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Formula 1 is back on track. With just a few weeks to go until the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, here’s what to expect in 2022 – and who is looking strong after the first three days of testing.

2021 saw one of the most dramatic, closely-fought Formula 1 seasons in the sport’s history. Max Verstappen ultimately emerged victorious in his and Lewis Hamilton’s season-long title battle. The dust has barely settled on the controversial championship decider but, as the fallout continues to rumble on, the protagonists are ready to do battle again in 2022.

What’s new for 2022

It has been just eleven weeks since Max Verstappen was crowned World Champion in somewhat questionable circumstances at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. As F1’s stewarding protocols came under scrutiny following the events of the final laps of the race, a raft of changes – including the replacement of race director Michael Masi – have been made to stewarding procedures in an attempt to make the enforcement of the rulebook more robust.

On track, we have an entirely new generation of car for 2022. This year’s cars have been completely redesigned in a bid to improve the show and allow for more overtaking opportunities. As with any year of major regulation changes, 2022 has the potential to throw up unexpected results and the competitive order which we’ve become accustomed to could go out of the window.

One man who’ll be hoping his team is still at the top is George Russell. The biggest driver move this year sees Russell partner Lewis Hamilton in an all-British line up at reigning Constructors’ Champions Mercedes. The pairing – and their potential rivalry – is set to be one of the major talking points in 2022.

Who looked good in testing?

The first three days of pre-season testing for the 2022 season have taken place at Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. It’s difficult to get a clear picture of which team is fastest at this point. A range of factors – such as unknown run plans and varying fuel loads – masquerades the true pecking order.

Instead of looking at lap times, it’s better to look at the total distance covered by the teams. The honour of most laps completed in the first three day test went to Ferrari – with their rivals believing they could well be the team to beat in 2022, returning to their pre-2020 form.

Equally impressive was the McLaren, which completed almost 400 laps with little in the way of any issues. “Porpoising” was the buzz word in the paddock over the test. The porpoising effect sees the cars bouncing up and down as they reach top speeds on the straights. Unlike their rivals, McLaren did not encounter this issue, which could prove to be very helpful indeed. McLaren recorded their first victory in eight years in 2021. Don’t be surprised to see them as regular contenders for victory in 2022.

While Ferrari and McLaren went the furthest, Mercedes were the fastest. Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap of the test on the final day – and following the events of last year’s season finale, you’d be unwise to rule out another title charge for Hamilton in 2022. It appears that Red Bull have not dropped the ball over the winter either. Sergio Perez set the third fastest time of the week – though the Mexican suffered a few gearbox niggles which left him in the garage for an extended period on the second day.

Who still has work to do?

Last year’s backmarker team Haas opted not to develop their 2021 car in order to focus entirely on the new 2022 machine. Their tally of laps surpassed 100 on only a single day of the test. Just 43 laps were completed by the team on the opening day, while their final day came to an end with just nine laps on the board. They completed the fewest laps of any team over the first three days of testing.

After being replaced by George Russell at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas heads to Alfa Romeo in 2022. The team were another who struggled in the first three days of testing. Running in a snazzy camouflage livery, the team completed only 175 laps after encountering an array of costly stoppages.

Fernando Alonso returned to F1 last year with the aim of being a frontrunner once again as the new regulations come into force this year. But the so-called “El Plan” went up in smoke, literally, on the final morning of testing. Prior to their premature end to testing, the team ran only with high fuel loads over the three days, without using DRS and – reportedly – using lower power modes. Alpine will be searching for both speed and reliability before the season gets underway.

More testing to come

While it’s difficult to draw any concrete conclusions from pre-season testing, it seems that F1 could be set for another titanic year. Ferrari would appear to have the best overall package ahead of the season – and McLaren are also looking strong – but you cannot rule out 2021’s pacesetters Mercedes and Red Bull in these early stages.

We should get a clearer idea of the competitive order as Formula 1 now heads to Bahrain for the final three days of pre-season testing on March 11-13. The test is the teams’ final chance to iron out any issues with their cars before the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix at the same circuit just one week later on March 20.

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