Bahrain GP: Ferrari vs Max Verstappen headlines epic F1 opener as Lewis Hamilton aims to ‘hold on’

Formula 1 2022 has a much-anticipated opener today as new cars race for the first time, with Charles Leclerc on pole from Max Verstappen; Watch Bahrain Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1 at 3pm, with build-up from 1.30pm

Last Updated: 20/03/22 9:21am

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc joins Martin Brundle at the SkyPad to look back at his pole lap in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix

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Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc joins Martin Brundle at the SkyPad to look back at his pole lap in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc joins Martin Brundle at the SkyPad to look back at his pole lap in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix

A new era of Formula 1 is set for an epic first race today with the Bahrain GP, ​​as a resurgent Ferrari battle Max Verstappen and Red Bull at the front while Lewis Hamilton looks to “hold on” to Mercedes’ faster rivals.

Three months after a dramatic end to the 2021 season, F1 is back with all-new cars and all-new opportunities – and the 2022 season-opening Bahrain GP is live on Sky Sports F1 at 3pm, with build-up from 1.30pm.

If qualifying is anything to go by, we’re set for a close and unpredictable cracker.

A competitive three-way battle for pole between Ferraris Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz and world champion Verstappen played out as expected on Saturday, won by Leclerc who heads the Red Bull on the grid.

Ride onboard with Charles Leclerc as the Ferrari driver secures pole in the season opener in Bahrain

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Ride onboard with Charles Leclerc as the Ferrari driver secures pole in the season opener in Bahrain

Ride onboard with Charles Leclerc as the Ferrari driver secures pole in the season opener in Bahrain

Ferrari, while the sport’s most successful and famous team, have not won a race since 2019 and their return to contention following the rules overhaul is a much-welcome one – though a first race in these new-look cars over 57 laps presents many challenges , not least a potentially faster Verstappen.

“It looks good,” Leclerc, a two-time F1 race winner, told Sky Sports on Saturday night.

“But again I still have the same worry that maybe Red Bull is two or three tenths ahead. But maybe we will have the same good surprise we have today!”

Max Verstappen was satisfied to finish second in qualifying ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen was satisfied to finish second in qualifying ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix

Max Verstappen was satisfied to finish second in qualifying ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix

It is not just a new battle at the front that is generating excitement, for today is also the first acid test for the new cars – which have been completely redesigned in a bid to improve wheel-to-wheel racing and overtaking.

“I think it could be an exciting race, because we are actually able to follow closer,” said Sainz, who starts third.

“We don’t need to open such big gaps to manage tires, like we had to do in the past. At least that’s my personal feeling. So, it could be a bit more close racing.”

Hamilton, Mercedes pessimistic ahead of opener

Conspicuous by their absence at the sharp end of the grid are Mercedes, who for the first time since they started their record eight-year championship streak in 2014 are huge underdogs for a season’s first race.

The Silver Arrows, struggling with porpoising and unlocking pace from their new W13, have been off the pace all weekend in Bahrain and Lewis Hamilton starts fifth today, with George Russell down in ninth.

Lewis Hamilton was 'happy' to finish fifth in qualifying, but admits the Mercedes will not be able to challenge the Ferraris or Red Bulls in the race

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Lewis Hamilton was ‘happy’ to finish fifth in qualifying, but admits the Mercedes will not be able to challenge the Ferraris or Red Bulls in the race

Lewis Hamilton was ‘happy’ to finish fifth in qualifying, but admits the Mercedes will not be able to challenge the Ferraris or Red Bulls in the race

Team boss Toto Wolff conceded after qualifying that Mercedes realized their issues “much too late” and admitted that he was a “a little bit wary of where we will be in the race”, with some predicting a half-a-second-per- lap deficit.

Sky Sports F1’s Damon Hill even suggested that the mighty Mercedes may be “embarrassed” come lights out.

Hamilton, who was six-tenths off pole, said the goal was on “maximizing” the race but he isn’t particularly confident about challenging those ahead.

“Realistically, we can’t compete pace wise to the guys that are ahead of us but we can fight the guys behind,” said Hamilton, who starts behind the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admits they are currently the third fastest team on the track, and they have to be realistic about their chances in the race

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Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admits they are currently the third fastest team on the track, and they have to be realistic about their chances in the race

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admits they are currently the third fastest team on the track, and they have to be realistic about their chances in the race

“However, we might have a slightly different strategy, you look at the tire situation and who knows what’s going to happen.

“Maybe the pace will be a little bit better than we anticipate which, taking from yesterday, won’t necessarily be the case but every day is a bit different.

Damon Hill says the Mercedes team could be 'embarrassed' by their lack of pace in Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix

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Damon Hill says the Mercedes team could be ’embarrassed’ by their lack of pace in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix

Damon Hill says the Mercedes team could be ’embarrassed’ by their lack of pace in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix

“Maybe we can just hold onto the guys maybe ahead just for a little while and maybe give them a bit of trouble. But we definitely won’t be quicker than the guys ahead of us.”

Highlighting the clean slate of a rules refresh, Hamilton has some familiar yet unexpected rivals behind him in former team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the Alfa Romeo and Kevin Magnussen in the Haas.

F1 is back, and it all starts on Sky Sports F1 from 1.30pm today.

Live race-day schedule on Sky Sports F1

Sunday, March 20
8.55am: F3 Feature Race
10.35am: F2 Feature Race
1.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday: Bahrain
3pm: THE BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX
5pm: Checkered Flag: Bahrain
6pm: Ted’s Notebook
7pm: Bahrain GP Highlights

Grand Prix Sunday (from 2.30pm) and the race (3pm) will also be simulcast on Sky Sports Main Event, until the first Super Sunday game at 4.30pm.

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