Record crowds at this weekend's Australian Grand Prix might have been welcome to organisers, but drivers on the Formula One grid have expressed concern on where it currently sits on the calendar.

Before a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the Albert Park circuit traditionally hosted the first race of the season, since the Australian GP's move to Melbourne from Adelaide in 1996.

With pre-season testing in Bahrain leading into the season-opener at the Sakhir circuit for the 2021 and 2022 season, however, Melbourne's traditional status has been rendered impractical.

While the crowds underlined the appetite for F1 in the region, the drivers were cool on the Australian GP's scheduling as a standalone week, before the series continues in Italy.

"It works well at the moment because we are doing the winter testing in Bahrain, it makes sense to stay there," Red Bull's Sergio Perez said. "Just coming to Australia for a single race is quite painful for everyone.

"We all want to come here, but there are ways we can improve and in fairness to F1, Australia hasn't been on the calendar for the last [two] years. I'm sure that going forward they can have a look at it."

While Mercedes' George Russell said the previous scheduling at Albert Park was "cool", the back-to-back arrangement with Bahrain requires a rethink for Australia.

"I think Melbourne here as the season opener was really cool because everybody came up here early and there was a lot of excitement and anticipation," he said.

"But I think having Melbourne in between races, especially as a stand-alone is too tough for the teams and everybody."

Before the Australian GP moved to Melbourne, Adelaide traditionally held the final race of the Formula One calendar, circumventing these logistical issues.

If Bahrain was to retain the opening of the season, Russell believes pairing Melbourne with other Asian races is a possible solution.

"If it is geographically correct…we are happy for it to be at any point of the season," he said. "We obviously race very far east with Japan and Singapore, China obviously not this year, but it is on the calendar from next year onwards.

"I just think there is a better compromise to be had. I know there is a huge amount of limitations involved."

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."

Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali is buoyed by Ferrari's resurgence, saying it is ultimately good for the sport.

Charles Leclerc's win in the 2022 season opener in Bahrain on Sunday was Ferrari's first since 2019, and the last time Ferrari claimed a win from pole position in the season opener was with Kimi Raikkonen in 2007, who went on to win that year's driver's championship.

Along with passing on his congratulations to the team, Domenicali - a former team principal with Ferrari - believes it will invigorate interest in the sport.

"Next week there will be another race, then there is Melbourne and then Imola," he told Sky Sport. "I am convinced that we will find the [stands at the] Tosa and Rivazza corners as full as in the good old days.

"The satisfaction for the new regulations lay in seeing a beautiful, intense and interesting race for everyone.

"Then seeing Ferrari so competitive is an extraordinary sign. I say this with caution, but I am very happy. I was certainly pleased for Mattia [Binotto, the current team principal], for the drivers and for everyone who works there."

Ferrari's return to the top step on the podium has come with changes to Formula One regulations, which Domenicali and managing director Ross Brawn were tasked with implementing.

The 56-year-old believes technical regulations have allowed for unprecedented variety in design and engineering, which will positively impact the championship.

"The new F1 brings the technological challenge back to the centre. Last year I remember how many people said F1 would flatten out and talked about the cars all the same," he said.

"I have been in F1 since 1991 and there has never been such a great diversity between the cars, from a technical and technological point of view. This will also affect the competitiveness of the championship. There will be faster cars on some tracks and some faster cars on others."

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.

Formula One managing director Ross Brawn is tentatively satisfied by the racing impact of new regulations, following the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday.

Following an era dominated by the Mercedes team, significant regulation changes have been made for the 2022 season, to allow for closer racing.

Brawn, who was tasked with implementing the regulation changes by Formula One, praised the "raceability" of the current cars in comparison to previous years.

"We're delighted," Brawn told Sky Sports F1 post-race. "It is the first race so we have to be careful but all the signs are that we have moved in the direction that we wanted to move in, and the ability of the cars to race each other has improved.

"In the past we have always focused on car safety and performance. Now we should focus on raceability. That should be in there as well, because there's never been any attention paid to it."

Some of the biggest regulation changes for 2022 relate to aerodynamic output and cleaning up the turbulent wake that quickly overheated following cars in recent past, affecting the potential of wheel-to-wheel racing, despite the optimal increase in performance.

Though lap times during winter testing reflect slower overall performance, Charles Leclerc's win at Sakhir on Sunday didn't come until after a closely fought battle with reigning world champion Max Verstappen.

Brawn believes Formula One is on the path to finding balance.

"We could see from previous cars, you could simply see the downforce or the aerodynamic performance of the car that was following degrading hugely when it was behind another car," he said.

"We (Formula One) can't see the data because we're the commercial rights holder, but the FIA will now look at all the data of the cars and from that, put that into the research program to see how we can improve it further.

"I think anecdotally, you could see the cars can race a lot better."

Carlos Sainz declared Ferrari "properly back" after finishing second in a Scuderia one-two that gave Mattia Binotto sweet relief following two barren years.

Ferrari had not celebrated a race win in Formula One since Sebastian Vettel led a one-two at the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc was the junior driver on that occasion, but in Bahrain on Sunday he moved to the top of the drivers' standings for the first time in his career.

Leclerc was a deserving winner, while Sainz profited from a double Red Bull retirement to claim second.

"Ferrari is back and properly back with a one-two, where the team should be and should have been the last few years," Sainz said afterwards. "The hard work is paying off and we are there."

Team principal Binotto had expected Red Bull to be "stronger" and expects both they and Mercedes will "come back very soon", but for now he enjoyed being able to revel in a precious victory.

"It's a relief, it's fantastic. A one-two was unexpected," he told Sky Sports. "It has been a great race and Charles defended the position.

"It was nice to see him battling and fighting for the position, for the win.

"In the end, it was a bit lucky, certainly. It was a heart attack for me on the pit wall, when you're consolidating the position and you've got the safety car 10 laps from the end [before Verstappen retired]."

There is always expectation on Ferrari, so this result should go some way to easing the pressure very slightly.

"The pressure is high, very, very high," Binotto said, "but what we need to do is try to focus on what we are doing and forget about it; otherwise, I think it would be too much stress.

"We came here focused on the performance, trying to have a clean race. The drivers have done the job."

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.

Daniel Ricciardo qualified in 18th on Saturday as McLaren endured a tough start to the Bahrain Grand Prix, but the Australian vowed to "get on with it".

McLaren were fighting with Ferrari at the front of the Formula One midfield in 2021, yet the first weekend of the new season suggests the Scuderia have left their rivals behind.

Ferrari had Charles Leclerc on pole and Carlos Sainz in the top three, with all teams using their engines performing well in qualifying.

By contrast, Ricciardo failed to make Q2, and McLaren team-mate Lando Norris was little better in 13th.

A challenge in Sunday's race appears highly unlikely, but McLaren will continue to work to get their young campaign back on track as soon as possible.

"The only way we're going to move forward is if we put our eyes forward and get on with it," said Ricciardo, who missed the end of pre-season due to coronavirus. "And I think that's important as well for team morale.

"If we just sit and moan and cry... Of course, in qualifying, I'm not happy with 18th, but there's no good being upset about it and not doing anything.

"It's going to require action and effort from all of us, but I think that should motivate us to do better and want to do better. 

"I know we believe that we can be obviously a lot further up the grid, so it's fuel for the fire. It might be a slow burn for now, but that's all we can do to make things better."

Norris is certainly not expecting sudden improvement on Sunday, while he added a turnaround in time for next week's Saudi Arabian GP is also asking a lot.

"There are still a lot of positives – just sadly more negatives than positives," he said. "It's just about time and working on them. I think now we understand them more than ever; it's simply about putting them into action.

"But it's not an overnight job, it's not something that we're going to turn up [on Sunday] and be amazing, or turn up to Saudi and be amazing.

"It will take time, and [the team] are going to be working hard to try to make those improvements."

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.

Charles Leclerc warned his Formula One rivals there is more to come from himself and Ferrari after he took pole at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Ferrari have impressed in testing as F1 heads into a new era, with significant changes to the aerodynamics of the cars, a freeze on engine development and alterations to tyres hoped to lead to more competitive racing.

The signs were encouraging, predominantly for those cars using Ferrari power units, across the three sessions of qualifying in Sakhir.

Ferrari's form in testing carried through to Saturday's shoot-out for pole, with Leclerc leaving it late to leapfrog team-mate Carlos Sainz and secure his place at the front of the grid for Sunday's race.

Leclerc's time of 1:30.558 gave him his second pole in Bahrain and the 10th of his career.

Defending world champion Max Verstappen (1:30:681) managed to split the Ferraris, with his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez (1:30:921) behind Sainz (1:30.687) in fourth.

Mercedes may have to temper expectations of again contending for the drivers and constructors' championships, their struggles illustrated by Lewis Hamilton qualifying fifth and new team-mate George Russell coming ninth.

"It feels good. The last two years have been incredibly difficult for the team," Leclerc said afterwards, referencing Ferrari's consistent underachievement in recent years. 

"We were quite hopeful that this new opportunity for us was an opportunity to be back in the front and I think we have worked extremely well as a team to find ourselves again in a position to fight for better places."

"I wasn't completely happy with my driving but managed to do that lap in Q3."

Asked if there is more he and the team can do, Leclerc replied: "Of course there is, also from the driving point it's completely different compared to last year. There's definitely much more to come hopefully from us.

"We were pretty sure that Red Bull was going to be quicker than us in qualifying, a little surprised that wasn't the case.

"I will still stay cautious. The pace is there, but the race is long and we need to stay on it."

Describing his performance, Verstappen said: "I think it was a bit hit and miss. Q2 seemed quite good but Q3 it was more of a struggle to get the balance together.

"We have a good race car, which at the end of the day is the most important.

"Here you want to be good in qualifying of course but you also really want to make sure your car is working for the race, because the tyres are really struggling a lot more there and it's a bit different to some other tracks."

Sainz expressed satisfaction despite missing out on pole.

"I'm quite happy with the progress I've made throughout the weekend," he said. "To be even fighting for the pole position was good news for me.

"Charles has been ahead the whole weekend and he deserves the pole position."

Provisional Classification

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:30.558
2. Mex Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.123s
3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.129s
4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.363s
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.680s
6. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +1.002s
7. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1.250s
8. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.637s
9. George Russell (Mercedes) +1.658s
10. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +1.780s

Sergio Perez believes "it makes sense to have a discussion" around the idea of Formula One drivers being allowed to race with coronavirus.

The 2022 season will be the third affected by COVID-19, already impacting the grid for Sunday's opener at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel has contracted the virus, meaning he will be absent for Aston Martin, while Daniel Ricciardo missed the end of pre-season testing but has recovered to take up his McLaren seat.

Red Bull's Perez missed two races in 2020 due to COVID-19 and suggests drivers – already isolated within their cars during races – should not be ruled out if they are otherwise fit and healthy.

"Going forward, we should discuss whether we allow the drivers to race if the symptoms are mild," the Mexican said.

"The drivers can obviously be the judge, but I think it makes sense to have a discussion.

"There is only so much you can do. I think it's just luck-dependent. It is difficult to not do anything. I'm just very sorry for Seb and for Daniel, but it can happen to anyone."

Nico Hulkenberg, Aston Martin's reserve driver, has replaced four-time world champion Vettel this week.

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.

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