Formula 1 is back and in style, with a race of fluctuation at Bahrain which saw the Ferrari hype train gain some real momentum for the first time in many years. As Charles Leclerc takes himself and the Scuderia to the top of the standings, fortunately there was a strong dose of rejectful action from the 2022 season’s opening salvo.
Red Bull’s last-minute calamity earns the whole team a worthy Reject of the Race!
Some of the greatest ROTR winners through the ages have been those who have stolen a clear and easy win from the clutches of another candidate. That other candidate was McLaren, who showed up to testing strong, yet struggled to clear Q1 in the hands of their best driver on Saturday. Both Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo struggled all weekend, both even taking turns at running plumb dead last on Sunday. The age-old worrying talk of “unsure” and “unknown” causes for the car’s issues made us think it was 2017 all over again. A team which snapped a nine-year winless streak in 2021 are now, unlike their old rival Ferrari, sitting firmly near the back of the grid.
McLaren just don’t seem to handle regulation changes very well at all. 2009, 2014, and 2017 were all reconstruction periods, and in all cases brought unsatisfactory results for a team used to winning championships. Following the championship hype after the Barcelona test, in actuality it seems they are going to be fighting for scraps for the near future at the very least. A sorry state of affairs at Woking in 2022.
What in truth saved McLaren from earning a deserved ROTR win was their reliability. While both Norris and Ricciardo took turns running in last place, at least they saw the chequered flag. Their peers up at the front did not.
While Red Bull have brought a very strong package to the new season, once again their overconfidence has led to a fall. Christian Horner and co. were shocked that pole was taken by Ferrari instead, and although they were confident for Sunday, the race simply wasn’t going to be theirs. Leclerc controlled the race up front, held Verstappen off valiantly with some smart driving. The defending world champion got more and more desperate in his overtaking attempts as it became obvious that Leclerc wasn’t going to be denied a Bahrain GP victory a second time. Having obliterated his tyres, the Dutchman seemingly settled for 2nd place, with teammate Sergio Pérez 4th.
The middle third of the race proved mostly dull and eventless until Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri decided to emulate a barbecue, bringing out a painfully protracted safety car stint. As the fields trundled around, Verstappen started to complain of steering trouble and engine problems. Pérez also reported that all was not well with his RB18. With Gasly’s engine seeming the natural cause of his retirement, alarm bells went off in the pitlane.
In the final few green-flag laps, the issues progressively worsened until both RB18s suffered humiliating failures and a 30-point loss within sight of the chequered flag. Max’s car gave up, forcing him to retire in the pits; Pérez didn’t have such luck when his car seized up at turn 1 on the final lap, allowing Lewis Hamilton to once again be the benefactor, and pick up a podium after a lacklustre weekend for the Mercedes team.
Between them and McLaren, the poor weekends of the two titans overshadowed what was an equally dreadful weekend from the Aston Martin team. Their star driver Sebastian Vettel missed the opening round due to COVID-19, with predictable supersub Nico Hulkenberg taking his place. Much like McLaren, Aston Martin are a team which has seen a very quick fall from grace since the glory days of “Pink Mercedes” less than 18 months ago. With a Q1 exit and a pair of drivers fighting to escape last place, they escaped the voting nods only by lack of a singular embarrassing event that would put the rejectful cherry on the cake and seal their fate.
After an unexpected comeback, Kevin Magnussen takes Haas to unbelievable heights and wins Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race in Bahrain!
The return of Kevin Magnussen to the Haas team has been a serendipitous moment. They had to drag their heels through the mud in 2021 as they prepared for the new regulations and a proper shot at this coming season. Just when it seemed their pace was improving, the conflict in Ukraine split them from their title sponsor Uralkali and lost them their pay driver. While Nikita Mazepin likely won’t be missed by many, the loss of personnel and financial stability will likely have a long-term hit on the whole team for the foreseeable future.
It was therefore quite the treat for the team and the Formula 1 fans at home to see Haas do so well in Bahrain. Magnussen, who was offered a seat cap-in-hand, returned to his old team and immediately showed what the paddock had been missing in his absence. Saturday saw him get to Q3 and outqualify a Mercedes on merit. With a few dramatic events along the way, he managed to keep himself in the position of “best of the rest”, and capitalised upon Red Bull’s woes to take 5th at the chequered flag. After such a topsy-turvy few weeks, it was a great feel-good story to see the Haas team score their first points in a year and a half, and a points haul not bettered since the halcyon days of 2018. And it was thanks to Magnussen that this happened. Perhaps, with a car funded by a pay driver but driven by a veteran, Haas may just be ok. And third in the championship doesn’t sound so bad either…
Other options for this award included Valtteri Bottas. The Finn took his new Alfa Romeo to Q3 after that team too had experienced a rough 2021. Qualifying on the same row as his old teammate Lewis Hamilton, not even a poor first lap could stop Valtteri from keeping his cool and settling into the job, grabbing sixth place to boot. His team in general, who have suffered so much trouble since 2020 and in early testing, contend for this award if just for the unexpected nature of their speed at the opening round.
Finally, a word for Guanyu Zhou, the only rookie in 2022. Like many rookies in recent seasons, he was not highly rated in terms of pace, lacking a stellar junior series record. Fans of Antonio Giovinazzi (if they exist) decried the addition of yet another pay driver to a tightly-packed grid. However, Zhou had a clean race all round, rewarded with a point on debut after Red Bull’s humiliating double failure, and there was nothing to complain about his performance. A good job all round.
|REJECT OF THE RACE||INFINITE IMPROBABILITY DRIVE OF THE RACE|
|Red Bull||9 (56%)||Kevin Magnussen||14 (82%)|
|McLaren||7 (44%)||Alfa Romeo||2 (12%)|
|Aston Martin||0 (0%)||Guanyu Zhou||1 (6%)|
|Valtteri Bottas||0 (0%)|
|Number of votes: 16||Number of votes: 17|
Disclaimer: The ROTR and IIDOTR awards are purely for fun purposes.
The IIDOTR is a democratically-decided award, based on the assumption that, at any moment in time, there is a non-zero probability that even the slowest, most inexperienced and least reliable of underdogs might win the race. That under every rock, there might be a gold nugget. This is the award for that first podium that we all celebrate, for the overtake no-one was expecting, for the underdog’s first win. This is the award, in short, for the driver or team that makes you go “Woah! Where did THAT come from?!”.
The ROTR is a medal of dishonour that celebrates the most noteworthy failure of a Grand Prix weekend, based on expectations heading into the weekend and general performance. That one brainfade, the silliest mistake or the most patent nonsense going on, all that is what being the ROTR is all about.