly competitive thanks to Mercedes power, except with Ferrari this time. Race will also tell alot of unknowns, especially with the tyres, there could still be a case of performance changing from track to track depending on the tyres and track condition, although that might be a strong hit of copium for the McLaren fans.

  3. I saw this comment on another article but it’s a pretty good point. If they expect closer racing, then why do they still have DRS? Cause that it will actually prevent close racing. Maybe the cars will follow each other closely but they will still wait until the DRS zone to make a pass knowing that it’s not worth the risk otherwise. And if the cars can now follow each other closely and they also have DRS, then passing will be a formality. Easy overtakes is as bad as almost no overtakes. I just hope they dont play the numbers game and at the end of the season will say “Oh look, we now have the biggest number of overtakes in history”, even though those overtakes shouldn’t even count as overtakes given they are too easy.

    1. I’m hoping they at least slowly phase out the DRS and rapidly decomposing tires. DRS first. In the end though it just shows they have no confidence in the new rules making it easier to pass.

    2. @apophisjj: It would be a very bad idea to remove DRS for the first race of the season. Yes, the goal of these new regulations is to improve close racing to a point where DRS is no longer necessary, but for now that’s just a goal, we still don’t know if it’s going to be a reality. What if they take away DRS, it turns out that the new regulations don’t actually work as well as expected, and the race becomes a processional borefest with no overtakes at all? They would have to bring DRS back immediately. As bad as DRS is, it’s still better than processional races. Everybody would rightly complain of the knee-jerk decisions. The fans would be confused, the teams would go crazy trying to adapt to the changes. It’s wiser to keep the DRS for now, see how it works, and if it turns out after a few races that the new regulations work as intended, then sure, let’s get rid of DRS. But doing it too early could be a big mistake.

      1. @alonshow: I know what you’re saying. And it’s true, we need to see it first in order to be sure. But what strikes me it’s their position. I saw an article saying that they could remove DRS starting with 2024. Excuse me? 2024? Why so long? If they really think that these new cars could easily follow each other, then it should be a matter of races before we should remove DRS. In my opinion, if they chose to experiment with sprint races, (where those could really affect the championship), they could also choose a race to run without DRS. But like Darryn said, just shows they are not so confident in these new cars.

        1. The aero rules will help in corners but as they were changed to get more airflow to the car behind it will compromise the slipstream effect on the straights. They might have to adjust the parameters of wing movement during DRS to negate this while also preventing overtaking from being too easy. It is an experiment that will take a while to fine tune I think.

  4. Exactly. The new regs were introduced to allow the cars to closely follow each other. That was priority number one. Not getting rid of DRS. Being able to follow a car closely means that the fight doesn’t end at the corner. As we witnessed a few times during the tests. Also, the passed car can continue to fight to regain the place it lost. Why knock the whole concept when we haven’t ever run a proper race?

  5. Did something change in Q3? Wind direction maybe? 5 out of 10 drivers did not improve their laptime from Q2 to Q3. The 5 drivers which did, only improved by a tenth (except Charles).

    1. I think I heard on the channel 4 commentary it’s due to the track cooling due to night driving @amg44 , but i ain’t no expert.

  6. So Pirelli may have missed there targets again as one of thete key aims for this year was more durable tires that allowed drivers to push harder for longer.

    If we are still in the situation where tgey can run closer but the tires still can’t hold up they won’t be able to run closer for long so we won’t see any of the great battles we all want to see.

    1. We may not see everything come together as they had planned until next year, there are just to many changes all at once. The teams didn’t really know how their own cars would react so it’s a big task for Pirelli.

  7. Super excited about this one! The race and season in general that is. I get that same feeling you get when you change jobs after falling into a bit of a rut in your old one. It really feels like a fresh start especially after Abu Dhabi and some of the toxic commentary around 2021.

  8. Who will win the first race of Formula 1’s new era? – Any top 3 starter.
    Will the revised technical regulations deliver from the start? – I hope.

  9. The tyres have always been the limit it is a wear product.
    And the heavier the cars become the more difficult it will be to develop a tyre that is capable of withstanding the forces.

  10. BLS (@brightlampshade)
    20th March 2022, 12:21

    Seeing two Red Bulls at the top of the speed trap just feels wrong. With 6 of the bottom 8 powered by Mercedes.

    How times have changed!

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