When Formula 1 announced its new era back in 2019, the aim was to bring the new cars and rules in for the 2020 season. The Covid-19 pandemic pushed that back a year, and now F1 finally enters its brave new era for the 2022 season. These cars are designed specifically to promote better racing, eliminating much of the dirty air the previous generation of cars produced. It sees a return to the ground effect concept last seen in the 1980s, and is perhaps the biggest rule change in some 40 years in Formula 1.

With such a shake up though comes the potential for a new pecking order. Testing in Barcelona (don’t call it a pre-season test) didn’t reveal too much, but Bahrain was quite eye-opening. Mercedes revealed a “no-sidepod” upgrade for their W13. Ferrari continued their strong run. Then Red Bull put an upgrade on the RB18 and suddenly became the team to beat. It was an interesting test that revealed plenty up and down the grid, and with the new season just days away, let's look at what we can expect following a fascinating pre-season test in Bahrain.

The Fight At The Front Of The Grid

Max Verstappen Red Bull RB18 Bahrain Test
via Red Bull Content Pool

Ferrari looked to have the best all-round package throughout the Barcelona test and indeed the start of testing in Barcelona. The F1-75 looked like a very driveable car, a very fast car, and there was a lot of talk about Ferrari’s new power-unit. And when drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz pushed the car, it did everything they wanted to do. Then on the final day of the test, Red Bull revealed an upgrade to the sidepods and floor of the RB18 and suddenly looked like the team to beat. World champion Max Verstappen set the fastest time of the test near the end of the day.

Lewis Hamilton Mercedes W13 Bahrain Test 2022
via Mercedes AMG F1

The RB18 went from looking a bit lazy in slower corners, to looking spot on at every part of the track. It wouldn’t be too crazy to say that Red Bull are now leading the pack, with Ferrari just behind. Mercedes meanwhile had a weird test. The new ultra-thin sidepods on the W13 raised eyebrows up and down the paddock, but the car looked a real handful whenever Lewis Hamilton or George Russell got behind the wheel. And when it came to porpoising, it was far and away the worst car out there. For all their bluffing over the years, the Mercedes may well be the third-fastest car in F1 right now.

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Behind The Top Three Contenders

Norris MCL36 Bahrain 2022 Test aero Rakes
via F1 Fan Site

Behind the top three, McLaren looks to be leading the rest of the pack. Brake issues however throughout the Bahrain test plus Daniel Ricciardo missing the whole week due to Covid-19 meant they had a trickier time, but the potential is there for the car to be up with the top three. For now, though, we’ve placed them in fourth, but they could be closer once their breaking issues are sorted. Behind them, though, it's really tricky to gauge who might be leading the midfield. The smart money would be on either Alpine or Aston Martin leading that fight for fifth place.

Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin AMR22 Bahrain Pre-Season Test
via Aston Martin F1 Team

Aston Martin had a low-key test, but they came away from it very happy and having made clear progress across the two pre-season tests. They didn’t make a push for headline times, but the signs are positive right now. Equally, Alpine felt they had a good run after a difficult Barcelona test and the radically new engine for 2022 was definitely reliable. But where they stack up on performance is hard to judge, hopefully as high up as possible though. It's likely this fifth place pack will also include Alpha Tauri, who had a great test in Barcelona but perhaps not quite as strong a showing in Bahrain. But give Pierre Gasly a chance at a podium, and he will certainly take it.

The Rest Of The Grid

Kevin Mangussen Haas VF22 Bahrain
via Haas F1 Team

In truth, the whole grid is difficult to really judge right now, but the trio of Haas, Alfa Romeo and Williams are very tricky to read. Haas set some eye-catching laptimes thanks to some extended running in Bahrain, but the VF22 clearly has the potential in it to be in the fight for points. And it’s not impossible that it could be in the fight with Alpine and Aston Martin, which will allow the returning Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher to really shine.

Valtteri Bottas Bahrain 2022 Alfa Romeo Side View
via Alfa Romeo F1 Team

Alfa Romeo also had some good running, and Valtteri Bottas did seem to be gelling with his new car. Rookie teammate Guanyu Zhou was trickier to read, but he still got plenty of mileage under his belt. The Sauber ran team struggled massively in Barcelona with a myriad of mechanical issues, and they suffered badly from the porposing. But the latter looked to be resolved in Bahrain, and the team got some good mileage in as well while also looking reasonably competetive.

Albon Williams FW44 Bahrain Test 2022
via F1 Fan Site

Williams are tricky to gauge. Barcelona went very well, but a brake fire and then suspension failure cost them an entire day in Bahrain, but the first and third days showed good running. You could place Williams either in the midfield or lower down the order, but they should be somewhere in the mix and not adrift at the back. This pack of Haas, Alfa Romeo and Williams is difficult to place, which in turn is what makes the prospect of this upcoming season so exciting. Who knows where a team might actually be!

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A Brave New Era For F1

Alpine Fernando Alonso A522 Bahrain Turn 9
via Alpine

The biggest winner hopefully though will be F1. If these new cars do indeed allow for better racing, as Bahrain indicated they will, we could have a classic season when it comes to racing action. And if Mercedes do enter the year on the backfoot, that alone will add a layer of excitement. No one is quite sure what to expect in Bahrain for the opening race of the year, as testing is never a totally clear indicator of what's about to happen. But Red Bull look like they might be the team to beat, while McLaren have work to do and maybe Haas are back to their best. F1 2022 looks set to be an incredibly interesting season.

Sources: Red Bull Content Pool, Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG F1, Alpine, Haas F1 Team, Alfa Romeo F1 Team, Aston Martin F1 Team, F1 Fan Site

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