Max Verstappen tried to keep his frustration at bay as he overcame a "not nice" start to the Spanish Grand Prix before ultimately recovering to earn a crucial win.

The reigning world champion claimed his third consecutive Formula One victory in Barcelona on Sunday, profiting after title rival Charles Leclerc retired with a technical issue when seemingly on course to win.

Verstappen now holds a six-point lead at the top of the standings, an outcome that did not look likely when the Dutchman dropped from second to fourth after spinning in the early stages, as Leclerc built a huge lead.

The Dutchman also voiced his concerns on team radio as persistent issues with his DRS system hindered his attempts to pass Mercedes' George Russell during a thrilling tussle between the duo.

Verstappen, though, kept his focus and, after some help from team orders, recorded his first win in Spain since 2016, when he took his first-ever F1 victory at the same circuit.

Team-mate Sergio Perez was second in a great result for Red Bull, with Russell taking the final spot on the podium ahead of Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton.

"Of course I went off - I suddenly had a lot of tailwind, so I just lost the rear and went off," Verstappen said about his ninth-lap error.

"Then I was obviously in the train and trying to pass but my DRS was not always working. That made it very tough.

"But we managed use strategy to get ahead again [with three pit stops]. We tried to do our own race and eventually we got the win. So it was a difficult beginning but a good end.

"I just tried to stay focused - of course it is not nice when stuff like that happens - but at the end I am very happy to win and happy for Checo." 

Verstappen insisted his anger on team radio related to his car issues, not at the way Russell was defending his position. 

"It was more frustration because of my DRS," he said. "It is a great result for the team. The behaviour of the car was good on the softs."

As for Russell, third place represented a continuation of his strong start to the F1 season with Mercedes even as the team lacks its normal pace.

The Briton has finished in the top five for all six races so far, with this being his second podium.

"I gave everything I could do to hold Max off," he said. "I would love to say that [that Mercedes are back], I am proud to be standing here [in the top three]. 

"It hurt us a lot but when I had the Red Bull in the mirrors all I was doing was the maximum to keep them behind. It is a lot of points on the board for us and well done to Max."

Next up for the drivers is the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, which will take place on May 29.

Max Verstappen recovered from an early spin to win a dramatic Spanish Grand Prix and take the championship lead after Charles Leclerc retired.

Leclerc looked set to increase his advantage over Verstappen in searing heat at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but the Ferrari driver's race was over when he lost power while leading comfortably on lap 23.

Verstappen had been in the gravel on lap nine and also suffered DRS issues, but the Dutchman led a Red Bull one-two for his third consecutive win to move above Leclerc in the driver standings after Sergio Perez let him through under team orders on lap 49 of 66.

George Russell finished third, with his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton worked his way back through the field to take fifth place behind Carlos Sainz despite suffering a puncture on the first lap.

Leclerc got a good start to retain his lead, but Hamilton's miserable start to the season was summed up when his he made contact with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen - who went into the gravel - at Turn 4 on the opening lap.

Hamilton limped to the pits with a front-left puncture and was told to continue after suggesting over the team radio that he retires from the race, having returned to the track in 19th place.

Sainz was back in 11th after spinning off at Turn 4 on lap seven and Verstappen was in the gravel at the same section of the circuit two laps later, dropping back from second to fourth.

Russell pitted from second place and Verstappen was also called in on lap 14, with Leclerc leading by over nine seconds.

Verstappen was furious as he was hampered by DRS issues attempting to pass Russell, who fended the Dutchman off to keep second place as they went wheel-to-wheel.

It was all going so well for Leclerc until he lost power with a win there for the taking and Perez soon passed Russell on fresher tyres to take the lead after Verstappen pitted for a new set of softs.

Verstappen was out in front on lap 38 after team-mate Perez and Russell pitted for mediums, then a quick stop for the defending champion put him back on track in third place behind his team-mate.

Perez allowed Verstappen to pass him under team orders and there were no further twists in a pulsating race, with a surging Hamilton passing Sainz to finish fourth until a late technical issue caused him to concede the place back.

Mercedes principal Toto Wolff has refused to rule out the team reverting to an older car concept as they continue to trail Red Bull and Ferrari after enduring a poor start to the season.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished fifth and sixth respectively at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix on Sunday as the team's difficult start to the 2022 campaign continued, leading Wolff to declare Mercedes were "in no man's land" as the third-fastest outfit on the grid.

Both drivers have criticised the feel of the team's W13 car after managing just one podium finish apiece this term, with seven-time drivers' champion Hamilton asserting the team were yet to take a "step forward" after a troubled start to the season.

Mercedes' eight-year run of constructors' championships now looks destined to come to an end, with Ferrari possessing a slender lead over Red Bull in the team standings after five races.

Speaking after reigning world champion Max Verstappen claimed victory in Florida, Wolff said a return to the car concept used during pre-season testing at Barcelona could not be ruled out, despite it being "clearly much slower on paper".

However, Wolff said the team's focus had to be on making the current iteration of the car work.

"We need to find out how we can make the current car work predictably for the drivers," he said.

"I wouldn't discount anything. But we need to give all of our people that have produced great race cars in the past the benefit of the doubt and we believe this is the route to go.

"We are faithful to the current concept. We're not looking at the lady next door [to see] if we like it more or not, because it's still good. 

"We need to understand, before we make a decision on another concept – where did this one go wrong? And what is the goodness of the concept and what is the badness of the concept?"

Lewis Hamilton was frustrated to be asked to make the call on whether to pit under a virtual safety car during the Miami Grand Prix. 

It seemed like Hamilton would take advantage of the opportunity to switch onto fresh tyres after Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly collided, as team-mate George Russell did. 

However, Mercedes appeared to dither on whether to pit the seven-time champion, who eventually opted to stay out on the hard compound. 

Hamilton ended up being overtaken by Russell in the closing stages and finished directly behind him in sixth, with the two Ferraris coming between race winner Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. 

The Mercedes driver did not understand why he was left to make the call on whether to pit or not. 

"In that scenario [the virtual safety car], I have no clue where everyone is, so when the team say it's your choice, I don't have the information to make the decision," Hamilton told Sky Sports. 

"That's what your job is, make the decision for me; you've got all the details, I don't. So, that's what you rely on the guys for, but today they gave it to me and I didn't understand it. 

"But anyway, it's just been a bit unfortunate with the safety car, but at least we got points today. We're finishing, reliability is good. I'm excited to at some stage to take a step forward, which we haven't yet." 

Team principal Toto Wolff revealed Mercedes are struggling for morale as the usually dominant team continue to find themselves quite a distance behind Red Bull and Ferrari this season.

"George stayed out a long time, and we were betting on a safety car for him and that materialised from nowhere, but it went against Lewis, who lost a position," said Wolff. 

"At the end of the day, there's no happy or not happy moment at the moment. It's just a bit down. We're third quickest on the road, which is no man's land. This is where we are. 

"We're not as quick in qualifying sometimes, and you have the outliers, and we go back to where we are, which is behind the Red Bulls and Ferrari." 

Russell, who failed to get out of Q2 on Saturday and started 12th, believes Mercedes do have a good car this year but are yet to find a way to get it working well for them.

"It was mixed feelings. Based on [Saturday] it was a good result. We have a fast race car in there, we don't have the key to unlock it. There's more to do," he said. 

"It's frustrating, but I'm sure we'll get there at some point. 

"It's good, when you battle with your team-mate, you show more respect, give more space. I enjoyed it. I think there's good respect between us. I was pushing as hard as I could." 

Max Verstappen has rejected Lewis Hamilton's complaints about Mercedes' W13 car, saying George Russell's early successes with the team show it is "not all horrific".

Verstappen claimed his second victory of the 2022 campaign at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last time out, with Sergio Perez following him home to ensure Red Bull's first one-two since the 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix.

Seven-time champion Hamilton, meanwhile, has struggled since losing the title to Verstappen in the closing seconds of 2021's final race in Abu Dhabi, and was lapped by the Red Bull driver at Imola as he toiled to a 13th-place finish.

On Thursday, Hamilton repeated criticism of his team's car, comparing it to his struggles in the 2009 season when he finished fifth, telling The Race: "There are people that watch and say I've never had a bad car, and I can assure you that I have. 2009's car was very, very far off – the worst car that I've had. This car currently is not far off that experience."

But Hamilton's new team-mate Russell is yet to finish outside the top five since joining Mercedes, which Verstappen says is evidence the team's car is not as bad as Hamilton claims.

The reigning world champion, however, denied that he enjoyed lapping Hamilton in Italy, claiming he was simply focusing on his own race.

"To be honest, it wasn't something I was enjoying at the time," he told the Telegraph ahead of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix. "I was just focused on my race, on getting through the traffic as cleanly as possible and winning. 

"It wasn't like I was saying, 'Oh, I'm lapping Lewis, what an amazing feeling'. I had great battles with Lewis last year. Now he's in a car which is not so great.

"Having said that, of course, George does finish fourth in that car [at Imola]. So, it is not all horrific, right?

"I'd say [Hamilton's] car had quite a bit more pace than the midfield traffic. But yeah, it was hard to pass. I mean also when there was only one dry line and when you don't have, let's say, a top speed advantage anymore. 

"It makes it a lot harder to judge how far Lewis was off George. But clearly the whole weekend George was doing really well." 

Verstappen sits second in the drivers' standings after Red Bull's erratic start to the season, in which the Dutch driver has posted two victories but failed to finish twice. 

Despite out-driving his famous Mercedes team-mate early in the season, George Russell has nothing but praise for seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton, 37, got off to a solid start in Bahrain after qualifying fifth and sneaking onto the podium when both Red Bull cars were retired, but his fourth-placed finish in Australia is sandwiched by crossing the line 10th in Saudi Arabia and a disappointing 13th in Imola.

Meanwhile, Russell has finished no worse than fifth in any race, despite having a best starting position of sixth, both in Australia and Saudi Arabia.

It means Russell occupies fourth position in the driver standings, just 10 points away from Max Verstappen in second, while Hamilton is back in seventh.

Speaking to Sky Sports F1, Russell said he has no doubts about the "inspiring" Hamilton's quality, and his likelihood of returning to form.

"Lewis has clearly got the pace," he said. "He's incredibly fast, and he's showed that so far this year, but it's just been tricky for us as a team to get it done when the time is needed.

"When things have been more stable, Lewis has still been massively fast.

"I know there was a bit of a blip last weekend, but I have no doubt he's going to come back, and the way he's pushing the team and motivating the team is truly inspiring.

"We all want more. He wants more. Nobody is happy with the position we're in currently."

While Russell acknowledged that some of the team's problems have been out of the drivers' hands, he said they are issues he is also having to combat, and that his time at Williams has prepared him to make the most out of difficult situations.

"We are equally struggling," he said. "When the car is so far out of bed and it's not in the right window, it doesn't really feel like a proper racing car to drive.

"Perhaps with my struggles at Williams, with very difficult cars, maybe that's helped in some small regard.

"But Lewis will come back stronger, I have no doubt. He's definitely going to be pushing me all the way.

"I'm not getting comfortable in this position because I know what he's capable of."

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff commended his young star, and stressed his team is determined to provide their drivers with cars they can compete with.

"I'm very impressed with how [Russell has] settled in," he said. "How professionally and analytically he is helps us to assess the situation.

"The combination [of Russell and Hamilton], that's one of the very few highlights I have at the moment on our journey – the two of them work together with no friction. On the contrary, it is very, very productive and positive for the team and I couldn't be happier with the driver line-up.

"We have two of maybe the three best drivers, and they deserve a car and a power unit that makes them fight in the front rather than being lapped. That's not what any of them deserves."

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."

George Russell said the Formula One championship will be decided by results rather than pace after clinching his first podium finish for Mercedes at the Australian Grand Prix.

Russell finished third in Melbourne, with team-mate Lewis Hamilton coming home fourth as the team responded to a disappointing result in Saudi Arabia, where Russell and Hamilton came fifth and 10th respectively. 

Mercedes, who are bidding for a ninth consecutive constructors' championship, have struggled for pace early in the new campaign, but profited from Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz both failing to finish as they picked up valuable points at Albert Park. 

Having earned 65 points in the opening weeks of the season, second-placed Mercedes trail Ferrari by 39 points in the constructors' standings, and Russell highlighted the importance of being able to capitalise on others' mistakes in order to grab vital points.

The 24-year-old also, however, stressed the need for Mercedes to make improvements after team-mate Lewis Hamilton again spoke out regarding problems with the team's W13 car.

"It doesn't matter how fast the car is, if you don't make it to the end then you are not there to pick up the pieces," Russell said.

"We were probably the fifth-fastest team behind McLaren and Alpine yet here we are in third place.

"It is a championship based on results not pace.

"But we know if we want to keep that position, we need to find more performance in the car."

Lewis Hamilton said Mercedes must "leave no stone unturned" in their quest for improvements after he battled to a fourth-place finish at the Australian Grand Prix.

The seven-time world champion has endured a frustrating start to the 2022 campaign, sitting fifth in the drivers' championship standings and repeatedly speaking out on problems with the team's W13 car.

Hamilton batlled to fourth in the third Grand Prix of the season after starting fifth on the grid, with team-mate George Russell claiming his first podium finish for Mercedes in third as Ferrari's Charles Leclerc stormed to victory.

After describing Mercedes' car as "spiteful" in the aftermath of qualifying in Melbourne, Hamilton stressed the need for the team to make improvements in "every single area" if they are to compete with early-season pace-setters Ferrari.

"I will be on Zoom calls with our bosses, really trying to rally them up," he said.

"We have got some improvements that we need to make, and we need everyone's support in doing so.

"It is about making sure we leave no stone unturned, that the hunger is there, and we are maximising every moment.

"I will be chasing the people in the wind tunnel, the aerodynamic guys, and just looking at every single area.

"There is performance to be gained and we need it now, not in two or three races. I have got to keep that encouragement and energy high."

Mercedes are bidding for a ninth consecutive constructors' championship, but trail Ferrari by 39 points in the 2022 standings after three races.

While calling for improvements across the board and noting that the gap to Ferrari is "pretty big", Hamilton stressed the need for the team to remain upbeat and highlighted that there are many races to come.

"I prefer to stay optimistic," he added. "There are 20 races to go. 

"I am really hoping we can get in the fight, but with every bit of improvement we make so will Red Bull and Ferrari. 

"It is not going to be easy. The gap is pretty big right now, but there is a long way to go."

Russell, meanwhile, is second in the drivers' standings after following up his fourth and fifth-place finishes in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia with an impressive showing at Albert Park, and Hamilton was keen to praise the 24-year-old for his performances since making the switch from Williams.

"It is incredible," Hamilton said of the start Russell has made to his Mercedes career.

"He has been so solid. He is really grafting away and is doing an amazing job."

The next date in the Formula One calendar will see Hamilton bid for a repeat of his 2020 triumph at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, after he finished second to Max Verstappen at Imola last year.

Charles Leclerc saluted his team's work across the Australian Grand Prix, as the Ferrari driver claimed his second win of the 2022 Formula One season in Melbourne.

The Monegasque led from pole throughout to claim victory in the third race of the year, driving a masterfully composed race out in front at Albert Park.

With presumptive title rival Max Verstappen forced into a DNF behind him with another mechanical failure, Leclerc has now opened up a 46-point gap on the reigning world champion.

Even before then, Leclerc had looked comfortable in the lead, and he was quick to pay tribute to his crew back in the Ferrari garage for helping him take his game up a level.

"It's the first win where we have controlled the gap," he stated. "Honestly, what a car today. Of course, I did a good job all weekend, but it was not possible without the car.

"Especially in the race pace, we were extremely strong. [The] tyres felt great - from the first lap to the last lap, we were managing the tyres extremely well. I am just so happy."

Leclerc was forced to navigate both physical and virtual safety car restarts throughout, and almost lost his place to Verstappen when the former came in midway through the race.

"It was very difficult, especially the safety car restart," he added. "I thought it was going to be difficult to keep the first position, but then we managed to do so.

"We are only in the third race, so it is difficult to think about the championship, but we have a very strong car, a very reliable car.

"That makes me smile after the last two years, which have been difficult for the team and myself, so it is great to be back in this position."

Red Bull's Sergio Perez came home second to capitalise on team-mate Verstappen's latest car woes, and the Mexican was muted on the missed chance to lock out the rest of the podium.

"That race was a bit tricky," he added. "We were a bit unlucky losing positions with the safety cars which we recovered later. It would've been great to have a double podium, but we lost Max."

Mercedes' George Russell was the biggest beneficiary of both the safety car and Verstappen's withdrawal, with the Briton edging team-mate Lewis Hamilton for his first podium of the year.

"We have got to be in it to win it and capitalise on others' misfortune," he added. "Obviously we got lucky today twice, but you have got to take it.

"We are never to give up. We have got to keep fighting. This weekend we were a long way behind our rivals but here we are standing on the podium."

George Russell believes Mercedes have the potential pace to challenge Ferrari and Red Bull for race wins this season, but not at this weekend's Australian Grand Prix.

Russell finished a lowly 11th in Friday's second practice session in Melbourne, adding further anguish to what has been a challenging opening to the 2022 Formula One season.

He and Mercedes team-mate, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, only claimed respective fourth and third place finishes at the season opener in Bahrain after Red Bull had to retire both cars.

Finishes of fifth and 10th for Russell and Hamilton respectively in Saudi Arabia provided a clearer reflection of where the once-dominant Mercedes team is in the 2022 pecking order, amid new regulations.

"We do believe there is a solution and we do believe there's a lot of lap time on the table once we optimise that," Russell said.

"It's more optimism and excitement. We're not here scratching our heads, not understanding why we're off the pace. We absolutely know why we're off the pace and we know what we need to work on to improve that.

"We're a long way behind Ferrari and Red Bull. It's going to take time and we just have to be disciplined and patient because we are so far behind and because of the cost cap, we can't afford just to throw things at it and trial and error at race weekends."

The extra week between the Saudi Arabian and Australian Grands Prix has not rectified the extreme porpoising issues Mercedes cars have experienced at high speeds so far, relative to other teams.

A higher downforce setup would significantly impact the car's speed and performance, meaning a balance must be struck, something rival teams have been quicker in achieving.

Russell, who signed for Mercedes upon the expectation he would be challenging for race wins and ultimately the driver's title, believes the team must be patient.

"We need to trust the process and bring the upgrades when we have total faith and confidence they will do as we expect," he said. "And that will be a number of races before we start seeing that."

Lewis Hamilton is eager to get his teeth stuck into another Formula One title challenge as soon as possible, but his Mercedes continues to struggle in 2022.

New regulations in F1 this season, introduced to encourage "closer racing", have already shaken up the grid – to Hamilton's detriment.

Charles Leclerc led a Ferrari one-two at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, while Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez would both have finished ahead of Hamilton, too, had Red Bull not suffered a dramatic double retirement.

The seven-time champion has been honest enough to acknowledge his W13 car lacks the pace of its rivals, but that does not mean he is happy to take a back seat.

"I don't currently feel too stressed, but I want to get in the fight as soon as possible," Hamilton said ahead of FP1 at the Saudi Arabian GP on Friday.

"The last race was an amazing feeling for us, given where we thought we were going to be, to come out with the result that we did.

"But we can't rely every weekend on that to happen, so we need to move fast, and move forward as fast as we can."

Hamilton would likely have been frustrated then by his performance in the first practice session later in the day, running in an alarming ninth as Leclerc and Ferrari again set the pace.

While Red Bull are confident they have mastered the issues that prompted their Bahrain DNFs, there is little evidence so far of Mercedes getting to grips with the porpoising that has caused Hamilton such problems.

Mercedes team-mate George Russell was down in 15th on Friday, but he at least appears a little more patient in his first year with the team.

"In Formula One, things change incredibly quickly," Russell said. "We are very fortunate that the calendar is not very dense at the start of this season, and even if it's a couple of months, we're only six or seven races down out of a 23-race season.

"If you come out of the blocks incredibly fast after the summer break, even as Mercedes and Lewis did last year, you're still in with a shot.

"So, we need to be in almost damage limitation mode at the moment, pick up the pieces where there's an opportunity, and don't throw away unnecessary points."

Mercedes have not failed to take either a pole position or race win through two grands prix of a season since 2013.

Meanwhile, Russell could become the second Silver Arrows driver – after Michael Schumacher in 2010 – to complete three races without reaching the podium, having deputised for Hamilton once while with Williams.

The new Formula One season is only a single race old, but Charles Leclerc has already matched the achievement of one title-winning former Ferrari star.

Now, ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Leclerc is out to try to repeat a Michael Schumacher feat and set a championship charge in motion.

The Monegasque driver led a Ferrari one-two in Bahrain last week, holding off Max Verstappen before the defending champion's mechanical woes ensured Carlos Sainz joined his team-mate on the top two steps of the podium.

It was the Scuderia's first race win since the 2019 Singapore GP, another one-two when Leclerc finished second to Sebastian Vettel.

The Leclerc-Sainz one-two was Ferrari's 85th in F1 – a record – and signalled a return to form, coming at the end of a weekend they had dominated, with the race winner also qualifying fastest to start from pole position.

Heading into the rest of the season, that should certainly provide Leclerc with encouragement, given the last Scuderia driver to start the season with a win from pole was Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. That was the most recent season in which a Ferrari driver won the title.

Indeed, should Leclerc convert pole again in Saudi Arabia, he would become the first Ferrari man to do so in the first two races of a campaign since Schumacher in his final title-winning season in 2004.

Leclerc and Sainz each discussed their title ambitions following Bahrain, so last week's runner-up will hope to go with his colleague again.

Ferrari have never had a one-two in each of the first two grands prix of a season, while Raikkonen and Felipe Massa in 2008 were their last duo to achieve such a result in consecutive races at any stage of the year.

Meanwhile, if Leclerc hopes to follow in Schumacher's footsteps, Mercedes rival George Russell does not.

Schumacher in 2010, then in the twilight of his legendary career after coming out of retirement, was the only Silver Arrows driver to this point fail to make the podium in his first three races with the team.

A pit-stop error and a puncture saw Russell finish his Mercedes debut in ninth when deputising for Lewis Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir GP, while he was fourth behind his new team-mate last week.

The Red Bull woe that boosted Ferrari also rescued that three-four result for Mercedes, but team principal Toto Wolff said: "It's too early to look at the championship as it stands. If you look at the pecking order today, it seems a long shot to even be in contention for any of the championships.

"If I look at [Bahrain] as a single race weekend, we probably scored the maximum of points that we could have. And we need to take it from there.

"Every weekend counts and, at the moment, it's singular events because, realistically, when you're third on the road, you can't think about winning it."

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.

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