The new Formula One season is only a single race old, but Charles Leclerc has already matched the achievement of one title-winning former Ferrari star.

Now, ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Leclerc is out to try to repeat a Michael Schumacher feat and set a championship charge in motion.

The Monegasque driver led a Ferrari one-two in Bahrain last week, holding off Max Verstappen before the defending champion's mechanical woes ensured Carlos Sainz joined his team-mate on the top two steps of the podium.

It was the Scuderia's first race win since the 2019 Singapore GP, another one-two when Leclerc finished second to Sebastian Vettel.

The Leclerc-Sainz one-two was Ferrari's 85th in F1 – a record – and signalled a return to form, coming at the end of a weekend they had dominated, with the race winner also qualifying fastest to start from pole position.

Heading into the rest of the season, that should certainly provide Leclerc with encouragement, given the last Scuderia driver to start the season with a win from pole was Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. That was the most recent season in which a Ferrari driver won the title.

Indeed, should Leclerc convert pole again in Saudi Arabia, he would become the first Ferrari man to do so in the first two races of a campaign since Schumacher in his final title-winning season in 2004.

Leclerc and Sainz each discussed their title ambitions following Bahrain, so last week's runner-up will hope to go with his colleague again.

Ferrari have never had a one-two in each of the first two grands prix of a season, while Raikkonen and Felipe Massa in 2008 were their last duo to achieve such a result in consecutive races at any stage of the year.

Meanwhile, if Leclerc hopes to follow in Schumacher's footsteps, Mercedes rival George Russell does not.

Schumacher in 2010, then in the twilight of his legendary career after coming out of retirement, was the only Silver Arrows driver to this point fail to make the podium in his first three races with the team.

A pit-stop error and a puncture saw Russell finish his Mercedes debut in ninth when deputising for Lewis Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir GP, while he was fourth behind his new team-mate last week.

The Red Bull woe that boosted Ferrari also rescued that three-four result for Mercedes, but team principal Toto Wolff said: "It's too early to look at the championship as it stands. If you look at the pecking order today, it seems a long shot to even be in contention for any of the championships.

"If I look at [Bahrain] as a single race weekend, we probably scored the maximum of points that we could have. And we need to take it from there.

"Every weekend counts and, at the moment, it's singular events because, realistically, when you're third on the road, you can't think about winning it."

Somehow, the opening race of the 2022 Formula One season in Bahrain last weekend managed to compare to the drama of 2021.

The first Ferrari one-two finish since Singapore in 2019, wheel-to-wheel duels between race winner Charles Leclerc and reigning world champion Max Verstappen, Mercedes achieving damage limitation with late DNFs for both Red Bull cars, new regulations creating the potential for a huge shakeup in the pecking order – there was a lot that went on at the Sakhir circuit on Sunday.

Ferrari are the biggest story coming into Jeddah this weekend, though.

There was enough to suggest Ferrari would compete with Red Bull and Mercedes coming out of winter testing, but just how competitive remained to be seen.

Despite Verstappen's failure to finish, Leclerc and Carlos Sainz dispelled any doubt in that regard with a maximum points haul. Something that arguably reinforces the point on Ferrari's strength was Sainz admitting he did not have the best of weekends.

"I mean in FP1, FP2 and FP3 I was very far behind, the most far that I've been ever in Ferrari and that's why even with a one-two that we scored I'm not entirely happy with the weekend, because as a Ferrari driver it's been my most difficult weekend," Sainz said.

"It just shows I need to put my head down, understand this car, understand where is Charles making the difference with his driving and the way he's approaching the corners and driving the tyres, also in the race."

For Leclerc, however, there's a belief that he finally has a car accordant to his talent to compete for the driver's title.

"Coming into this season, we surely knew we were going to be in a better position compared to the past two years but we didn't really know where, and now we see that we are actually in the mix to fight for a title, so it's amazing," he said.

Ferrari and Mercedes battle across the grid

The fascinating battle between a resurgent Ferrari and a previously dominant Mercedes will not just be fought between the factory teams this weekend in Saudi Arabia.

Amid new regulations, an interesting detail was the battle below the top teams. Ferrari power units made for five of the top ten positions in Sakhir, and four of the top six.

Meanwhile, apart from Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in the factory cars, Mercedes-powered cars made up the bottom six cars to have finished.

The Ferrari-powered Haas and Alfa Romeo have long been lagging at the back of the pack, but now look strong enough to take up the fight to Alpine, as well as the ambitious and Mercedes-powered McLaren and Aston Martin teams.

The midfield battle will be as fierce as the one at the front of the grid, while Saudi Arabia might shed some more light on the McLarens of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

How quickly Red Bull bounce back?

Red Bull provided the bulk of the late drama in Sakhir, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez both failing to finish, due to fuel pump failure.

New fuel regulations for 2022 have meant higher engine temperatures on lower fuel, and Red Bull did not do enough low-fuel running during winter testing to encounter what they did in Sakhir.

Meanwhile, Mercedes and Ferrari were able to rectify these problems heading into the season start.

The question is, though the Red Bull is unquestionably strong in terms of race pace, how much will Verstappen have to play catch-up in the drivers' standings as the team sorts their fuel pump problem out?

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 26
2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 18
3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 15
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 12
5. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) 10

Constructors

1. Ferrari 44
2. Mercedes 27
3. Haas 10
4. Alfa Romeo 9
5. Alpine 8

Lewis Hamilton hopes he can continue to use his position within Formula One to push for greater diversity, saying such an achievement would be "more rewarding than any championship".

The Mercedes driver has won a joint-record seven world titles across his career, tied only with Michael Schumacher, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest in the sport's history.

Yet he has commanded just as much attention for his off-track activities in recent years, with the Briton leading anti-racism and pro-LGBTQ demonstrations within F1.

Speaking ahead of this weekend's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – where he protested against anti-LGBTQ laws last year – Hamilton revealed he hopes to thrive in continuing to push for broader change.

"That's my role here I think to continue to hold those conversations, sit with Stefano [Domenicali] and say what are you doing and how can we work together?" the 37-year-old told Sky Sports.

"It goes back to bringing people on the journey rather than calling people out and unfortunately it takes a lot of yapping, but I think people seem more keen to be on the journey together and they empathise more with it and say yes, we can do a better job.

"I've got this platform and I am able to apply pressure in an uncomfortable way sometimes, but also it is a real opportunity to spark that change and that for me is more rewarding than any championship.

"My goal is that in the next five, 10 years you're looking back at the sport and I am watching TV, hopefully with my kids, and they see young women engineers and mechanics and they'll know there is an opportunity."

Having lost the 2021 F1 World Championship to Red Bull's Max Verstappen in controversial circumstances, Hamilton was denied a record-breaking eighth title.

But while winning honours remains a motivation for Hamilton, he feels such feats do not move the needle on the matters he wishes to help solve.

"I think as I started getting older, I started thinking I am winning these championships but what does it really mean?" he added.

"I realised that these championships are very rewarding personally, but they're not changing anything.

"You have another credit to your name, but it doesn't change the world, it doesn't change the fact we still have wars, we still have racial injustice.

"There are still people being abuse, there are all sorts of things out there, so what are we going to use this medium for, what are we going to use this platform for?

"I guess I really discovered my purpose – it's not just being a racing driver."

Lewis Hamilton admitted he does not think Mercedes will be more competitive at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but believes his podium finish in Bahrain has still boosted spirits.

Mercedes struggled with their new W13 car through much of the weekend at Sakhir, but came away with a surprise third-place finish after both Red Bulls failed in the final laps, allowing Hamilton – who had qualified fifth – to capitalise.

While Hamilton has already stated their result was "the best result we could have got" in the circumstances, the seven-time world champion doubts they will be up to the pace in Jeddah.

"No, I don't think so," he said in a news conference. "Of course we've learned a lot from this week. The car was very hard to drive but it could always be worse.

"I’m hoping for the next race we manage to find some improvements but it's a fundamental issue that's going to take a little bit longer I think to fix."

Mercedes previously considered their objective in Bahrain to be damage limitation given their disadvantage, but Hamilton agreed they had been lifted by their unexpected reward.

"I think [it is] incredibly motivating for the whole team," he added. "Everyone’s stayed positive, everyone's just kept their head down and kept working. No one moaned.

"In terms of our processes, in terms of squeezing absolutely everything out of the car, I think that's what we did today. I think that's a true showing of strength within.

"It is such a long season. It's going to be such a hard battle but we love a challenge. I really do enjoy a challenge."

Hamilton would have missed third without the double retirement that hit both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, but the seven-time world champion refused to consider it karma for last year's Abu Dhabi final.

"I don't have a response to it," he added. "I just focused on our job. Obviously it was unfortunate for them today but, yeah, I just focus on positives."

Charles Leclerc and Carlos claimed a Ferrari one-two to emerge as the early pacesetters of the season.

Christian Horner and Max Verstappen reflected on a "brutal" Bahrain Grand Prix – but one in which they saw cause for optimism.

Red Bull failed to earn a single point in the first race of the 2022 Formula One season after both defending champion Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez were forced to retire in the closing stages.

Verstappen had been on course for P2, while Perez was battling with Carlos Sainz to make the podium, with Ferrari instead claiming a one-two as Charles Leclerc triumphed.

Team principal Horner was still waiting to identify the exact nature of the mechanical failure that cost Red Bull, although he clarified it was unrelated to either a handling issue for Verstappen or a fire onboard Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri.

"It was a brutal finish to that race for us," Horner told Sky Sports. "What looked like a decent haul of points suddenly evaporated in the last couple of laps.

"It looks like a similar issue on both cars. We don't know exactly what it is yet, whether it's a lift pump, whether it's a collector or something along those lines. We've got to get into it and find out exactly what's caused it."

That Red Bull were competing with pre-season pace-setters Ferrari until that point was a clear positive for Horner, however.

"Zero points for us is tough," he said. "The positives we can take is we've had a competitive car.

"We were fighting for the race win at different points of that race, and we've got to get on top of these issues quickly.

"It's a long season, 23 races, so we've got to get this behind us and get stuck into the next event."

Verstappen had been frustrated for much of his drive and was not happy with Red Bull's performance, even if he agreed there were signs they could still compete.

"It was not great today. We didn't really show what we could do, for whatever reason," he said. "There is potential, for sure, otherwise you are not up there.

"We've lost a lot of points again in one race weekend, so that's really not good. I know one retirement means it's not over, but I would prefer to have at least 18 points."

Lewis Hamilton made the podium at the Bahrain Grand Prix only due to a double Red Bull retirement but accepted it was the best result he could have hoped for.

As Mercedes' struggles with their new W13 car continued, Hamilton was never in contention on Sunday, running in fifth for much of the race.

But issues for Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in the Red Bulls allowed the seven-time champion to profit behind a Ferrari one-two in third.

Hamilton congratulated victor Charles Leclerc and the Scuderia – "they're such a historic, epic team, so it's great to see them up there," he said – but was also content with his own finish.

"It was such a difficult race," he explained. "We struggled throughout practice. This was really the best result we could have got.

"Obviously it was unfortunate for the other two drivers, but we did the best we could and we're grateful for these points."

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff agreed, telling Sky Sports: "You can see how we've managed expectations.

"If we'd come in last year third and fourth, it would have been very frustrating, but this year I think we are punching above our weight class with the Red Bulls DNFing. Third and fourth is a fantastic result."

Mercedes must now turn attention to making their car competitive for the rest of the season, yet Hamilton is staying patient.

"I'm hoping [for upgrades]," Hamilton said. "I know the guys are working really hard back at the factory, but it's not going to be a quick turnaround.

"We all know as a team, we've been the best unified team for so long, we all know to keep our head down, keep working. There's a long, long way to go."

Charles Leclerc protected his pole position to lead a Ferrari one-two at the Bahrain Grand Prix as late Red Bull woe allowed an uncompetitive Lewis Hamilton to make the podium in the 2022 Formula One season opener.

For Leclerc, besides a three-lap battle with Max Verstappen, this was a relatively straightforward victory after making good use of Ferrari's pace again.

But there was chaos behind him in the closing stages, when Verstappen reported an issue with his handling after pitting a third time.

A late safety car had appeared to give the defending champion the chance to challenge Leclerc, but it vitally also attached the rest of the field to his tail, meaning Carlos Sainz was able to capitalise on a mechanical failure.

Sergio Perez could not cling on to third as his Red Bull also ground to a halt on the final lap, remarkably clearing a path for Hamilton.

Mercedes should not be considered challengers for the Bahrain Grand Prix, so says Charles Leclerc, though reigning world champion Max Verstappen remains wary of their threat.

Ferrari driver Leclerc and Red Bull's Verstappen secured pole and second on the grid respectively for Sunday's Formula One curtain-raiser.

Indeed, Ferrari and Red Bull took all four top spots in Sahkir, where Lewis Hamilton ultimately qualified fifth on Saturday, with his new team-mate George Russell down in ninth.

Mercedes have looked off the pace over practice and Leclerc, who claimed his 10th career pole at the circuit where he clinched his first in 2019, predicted the Silver Arrows will struggle to close the gap.

"I personally, still had the doubt after FP3," Leclerc stated of Mercedes' performance. "It was quite obvious that they were not at ease.

"Considering what happens in the years before, they were hiding their gains quite a lot, This year? Well, actually, they weren't hiding their gains. They were struggling more than other years.

"I still expected them maybe to be fighting for [pole position] with us. Then for the race tomorrow. Considering their pace of today, I don't think so but let's wait and see."

Lewis Hamilton claims Ferrari and Red Bull are "in another league" to Mercedes after the seven-time Formula One world champion qualified in fifth for Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Hamilton, who missed out on a record-breaking eighth drivers' championship title last year in controversial circumstances after an absorbing battle with Max Verstappen, has previously cast doubt upon Mercedes' ability to compete in 2022.

The 37-year-old insisted that his team would not be competing for early wins at the end of pre-season testing, and impressive performances from Ferrari and Red Bull has done nothing to change Hamilton's opinion.

Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz will begin Sunday's season-opener in Bahrain on the front row, either side of defending champion Max Verstappen.

With Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez fourth-fastest, Hamilton claimed that he did not expect to compete with either Ferrari or Red Bull in Bahrain, saying the two teams are "in another league".

"I'm not saying I'm relieved [with fifth place]," Hamilton told Sky Sports. "[But] I'm generally really happy with the day, given where we've been the last few weeks, [with] the struggles that we've had, the problems that we've had with the car.

"It has been a bit of a nightmare to drive, but we've kept our heads down, kept working away and I'm proud of everyone for staying positive.

"The guys ahead of us are in another league. 

"I'm generally happy where we are, it's not the front row, but we will make improvements and we'll do the best we can tomorrow."

 

Hamilton, who won last year's Bahrain Grand Prix after starting second on the grid, said his task for Sunday would be to ward off pressure from those behind him, including his former Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who will start his first race for Alfa Romeo in sixth.

"These guys [the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers] will be going ahead," Hamilton added.

"We are not in the fight with them, they were a second ahead of us yesterday. My battle is with the guys behind us.

"Of course, I'll try to be as fast as I can and get ahead, but their performance was quite a bit ahead of us."

Mercedes are looking to win a ninth consecutive constructors title this term, with Red Bull last winning the title back in 2013.

Michael Masi acted in "good faith" in how he handled the controversial end of last season's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with "human error" leading to the rules surrounding lapped cars not being applied properly, the FIA has said.

Masi was last month removed as Formula One race director following a "detailed analysis" of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where Max Verstappen dramatically beat Lewis Hamilton to the drivers' championship last season.

Verstappen overtook Hamilton on the final lap of the final race, denying his rival a record-breaking eighth title.

However, the Red Bull star was only able to stage that late recovery after Masi let the cars between the pair – running first and second but separated by a series of lapped rivals – pass a safety car and allow one lap of racing.

Verstappen, on fresher tyres, prevailed, prompting a protest from Hamilton and Mercedes.

While that bid failed, there has remained a great deal of discussion around the decision-making of Masi, who was replaced by two men in Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas.

But, in confirming the result of the race and 2021 F1 world championship as final, the FIA insisted Masi had not acted with any malice.

In a summary of the findings of its report into the race, an FIA statement read in part: "In combination with the objective to finish under green flag racing conditions applied throughout the 2021 season, the report finds that the race director was acting in good faith and to the best of his knowledge given the difficult circumstances, particularly acknowledging the significant time constraints for decisions to be made and the immense pressure being applied by the teams. 

"The results of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the FIA Formula One World Championship are valid, final and cannot now be changed. In accordance with the rules, Mercedes made a protest to the stewards after the race, seeking to change the race classification.

"The stewards dismissed the protest and Mercedes then had an opportunity to appeal that decision to the FIA International Court of Appeal, but did not do so. There are no other available mechanisms in the rules for amending the race classification.

"The process of identifying lapped cars has up until now been a manual one and human error lead to the fact that not all cars were allowed to un-lap themselves.

"Due to the fact that manual interventions generally carry a higher risk of human error, software has been developed that will, from now on, automate the communication of the list of cars that must un-lap themselves. In addition, the 2022 Formula One Sporting Regulations have been recently updated to clarify that “all” and not “any” cars must be permitted to un-lap themselves.

"This process of identifying lapped cars has been reviewed as part of the recommendations previously announced by the FIA President in his statement of 17 February 2022, which also includes the creation of FIA Remote Operations Centre, the integration of a new and extended team to run trackside operations as well as a review of the interactions between teams and Race Control during track running."

How does Formula One go about following up the epic 2021 season?

Well, until that stunning campaign stole the show, this year was long seen as the one to look forward to with the introduction of new regulations to encourage competitive racing right down the grid.

Lewis Hamilton might have expected a genuine challenge in 2022; instead, in the form of Max Verstappen, it arrived 12 months early.

Excitement for the coming campaign is therefore at an all-time high, with pre-season testing adding to the theory fans should expect the unexpected.

Forecasting the year ahead is tricky, but Stats Perform seeks to identify the key narratives to follow this season ahead of Sunday's 2022 opener in Bahrain.

Max vs Lewis again

For now at least, Verstappen and Hamilton will expect to be the title frontrunners, which should mean another classic campaign.

Verstappen had never even led the standings until winning last year's Monaco Grand Prix, the first of five consecutive Red Bull wins – including four for the Dutchman.

That sequence ended at Silverstone, where contact with Hamilton sent Verstappen into the wall and set the tone for the rest of a frantic season, in which the pair repeatedly went at one another, crashing at Monza.

A titanic back-and-forth deserved a better ending than to be decided by a contentious call from race director Michael Masi in Abu Dhabi.

Now, defending champion Verstappen can attempt to prove he is better than Hamilton regardless of that decision, while the Mercedes man seeks to show his class once again as he pursues a record eighth title.

The midfield challenge

The game-changing 2022 regulations sought to enforce "closer racing", meaning both Verstappen and Hamilton could come under threat rather than simply blowing away the competition.

Early signs are encouraging on that front, with the two title rivals name-checking Ferrari's superb pre-season showing in the past week.

A resurgent Scuderia represent an obvious danger to those two, but so too do McLaren, Ferrari's midfield neighbours in recent seasons.

Lando Norris had four podiums last season before tailing off to finish sixth in the drivers' championship – still two places ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who endured a tough first year with the team despite a famous win at Monza.

Having been aided by changes to the car for 2022, it is up to Ferrari and McLaren to close the gap considerably to Red Bull and Mercedes.

George a genuine threat?

Of course, Verstappen and Hamilton might typically expect their biggest challenges to come from those in the same cars.

However, Sergio Perez played the role of supporting Red Bull team-mate brilliantly in some key moments last year, while Valtteri Bottas continued to do his own thing without worrying Hamilton.

How a change in the Mercedes garage alters things remains to be seen. Bottas has been replaced by George Russell, who will hope to quickly make his mark.

Russell deputised for Hamilton for a single race the year before last and impressed, so it will be interesting to see if he now intends to push his legendary colleague all the way or will initially settle instead for helping his title bid.

Impact of refereeing reform

It is not only the cars that have had a makeover this year, with the officiating structure reorganised in the aftermath of the criticism aimed at Masi.

He is out as race director, with two men, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, taking his place, while other changes include the introduction of a "virtual race control room" to "assist the race director in the decision-making process".

Whether these changes suitably appease the team principals, who grew increasingly furious with each controversy last year, remains to be seen.

All parties would agree they would rather see the championship decided on the track – but it is not always as straightforward as that.

Following an eventful, dramatic and – dare we say it – the best Formula One season to date, the 2022 campaign has plenty to live up to.

Lewis Hamilton is going in search of a record eighth world title at the second time of asking after missing out to Max Verstappen on the final lap of the final race in 2021.

Reigning champion Verstappen is himself seeking some personal history this coming campaign, which begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.

Ahead of what will hopefully be an equally as gripping season this time around, Stats Perform picks out some of the key numbers.

 

Hamilton narrowly missed out on surpassing Michael Schumacher as F1's most successful driver, though he has not missed out on top spot in successive years since joining Mercedes in 2013.

Should he match his achievement from last year, Red Bull's Verstappen (25 years, two months) would surpass Fernandes Alonso (25y, 2m, 23 days) as the second-youngest multiple world champion, behind only Sebastian Vettel (24y, 3m).

Mercedes may have suffered disappointment last time out, but they still finished top of the constructors' standings for a record-extending eighth time in a row. They are one short of equalling Williams as the second-most successful team, though Ferrari (16) are still well out in front.

In terms of other team milestones, Bahrain will be the 250th GP Mercedes have competed in, while they are six fastest laps away from setting 100. McLaren, meanwhile, are seven podiums from reaching 500 in F1.

Joining Hamilton at Mercedes this season is compatriot George Russell, who along with McLaren's Lando Norris is aiming to become the first Briton other than Hamilton to win a race since Jenson Button in 2012.

Bottas is now at Alfa Romeo and is joined by Guanyu Zhou, who will be China's first ever representative on the grid, making them the 39th country to appear in F1. Indeed, it is the first time three Asian countries will be represented, with Alex Albon (Thailand) and Yuki Tsunoda (Japan) also featuring.

 

Now 14 years on from their most recent constructors' title, Ferrari will equal their worst-such streak – 15 years between 1984 and 1998 – if they again miss out this term.

Carlos Sainz is Ferrari's big hope and he has either matched or bettered his performance from the previous season – both in terms of points and position – over the past six years when racing for just one team.

While his title chances are slim at best, Fernando Alonso has the opportunity to become the driver with the biggest margin between F1 titles of all time, 16 years on from his most recent success. 

Twenty-two events are currently locked in the F1 calendar for this year, with Miami set to become the 77th different circuit used when it hosts its maiden GP in May. It will be the 11th different track used in the United States, which is the most of any country.

Lewis Hamilton was hurting after the remarkable conclusion to the 2021 season, but he has had time to reset and prepare for another tilt at a record-breaking eighth Formula One drivers' championship.

Hamilton was denied the title in dramatic fashion last year, when a highly contentious decision from then race director Michael Masi gave Max Verstappen the opportunity to pass him on the final lap of the season to be crowned champion for the first time.

Mercedes feared Hamilton would quit the sport as a result, but the man Toto Wolff described as a "lion" in last season's run-in is ready to fight again – starting at this week's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Not that Hamilton is expecting this season to be any more straightforward than the last.

Verstappen has proven he can match Hamilton over the course of a campaign, while George Russell will hope to prove more competitive than Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes seat. The new F1 regulations also mean a potential challenge from the midfield, with Ferrari fast in pre-season.

"We're certainly not at the top," a pessimistic Hamilton said last week, but Verstappen dismissed those comments while acknowledging Ferrari's pace.

The Red Bull superstar suggested Hamilton and Mercedes would quickly turn their fortunes around – and that certainly fits with the Briton's career to date.

"He's an exceptional driver," former Ferrari star Felipe Massa told Stats Perform, "one who is undoubtedly the main man in the sport today because of the records he holds in Formula One.

"No one ever imagined that he would even come close to beating [Michael] Schumacher's records. He overtook pretty much everyone else. One more title is missing to go ahead as a record holder."

That eighth title will remain the goal this year, but Hamilton could move ahead of Schumacher in another sense as soon as Sunday; he has won in 15 consecutive F1 seasons since 2007, meaning victory in a 16th would top the German (1992-2006).

 

Hamilton's happy hunting ground

In pursuit of that new benchmark, Hamilton will be happy to be back in Bahrain, where he has such an outstanding history.

Of the 17 editions of the Bahrain GP, Hamilton has won a record five races, including the past three. No other driver has won three in succession at this event – and that sequence could be extended to four this week.

Mercedes have recorded the most pole positions (six) and podiums (15) at the Bahrain Grand Prix, ranking one ahead of Ferrari in each category.

The Silver Arrows and the Scuderia are tied for Bahrain wins (six) and fastest laps (five) heading into the 2022 race.

We are in a special week for Mercedes, too, as this is the team's 250th grand prix. With 124 victories so far, they could mark the occasion by improving their win rate to an outstanding 50 per cent, the best such performance by any one team.

Red Bull set for reality check?

Verstappen's record at this track is not quite so impressive, even if he almost beat Hamilton last season having started from pole, forced to give his place back after exceeding track limits in passing his rival.

That was Verstappen's seventh Bahrain GP without victory – an eighth fruitless appearance would make this the grand prix he has entered most without winning.

He has retired three times at the Bahrain GP and, including the 2020 Sakhir GP, a career-high four times at this circuit.

The Dutchman at least has the benefit of the confidence of his championship triumph – and a "ridiculously fast" Red Bull, according to Hamilton – but first-time champions have not typically fared well in the first race of their title defence.

Only three of the past 14 first-time defending champions have won on the first weekend of the new season: Michael Schumacher in 1995, Fernando Alonso in 2006 and Sebastian Vettel in 2011.

At least securing pole would mean a positive omen, as Red Bull drivers have gone on to win the title on the four previous occasions they have started the season by qualifying fastest (Vettel in 2010, 2011 and 2013, plus Verstappen last year).

Hamilton in 2015 and 2016 was the last driver to achieve back-to-back Bahrain poles, although only seven Bahrain GP winners have started from the front of the grid.

Lewis Hamilton has revealed he is set to change his name as he prepares for the 2022 Formula One season.

The seven-time F1 world champion will include his mother Carmen's maiden name, Larbalestier, in his name.

Hamilton's parents, Anthony and Carmen, separated when he was only two.

The 37-year-old is not sure when his new name will be confirmed, stating it is a work in progress ahead of the first race of the year in Bahrain this weekend.

"It would mean the world to my family [to win a record eighth F1 title]," the British driver said at the 2022 Dubai Expo.

"It would mean a lot to me knowing that, for example, I'm really proud of my family's name: Hamilton. Actually, none of you might know that my mum's [sur]name is Larbalestier.

"And I'm just about to put that in my name. Because I don't really fully understand the whole idea of why, when people get married, the woman loses her name. I really want her name to continue on with the Hamilton name."

Asked if he will have a different name in the first race of the season, he replied: "It will be soon. No, I don't know if it will be this weekend. But we're working on it."

Max Verstappen has responded with scepticism to Lewis Hamilton's claims Mercedes will not be competing for victories in the early stages of the 2022 Formula One season.

Verstappen, who beat Hamilton to the 2021 Drivers' Championship in controversial circumstances at last December's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, posted the fastest time on the final day of pre-season testing in Bahrain on Saturday.

Ahead of Bahrain hosting the first Grand Prix of the season next week, Hamilton suggested Mercedes will likely not be competing for early season wins, due to problems with the team's new W13 car.

His rival Verstappen, however, scoffed at those comments, accusing Mercedes, and other Formula One teams, of playing down their potential before the season begins.

"[It's] always like this," the world champion said in quotes reported by Autosport.

"If someone is doing well or a team that everyone expects to do well, then it's 'oh no, we're definitely not the favourite'.

"And then a week later, when things do go well, all of a sudden it's 'oh no, but we turned it around completely within a week. Not normal, unbelievable work. Thanks to all people in the factory!'"

 

Verstappen also noted Mercedes were "very strong during the first race weekend" in 2021, with Hamilton winning the season opener in Bahrain after making similar comments about the team's issues this time last year.

The 24-year-old also spoke of Ferrari as potential rivals for Red Bull during the coming season, noting they had been "consistently fast" throughout pre-season.

"They [Ferrari] clearly have a stable car at the moment," he added.

"It just looks good for them, they have had very few problems as well. We will see next week who is fastest, but so far, they have had a very good test.

"The last two years weren't great for them, so you automatically start looking at this season a bit earlier than some of the other teams. It's more than normal that they started earlier than us on the 2022 car and that's okay as well.

"In the end, with these new cars, the development rate during the season is the most important thing."

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