Five lessons learned from the first five races of this F1 season

The new era of Formula 1 is in full swing and the sport as we know it has been profoundly changed.

While world champion Max Verstappen is still a contender, he has a new championship rival and the nearly decade-long dominance of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes has come to a halt.

Here are five lessons learned from the first five races…

Ferrari is finally in the fight

Five lessons from F1: Max Verstappen behind Charles Leclerc during the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on March 20, 2022 in Bahrain. Photo: ANP via Getty Images

First or last, Ferrari is F1’s greatest team. Scarlet red cars are synonymous with sport and always have to fight at the front.

Except that for the past two seasons, they hadn’t done anything else. A dreadful 2020 hasn’t been bettered by a decent 2021, although the sprouts of the recovery are there to see it all.

We were constantly reminded by the team to try them on 2022, with the sport’s new regulations giving the team a chance to turn things around.

We are only five races away, but the signs for the fallen giants are more than promising.

Race winner Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari celebrates on the podium during the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit on March 20, 2022 in Bahrain, Bahrain. Photo: Lars Baron/Getty Images

All signs point to a title battle between the Italians and Red Bull; not like we saw in 17 and 18 when their early season surges were quickly halted by Mercedes.

More like the last time they won a title – the 2008 Constructors’ World Championship or Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 drivers success. It’s been a long time.

The team had an advantage in the development stakes and so far they have shown it. Ferrari is currently leading both championships.

In Charles Leclerc, they have a world champion waiting. His prophecy could be fulfilled sooner than anyone could have guessed just a few months ago.

Verstappen finally has a winger

Five lessons from the F1 season
Five lessons from F1: Second-placed Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrate on the podium during the Emilia-Romagna F1 Grand Prix at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on April 24, 2022 in Imola, Italy. Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The real Sergio Perez rose at Red Bull Racing.

Baffling without training for next season at the time of writing, Perez has reached a competitive level in the squad that none of his predecessors could.

Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon tried unsuccessfully to fill the void left by Daniel Ricciardo after his departure in 2018. Both failed.

Things were also tough early on for Perez – his obvious Sunday strengths often negated by a shortage of one-lap pace on Saturday.

Five lessons from F1: Sergio Perez’s first pole position in Jeddah was the most impressive lap of the year. Photo: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

But a series of stellar commands towards the end of the campaign and his defensive masterclass against Lewis Hamilton who – as his teammate noted – won the Verstappen title, were signs of a settled driver.

Too often overlooked in his career, Perez would have known the rule changes offered an ideal chance to close the gap to the champion.

That’s exactly what the Mexican did. His first pole position in Jeddah was the most impressive lap of the year. If he didn’t win the Grand Prix, it was only by misfortune.

Add to that his last-lap failure in the season opener and third-placed Perez could be much better off in the standings. After fighting one-handed for so long, Verstappen finally has his wingman.

The machine is more powerful than the man

Five lessons from the F1 season
Five F1 Lessons: Britain’s Lewis Hamilton driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W13 during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah Corniche Circuit. Photo: Eric Alonso/Getty Images

Fernando Alonso’s “Welcome to F1” joke to Lewis Hamilton carried as much substance as sass.

Alonso – despite winning a few world titles – has made a career out of joining the wrong teams at the wrong time. His talent deserves more championships, but F1 doesn’t work that way.

Hamilton is just finding out. As great a driver as the Briton is, his career choices are the opposite of that of his former teammate Alonso.

As McLaren came close to floundering, Hamilton took a bold step towards Mercedes which coincided with the start of a new regulatory era and the emergence of the most dominant team in the history of the sport.

Five lessons from the F1 season
Five lessons from F1: Just as a new era helped him back then, the changes of 2022 have hampered him and Hamilton is discovering what it’s like to be in the mix with others. Photo: Clive Rose – Formula 1/Formule 1 via Getty Images

Just as a new era helped him then, the changes of 2022 hampered him and Hamilton is finding out what it’s like to be in the mix with others.

The new phenomenon of ‘porpoising’ – bouncing down the straights thanks to aerodynamics – stopped the world’s best team in its tracks.

A title charge seems unlikely. Hamilton has not lost talent but he is losing patience.

But as is the case in this sport, talent will not determine much; whether fighting at the front or the back of the grid.

Schumacher is in trouble

Five lessons from F1: Mick Schumacher climbs out of his car after crashing during the F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia at Jeddah’s Corniche circuit. Photo: Bryn Lennon – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

As for the first seasons in F1, Schumacher’s was strangely a success. The car at his disposal was anything but, but the manner in which he demolished teammate Nikita Mazepin was praised at the time.

The problem is that Mazepin turned out to be a remarkably low bar. The racing driver was reduced to a meme at the end of his stint in the sport.

A rookie plus, Schumacher is bearing the brunt of the pressure in his second season and he has shown with untimely crashes. Veteran team-mate Kevin Magnussen has largely outperformed Schumacher so far, and the Dane has had a year out of the sport.

Now that Haas is scoring points, Schumacher must weigh his weight. It is suspected that the first top 10 will be a monkey on the back. The pressure can be all-consuming – which is why he used to enter events under his mother’s maiden name.

New F1 cars a step in the right direction

Charles Leclerc
Five lessons from F1: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving (16) the Ferrari F1-75 leads Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB18. Photo: Bryn Lennon – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

The main objective of F1’s dramatic regulatory changes was to improve its most important aspect: racing.

From what we have seen, things are moving in the right direction.

Cars can now follow each other with much greater ease, allowing drivers to fight for lost positions as Leclerc and Verstappen showed in their Bahrain and Jeddah thrillers.

The sprint race at Imola was a major improvement on the DRS train-athons we have attended three times in 2021. More of the same please.

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