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Having provided his thoughts ahead of the season, Nicky Haldenby is back once again to preview the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Red Bull vs Ferrari for the win?

While Ferrari looked consistently strong throughout testing, Red Bull stole the headlines on the final day with Max Verstappen setting the fastest time. The two teams were the class of the field ahead of the season – but qualifying on Saturday will be our first opportunity to see who genuinely has the pace when it matters. It could well be a close-run affair, with pole position at six of the previous races in Bahrain having been decided by less than a tenth of a second.

Historically, Ferrari have fared well at the Bahrain Grand Prix. The team have held the record for most wins at the circuit since the venue joined the calendar back in 2004. Charles Leclerc has good form here too. He took his first F1 pole here in 2019 but was cruelly robbed of victory when he lost power towards the end of the race. A victory for Leclerc or Carlos Sainz this weekend would be the Scuderia’s first F1 win in over two years and would get their season off to a dream start.

Meanwhile, in the Red Bull camp, Bahrain is a bit of a hit-and-miss venue for Verstappen. He finished as runner-up here in both 2020 and 2021 and almost won last year’s race in an enthralling duel with Lewis Hamilton. However, the Dutchman has also recorded four retirements from his eight race starts.

Are Mercedes really in trouble?

In recent years, it has become a tradition for Mercedes to downplay their chances ahead of a new
season. In 2022, their down-talking seems to be more genuine. That being said, the team have won the last eight Constructors’ Championships consecutively, so if anyone can quickly turn their fortunes around, it’s the Silver Arrows.

Another focal point of the weekend will be the intra-team battle between Hamilton and his new team-mate. George Russell has raced with Mercedes once before in Bahrain, albeit on the revised Outer Loop layout of the track at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. He qualified on the front row on that occasion and looked set to win until pit stop issues curtailed Mercedes’ race. However, Russell may have a harder time beating Hamilton at the 2022 Bahrain Grand Prix.

From his five previous team-mates, only one has managed to out-qualify and out-race Hamilton on their first appearance – and that was Fernando Alonso all the way back in 2007 in Hamilton’s maiden F1 race. Hamilton has won the last three Bahrain Grands Prix and has finished on the podium on all of his last eight appearances at the circuit.

Will McLaren make the end of the race?

McLaren showed promise in the first three days of pre-season testing in Spain – but things fell apart when the team reached Bahrain. Lando Norris was left to do all of the team’s testing following a positive COVID-19 test for team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. In eleven appearances, Ricciardo has never failed to out-qualify his team-mate in Bahrain, but the Australian will be on the back foot heading into the weekend.

McLaren’s main issue in testing was with their brakes. Whether the problems can be fixed in time for Sunday’s Grand Prix remains to be seen. If they are not solved, in the hot temperatures of the Sakhir desert, the team are unlikely to reach the chequered flag.

The cooler temperatures in Barcelona proved that McLaren have a quick car once again in 2022 but their issues prevented us from getting a real picture of where they stand in the competitive order. Lando Norris has never failed to score in his four appearances in Bahrain and finished in the top four in both 2020 and 2021.

Could Haas spring a surprise in Bahrain?

Despite all of their off-track problems pre-season, from late driver changes to delayed freight, Haas could pull a surprise at the start of the season. The team spent 2021 at the back of the field with an underdeveloped car. However, they set the second-fastest time in pre-season testing this year thanks to Kevin Magnussen, who returns to the team after a one-year absence.

Magnussen finishing in the points on his comeback would be somewhat of a fairytale story, especially considering the Haas team’s hardships in the past twelve months. Magnussen has scored only once from seven previous outings in Bahrain, doing so with the Haas team in 2018.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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