Lewis Hamilton conceded that any optimism for the Australian Grand Prix had been quashed after Ferrari again dominated Mercedes in practice in Melbourne.

Seven-time world champion Hamilton was fortunate to edge onto the podium in Bahrain's season opener, with Mercedes' problems with their new W13 design well-documented.

More problems followed for the 37-year-old and his team in Saudi Arabia, where Hamilton fell to his first performance-related Q1 elimination since 2009 and Mercedes failed to make the top five on the grid for the first time since the 2013 Italian Grand Prix.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff warned not to expect any "magic fix" for their new W13 car 'porpoising' – bouncing at high speed – and not racing at the optimum height, and the practice sessions at Albert Park have left much to ponder.

Hamilton and team-mate George Russell finished well behind a Ferrari one-two of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in the first practice, and things did not improve in the second session when Russell was 11th quickest and Hamilton a lowly 13th.

Both Mercedes drivers were again well behind Leclerc, and Hamilton, who finished more than one and a half seconds off the pace, accepted Sunday will be a struggle.

"I feel good, I feel okay. It was just a difficult session," he told Sky Sports. "You go in very optimistic, you make changes, and it doesn't seem to be wanting to improve.

"We made some changes going into FP2; FP1 was better, and FP2 ended up being a bit harder, so it's tricky. I don't think it'll be tricky to find our way back, there's just not a lot we can do. This is the way it is, so we just have to drive with it.

"We're trying to push, trying to catch, and even when you do a decent lap, it's 1.2s down."

Russell, who is fourth in the drivers' championship despite not making the podium in his opening two races, echoed Hamilton's frustrations.

"We're not in the position that we want," Russell said. "There's quite a few midfield cars ahead of us, and we're quite a long way off the pace. We need to work hard tonight and understand the limitations [of the car].

Asked if he was still enjoying driving, Russell added: "Driving is always cool, [but] you enjoy it more when you're on top of the timesheet!

"When you think you've done a good lap and then you look at the timesheet and see that you're down in P11, it's not where we want to be as a team. It's all about results."

McLaren driver Lando Norris believes the struggles of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are reassuring for Formula One.

Hamilton squeezed onto the podium in Bahrain in the season opener despite ongoing questions following a series of design changes by his team to comply with new regulations for the 2022 season.

However, he then succumbed to his first performance-related Q1 elimination since 2009 in Saudi Arabia as Mercedes failed to make the top five on the grid for the first time since the 2013 Italian Grand Prix.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has since acknowledged that instant solutions would not be found for their new W13 car 'porpoising' – bouncing at high speed – and not racing at the optimum height.

And Norris believes it is refreshing for the rest of the grid to see the usually dominant Mercedes well behind Ferrari, who hold a 40-point lead over Red Bull in the constructors' championship after two races.

"In a way it is nice to see that Mercedes don't always have success," Norris told The Daily Mail. "It shows that even when you have had that success, you can still get things wrong. It is easy to get things wrong.

"Much as I hate to say it, it is good to see Ferrari up there. And it is reassuring for other teams to know it is still possible. If it were just Mercedes and Red Bull again, it would be so predictable.

"With Lewis you are seeing the challenge of one of the best drivers competing in a car that is not the best. We will see a different side of Lewis, compared to the last decade.

"But I don't think you can say it is all about the car, rather than Lewis' ability. He has still been against very good drivers, such as Fernando [Alonso] in his first year, and then went on to achieve what everyone expected of him.

"I just don't believe in the last few years he has had quite the challenge that he could have had, or maybe that he had against [Nico] Rosberg. Perhaps we will see that against George [Russell, Hamilton's new team-mate].

"I don't think anything takes away the driver he is."

Norris has endured a similarly tough start to his season with McLaren, finishing almost a minute behind winner Max Verstappen in Jeddah, but he feels he made the right choice to join his new team.

"I see a lot of stories saying I have made the wrong decision," he added. "But that is not the case. I am happy. I have all the faith in the world that we can still achieve good things in the next few years and if I had to make the decision again, I would still do what I did.

"There were chances to go to other teams, but I am playing the long game."

The 22-year-old, who is 10th in the drivers' championship, will hope he can kick-start McLaren's 2022 campaign at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on Sunday.

George Russell believes Mercedes have the potential pace to challenge Ferrari and Red Bull for race wins this season, but not at this weekend's Australian Grand Prix.

Russell finished a lowly 11th in Friday's second practice session in Melbourne, adding further anguish to what has been a challenging opening to the 2022 Formula One season.

He and Mercedes team-mate, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, only claimed respective fourth and third place finishes at the season opener in Bahrain after Red Bull had to retire both cars.

Finishes of fifth and 10th for Russell and Hamilton respectively in Saudi Arabia provided a clearer reflection of where the once-dominant Mercedes team is in the 2022 pecking order, amid new regulations.

"We do believe there is a solution and we do believe there's a lot of lap time on the table once we optimise that," Russell said.

"It's more optimism and excitement. We're not here scratching our heads, not understanding why we're off the pace. We absolutely know why we're off the pace and we know what we need to work on to improve that.

"We're a long way behind Ferrari and Red Bull. It's going to take time and we just have to be disciplined and patient because we are so far behind and because of the cost cap, we can't afford just to throw things at it and trial and error at race weekends."

The extra week between the Saudi Arabian and Australian Grands Prix has not rectified the extreme porpoising issues Mercedes cars have experienced at high speeds so far, relative to other teams.

A higher downforce setup would significantly impact the car's speed and performance, meaning a balance must be struck, something rival teams have been quicker in achieving.

Russell, who signed for Mercedes upon the expectation he would be challenging for race wins and ultimately the driver's title, believes the team must be patient.

"We need to trust the process and bring the upgrades when we have total faith and confidence they will do as we expect," he said. "And that will be a number of races before we start seeing that."

Lewis Hamilton may be in search of a third Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, but Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff warned not to expect a "magic fix" amid a slow start to the season.

Mercedes have fallen well short of early leaders Ferrari, who hold a 40-point advantage over Red Bull in the constructors' championship after the opening two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Hamilton managed to finish third in Bahrain in the season opener despite ongoing questions following a series of design changes by his team to comply with new regulations for the 2022 season.

However, Hamilton succumbed to his first performance-related Q1 elimination since 2009 in Jeddah as Mercedes failed to make the top five on the grid for the first time since the 2013 Italian Grand Prix.

Wolff was honest in his assessment ahead of the next race in Melbourne, with Mercedes aiming to rectify their issues with the W13 'porpoising' – bouncing at high speed – and not racing at the optimum height.

"We are in a learning race and the first two weekends have shown we still have plenty to learn," he said on Thursday.

"At the moment, our track performance is not meeting our own expectations, but everyone at Brackley and Brixworth is focused on understanding the problems and finding the right solutions.

"There won’t be a magic fix for the next race weekend. But we're pushing to steadily bring gains over the upcoming races, to hopefully move us closer to the front of the pack.

"Until then, we need to maximise each opportunity and make the most of the package we have."

Both Hamilton and George Russell played their part in the W13 development, and Wolff appears unworried by the upcoming challenges with his driving pair to call upon.

"Lewis and George are making an important contribution to the overall effort," he continued. 

"Providing feedback, spending time in the simulator and working together to help push us forward.

"So, there are various challenges ahead of us but that's something we relish, and is when a team really shows its true spirit."

Two races into the 2022 Formula One season, a new era of regulations and while it is evident to see that Ferrari and Red Bull have started the strongest, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen seem to be relishing the duel.

It is currently one race apiece for Leclerc and Verstappen, but both the former's win in Bahrain and the latter's in Saudi Arabia have been characterised by hard but fair wheel-to-wheel racing.

Coming into this weekend's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, Ferrari's strength this season can be seen in the fact they have opened up a healthy 40-point buffer in the constructors' championship after only two races.

Leclerc and Sainz are also first and second in the drivers' championship, with the Monegasque's respective first and second place finishes coupled with bonus points for the fastest lap in the opening two races.

Following a tightly contested race in Saudi Arabia, Leclerc and Verstappen were revelling in the opening battles for the championship.

"It wasn't enough today, but my God, I really enjoyed that race," Leclerc said. "Every race should be like this."

Especially in comparison to how sour the relationship became between him and Lewis Hamilton as they fought for the title in 2021, Verstappen is also enjoying the hard but fair racing.

"It was really tough, but a good race," the world champion said after his Saudi win. "We were both battling hard at the front. We just tried to play the long game."

 

Mercedes' lack of pace working against Hamilton  

Meanwhile, Mercedes have endured a difficult start to the 2022 season, claiming third and fourth thanks to Red Bull DNFs in Bahrain before a fifth and 10th place finish in Saudi Arabia, well off the pace at the front.

Their troubles with speed and managing downforce in relation to their heavy porpoising is difficult for any team, let alone one with expectations of drivers' and constructors' championships.

With that all in mind, Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton has taken eight pole positions at Albert Park, tied with two other drivers for the most ever in F1 at a single track – Michael Schumacher at Suzuka and Ayrton Senna at Imola are the other two, while Hamilton also holds eight at the Hungaroring.

 

No home race advantage for Aussies

McLaren's poor start to the season could only serve to compound matters for Daniel Ricciardo at his home race.

No Australian driver has ever won, taken pole position or reached the podium in 35 editions of the Australian GP.

Ricciardo (2016, 2018) and Mark Webber (2010) only managed to secure fastest laps and mere points finishes.

 

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 45
2. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 33
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 25
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 22
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 16

Constructors

1. Ferrari 78
2. Mercedes 38
3. Red Bull 37
4. Alpine 16
5. Haas 12

Lewis Hamilton has "struggled mentally" to deal with global events this year, the Mercedes driver and seven-time world champion has disclosed.

In an Instagram stories message, the British star said anyone feeling the same should realise "you are not alone" and there should be a brighter future.

Hamilton, 37, wrote: "It's been such a tough year already with everything that is happening around us.

"Hard some days to stay positive. I have struggled mentally and emotionally for a long time, to keep going is a constant effort but we have to keep fighting, we have so much to do and to achieve.

"I'm writing to tell you it's ok to feel the way you do, just know that you are not alone and that we are gonna get through this!

"A friend reminded me today, you are so powerful and you can do anything you put your mind to! We can do anything we put our mind to.

"Let's remember to live in gratitude for another day to rise. Sending you love and light."

Hamilton did not explicitly mention the circumstances that have left him low-spirited, but world events have impacted upon his sport already in 2022.

Formula One's Russian Grand Prix has been cancelled this season due to the military invasion of Ukraine, and conflict struck close to the heart of motorsport only last week.

A Houthi missile strike that hit an Aramco facility 10 miles from the Jeddah circuit during a practice session last Friday sparked concern over the safety of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The Saudi energy and chemical company is also a sponsor of F1, as well as a principal sponsor of the Aston Martin team.

Amid criticism of the Saudi regime's human rights record and fears for their safety, there was serious concern over a driver boycott of Sunday's race. 

Hamilton, who qualified 16th, finished down in 10th, but the seven-time world champion said afterwards he was just pleased to finish the race and leave the country.

"I am so happy the weekend is done," Hamilton said on Sunday. "I am so happy everyone is safe, I am just looking forward to getting out. I just want to go home."

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have reaffirmed their concern over Formula One racing in Saudi Arabia.

A Houthi missile strike that hit an Aramco facility 10 miles from the Jeddah circuit during the first practice on Friday sparked concern over the safety of the race.

The Saudi energy and chemical company is also a sponsor of F1, as well as a principal sponsor of the Aston Martin team.

Amid criticism of the Saudi regime's human rights record and fears for their safety, there was serious concern over a driver boycott of Sunday's race. 

However, the event went ahead as planned, with reigning F1 champion Max Verstappen beating Charles Leclerc.

Hamilton, who qualified 16th, finished down in 10th, but the seven-time world champion was simply happy that the paddock could finish the race and leave the country.

"I am so happy the weekend is done," Hamilton said.

"I am so happy everyone is safe, I am just looking forward to getting out. I just want to go home."

Red Bull's Verstappen confirmed the drivers will be looking to take their concerns over the future of the race further.

"We had a lot of guarantees that of course it would be safe but after this weekend all the drivers together, we will speak with F1 and the team bosses to see what is happening for the future," he said.

"Of course, I am relieved [to have got through the weekend," added McLaren's Lando Norris.

"It is a nervous place to be and you are going to have these nerves."

Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes have "a lot of work" to do to match Red Bull and Ferrari after a disappointing Saudi Arabian Grand Prix performance.

The seven-time world champion was knocked out following a shaky Q1 session on Saturday, and he began from 15th on the grid and ultimately came home 10th in Jeddah, saying it was a "gutting" outcome.

Hamilton could have finished higher were it not for pit-stop confusion amid virtual safety car conditions a dozen laps from the end, while George Russell drove a sedate race to finish fifth.

Both were well off the pace of Red Bull and Ferrari, who locked out the front two rows in qualifying and then the podium as Max Verstappen got off the mark for the season with the win.

Speaking afterwards, Hamilton felt little had been done to improve the Mercedes car since Bahrain owing to the short turnaround, and said the pace of his vehicle remains a serious concern.

"Not much has changed really since the last race. It's only been a few days," the Briton said.

"What I know is that today, I couldn't keep up with the Haas at the end. The power they have, they came sling-shotting past me when I overtook [Haas driver Kevin] Magnussen earlier on in the race."

However, Hamilton, who drove to a P3 in the season-opener last weekend after both Red Bull cars suffered mechanical failures late on, believes he has the crew to help turn things around.

"We've got a lot of work to do for sure, but I know we've got a great team, and we'll just keep our heads down and try to improve," he said on Sky Sports.

Hamilton added: "It's gutting but we need to keep fighting, it's all we can do."

Team principal Toto Wolff admitted Mercedes' performance was a grim reminder of how far off the pace they are so far, saying: "Today’s race was the reflection of where we currently stand.

"The overall picture is sobering, and it's clear that we need to continue working hard if we wish to deliver a stronger performance in Melbourne."

Hamilton faces a two-week wait in which to help fine-tune his car before the F1 season resumes with the first Australian Grand Prix since 2019.

Max Verstappen put the frustrations of Bahrain behind him with a superb drive to edge Charles Leclerc for victory at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah on Sunday.

The Red Bull driver and reigning world champion picked up his first points of the F1 season after coming out on top in a pulsating battle with his Ferrari rival.

It marked a return to the podium for the Dutchman after a late mechanical failure denied him a top-three finish at last week's season opener in Sakhir.

Leclerc seized the lead early on from Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez amid a safety car procession, following a crash by Williams' Nicholas Latifi, and looked poised for back-to-back wins after victory in Bahrain.

But amid a thrilling final stretch at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Leclerc was caught on the main straight heading into lap 47 by Verstappen.

Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz came home in third, to leave pole-sitter Sergio Perez fourth, while Lewis Hamilton, who started 15th following a dreadful qualifying session on Saturday, fought through the grid for a points finish in 10th.

After a tumultuous build-up to race day on and off the track, an uncharacteristically sedate start saw the grid mostly hold position in the opening moments.

Verstappen made one of the few jumps, getting the edge on Sainz down to Turn 1, but he was otherwise unable to gain early ground on Perez and Leclerc until Latifi's crash facilitated a reshuffle at the top.

Having maintained a one-second-plus advantage over Verstappen after taking the lead, Leclerc was forced to fight tooth and nail to keep himself ahead of the Red Bull man.

But with just four laps to go, he could not hold on to his slender lead and the Dutchman passed to notch up those first points of his title defence.

Sergio Perez expects to be even quicker in Sunday's race than he was during qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Red Bull driver Perez took pole position for the first time in his career by going two hundredths of a second faster than Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in Q3.

Carlos Sainz was fastest in Q1, Q2 and after the first runs in the final session, but the Spaniard had to settle for third on the grid, ahead of reigning champion Max Verstappen.

Perez, who looked set for a podium in the season-opening race in Bahrain until technical issues forced him to retire on the final lap, suggested there is more to come from the Red Bull duo.

"We've been focusing more on race pace than qualifying," Perez told a news conference.

"We've felt that we've given away some qualifying performance to gain it in the race, but obviously we're going to see [on Sunday].

"I expect these two [Leclerc and Sainz] are going to be very strong, but I really hope that we can have a strong race."

Leclerc took the win in Bahrain ahead of Sainz, and he feels is in a good position to make it back-to-back victories at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

"I think it's very strange because we're actually quicker with the used tyres than the new tyres, and we need to understand that as a team, just to be a bit better prepared for the next race with these new tyres, and to put them in the right window," said Leclerc.

"But overall, I think for the race, I'm quite confident. I think we were quick this morning during the race simulation. So yeah, pretty confident."

Ferrari's Sainz was looking forward to going wheel-to-wheel with the Red Bulls, with the stage set for the drama to begin from lights out.

He said: "I expect an exciting start. Honestly, Checo [Perez] in front, Max behind, Red Bulls on the dirty side, us on the clean side but at the same time here in this tarmac, there's so much grip, clean or dirty side I don't think makes much of a difference.

"I think it's just going to be an exciting race. And I look forward to it. I think it's great for Formula One to have all four drivers just battling it out there. And I think we all have good respect for each other."

Sergio Perez brought an end to his long wait for a first Formula One pole position at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, cutting short Ferrari's early-season dominance.

The Scuderia had looked set to continue their outstanding form, potentially locking out the front row in a hectic qualifying session that was delayed for an extended period following a terrifying crash for Mick Schumacher, son of former Ferrari superstar Michael.

Schumacher hit the concrete barrier at Turn 12 at 170mph, although he showed no signs of injury when he was eventually pulled from his Haas, heading to hospital for precautionary scans.

That incident came in the middle of Q2, with Lewis Hamilton having sensationally bowed out in Q1, leaving Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz to battle with Red Bull duo Perez and Max Verstappen.

Defending champion Verstappen struggled to stay in touch, and it had appeared as though Sainz might be the man celebrating a first pole when he set the benchmark in Q3.

But he was passed by team-mate Leclerc and then Perez in his 220th grand prix, marking the longest wait for a driver before qualifying fastest, with ex-Red Bull man Marc Webber (131) the previous record-holder.

With Sunday marking 11 years to the day since Perez's first entry, he said: "It took me a couple of races, no?

"What a lap, unbelievable. I could do 1,000 laps and I don't think I could beat that one. It was unbelievable.

"We were not expecting too much from qualifying, we were focusing mainly for the race, so hopefully we get [the win] tomorrow."

Earlier, there had also been a red flag in Q1 following a crash involving Nicholas Latifi, after which Hamilton could not recover from a slow start.

His third time was his fastest but enough only for P15, where he soon fell below Lance Stroll to bow out in Q1 for the first time since the 2017 Brazilian GP and the first time on pure pace since the 2009 British GP.

Mercedes struggled to explain the result, as George Russell ran fourth fastest in that initial session, and Hamilton would not use the distraction a day earlier – when practice was halted due to a missile attack near the track – as an excuse.

"I just struggled with the balance of the car," Hamilton told Sky Sports. "It's not where we want to be."

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 1:28.200
2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.025s
3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.202s
4. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.261s
5. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +0.868s
6. George Russell (Mercedes) +0.904s
7. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +0.947s
8. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +0.983s
9. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +1.054s
10. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1.388s

Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton was surprisingly eliminated in Q1 during qualifying for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Saturday. 

It was the first time Hamilton was knocked out of the first session in a dry qualifying since Brazil in 2017, though on that occasion he crashed. The last time he exited in Q1 on pace alone was at the 2009 British Grand Prix. 

The session was red flagged after Nicolas Latifi crashed but the Briton was twice too slow to break the top 15 and took on fuel for an additional lap. 

Although Hamilton managed to improve upon his time, it was only enough for P15, with Lance Stroll subsequently knocking him down into the bottom five. 

Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate George Russell advanced to Q2 in fourth. 

Lewis Hamilton is eager to get his teeth stuck into another Formula One title challenge as soon as possible, but his Mercedes continues to struggle in 2022.

New regulations in F1 this season, introduced to encourage "closer racing", have already shaken up the grid – to Hamilton's detriment.

Charles Leclerc led a Ferrari one-two at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, while Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez would both have finished ahead of Hamilton, too, had Red Bull not suffered a dramatic double retirement.

The seven-time champion has been honest enough to acknowledge his W13 car lacks the pace of its rivals, but that does not mean he is happy to take a back seat.

"I don't currently feel too stressed, but I want to get in the fight as soon as possible," Hamilton said ahead of FP1 at the Saudi Arabian GP on Friday.

"The last race was an amazing feeling for us, given where we thought we were going to be, to come out with the result that we did.

"But we can't rely every weekend on that to happen, so we need to move fast, and move forward as fast as we can."

Hamilton would likely have been frustrated then by his performance in the first practice session later in the day, running in an alarming ninth as Leclerc and Ferrari again set the pace.

While Red Bull are confident they have mastered the issues that prompted their Bahrain DNFs, there is little evidence so far of Mercedes getting to grips with the porpoising that has caused Hamilton such problems.

Mercedes team-mate George Russell was down in 15th on Friday, but he at least appears a little more patient in his first year with the team.

"In Formula One, things change incredibly quickly," Russell said. "We are very fortunate that the calendar is not very dense at the start of this season, and even if it's a couple of months, we're only six or seven races down out of a 23-race season.

"If you come out of the blocks incredibly fast after the summer break, even as Mercedes and Lewis did last year, you're still in with a shot.

"So, we need to be in almost damage limitation mode at the moment, pick up the pieces where there's an opportunity, and don't throw away unnecessary points."

Mercedes have not failed to take either a pole position or race win through two grands prix of a season since 2013.

Meanwhile, Russell could become the second Silver Arrows driver – after Michael Schumacher in 2010 – to complete three races without reaching the podium, having deputised for Hamilton once while with Williams.

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

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