Written by Jake O’Callaghan, Edited by Simran Kanthi
With the 2022 Formula One season at a close, some of the DIVEBOMB team will be selecting some of their favourite races of 2022 in the coming weeks, as we start to reflect on yet another thrilling Formula One season.
My name is Jake O'Callaghan, I'm a journalist with Project DIVEBOMB and my selection for the Race of the Year is the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 2022 season marked a huge change for the sport of Formula 1, the much-anticipated change to the sporting regulations came into effect this year. Promises of increased overtaking, less dirty air and a more closely bunched-up field were about to be held to account, and a potential new hierarchy of success was about to be established. This began with the opening race of 2022, the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Throughout the practice sessions, it seemed to be a complete toss-up between the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and the Red Bull of Max Verstappen for pole position in Qualifying. That is how it had seemed in Q1 and Q2, with Leclerc logging the fastest time in the first segment of Qualifying, and Verstappen the fastest in the second. Q3 promised to be a tight battle between the two.
Further down the grid, Mercedes set the first runs of Q3, but couldn't quite reach the heights they had become so accustomed to, their car was unstable and too slow on the long Bahrain straights, and would line up fifth with Lewis Hamilton and ninth with Silver Arrows newcomer George Russell. Conversely, Haas recorded their best Qualifying session in three years, with both cars reaching Q2 and the returning Kevin Magnussen achieving the American outfit's first Q3 appearance since the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix.
The hierarchy for this race was beginning to take shape, and it was a battle between the Red Bulls and the Prancing Horses for pole. Leclerc's Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz held provisional pole position after the first runs of the session. However, in his second attempt, Sainz failed to consolidate his place at the top of the table and could not improve his time. When it came down to the two expected protagonists, Leclerc ended up beating Verstappen to pole, and by quite a margin considering their competitiveness, the Monegasque stealing it by over one-tenth of a second.
As the lights above the track extinguished to signal the start of the race, Leclerc beat Verstappen out of Turn 1, with the Ferrari of Sainz in third and the Red Bull of Sergio Perez falling back behind Hamilton and Magnussen on Lap 1. Bottas had a poor start, losing eight places on lap one as he languished in 14th place. Closer to the back, carbon fibre flew as off-track friends Esteban Ocon and Mick Schumacher collided at Turn 6, with Schumacher spinning around while the Alpine of Ocon continued on unscathed, Ocon was later deemed at fault for the incident and was given a five-second time penalty.
Verstappen attempted to undercut Leclerc by pitting for fresh soft tyres on lap 15 and managed to gain over three seconds on Leclerc following his stop for the red-walled softs the subsequent lap. After Leclerc's outlap, the battle ensued on the main straight going on to lap 17, as Verstappen used the DRS advantage to get in front of Leclerc. Sparks flew in the night air as he jumped ahead on the inside into Turn 1, but he went too deep in the heavy braking zone, and with DRS to help, Leclerc got a better exit and retook the position into Turn 4. The exact same thing happened on Lap 18, with Leclerc just managing to hold off Verstappen on the outside of Turn 4, it seemed the Ferrari's advantage was ever-shrinking.
The very next lap, on Lap 19, Verstappen had lined up another go on Leclerc using DRS to gain a speed advantage. He dived into Turn 1, but outbraked himself and locked up his tyres, letting Leclerc through. The Dutchman was now out of range to imminently challenge Leclerc again.
On Lap 46, following pitstops for both Leclerc and Verstappen (Leclerc for mediums, Verstappen for softs), the gap between the front two stood at over 25 seconds. Then suddenly, the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly pulled to the side of the track at Turn 3, the rear of his car engulfed in flames. Gasly got out of his car without injury and, crucially, a Safety Car was issued.
The race restarted five laps later, and Leclerc regained a lead over Verstappen, who had begun to complain over the radio of an issue with his power unit. He was then passed by the trailing cars of Sainz and Hamilton before his team called it a day and retired him with just three laps to go, on Lap 54.
On the final lap, Verstappen's teammate Perez suffered a similar fate, where a power unit issue caused his rear axle to lock at Turn 1, the car spinning and coming to a halt, which brought out the yellow flags. This was welcome news for Ferrari, as their main competitor had just suffered a double DNF.
Leclerc finally crossed the line on Lap 57 to take the first win of the season, and Ferrari's first in nearly three years. His teammate Sainz came across the line to finish second, completing a near-perfect day for the Maranello-based squad. The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton capitalised on Red Bull's misfortune to take the final spot on the podium, a previously-unlikely but welcome end to a challenging weekend for the reigning Constructors' champions.
Finally, we must not forget the mighty performance of Kevin Magnussen, who brought his Haas home to a stellar fifth-place finish, his team jubilant as he crossed the line. Magnussen wasn't expected to drive the 2022 season, but with the late termination of Nikita Mazepin's contract, Haas called the Dane back to lend his experience to the growing team. After not scoring any points the previous season, finishing fifth (and just outside the points with an eleventh for Schumacher) and taking home a much-deserved ten points was remarkable.
I believe the Bahrain Grand Prix was a perfect introduction to the new regulations for cars in 2022, with multiple-lap battles happening throughout the field, overtaking seeming much more plentiful, and the running order certainly mixed up. Ferrari did leave with a gargantuan advantage in the championship, but we know that wouldn't be the full story in 2022. That is why I chose this race as my Race of the Year.