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.

How does Formula One go about following up the epic 2021 season?

Well, until that stunning campaign stole the show, this year was long seen as the one to look forward to with the introduction of new regulations to encourage competitive racing right down the grid.

Lewis Hamilton might have expected a genuine challenge in 2022; instead, in the form of Max Verstappen, it arrived 12 months early.

Excitement for the coming campaign is therefore at an all-time high, with pre-season testing adding to the theory fans should expect the unexpected.

Forecasting the year ahead is tricky, but Stats Perform seeks to identify the key narratives to follow this season ahead of Sunday's 2022 opener in Bahrain.

Max vs Lewis again

For now at least, Verstappen and Hamilton will expect to be the title frontrunners, which should mean another classic campaign.

Verstappen had never even led the standings until winning last year's Monaco Grand Prix, the first of five consecutive Red Bull wins – including four for the Dutchman.

That sequence ended at Silverstone, where contact with Hamilton sent Verstappen into the wall and set the tone for the rest of a frantic season, in which the pair repeatedly went at one another, crashing at Monza.

A titanic back-and-forth deserved a better ending than to be decided by a contentious call from race director Michael Masi in Abu Dhabi.

Now, defending champion Verstappen can attempt to prove he is better than Hamilton regardless of that decision, while the Mercedes man seeks to show his class once again as he pursues a record eighth title.

The midfield challenge

The game-changing 2022 regulations sought to enforce "closer racing", meaning both Verstappen and Hamilton could come under threat rather than simply blowing away the competition.

Early signs are encouraging on that front, with the two title rivals name-checking Ferrari's superb pre-season showing in the past week.

A resurgent Scuderia represent an obvious danger to those two, but so too do McLaren, Ferrari's midfield neighbours in recent seasons.

Lando Norris had four podiums last season before tailing off to finish sixth in the drivers' championship – still two places ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who endured a tough first year with the team despite a famous win at Monza.

Having been aided by changes to the car for 2022, it is up to Ferrari and McLaren to close the gap considerably to Red Bull and Mercedes.

George a genuine threat?

Of course, Verstappen and Hamilton might typically expect their biggest challenges to come from those in the same cars.

However, Sergio Perez played the role of supporting Red Bull team-mate brilliantly in some key moments last year, while Valtteri Bottas continued to do his own thing without worrying Hamilton.

How a change in the Mercedes garage alters things remains to be seen. Bottas has been replaced by George Russell, who will hope to quickly make his mark.

Russell deputised for Hamilton for a single race the year before last and impressed, so it will be interesting to see if he now intends to push his legendary colleague all the way or will initially settle instead for helping his title bid.

Impact of refereeing reform

It is not only the cars that have had a makeover this year, with the officiating structure reorganised in the aftermath of the criticism aimed at Masi.

He is out as race director, with two men, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, taking his place, while other changes include the introduction of a "virtual race control room" to "assist the race director in the decision-making process".

Whether these changes suitably appease the team principals, who grew increasingly furious with each controversy last year, remains to be seen.

All parties would agree they would rather see the championship decided on the track – but it is not always as straightforward as that.

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.

McLaren's Lando Norris acknowledges he does not "push the limits" as much as World Champion Max Verstappen does, as he prepares to do battle with the Dutchman in the new Formula One campaign. 

Norris finished sixth in the 2021 Drivers' Championship standings but has been tipped by many to fare better when the 2022 Formula One season begins with Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Norris watched on as Verstappen beat Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton to the drivers' title in contentious circumstances last year, attracting criticism from some quarters for what has been perceived as an aggressive driving style. 

Speaking ahead of this weekend's curtain-raiser in Bahrain, the 22-year-old said he was not sure how he would deal with a rival as combative as Verstappen.

"It's a different battle, because of how Max races," Norris said. 

"It's a different breed of drivers. You saw how he drove and changed when it came down to those final races, with aggression.

"It's maybe something you don't experience so much in the midfield because you're not going for a world championship, or some of the drivers don't have that mentality of risking everything.

"You would try and play smart as much as you can [when facing a rival like Verstappen].

"But I'm also a fair racer and, I don't know, maybe don't push the limits quite as much in certain areas."

Both Norris and new Mercedes driver George Russell are aiming to become the first British driver other than Lewis Hamilton to win a race for almost a decade, with Jenson Button the last to do so when winning the Brazilian Grand Prix in November 2012.

Meanwhile, McLaren are just seven podium finishes away from reaching a total of 500 in Formula One, with Norris recording four such finishes across the 2021 campaign.

Sebastian Vettel will miss the opening race of the 2022 Formula One World Championship after the Aston Martin driver was ruled out of the Bahrain Grand Prix following a positive test for COVID-19.

The four-time world champion will be replaced by Nico Hulkenberg for the first event of the season, marking his first F1 race since 2020 and coincidentally taking place at the same venue where he made his debut with Williams in 2010.

Vettel, who headed up Aston Martin's return to F1 last year, secured a second-place podium finish at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in his maiden season with the team.

But the former Red Bull driver, who dominated the drivers' championship across a four-year stretch between 2010 and 2013, struggled to maintain that form across the rest of the campaign.

Hulkenberg will race alongside Lance Stroll this weekend and will take control of the car from FP1 on Friday.

Elsewhere, McLaren's Daniel Ricciardo will be fit to feature after missing the last week of testing through coronavirus.

The Australian, however, has since returned a negative test and will feature for the team this weekend at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.

McLaren have confirmed Daniel Ricciardo will return to the paddock on Thursday after testing negative for COVID-19.

It had been feared that Ricciardo would miss the first grand prix of the 2022 Formula One season in Bahrain due to contracting the virus.

However, the Australian has now returned several negative tests and, according to his team, has recovered over the course of his isolation period.

"McLaren Team confirms that after testing positive for COVID-19 last week, Daniel has now returned a number of negative tests and will therefore return to the paddock on Thursday ready to compete in this weekend's Bahrain GP," McLaren posted on Twitter on Wednesday.

In his first season with McLaren after leaving Renault, Ricciardo finished eighth in the drivers' championship last year with 115 points, 45 fewer than team-mate Lando Norris, who came sixth.

Ricciardo was able to record a famous win in Italy, but did not finish on the podium in any other race.

Lewis Hamilton was hurting after the remarkable conclusion to the 2021 season, but he has had time to reset and prepare for another tilt at a record-breaking eighth Formula One drivers' championship.

Hamilton was denied the title in dramatic fashion last year, when a highly contentious decision from then race director Michael Masi gave Max Verstappen the opportunity to pass him on the final lap of the season to be crowned champion for the first time.

Mercedes feared Hamilton would quit the sport as a result, but the man Toto Wolff described as a "lion" in last season's run-in is ready to fight again – starting at this week's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Not that Hamilton is expecting this season to be any more straightforward than the last.

Verstappen has proven he can match Hamilton over the course of a campaign, while George Russell will hope to prove more competitive than Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes seat. The new F1 regulations also mean a potential challenge from the midfield, with Ferrari fast in pre-season.

"We're certainly not at the top," a pessimistic Hamilton said last week, but Verstappen dismissed those comments while acknowledging Ferrari's pace.

The Red Bull superstar suggested Hamilton and Mercedes would quickly turn their fortunes around – and that certainly fits with the Briton's career to date.

"He's an exceptional driver," former Ferrari star Felipe Massa told Stats Perform, "one who is undoubtedly the main man in the sport today because of the records he holds in Formula One.

"No one ever imagined that he would even come close to beating [Michael] Schumacher's records. He overtook pretty much everyone else. One more title is missing to go ahead as a record holder."

That eighth title will remain the goal this year, but Hamilton could move ahead of Schumacher in another sense as soon as Sunday; he has won in 15 consecutive F1 seasons since 2007, meaning victory in a 16th would top the German (1992-2006).

 

Hamilton's happy hunting ground

In pursuit of that new benchmark, Hamilton will be happy to be back in Bahrain, where he has such an outstanding history.

Of the 17 editions of the Bahrain GP, Hamilton has won a record five races, including the past three. No other driver has won three in succession at this event – and that sequence could be extended to four this week.

Mercedes have recorded the most pole positions (six) and podiums (15) at the Bahrain Grand Prix, ranking one ahead of Ferrari in each category.

The Silver Arrows and the Scuderia are tied for Bahrain wins (six) and fastest laps (five) heading into the 2022 race.

We are in a special week for Mercedes, too, as this is the team's 250th grand prix. With 124 victories so far, they could mark the occasion by improving their win rate to an outstanding 50 per cent, the best such performance by any one team.

Red Bull set for reality check?

Verstappen's record at this track is not quite so impressive, even if he almost beat Hamilton last season having started from pole, forced to give his place back after exceeding track limits in passing his rival.

That was Verstappen's seventh Bahrain GP without victory – an eighth fruitless appearance would make this the grand prix he has entered most without winning.

He has retired three times at the Bahrain GP and, including the 2020 Sakhir GP, a career-high four times at this circuit.

The Dutchman at least has the benefit of the confidence of his championship triumph – and a "ridiculously fast" Red Bull, according to Hamilton – but first-time champions have not typically fared well in the first race of their title defence.

Only three of the past 14 first-time defending champions have won on the first weekend of the new season: Michael Schumacher in 1995, Fernando Alonso in 2006 and Sebastian Vettel in 2011.

At least securing pole would mean a positive omen, as Red Bull drivers have gone on to win the title on the four previous occasions they have started the season by qualifying fastest (Vettel in 2010, 2011 and 2013, plus Verstappen last year).

Hamilton in 2015 and 2016 was the last driver to achieve back-to-back Bahrain poles, although only seven Bahrain GP winners have started from the front of the grid.

Lewis Hamilton has revealed he is set to change his name as he prepares for the 2022 Formula One season.

The seven-time F1 world champion will include his mother Carmen's maiden name, Larbalestier, in his name.

Hamilton's parents, Anthony and Carmen, separated when he was only two.

The 37-year-old is not sure when his new name will be confirmed, stating it is a work in progress ahead of the first race of the year in Bahrain this weekend.

"It would mean the world to my family [to win a record eighth F1 title]," the British driver said at the 2022 Dubai Expo.

"It would mean a lot to me knowing that, for example, I'm really proud of my family's name: Hamilton. Actually, none of you might know that my mum's [sur]name is Larbalestier.

"And I'm just about to put that in my name. Because I don't really fully understand the whole idea of why, when people get married, the woman loses her name. I really want her name to continue on with the Hamilton name."

Asked if he will have a different name in the first race of the season, he replied: "It will be soon. No, I don't know if it will be this weekend. But we're working on it."

Max Verstappen has responded with scepticism to Lewis Hamilton's claims Mercedes will not be competing for victories in the early stages of the 2022 Formula One season.

Verstappen, who beat Hamilton to the 2021 Drivers' Championship in controversial circumstances at last December's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, posted the fastest time on the final day of pre-season testing in Bahrain on Saturday.

Ahead of Bahrain hosting the first Grand Prix of the season next week, Hamilton suggested Mercedes will likely not be competing for early season wins, due to problems with the team's new W13 car.

His rival Verstappen, however, scoffed at those comments, accusing Mercedes, and other Formula One teams, of playing down their potential before the season begins.

"[It's] always like this," the world champion said in quotes reported by Autosport.

"If someone is doing well or a team that everyone expects to do well, then it's 'oh no, we're definitely not the favourite'.

"And then a week later, when things do go well, all of a sudden it's 'oh no, but we turned it around completely within a week. Not normal, unbelievable work. Thanks to all people in the factory!'"

 

Verstappen also noted Mercedes were "very strong during the first race weekend" in 2021, with Hamilton winning the season opener in Bahrain after making similar comments about the team's issues this time last year.

The 24-year-old also spoke of Ferrari as potential rivals for Red Bull during the coming season, noting they had been "consistently fast" throughout pre-season.

"They [Ferrari] clearly have a stable car at the moment," he added.

"It just looks good for them, they have had very few problems as well. We will see next week who is fastest, but so far, they have had a very good test.

"The last two years weren't great for them, so you automatically start looking at this season a bit earlier than some of the other teams. It's more than normal that they started earlier than us on the 2022 car and that's okay as well.

"In the end, with these new cars, the development rate during the season is the most important thing."

Lewis Hamilton claims he is not expecting to be competing for victories at the start of the new Formula One season after experiencing difficulties during testing.

Neither Hamilton, who has won the drivers' championship a joint-record seven times, nor new Mercedes team-mate George Russell were among the fastest drivers on the final day of pre-season testing in Bahrain, as Max Verstappen topped the timesheets.

With Red Bull's defending champion faring well just a week before the Bahrain Grand Prix opens the campaign, Hamilton suggested he is not holding out much hope of a strong start, with Mercedes experiencing performance issues with their new W13 car.

"I'm sure everyone can figure it out, we're not the quickest at the moment," Hamilton told a news conference on Saturday.

"Ferrari looks to be the quickest and perhaps Red Bull, and then maybe us or McLaren. I don't know, but we're certainly not at the top.

"Obviously it's a little bit too early to get into [hopes of winning the drivers' championship] or have those kinds of thoughts, but at the moment I don't think we'll be competing for wins.

"But there is potential within our car to get us there. We've just got to learn to extract it and fix some of the problems. 

"That's what we are working on and everyone is doing an incredible job back at the factory working as hard as they can, but we have some hurdles to overcome."

Hamilton, who won 2021's season opener in Bahrain, also denied he was deliberately playing down expectations to hide the car's true strength. 

"Obviously next week we'll get a much better showing of our pace, but I think people will be surprised," he explained.

"People keep saying that we keep talking ourselves down, but it's a bit different this year. It feels a lot different. It's not as good, I don't think it's going to look as it did last year with the difficult session we had in testing and then switch over [to win] the race.

"I think we have far bigger challenges this time and they are not one-week turnarounds; they'll take a little bit longer. But, from what I told, we have a considerable amount of pace to find."

"At the moment the performance isn't there," the 24-year-old said.

"We are a step behind our rivals, and we do have a lot of work to do between now and next week to understand, because in every condition the Red Bull and the Ferrari seem a step ahead of us.

"I don't think they're exceptional, I think we're probably not as competitive as we would like.

"[But] I believe the guys are going get to the bottom of it. There is potential there, we just need to figure out a way to unlock that performance."

Max Verstappen has played down projections on Red Bull's pace, heading into next weekend's Formula One season opener in Bahrain.

The reigning world champion set the fastest time during the final pre-season test at Sakhir - where next week's opener will also be held - almost a full seven tenths quicker than Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in second, and nearly a second quicker than Alpine's Fernando Alonso in third.

However, the 24-year-old asserted Red Bull were more concerned with gathering tyre data at the test than lighting up the timesheets.

"Nobody is [giving it] full beans in qualifying-spec at the moment," Verstappen said. "Of course the car is better in low fuel and actually on the high fuel the car doesn't really do a lot, but it's the same for everyone.

"It was just a general progression of the day and we were just trying a few different tyres. But I think the main focus was about the tyres, we're going to use next week. But the car was feeling alright, and we went through our programme which we planned to do, and that's always positive."

Along with this season's regulation changes on tyre diameter, Verstappen was also quick to point out car response to the Sakhir circuit's more favourable conditions, in comparison to the opening pre-season test in Barcelona.

"You know, compared to Barcelona I think more of it is just the track - the rough surface, warmer conditions, and the layout of the track makes it a completely different feeling compared to Barcelona," he said.

"But yes, of course, I think we learned a lot more about the cars, so we made the car faster, and I think that's what you want.

"I think with the new parts, which arrived today, they also worked well, which you always hope for. They worked, so then hopefully we'll keep them on [for the opening race]."

McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo has tested positive for COVID-19, in a blow to his preparations for the first grand prix of the Formula One season.

The team expect the 32-year-old Australian to be out of isolation in time to compete at the Bahrain Grand Prix, with the race scheduled for Sunday, March 20.

The news still comes at an unfortunate time for McLaren, who are looking to build upon their fourth-place finish in last year's constructors' championship.

Ricciardo's positive test was confirmed on Friday's second day of pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit.

"McLaren Racing can confirm that after feeling unwell from Wednesday onwards in Bahrain, Daniel Ricciardo has now returned a positive PCR test for COVID-19," a team statement read.

"Daniel is therefore continuing to isolate in accordance with local regulations.

"Under these regulations Daniel will be released in time for next weekend's Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix. Daniel is already beginning to feel better, and we wish him well for a quick recovery.

"Following this, we can confirm that Lando Norris will remain in the MCL36 for the final day of the official pre-season test in Bahrain tomorrow."

Ricciardo said on Twitter that he was already "starting to feel better".

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner labelled Mercedes' new car as "extreme" but insisted it "ticks all the boxes" as a legal design.

Mercedes unveiled their W13 car on the first day of the pre-season testing session in Bahrain, with their new design featuring minimalistic vertical sidepods on either side of the cockpit.

Horner, who regularly battled with the world champions last season, reportedly told German outlet Auto Motor und Sport that the car was "not legal", but he has since clarified his comments.

"I think comments have been quoted that certainly weren't made," Horner said at Friday's news conference. "The car is obviously innovative, it's an interesting solution.

"As far as we're concerned it looks like the Mercedes car complies with the regulations. It's just a different interpretation, a different solution."

Horner was also quoted as suggesting the 'no side pod car' breached the spirit of Formula One rules, but the 48-year-old believes his words were misconstrued once more.

"There's not really anything that defines the spirit of the regulations, it either complies or it doesn't," he added.

"That's not really for us to judge, the FIA have the access to all of the drawings for a design like that which would have been submitted in advance. It's an interesting concept, it's a radical concept."

While impressed with the concept, Horner wants to wait and see whether it aids Mercedes on the track.

"Is it quick or not? Only time will tell. It's impossible to draw any conclusions other than it looks very different," he continued.

"Visually it is quite a departure from the concepts that certainly we've taken and a few others have taken.

"That's not to say it's naturally better or worse, it's just a different interpretation and compromises have been made with their layout to accommodate that."

Mercedes will look to defend their title at the start of the new campaign, which gets underway in Bahrain on March 20, but Horner believes Ferrari will be the team to beat in 2022.

"For me, the car that looks most settled on the circuit is the Ferrari," Horner said.

"I think they've had a very strong testing period so far, both in Barcelona and in Bahrain. They've looked extremely competitive whenever on track.

"But you have to remember these cars are still very immature, the rate of development will be very fast and intense. Mercedes are going to be a huge factor in this championship, I have no doubt."

The 2021 Formula One title race was one for the ages.

Fortunately, the release of season four of Netflix's 'Drive to Survive' series is landing on Friday, giving fans the opportunity to relive the drama and whetting appetites for the forthcoming 2022 campaign.

Few will forget how last season ended, with Max Verstappen pipping Lewis Hamilton in scarcely believable circumstances on the final lap of the final race.

But there had been controversy throughout the year even before that point, making the latest edition of one of sport's great documentaries a must-watch.

Fans will be desperate to learn how 2021 played out behind the scenes, but what should they be looking for? Stats Perform picks out five flashpoints.

Silverstone contact sets the tone

A back-and-forth title tussle between Verstappen and Hamilton was already nine races old by the time the teams arrived at Silverstone – at which point the 'Drive to Survive' producers must have thought they had hit the jackpot.

Hamilton ended a five-race barren run for Mercedes with victory in his home race, but only after sending Verstappen into the barriers at Copse Corner on lap one – a 10-second penalty of little consolation to Red Bull, whose team principal Christian Horner slammed the 2020 champion's "dirty driving".

Seeing the reaction on the pit wall would be of interest to any fan, although this clash merely teed up the drama to come.

Mixed fortunes for furious Lewis in the wet

Two races last year descended into chaos due to the weather, with Verstappen winning in Belgium while Hamilton triumphed in Russia, benefiting from Lando Norris' spin in the rain for his 100th victory. That Sochi result cancelled out events at Spa, where Hamilton had been far from impressed.

Viewers will likely learn more about developments at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix from 'Drive to Survive' than from live coverage at the time, as the race lasted just two laps under a safety car following Sunday rain.

That was enough to declare a result with half points, with Verstappen rewarded for pipping breakout star George Russell to pole. In public, Hamilton fumed it was "all a money scenario", and it is unlikely he was any calmer in private.

McLaren one-two after halo saves Hamilton

Between Belgium and Russia was the Italian GP at Monza, with perhaps the scariest moment of the season. Verstappen's battle with Hamilton went a little too far as he rode over the Briton's car, with the Mercedes halo required to keep the driver from serious harm.

"I am so grateful I am still here," said Hamilton after being forced to retire, with Verstappen later following him back into the garage.

The documentary cameras surely could not miss this key moment in the title race, but 'Drive to Survive' has been hugely successful in picking out narratives right down the grid – and this was a notable weekend in the midfield, as McLaren profited with a one-two courtesy of Daniel Ricciardo and Norris.

Hamilton heroics at special Sao Paulo GP

Verstappen arrived in Brazil 19 points clear of Hamilton with four races remaining, and the odds were increasingly stacked against his rival over the course of the weekend at the Sao Paulo GP.

Hamilton served a five-place grid penalty when his qualifying time – the fastest on the grid – was struck off for a DRS infringement, meaning he had to start from 10th even after recovering from 20th to fifth in the sprint race. Verstappen escaped punishment when he forced the Mercedes man wide in the main race, too.

Remarkably, Hamilton still won, with Toto Wolff claiming the various setbacks had "woke up the lion". There would have been no final-day spectacle if not for the Briton's late-season charge, which started in Brazil.

Two weeks of epic drama decide title

The final episode of the season will surely focus on the decider in Abu Dhabi, where race director Michael Masi's application of the rules infuriated Mercedes as Hamilton was denied a record-breaking eighth championship in fairly ridiculous fashion.

Footage from that race should entertain even F1 sceptics, with Wolff likely to play a prominent role having pleaded with Masi not to make the contentious call that cost Hamilton and crowned Verstappen.

But the stakes were only such because the pair had entered that race all square in the standings – only the second time this had ever happened – after a similarly eventful Saudi Arabian GP.

Verstappen could have wrapped up the title with time to spare but lost out to Hamilton after a qualifying crash, two red flags and a succession of safety cars, hinting at the level of incident that was to come the following week.

Kevin Magnussen has returned to Formula One after signing a multi-year deal with Haas for 2022, replacing outgoing Russian driver Nikita Mazepin.

The American-owned team parted ways with Mazepin ahead of the season following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Magnussen is back in F1 having left Haas at the end of the 2020 season after four years with the team. He has also previously driven for McLaren and Renault.

The Dane has since participated in sportscars and IndyCar in the United States, and had been about to join Peugeot's World Endurance Championship squad before the call came to return to Haas.

Magnussen joins up with the team's other driver, Mick Schumacher, son of German great Michael Schumacher.

Mazepin spoke to the media on Wednesday, four days after his sacking was announced by Haas, and he described that ousting as "an injustice".

His father, Dmitry, has close ties to Vladimir Putin, holding face-to-face business talks with the Russian president as recently as January. Dmitry Mazepin is deputy chairman of Uralkali, the potash fertiliser producer that has been a major financial backer of Haas.

Haas also cut the sponsorship link with Uralkali with immediate effect, leading to a demand on Wednesday from the Russian firm for reimbursement of funds it had invested ahead of the new season.

The Russian Grand Prix for 2022 has been cancelled, with F1 announcing this week it has terminated its deal for future races in the country.

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