WHAT A RACE! Those are the only words that leave my lips every time the top three finishers drive into the Perc Fermé or a bottle of Ferrari Trento is popped on the podiums. The F1 season so far has been nothing short of a thrilling rollercoaster. We’re halfway through the season after round 11 at Austria out of a 22-round season, one of the longest ones yet. Let’s first walk through what has happened in this season so far.
We all knew how significant the changes for the 2022 season were, and stir-ups in the podium places were well anticipated. The Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir certainly kept those anticipations up! Reigning world champion Max Verstappen constantly challenged Scuderia Ferrari throughout the race, only to end the day in a double-DNF for the team. Meanwhile, the Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc drove to an incredible win and a first 1-2 finish for the Maranello-based team since 2019. Mercedes got the advantage of Red Bull’s double-DNF, which bumped the seven-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton, onto an unexpected P3 podium with his teammate George Russel in P4. Surprising was a P5 finish for Haas with Kevin Magnussen behind the wheel. Even more impressive when we consider that Nikita Mazepin’s contract was terminated on 5th March, five days before the Grand Prix. This resulted in Magnussen being behind the wheel of the car for the first time for practice session1 on Friday. Many people overlooked the rookie who scored points in his F1 debut, Zhou Guanyu. In my opinion, a perfect opener to the season.
With Red Bull desperate for a comeback and Scuderia Ferrari hell-bent on keeping the lead, all eyes were on the two teams. We never knew we would have this in store. Sergio Perez only had more bad luck with safety car timings to blame, but that was not even close to the highlight of the race. The highlight was undoubtedly the high- action-packed close racing between Max & Charles, where both traded places countless times throughout a few laps. The result was in the Dutch driver’s favour when he beat Charles Leclerc to the chequered flag only by 0.5 seconds. At the tail-end, both Williams drivers faced crashes with no severe injuries to anyone. On the whole, only 13 cars crossed the finish line. I certainly am waiting for another Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Charles Leclerc was driven by his hunger for another win, and everyone could see that! The Monegasque driver delivered a spectacular performance at the updated Albert Park circuit in the 2022 Australian Grand Prix. He came home to the tallest podium and an extended lead in the Drivers’ World Championship. He led all 58 laps and carved out a baffling 20.524 second lead over Sergio Perez in P2. George Russel had a long overdue podium for the Silver Arrows after his heart-breaking appearance race at Sakhir, 2020, in the Mercedes cockpit. He finished P3 right in front of his teammate and seven-time world champion – Lewis Hamilton, who finished P4. McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo finished P6 at his home race, just behind teammate Lando Norris who finished P5. Alex Albon scored his first point for Williams and the team’s first points for the season by finishing P10. A spectacular race; in my opinion, the racing action and the beautiful sceneries of Albert Park clubbed with the sun in the background definitely made it worth it to wake up at 10:30 on a Sunday morning.
The only thing Max Verstappen wanted was redemption. He dominantly led the race right on from lap 1 even though he wasn’t on pole. His teammate finished 16.527 seconds behind him in P2, leading the team to a 1-2 finish at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. McLaren’s Lando Norris inherited a lucky P3 after Charles Leclerc spun his car in the Variante Alta chicane in turns 14-15 while chasing P2 from Sergio Perez. Charles recovered but had to pit and finished P6 in the end. To Ferrari’s horror, their day went south, with Carlos Sainz retiring after he made contact with Daniel Ricciardo on the first lap of the race. The Silver Arrows, although, had a mixed bag of results. Their new driver, George Russel, finished P4 while their seven-time world champion could only cross the line at a saddening P13. Sainz was not the only one to retire in the race, followed by a fellow Spaniard, Fernando Alonso, who was forced to retire after sustaining damage to his sidepods followed by a contact with Mick Schumacher. I think it was a fantastic race with a healthy amount of racing action but poor decision-making from the race control regarding racing conditions and DRS.
The reigning world champion produced a performance which was nothing short of brilliant. He sealed his third season victory to cover ground in the World Drivers’ Championship, where Charles Leclerc led by leaps and bounds. The Dutch-man started P3 on the grid and nailed the start, where he shortly overtook Carlos Sainz before turn 1. He finally overtook Charles Leclerc – the pole sitter – in lap 9. The Monegasque driver tried his luck to take back the lead during the race’s only safety car, but it was unfruitful. The safety car was caused by a collision between Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly, eventually leading to a DNF for both. Carlos Sainz finished P3 with Sergio Perez in the close following, who finished P4. The new driver at the Silver Arrows showcased an extraordinary recovery drive; he started the race from P12 and finished P5, just ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton in P6. Alex Albon crossed the chequered flag with another point in his bag after finishing P10. The track saw a series of DNFs, in addition to Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris, Zhou Guanyu, Sebastian Vettel and Kevin Magnussen, who all failed to cross the finish line. It was a thrilling race, clubbed with celebrities galore at the Hard Rock Stadium; the track’s debut on the F1 calendar was definitively a success among fans.
We returned to Catalunya after 3 months; this was where the first pre-season testing was held. Max Verstappen kept up his winning streak, and the world noticed that he won every race that he finished so far in the season. This was his third consecutive win after Imola and Miami. The race win for the Dutch driver was even more surprising after we witnessed a load of DRS problems. This was even more surprising when we saw him go off the track and into the gravel at turn 4. It was after round 6 that Max Verstappen took the lead in the World Drivers’ Championship for the first time this season. Max’s Mexican teammate Sergio Perez crossed the finish line second to make it a second 1-2 finish of the season for their team. This was the first time we saw Mercedes AMG cars battling for podium places; George Russel finished P3 after battling Sergio Perez for a P2 finish. Carlos Sainz, at his home race, went off the track and onto the gravel at turn 4, similar to Max but the Spaniard recovered to finish P4. Behind him came the seven-time world champion in P5, who, with a breath-taking drive, recovered from P19. A collision on the opening lap with Kevin Magnussen left Lewis Hamilton with a puncture that brought him down to P19. Fernando Alonso also recovered from starting at the back of the grid to finishing P9 at his home race. The heartbreak of the day was for Charles Leclerc, comfortably leading the race and looking to extend his lead over the World Drivers’ Championship; he was forced to retire after a power-unit issue with his red prancing horse. In addition to Charles, Zhou Guanyu was the only other driver to retire from the race. The race saw the first of the reliability problems from Scuderia Ferrari but not the last. A heart-breaking race for all the Ferrari fans but a great one with two spectacular recovery drives.
Just like that, the season arrived to round 7, Monaco, one of the most prestigious races on the calendar and the home race for Charles Leclerc. All eyes were on him, given that Charles was yet to finish a race at his home track. Sergio Perez ruled the streets in Monte Carlo; he secured a dramatic victory after a stop-start Monaco Grand Prix due to rain. The win made him the most successful Mexican F1 driver in history. Perez overtook both Charles and Carlos at the first round of pit stops. Sainz gave his all to chase down Perez but had to settle for a second. The race also broke Max Verstappen’s streak of winning all races he finished this season after he finished P3 for the weekend. Charles Leclerc was again the heartbreak of the day with a highly disappointing pit-stop strategy which cost him his maiden win at his home circuit. George Russel started to build a streak of finishing above his teammate; George finished P5 while his teammate Lewis Hamilton finished P8, separated by Lando Norris at P6 and Fernando Alonso at P7. A fantastic performance was seen by Pierre Gasly; the Frenchman started the race at P17 and fought hard but could only finish at P12. Haas Automotive experienced a double DNF for the day. It was a rainy day at the Principality with a lot of decisions being questioned, but what was unquestioned was the action in the race! One of my favourite tracks on the calendar, and with uncertainty about its return to the F1 calendar, the race was one of nostalgia too. I loved it.
Baku saw the return of a dominant drive by Max Verstappen. The Dutch driver displayed an astonishing drive after finishing P1 while his teammate Sergio Perez, who finished P2, was 20.832 seconds behind Max. This was a third 1-2 finish for Red Bull Racing. Scuderia Ferrari experienced a double-DNF after Charles and Carlos retired early in the race. George Russel kept up his consistency to finish P3 and secure his third podium of the season with his teammate in close tow; Lewis Hamilton finished P4. Pierre Gasly fought and finished fifth ahead of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in P6. It was a good day for McLaren after their drivers came in P8 & P9. Alpine scored points, with Fernando Alonso finishing P7 and Esteban Ocon in P10.
Max Verstappen put up another fantastic show to take home his first ever victory in Canada. This extended his championship-leading to a massive gap of 46 points. A safety car on lap 49 of the race was caused by Yuki Tsunoda crashing at turn 2; Sainz took the advantage and got a cheap pitstop, giving him a tyre advantage over Max. Verstappen fought fearlessly and held off Carlos to take home his fifth victory for the season. Lewis Hamilton scored his second season podium in P3 ahead of teammate George Russel in P4. Charles Leclerc showcased an incredible recovery drive after starting P19 but finishing P5 in front of the Alpines, which finished P6 & P7. Lance Stroll could only manage a P10 for his home race. Sergio Perez, Mick Schumacher & Yuki Tsunoda were the only ones not seeing the finish line.
Carlos Sainz converted his pole at Silverstone into a maiden victory after a scintillating race. After starting from pole, Sainz took a cheap pit stop under the safety car; the fresher tyres allowed him to overtake his teammate Charles Leclerc before winning the Grand Prix on his 150th start in Formula 1. Leclerc’s tyres were older than others as he chose to stay out of the pits during the safety car. This caused Leclerc to drop down to P4 after he could not keep off Sainz, Perez or Hamilton. Although it was a spectacular battle during the ending stages of the British Grand Prix, it ended badly for Charles while his teammate secured his first ever win in F1. Max Verstappen suffered floor damage and ended up finishing P7. It was also the first top 10 finish for Haas driver Mick Schumacher, who finished P8 while his teammate Kevin Magnussen finished P10. The race was red flagged before the first turn could be crossed by all cars because of a horrific crash involving Zhou Guanyu, George Russel, Alex Albon, Pierre Gasly, Sebastian Vettel, Yuki Tsunoda and Esteban Ocon. Zhou, George and Albon had to be checked at the medical centre, while Albon was to a hospital for further care and checks. This race had it all, crashes, heartbreaks, overtaking action, poor strategy decisions and much more, a genuinely suspenseful race.
Charles Leclerc got his long-time overdue P1 finish at the Austrian Grand Prix. This was no ordinary glide to victory; along the way, he faced reliability issues and competition from the reigning world champion, Max Verstappen. Charles started on Sunday from P2 but overtook Max thrice on track and then encountered a throttle-related problem in his car later on in the race. Max Verstappen was likely to finish third as Carlos Sainz was nearing an overtake, but just before he could make a move, his Ferrari’s engine caught on fire which ended the Spaniard’s race. Lewis Hamilton took home P3 to take his third consecutive podium. George Russell recovered fantastically from his 5-second time penalty, which was brought on by a track-limits violation; he managed to take home P4. Esteban Ocon came in P5 in front of an unlikely P6 in Mick Schumacher. McLaren’s drivers’ Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo crossed the finish line in P7 & P9, while Haas’ Kevin Magnussen took P8.Fernando Alonso rounded up the points in P10. Although the race did not see any red flags or safety cars, the event was action-packed with a lot of overtaking from the mid-field. This overtaking action came with some collisions throughout the race, among which the most notable was between Mercedes driver George Russell and Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Perez. All the overtaking action and the return of an excellent P1 finish, all clubbed with the orange smoke all over the grandstands, made the race a scenic and exciting event.
What’s Next? The French Grand Prix is to be held next for Round 12 at Circuit Paul Ricard, Le Castellet. Paul Ricard is an even distribution of high, medium and low-speed sections, and that is the reason why is it one of the most used test circuits in the world. The track is capable of 167 different configurations and layouts, making it one of the most bizarre and confusing tracks, all the while making the maze of tracks a beautiful sight to behold. German four-time World Championship winner Sebastian Vettel holds the track record from his 2019 season at the track. We move to Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon’s home race for round 12. Could this be time for the return of an astonishing win by either of the Frenchmen at their home circuit?
Words: Sresht Garg