Ready, Set, Repeat?

Every Formula 1 team should like its chances before the first race of the season. The cars don’t have a scratch. The strategy feels right. Nothing has gone terribly wrong — yet. There is, for this one brief moment in time, only upside and hope.

Most of the things that can send a season off the rails — bad decisions, bad crashes and bad weather — are still safely out over the horizon. Only one thing, in fact, is certain as Formula 1 opens its new season on Sunday with the Bahrain Grand Prix: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, the two-time defending world champion, remains the driver everyone needs to catch.

Sunday will be no different. Verstappen will start on the pole after holding off his teammate Sergio Perez and the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in qualifying on Saturday. That is only how they will start, though; the rest of the story line — 22 races, countless challenges and all those miles — will roll out from there.

How to Watch?

Time: Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix starts at 10 a.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. local time in Bahrain.

TV: ESPN in the United States. For a full list of Formula 1 broadcast rights holders wherever you are, click here.

Sunday’s Starting Grid

Red Bull — in a surprise to almost no one — qualified first and second, with the two Ferraris right behind.

Behinds the Scenes in Bahrain

This week’s biggest story lines

Who can catch the champion? Red Bull’s Verstappen is chasing his third straight drivers championship, and he and his team emerged from their first on-track testing last weekend in Bahrain full of optimism. “Our goal is to win and win the championship only,” Verstappen said after his first practices. Talk like that won’t exactly have other teams bullish about their own chances.

Can Ferrari keep up? Speed is not usually a concern in Maranello, and it wasn’t last year, at least initially, when Leclerc burst out of the gate with two wins in the first three races. It was everything that came afterward that Ferrari would like to forget — a cascade of strategic blunders and blown engines that spoiled their year. Will a new car and a new team principal put Ferrari back on top? Today will offer a first look.

Has Mercedes sorted its issues? The team had more problems than others with revised technical regulations that led to bouncing cars and aching backs early last season. It overcame its design issues, but another slow start could mean another sobering season. “Every single year when we were successful, we discussed that eventually, we’re going to have a difficult one,” Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal, said. “That moment came last year.” It will be up to George Russell and the seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who qualified sixth and seventh in Bahrain, to write a happier ending this time.

Is there a new team, or driver, to watch? Aston Martin looked much improved in the preseason, and Fernando Alonso’s fifth-place finish has brought even more hope. But Aston Martin has already endured its first challenge: Lance Stroll was sidelined at the start of testing in Bahrain because of a wrist injury sustained in a bicycle accident. Stroll, whose billionaire father is a part-owner of his team, had a minor surgical procedure that will allow him to race, but the entire episode was not a great omen.

What They’re Saying

“We were in the fight, which I probably did not expect. That’s a good surprise.” — Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who missed out on the pole and then acknowledged the obvious: Red Bull, he said, “seem to be very, very quick.”

“We realize that we have a mountain to climb.” — Lewis Hamilton, on the prospects for a bounce-back year at Mercedes. Hamilton, 38, has won a record 103 races in Formula 1, but didn’t have a single win last year: the first year that has happened since he picked up his first career victory in 2007.

“When you are a top team, you cannot have another target other than to win. The day you start a season and say ‘OK, we can be P2’ [second place], means there is a lack of ambition.” — Frédéric Vasseur, who took over as team principal at Ferrari, and accepted the sometimes unreasonable expectations that go with that job, as part of a busy season of back-room moves.

Catch Me Up

If you’re feeling as if a lot has happened since the end of last season, you’re right. But as the new season starts, here’s a refresher on how things ended up in 2022:

Next Race

March 19: Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

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