Formula 1 is unofficially back in action as the teams took to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for a group shakedown.
Great anticipation surrounds the 2022 campaign, when this new era of Formula 1 will take shape on the track headlined by new-look cars and the switch to 18-inch Pirelli tyres.
Such was the more restrictive nature of these new regulations there were fears of little variation between the cars, but that has certainly not proven to be the case.
Of course, while the design philosophies may have differed, they all share the common goal of needing to be fast, which is where Barcelona comes in as the teams put their ideas into on-track action for the first time.
So, let’s take a run through the action on day one of three at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya…
Before the action began on the track, there was some major business in the pits to attend to at Red Bull. The team had used a show car for their RB18 launch to shield its secrets, but now they had no choice but to put it all on show.
Red Bull have gone in a different direction to the rest of the grid with their sidepods, which feature a striking undercut as well as a narrow inlet.
They also opted for a pull-rod suspension, while the rear is a push-rod, following McLaren’s risk in that department.
Before Verstappen had even hit the track though, his 2021 title rival Lewis Hamilton was seen in the pit lane getting an eyeful of the RB18 – potentially the Mercedes driver’s main rival again in 2022.
Once Verstappen was out on the circuit, we saw his RB18 with the number ‘1’ proudly displayed, referencing his 2021 Drivers’ title success.
As for the first driver to hit the track, that was McLaren’s Lando Norris.
The new colour scheme of ‘Fluro Papaya’, ‘New Blue’ and black was popping. Now the MCL36 just needs to deliver the results following a strong campaign for McLaren in 2021 which included their one-two finish at Monza.
Alfa Romeo are the only team yet to launch their 2022 challenger, the C42, so the camo livery came out again as Robert Kubica looked to ghost his way around the track.
For much of the session he was exactly that though, completing only four laps in the opening hour before reappearing for the final 20 minutes, Alfa Romeo explaining “small issues” were hampering their morning.
After Norris, it was his compatriot George Russell who took to the track in the Mercedes W13.
Russell is without doubt one of the drivers under the greatest scrutiny this season as he steps up to the reigning eight-time Constructors’ title-winning team, where he partners seven-time former Drivers’ World Champion Hamilton.
Mercedes have reverted to their iconic silver this season, but have retained the black within their livery that has dominated for the past two campaigns.
Having won the Constructors’ title for eight seasons in a row, Mercedes are without doubt favourites to extend that streak in this new F1 era.
But soon after Russell joined the track, he was followed by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, another team very much possessing victory and title aspirations this season.
It was the perfect start as Leclerc set the pace in the morning session with a 1:20.165 on the C3 tyres. Ferrari have gone with a brave and quite frankly beautiful design for their F1-75, which they hope will continue to pay off as the pace ramps up.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the F1-75 is those bathtub-esque sidepods.
Norris was P2, three-tenths down on Leclerc, while Russell ended the morning P3.
Of course, these new regulations have been designed to allow cars to follow more closely for longer without losing as much performance, so on the opening morning teams were already looking to put that goal to the test.
Russell gave it a go behind his former Williams team-mate Nicholas Latifi, before Leclerc turned the tables and did the same to the Mercedes man.
Verstappen also pulled overtakes on Haas’ Nikita Mazepin and Latifi into Turn 1.
Fernando Alonso too was getting in on the action behind the wheel of his Alpine A522 as he got a good look at the rear of Norris’ MCL36.
Sebastian Vettel pumped in 52 laps in his Aston Martin AMR22, the first team to unveil their ‘real’ challenger ahead of the 2022 campaign, characterised by the box inlets on the sidepods, the big undercut, cooling louvres down the sidepods and a high, rather flat front nose.
It had been a difficult morning for Haas, with a cooling leak hampering Nikita Mazepin’s session.
He handed over to Mick Schumacher for the afternoon, but after completing only eight laps he was stuck in the garage due to floor damage. Fortunately, Haas had the VF-22 repaired in time to allow a return to the track with 30 minutes remaining. A total of 24 laps was his final tally.
After propping up the 2021 standings without scoring a single point, Haas will be hoping to move on from these early gremlins to deliver a far improved 2022 campaign.
The VF-22 is the most developed car on the grid, such was their complete bypass of 2021 development to focus on 2022. It is also Haas’ first challenger to fully benefit from their Maranello design office, a car created under their technical director, former Ferrari design chief Simone Resta.
By virtue of Haas finishing 10th and last in the 2021 Constructors’ Championship, it also meant they received the most wind tunnel time of any team.
During Alfa Romeo’s morning running it was Kubica under the camouflage, but the switch was not missed – Valtteri Bottas took over in the C42 for the afternoon session.
But similar to Schumacher, his final lap tally was a lowly 23.
Soon after Bottas had taken to the track, a familiar face followed in the form of the seven-time former World Champion, and his ex-Mercedes team-mate, Lewis Hamilton.
The off-season had featured widespread speculation over Hamilton’s future, but the Mercedes driver remains and has now returned to the track to further confirm his place in Formula 1.
Hamilton completed 50 laps with a best time of 1:20.929 on the C3 tyres, giving him the fifth fastest lap of the day behind his new team-mate Russell in P4.
Refuelled by lunch, Tsunoda’s second-favourite part of the day, he was back to his favourite part of the job as he built on a smooth morning in the AlphaTauri AT03.
He finished with a colossal 121 laps under his belt, the third highest total of the day behind Alonso and Verstappen.
There were early concerns for Norris at the start of his afternoon stint with an apparent power unit issue causing him to stop at the pit exit, where he waited for his mechanics to come to the rescue.
It did not hold him back too much in the end with Norris using the C4 tyres to give himself the fastest time of day one, clocking a 1:19.568, putting him more than half a second clear at the top.
Before Norris had stepped up the tyre range, it had been Carlos Sainz slotting into P2 behind Leclerc to make it a Ferrari one-two.
Although P2 and P3 were their final finishing spots, it was nonetheless a highly productive day for Ferrari with 153 laps completed.
After driving through the pits on his first five laps of the day, Williams’ new recruit Alex Albon then started to record some lap times, ending Wednesday with an identical total to his team-mate Latifi of 66 laps, but six-tenths faster overall on the same C3 compound.
Williams have gone with a unique shape for their FW44 compared to rival teams, with the curvature of the front nose cone standing out in particular.
Verstappen completed an eye-watering 147 laps on day one in Barcelona, the most of any driver, a no-nonsense day when “no nasties” cropped up, as Red Bull team boss Christian Horner put it.
Sergio Perez will take over in the RB18 on Thursday.
Leclerc quickest in day one morning session
Charles Leclerc has set the quickest time of the day one morning session in Barcelona.