Let's overreact to the Bahrain Grand Prix: Will McLaren be that bad all year?

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The first race of the Formula One season always results in a series of sweeping generalisations about the year to come. Sometimes they hold true, but often they don't.

Now the dust has settled on the Bahrain Grand Prix, let's have a look at some of the prevailing ones and whether they are justified or simply a reaction to a wild opening race.

McLaren will be that bad all season

McLaren was one of the most exciting prospects coming into this new season and new era of Formula One car, but the British team found itself woefully off the pace in Bahrain. McLaren has not challenged for a title since the early 2010s and the hopes of it doing so under these new rules appear to have gone out as quickly as the start lights at the beginning of a race.

After an underwhelming Bahrain test, Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris were 14th and 15th respectively in the race having run at the back of the pack throughout the weekend. Norris only just managed to drag his car through to Q2. It brought back worrying memories of and comparisons to the dark days of McLaren's struggles back in the most recent Honda era.


It's difficult to imagine one of motor racing's biggest and well-resourced teams could have made such a misstep on what was essentially a clean slate with this year's regulations. The venue of the opening race appeared to skew the picture quite significantly.

The Bahrain International Circuit is unlike any other circuit F1 races on, with rough tarmac and a mix of slow corners and long straights. One of McLaren's major weaknesses right now is in slow corners, so it is harsh to judge the team too thoroughly on evidenced based on a three-day test and grand prix weekend at a place so poorly suited to its car.

McLaren should be better at other venues - but how much better remains to be seen. It is still a bleak outlook for a team that wanted to be a title contender this season. Alarm bells will ring if McLaren is in the same position over the next two races, but at the moment it seems much easier to assume Bahrain looked far worse than the reality.

Whatever the story, McLaren seems to be facing an uphill battle already. F1 technical director James Key, often considered one of the paddock's best designers, and his team have a big job on their hands to get McLaren back towards the front of the pack.

These new cars have made racing better

Formula One introduced the latest generation of cars with a simple goal in mind: making racing better and increasing overtaking opportunities. By stripping away some of the complex aero of previous cars, F1 hoped to lessen the "dirty" turbulent air that made an F1 car difficult to follow by another. The first race seemed to suggest these cars have achieved that aim.


The early signs were very encouraging. Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen's three-lap duel for the lead was the perfect advert for what these new cars can do, with Leclerc later revealing how he let Verstappen pass him at Turn 1 knowing he could follow closely through Turns 2 and 3 and reclaim the lead with DRS at Turn 4.

Drivers across the grid said following was much easier, with everyone's favourite comeback kid Kevin Magnussen predicting racing with these new cars will be a lot more fun. Cars were following more closely and a lot more often throughout the race. There will still be some circuits where overtaking is difficult, which is the nature of motor racing, but F1's first race with these new cars could not have gone much better from a PR point of view.

2022 is the year of Leclerc and Ferrari

Charles Leclerc led a Ferrari one-two and, thanks to a remarkable implosion late on, made a huge early points gain on Max Verstappen and Red Bull. It was the most perfect of starts for F1's most famous team, one that puts it in prime position to challenge for a first championship in 14 years.


Let's pump the brakes on this Ferrari hype train a little bit. Of course it was a great win, and the one-two was an added bonus, but Red Bull's late implosion has skewed the early championship table massively. Max Verstappen stayed close to Leclerc right up until his car troubles emerged and the race might have looked a lot different had he got ahead of the Ferrari during their fun wheel-to-wheel battle or through the pit-stop phase, something he felt was possible judging by his radio messages.

It's never wise to judge an F1 championship on the basis of one race. Ferrari claimed opening race wins in 2010, 2017 and 2018 and did not go on to win the championship; 2016 champion Nico Rosberg was the last driver to win the opening race and win that year's title.

There's other factors to consider too. One which will become interesting over the season for Ferrari is the Leclerc-Sainz dynamic. Carlos Sainz said the Bahrain Grand Prix was his most difficult weekend for Ferrari so far, but he still qualified third and finished second. Those two will be close all season, as they were in 2021, which could complicate a championship challenge down the line if they are in a straight fight with Verstappen, who has always had the measure of his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.

Fortunately, the biggest advocates of this caution seem to be Ferrari, who have been quick to remind the tifosi that an F1 season is a marathon, not a sprint. Verstappen will be difficult to beat over 22 races this year -- all of that is assuming Mercedes does not also come back into play at some point.

Hamilton, Mercedes won't challenge for wins at any point

It was shocking to see Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes so far off the pace. Recently F1 has had clear tiers of performance -- last year Mercedes and Red Bull fought for the title while Ferrari and McLaren battled for third.

Hamilton's podium came courtesy of both Red Bull's retiring in the final laps. In reality, Mercedes was a long way off the leaders all weekend and looked to be comfortably in its own tier behind the leaders and in front of the rest. On the basis of the opening race, Mercedes is a long way away from being a victory contender this year.


Betting against this incredible Mercedes team is just bad business. You have to assume they will get back to the front of the pack sooner rather than later.

Fortunately for Mercedes, they are not facing an insurmountable gap to the front. They are a clear third and Ferrari and Red Bull will both be a moving target as the year goes on, but Mercedes is clearly dealing with a list of issues with its radical and revolutionary car. Mercedes had already started to get a handle on one of its worst issues, the heavy bouncing of its car down main straights - known as porpoising - before the end of practice in Bahrain.

Sky Sports TV pundit Martin Brundle predicted at the weekend that Mercedes might be one good upgrade away from returning to the front of the pack. The development race will be a major feature of this season and one hallmark of Mercedes' run of eight straight championship titles has been an ability to produce consistently great car upgrades and, crucially, to learn harsh lessons from difficult moments.

There is no clear timeline of when upgrades will come from anyone this year and improving an F1 car is not the work of a moment, so Mercedes will have to be patient. While they wait, the team has the luxury of Lewis Hamilton, who reminded us in Bahrain how good he is at getting the most out of a bad car, something he's not had to do in nearly 10 years. He's also won a race in every season he's raced in F1, in great, good and bad race cars.

New teammate George Russell is also only going to keep getting better as he beds into his new team, so in the meantime the team has two drivers who can put it into the best position to capitalise on any drama at the front and win races if the opportunity is there.

Haas can challenge for fourth in the championship

Kevin Magnussen and Haas were the undoubted stars of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Magnussen, who assumed at the start of the month he would never race in F1 again before being called up to replace Nikita Mazepin, turned in an incredible performance to qualify seventh and finish fifth, matching Haas' best-ever F1 result.

It's remarkable given Haas' recent history, which included finishing last with zero points to its name last year. On pure pace, in Magnussen's hands, the 2022 Haas looked to be the fourth quickest car, which would be a remarkable achievement for F1's smallest team. The ultimate question is now whether it can keep it up across such a long season.


This Haas car looks like the real deal. From the moment it left the Circuit de Catalunya pit-lane on the morning of the first test in February, F1 tech journalists marvelled at the car's design. While the Mazepin/Uralkali saga hung over the team for much of preseason, the team remained quietly confident it had produced a fundamentally quick car.

Of course it won't always be as good as it was on Sunday but Magnussen's result showed what the team can achieve if it can avoid reliability or procedural issues. Haas' car last year looked as basic as it could look as the team turned all its attention onto building a good 2022 car, a decision which already looks vindicated.

In previous seasons it would have been difficult to expect Haas to keep up the development race across the season but things are different this year. One of F1's great new rules is its sliding development scale, aimed at achieving NFL-like parity between the best and worst teams year on year. By finishing 10th last year, under this rule Haas is allowed more windtunnel development time than any other team (Mercedes gets the least, having finished first last year).

This raises a financial question, with Haas losing significant backing when it cut ties with Uralkali earlier this month. But it's clear the team is not in dire straits without its old title partner and this might be the best time in the recent history of the sport to be a Formula One team without a sponsor, with an enormous spike in commercial interest over the past 12 months. If Haas can capitalise and bring in a big-name partner in the coming months that will be another big boost to its chances of pushing for a best-ever constructors' championship finish.

Bottas will be a midfield star all season

Valtteri Bottas scored a seventh place finish on his Alfa Romeo debut, a day after qualifying alongside former Mercedes teammate Hamilton on the third row of the grid and out-qualifying the man who replaced him at the team, Russell. It was a surprise, but a welcome one, given how much Alfa's F1 team has struggled in recent years to live up to the stature of its name.


It's easy to forget the reason Bottas got that seat in the first place was due to his talent and the promise he showed at Williams. In the earlier period of his spell with Mercedes he was super competitive and often raced strongly, but five years of trying to match the relentless consistency Hamilton is famous for seemed to slowly take it out of him.

Like Sebastian Vettel after leaving Ferrari, it already feels like Alfa will be a perfect place for Bottas to thrive and rediscover his form away from the pressure of the front end of the grid.