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The 7 Burning Questions We Have Ahead Of The 2022 F1 Season Opener

The 7 Burning Questions We Have Ahead Of The 2022 F1 Season Opener
By Eoin Harrington

You'd miss the good old days of Formula 1 season openers. The days of Irish fans hauling themselves out of bed at 5am for the opening race in Australia are sadly gone, with the F1 circus instead setting up camp in the slightly less picturesque setting of Bahrain to get the 2022 season underway.

Despite that, and despite the bitter atmosphere that continues to follow the acrimonious end to the 2021 season, it's impossible not to feel giddy with excitement ahead of what promises to be one of the most intriguing seasons in F1 history.

That's the word for this year: intriguing. It's hard to imagine any season could possibly match or surpass the drama of last year's title battle. That being said, last season, and the slew of seismic technical regulation changes, have created a litany of unknowns for 2022.

We've gone through some of the biggest questions ahead of the 2022 F1 season ahead of lights out in Sakhir on Sunday.

Formula 1 2022: Ten questions ahead of the curtain raiser in Bahrain

How will Lewis Hamilton react to the 2021 fallout?

It's hard to remember when Lewis Hamilton first suggested the idea of retiring from Formula 1, given we've spent just about every off season for the past half-decade having the possibility teased out for weeks on end.

Knowing how the 2021 season ended, with Hamilton losing a title thanks to the "manipulation" of the race stewards, the rumours were even more intense over the past three months than in recent years. But Hamilton has put the head back down, and seeing him back in the car at testing was a great sight for fans.

This is the first time since 2017 that Hamilton does not enter a new season as defending world champion. In some regards, the pressure is off him. Max Verstappen is the one who will have the pressure on him to defend the title, while Hamilton has already just about broken every record under the sun.

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The only major record left for Hamilton is the elusive eighth world title. If he comes back to win that in 2022, after the fallout from Abu Dhabi 2021, it might just be his greatest achievement in the sport - and the moment that seals his place in the sport's history books as the greatest, once and for all.

For what it's worth, Hamilton has expressed concern that this year's Merc might struggle to be as winning as its predecessors. Mercedes are known for "sandbagging" in testing - that is, deliberately running their car heavier with fuel to deceive the opposition into thinking they have dropped the ball.

This year, there is a sense among the paddock that they mightn't actually be bluffing, with Hamilton saying there are plenty of "problems" at Mercedes. They could well enter the first race of the season as the third best team on the grid. Which brings us to...

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Ferrari: is the hype justified?

We've seen this episode before. Been there, done that, worn the t-shirt. But, once again, people are very excited about Ferrari after testing.

After a horror show in 2020, Ferrari impressed last season, with new signing Carlos Sainz flying under the radar as a driver of the year contender. The reliability issues that plagued them in 2020 appear to be gone and - whisper it quietly - their car looks bloody quick.

There is so much humming and hawing about how much we can read into F1 testing and, for want of a less blasé phrase, so much bullshitting done by the drivers and teams, that it is hard to predict a running order for Saturday's qualifying session.

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Ferrari did this in 2019. And 2020. They have a tendency to show up and blitz testing, before falling six tenths behind Mercedes in Q3 on opening weekend.

But they do look very quick. So quick that Mercedes seem genuinely concerned about their pace. If all of that hype is legit, and they can keep pace and qualify at the front on Saturday, then "Charles Leclerc WDC 2022" might become a distinct possibility.

Which of the teams can "pull a Brawn" in F1 2022?

When Brawn showed up to pre-season testing in 2009 with their revolutionary "double diffuser", everyone else in the paddock knew that they had been outsmarted in reading F1's new technical regulations.

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When the rules change as substantially as they have for 2022, there can end up being one team who read the regs more inventively and come up with a unique solution that immediately places them at the front.

You'd be forgiven for presuming it will be Mercedes - especially after their sidepod-less update in Bahrain. On previous form, and on the sheer excitement surrounding their new car, it would be a safe prediction. But Max Verstappen hinted earlier this week that the biggest teams will be saving their "race car" for this weekend, and it could be very different to what we saw in testing.

Mercedes, as mentioned, have also struggled for consistency in testing, and might well have more of a struggle on their hands this year. Haas look to have climbed up the pecking order, while there are unique elements to just about every car (bar maybe Williams and Alpine) that could set them apart.

We'll be keeping a keen eye for Brawn 2.0 in 2022...

Which Daniel Ricciardo will show up for McLaren?

Daniel Ricciardo wouldn't mind us saying that, at points last season, he had his ass whooped by teammate Lando Norris. In all honesty, he would probably use a similar turn of phrase himself.

That being said, he also won a race - and he was full value for that race win in Monza. Ricciardo has been brimming with potential for years now, but it seems strange to be using the phrase "potential" for a 32-year-old with eight race wins in Formula 1.

With the McLaren looking very quick, but very volatile and unreliable, the team will need Ricciardo to maximise any opportunity he is given to take podiums and - maybe - more race wins. The form of The Honey Badger could well decide any potential fight in the constructors' championship between McLaren and Ferrari.

Who will come out on top in F1's midfield battle?

The midfield battle is one of the most exciting elements of this new F1 season. There seems to be an established front three, with pundits placing Red Bull, Mercedes, and Ferrari ahead of the rest.

McLaren appear to be hot on the heels of the frontrunners on the F1 grid, with their reliability the main issue separating them from the rest. Williams appear to be languishing a bit behind the pack, but have proven their fighting spirit in recent years.

Between McLaren and Williams, it appears to be anyone's game. Last year's strongest midfield teams were AlphaTauri and Alpine. This year, it could well be Haas leading the way, if their headline times in testing prove to be true pace.

Alfa Romeo are suffering from similar reliability concerns to McLaren, but look quick. Aston Martin have the small matter of a year's development and a rejuvenated four-time world champion in Sebastian Vettel to aid them in 2022.

It is legitimately anyone's game in the midfield, and we're hoping we might break last year's tally of 13 drivers on the podium over the course of the season.

Just how good is George Russell?

He's good. We know that. Mr Saturday himself, George Russell, has earned the right to be in the second Mercedes seat for 2022. He has not only dominated every full-season teammate he has had at Williams since entering the sport in 2019, but impressed on his only outing in a Mercedes in 2020, when Lewis Hamilton was suffering from the effects of COVID.

His P2 in qualifying at Spa last year, in what was a glorified backmarker of a car, is perhaps the best indicator of his huge potential. But there are questions about Russell all the same, with a recurring trend across his career of letting great race-day opportunities get away from him.

He has a huge reputation for qualifying well, but several opportunities to score his first F1 points slipped through his grasp before he finally broke his duck in Hungary last season. If he is to be a success at Mercedes, such nervy mistakes will have to be ironed out.

When it comes to testing your mettle, going up against the driver who leads just about every stat in F1 history, in a car that has won the last eight world championships, is a pretty damn good way of figuring out how good you are.

Where does the defending F1 world champion fit into all of this?

We haven't really mentioned Max Verstappen at all yet. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Dutchman had narrowly missed out on his maiden title in 2021, and came into this season in dejected form.

But Verstappen took the title in scarcely believable fashion in Abu Dhabi last December, and now enters the season as a world champion for the first time in his career. He does not appear daunted by the mantle - how could he be? He's Max Verstappen.

The Red Bull man will carry the number 1 on his car this year, the first driver to do so since Sebastian Vettel in 2014. He wants to wear the "world champion" brand on his sleeve, and he is hungry to add another. He went fastest in testing in Bahrain, and Red Bull look quick again. Despite all of the Ferrari, McLaren, George Russell, Lewis Hamilton hype...it could just be Max all over again in 2022.

So, there you have it. These answers may seem vague - that's because they are. For the first time since 2012, we enter the opening race of the F1 season with six (or more) drivers in legitimate contention for the win.

Will this be the year we see Lewis Hamilton take the record-breaking eighth? Will Max Verstappen be able to defend his crown? Will this be Ferrari's first drivers' championship win since 2007? Or could we see someone from left field, such as Lando Norris, take their maiden crown?

We go into this F1 season with question after question. It should be an awful lot of fun finding out the answers.

SEE ALSO: Why Max Verstappen Isn't In The New Season Of 'Drive To Survive'

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