After one of the most thrilling conclusions to a season ever, Formula 1 returns this Sunday for the start of the 2022 season with the Bahrain GP. The sport is soaring in popularity, particularly here in the US, thanks in no small part to the hit Netflix series Drive To Survive which just dropped its fourth season to get you amped up for the upcoming season. Here now is a brief overview of Formula 1 in general for new viewers, what’s new this year and what to look for on Sunday.
Formula 1 Format
Formula 1 consists of ten teams with two drivers each making up a 20-driver grid for each race. There are 22 races this season as the Russian GP was canceled because of the invasion of Ukraine. Points are given out from first to tenth place each race on a declining scale with the driver who runs the fastest lap also gaining an additional point. The driver who has the most points at the season wins the Driver’s Championship. The team whose drivers amass the most points over the course of the season wins the Constructor’s Championship. Pretty simple stuff. Max Verstappen ended Lewis Hamilton’s four-year reign as Driver’s Champion in a contentious and controversial finish last year. Mercedes won its eighth-straight Constructor’s Championship in 2021.
The most notable change is at the most successful team in recent years, Mercedes. The long-expected move to replace Valtteri Bottas with George Russell finally happened so now the 24-year-old Brit is paired with his fellow countryman, the living legend Lewis Hamilton. Bottas bolted for Alfa Romeo, who is the only team who changed both seats. Kimi Raikkonen retired and Antonio Giovinazzi was dropped so Bottas is joined by Guanyu Zhou, the first ever Chinese Formula 1 driver. Russell’s seat at Williams went to Alex Albon who spent parts of the 2019 and 2020 seasons with Red Bull. Last week, Haas dropped Nikita Mazepin and its sponsor Uralkali, a fertilizer company owned by Mazepin’s father, due the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kevin Magnussen, who raced for Haas from 2017 to 2020, will return to take Mazepin’s place. Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Alpha Tauri, Alpine and Aston Martin have the same driver lineups as last year.
One grid note for this race, Sebastian Vettel tested positive for COVID on Thursday so he’s out of the race and Nico Hulkenberg will fill in for him this weekend for Aston Martin. Hopefully this is the only COVID issue this week.
The Car Changes
The biggest thing that is going to affect this season, and makes handicapping this first race a bit tricky, is the complete overhaul to the Formula 1 car. The change was supposed to happen last year, but was pushed back a year because of COVID. If you want to read all about the changes the Formula 1 website has an in-depth piece on it. For the sake of keeping this article as brief as possible, the distilled essence is that there have been massive overhauls to the aerodynamics of the cars in hopes of reducing the dirty air coming off one car that negatively impacts the performance of the cars behind it. The hope is that less dirty air = better performance by trailing cars = more opportunities for overtaking = closer, more exciting races.
The general feeling from testing is that the changes will have the desired effect, but since the first time the cars will race against each other is during the race 1) we don’t know how much the changes are going to affect things and 2) we don’t know how the drivers are going to respond to driving entirely new cars in a race. It should make things really interesting on Sunday.
What We Learned From Testing
The teams all gather twice to give them a chance to test their cars ahead of the season. The first testing weekend is in Barcelona and the second is a couple of weeks later in Bahrain. There were a few notable things from these testing sessions.
1) Ferrari looked really strong across both sessions. The historical giant of the sport has struggled in recent years, but the significant effort over the past year to debut an excellent car in 2022 looks to have paid off. They ran the most laps in testing and looked consistently strong in both sessions.
2) Red Bull finished strong and looks to be the team to beat…for now. Red Bull was solid in Barcelona before really letting loose in Bahrain. Verstappen’s car was blazing fast in the final session turning in the fastest lap by nearly seven tenths of a second which makes him the man to beat in Sakhir.
3) Mercedes struggled…but they could also be sand-bagging. Lewis Hamilton said that Mercedes isn’t going to be competing for wins early in the year, but nobody believes him. Merc has played these games in the past in testing and been just fine, but Hamilton’s car didn’t perform well in testing.
Bahrain became the first location in the Middle East to host a Formula 1 race in 2004. The race has been at the Bahrain International Circuit every year. The race has been held every year but one since its inception and the track layout has been consistent in all but one of the contested races. They ran at this track twice in 2020, but the second race was a much shorter configuration. It’s a 3.363 mile track and the drivers will race 57 laps. The race is at 6pm local time (11am Eastern) so the heat shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
The Betting Strategy
I’d love to be able to tell you to go crazy and make bets, but this is a good week to watch and learn. There may be a tendency to overreact to testing, but all testing runs are not created equal. Some teams perform well in testing and their cars stink when it counts. There are some teams (cough cough Mercedes cough cough) who don’t show out in testing and then look good when it matters. Couple that with the massive uncertainty of what the new car design is going to mean for the quality of racing and you just have a situation where there are too many unknowns to be confident about much.
Fortunately, if you’re dead set on betting there’s one reliable option and that’s Max Verstappen. I personally prefer Lewis Hamilton to Verstappen as a fan, and it’s really hard to fade Hamilton, particularly given that he’s won this race three years in a row, but Verstappen finished second the last two years, probably should’ve win this race last year and his car looks a lot better right now. His odds at FanDuel have dropped a little bit today from +200 to +185, but I like plus-money bets and I’ll take them where I can get them and there are a couple worth looking at
I think a lot of people, myself included, are intrigued by how good the Ferrari car looked in testing, but it’s entirely possible when they get on the track they’ll still be behind Red Bull and Mercedes. But if you’re looking for one longer shot to back, Charles Leclerc to win the race at +500 is a fun swing to take if you, like me, love a good long shot and want to believe Ferrari is the real deal in 2022.
If you’re an absolute lunatic and REALLY want to get in on a bet a lot of people will be rooting for, Nico Hulkenberg to podium at +3100 is something a lot of people are pulling for. Hulkenburg has raced 179 times in his Forumla 1 career and never finished in the top 3 so he’s a sentimental favorite for a lot people, particularly now as he’s become a replacement driver late in his career. Is it likely? No, but there’s plenty of uncertainty this weekend and if you like doing fun, but admittedly unwise things with your money like I do from time-to-time, this is not a bad way to go.