he first day of official timed action at the Bahrain Grand Prix is in the books, and Formula 1 is finally getting some answers about the real competitive picture for the season ahead.

The answers are good for Max Verstappen and in particular Ferrari. The reigning champion led the way at the end of the all-important second practice session, the only representative hour of running before qualifying, but there almost nothing to split him from the pursuing Ferrari drivers.

The answers were undoubtedly bad for Mercedes. The team must be sick of saying, ‘I told you so’ this week, but it really did tell us not to expect much from the car in Bahrain, and not much is exactly what it delivered.

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The hot and humid Indonesian Grand Prix will test riders and bikes to their limits in just the second round of the MotoGP season, but Jack Miller has a secret weapon inside his leathers.

He’s from Townsville.

The forecast for Mandalika all weekend is for 30 degrees and around 80 per cent humidity, and there’s a permanent risk of thunderstorms throughout. But that’s no big deal for Queenslander Miller.

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Sequels are rarely as good as originals, but in 2022 Formula 1 thinks it might be onto something special.

It’s been almost 100 days since the spectacular but controversial season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton started the race tied on points after 21 rounds of epic racing, but Verstappen emerged a first-time champion after overtaking Hamilton for the lead on the final lap of the race.

Could it possibly get any better than that?

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You would never have believed this time last year that we’d be talking about a potential derailment of Daniel Ricciardo’s career.

Just 12 months ago Ricciardo was suiting up for his first race as a McLaren driver. He’d spent two years at Renault, where his podium-getting performances in lacklustre machinery burnished his reputation to new heights, and he was starting at Woking as one of the grid’s most highly-rated drivers.

He’d been brought to McLaren to lead the team into its next title-winning era. A proven race winner, he’d get the most from the car and help direct development under new rules.

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MotoGP will spend the weekend at an idyllic Lombok resort town, but the first Indonesian Grand Prix in 25 years will be anything but relaxing.

MotoGP doesn’t race around street circuits, but the designers of this brand-new track have penned a metropolitan-style layout to test riders in what will be a unique challenge.

The sport arrives in South-East Asia with a new title leader, Enea Bastianini, but the young Italian will have his work cut out from him to hold his advantage on a circuit that will advantage the Japanese bikes over the grunt of his Ducati.

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It’s one thing to make it to Formula 1, but it’s another thing entirely to stay there.

That’ll be the truism ringing in the ears of F1’s nine uncontracted drivers in 2022, whose first job will be to ensure ongoing gainful employment into 2023 and beyond.

You’ve got to be in it to win it, and with almost half the grid’s seats up for grabs, the 2022–23 silly season has a great deal of potential to be very silly indeed.

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For the last two years MotoGP had been living in a fundamentally Marc Márquez-free universe in which riders who aren’t the 29-year-old Spaniard have been free to carve up the premier-class championship for themselves.

Your perspective on these two years will likely vary wildly depending on why you watch MotoGP and which riders you’re a fan of.

But if you’re Honda boss Alberto Puig, they’re an aberration.

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Offering Aussie Formula 2 champion Oscar Piastri to McLaren as a reserve driver was a sign of goodwill from his Alpine Formula 1 team ahead of an uncertain future on the sidelines, according to Sky Sports F1 pundit Ted Kravitz.

Alpine announced during the final three days of testing that it would offer its rising star to McLaren in the event either Lando Norris or Daniel Ricciardo were unable to compete and if existing reserves Nyck de Vries, Stoffel Vandoorne and Paul di Resta were unavailable.

The announcement was unrelated to Ricciardo’s COVID diagnosis, and the McLaren driver is expected to be in the car for this weekend’s first race.

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If Formula 1 awarded points based on how strenuously a team denies it has a fast car, Mercedes would already be well on the way to the 2022 championship.

It’s Mercedes’s great unheralded strength. More than building championship-winning machines, the team from Brackley is expert at insisting that it’s not the favourite ahead of the first race.

Let’s revisit some of Hamilton’s preseason appraisals of years past.

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The 2021 season must feel like a distant memory for reigning champion Fabio Quartararo.

It’s been less than five months since the 22-year-old made himself France’s first motorcycle world champion — less than five months since El Diablo flossed with a giant CGI devil after clinching the title in Misano.

But those heady times must’ve felt like a lifetime away as he crossed the line ninth and more than 10 seconds behind Qatar Grand Prix winner Enea Bastianini.

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The Formula 1 pre-season closed in Bahrain on Saturday night, and through the haze of testing uncertainty came one seemingly irrefutable fact: Red Bull Racing is the team to beat.

It’s notoriously difficult to deduce an accurate competitive order from pre-season testing times. It’s impossible to know for certain fuel levels and engine modes, and with lap times being set at different times of day, when the track is in different conditions, no two laps can be directly comparable.

But after six days of testing at two different tracks we can begin to sketch the basic outline of the field ahead of next weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, and some undoubted winners and losers are starting to take shape.

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The first of the final three days of F1 testing is in the books, but all anyone wants to talk about is Mercedes.

The Silver Arrows unveiled a dramatically updated package in the Bahrain pit lane, impressing and stoking controversy in equal measure in what could be the sport’s first flashpoint of the year.

Further down the pitlane, Italy’s two teams performed strongly, with Pierre Gasly setting the day’s fastest time, while Valtteri Bottas’s new team, Alfa Romeo, finally got a clean day of running in the books after a difficult first test in Spain.

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When Kevin Magnussen bowed out of Formula 1 at the end of 2020, he seemed almost happy to be done with the sport.

The season had delivered him a career-worst result of a solitary point, though the paltry return wasn’t for a lack of trying. Haas was in steep decline and struggling to keep its head above water, and Magnussen and teammate Romain Grosjean extracted just one points finish each over 17 rounds.

In the end Haas dismissed both its drivers in favour of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, two rookies who could inject funding into the team.

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Formula 1 closes its pre-season campaign this weekend, with three days of testing beginning Thursday (tonight) at the Bahrain International Circuit.

Just 30 hours of crucial track time remains before the first round of the season, and while some teams will be aiming to build on decent foundations laid during February testing, several others are already playing catch-up thanks to reliability problems.

Once the sun sets in Sakhir on Saturday night we’ll have a rough understanding of the competitive order, but with the first race taking place at this same venue, expect some teams to keep at least a card or two close to their chests for another week.

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Nikita Mazepin says he’s lost “trust” in his former Haas Formula 1 team after it sacked him without warning in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The axed star, who was replaced by former Haas driver Kevin Magnussen, also said he intends to set up a foundation to help Russian athletes banned from international competition due to the war.

Nikita and his father, Dmitry Mazepin, were subsequently specifically named and added to a European Union sanctions blacklist overnight owing to their close ties to Vladimir Putin.

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For a driver with 22 starts, no points and a highest finish of 14th to his name, Nikita Mazepin has attracted an extraordinary amount of attention in his single year in Formula 1.

And a single year is almost certainly all he’s likely to get after he was summarily sacked by Haas on Saturday.

Sanctions levied against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine forced the issue, and a growing number of national motorsport bodies, including Motorsport Australia, have moved to ban Russian licence-holders.

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MotoGP was at its unpredictable best in its first weekend back for 2022, with Enea Bastianini opening the season with an emotional maiden victory with the independent Gresini team.

The sophomore rider was a rare bright spot for Ducati on an unexpectedly difficult weekend for the Italian manufacturer — indeed expectations throughout the field bore little resemblance to the outcome of the race in Doha, with the form guide blown wide open.

Perhaps the sole exception was Fabio Quartararo, who would be taking no pleasure in discovering his dire pre-season predictions for Yamaha’s stinking form have proved true.

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The 2022 Supercars championship got off to a chaotic start in Sydney, where debilitating humidity and intermittent rain challenged drivers on their first weekend back in the cockpit.

So tricky were conditions that even reigning champion Shane van Gisbergen wasn’t immune, with a pair of high-profile Sunday offs derailing a hitherto imposing weekend.

These are the key talking points from a sometimes wet and almost always wild weekend in Sydney.

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