F1: Who are the title favourites and what changes have been made for 2022?

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F1: Who Are The Title Favourites And What Changes Have Been Made For 2022? F1: Who Are The Title Favourites And What Changes Have Been Made For 2022?
Max Verstappen is looking to defend his crown while Lewis Hamilton is bidding for a record-breaking eighth world title. Photo: PA Images
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By Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent

The new Formula One season begins in Bahrain on Sunday with Lewis Hamilton bidding to win an unprecedented eighth world championship.

Here, the PA news agency looks at seven key questions heading into the 2022 campaign.

Is Hamilton the favourite to win the title?

As it stands, no. On the concluding day of last week’s final test in Bahrain, the 37-year-old made the gloomy prediction that his Mercedes team will not be in a position to challenge for wins, let alone the championship.

Max Verstappen, defending the contentious title he won in Abu Dhabi last December, and his Red Bull team appear in good shape – the Dutchman is the championship favourite with the bookmakers – while to many observers, Ferrari look to have the best all-round machine.

Hasn’t Hamilton said this before?

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Lewis Hamilton fears his Mercedes team are off the pace (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Yes. For the past few years both Hamilton and Mercedes have downplayed their chances in pre-season. However, the Silver Arrows have won eight constructors’ crowns in a row – a record in Formula One – and Hamilton has taken six of the last eight drivers’ titles.

But, on the evidence of testing in Barcelona and Bahrain, the Silver Arrows appear to be struggling to get on top of the sport’s biggest technical overhaul in a generation, and Hamilton’s admission that they do not have a race-winning machine is an alarming one when taken at face value.

Why are the cars different this year?

Max Verstappen leads Carlos Sainz in testing ahead of the new season (Bradley Collyer/PA)

F1 motorsport boss Ross Brawn has spearheaded a radical revamp of the sport’s rulebook in a bid to improve the racing. It is hoped that the introduction of larger 18-inch wheels, a simpler front and rear wing design, and a revamp of the car’s floor, will make it easier for one driver to follow another.

But fresh off the back of last year’s superb championship fight between Hamilton and Verstappen, Brawn’s position will surely be under scrutiny if one team races out of the blocks with a clear advantage and a predictable, one-sided campaign ensues.

What happened after Abu Dhabi?

Michael Masi was removed from his post as FIA race director (David Davies/PA)

Last December’s season finale was arguably the most contentious F1 race ever. Michael Masi, the Australian whose handling of a late safety car period afforded Verstappen the chance to beat Hamilton to the title, lost his job as race director.

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Masi has been replaced by Portuguese Eduardo Freitas and German Niels Wittich. Both men come from outside of F1 and will alternate the role. Herbie Blash, the 73-year-old former deputy to Charlie Whiting returns as a senior adviser in a major shake-up of how the sport is refereed.

Hamilton, who said the race in Abu Dhabi was manipulated, toyed with his future but is back for a 16th season.

What else has happened during the winter break?

Lando Norris recently signed a new McLaren deal (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Verstappen was rewarded for winning his maiden world championship with an extraordinary five-year contract extension thought to be worth £200 million (€181 million). The 24-year-old Dutchman will remain with Red Bull until at least the end of 2028.

British driver Lando Norris, 22, also agreed terms on a bumper new deal – believed to be worth up to £20 million-per-year – which will see him stay at McLaren until 2025.

The Russian Grand Prix has been axed for this year, and the foreseeable future, following the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian driver Nikita Mazepin was also dropped by American-owned team Haas. He has since been replaced by Kevin Magnussen.

What about the other driver changes?

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George Russell joins Hamilton at Mercedes in a tantalising, and potentially explosive, all-British driver line-up, with Valtteri Bottas moving to Alfa Romeo.

Bottas is joined by Zhou Guanyu, the first Chinese driver in F1. London-born Alex Albon is also back on the grid a year after he was axed by Red Bull. Albon takes Russell’s vacant seat at Williams.

How does the calendar look?

Following two Covid disturbed campaigns, F1 bosses are hopeful of completing a record-breaking 23-round campaign in nine months.

The Australian, Canadian, Japanese and Singapore Grands Prix all return and Miami makes its debut.

The axed Russian GP is set to be replaced by a race in the Middle East, probably Qatar, while the British Grand Prix will be on July 3rd, avoiding a direct clash with the Wimbledon men’s singles final (July 10th) and golf’s Open Championship, which concludes on July 17th. Three sprint races are also due to take place in Imola, Austria and Brazil.

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