F1 2022 season preview: New designs, new drivers but one familiar rivalry

Max Verstappen overtakes Lewis Hamilton to claim a dramatic victory in the final lap of last season.

(CNN)For the first time since the dawn of the Mercedes era -- the team has now won eight consecutive constructors' championships -- there is genuine uncertainty about how the Formula One season will unfold, with the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday kicking off the new campaign.

A raft of new regulations, the biggest change in the sport since 1983, has prompted every team to drastically redesign its car, while Mercedes was beaten in the drivers' championship last year for the first time since 2014.
Last season's dramatic conclusion in Abu Dhabi saw Red Bull's Max Verstappen win his first world championship, pipping seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton in the final lap.

    Russia in isolation

      In near unison with the rest of the sporting world, F1 moved to sanction Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. The sport's governing body announced that the Russian Grand Prix, originally scheduled for September 23-25, could not be held "in the current circumstances."
        Shortly afterward, it terminated its contract with the Russian Grand Prix promoter, "meaning Russia will not have a race in the future," read an F1 statement.
        The Russian Grand Prix had been due to move from Sochi to the newly renovated Igora Drive circuit in St. Petersburg in 2023.
          Nikita Mazepin was dropped from Haas F1 Team in the offseason following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
          Haas, meanwhile, terminated the contract of its Russian driver Nikita Mazepin as well as its title sponsor Uralkali, a Russian fertilizer producer part owned by Mazepin's oligarch father, Dmitry.

          Lewis Hamilton vs. Max Verstappen

          Hamilton and Verstappen's rivalry shaped F1 in 2021, a season widely acclaimed as one of the greatest ever due to their extraordinarily close title fight.
          In recent years, Verstappen has emerged as the only driver capable of challenging Hamilton's dominance, and their rivalry will define the contours of this season too.
          During their season-long duel in 2021, they crashed into each other three times -- at Silverstone, Monza and Saudi Arabia.
          The denouement was even more dramatic. Arriving at the final Grand Prix of the season, the two drivers were level in the race for the world championship.
          2021 F1 World Drivers Champion Max Verstappen is congratulated by runner up Lewis Hamilton after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
          Verstappen secured pole position in qualifying, but Hamilton overtook him as they rounded the first corner and held a commanding lead for much of the race.
          It seemed the title was decided until a late safety car effectively restarted the race with Verstappen just behind Hamilton on newer, faster tires. Verstappen overtook Hamilton and won his first world championship.
          The fallout of the controversy still lingers. At 37, Hamilton is approaching the end of his career and will not have many more opportunities to claim the outright record of world championship wins.
          He currently sits on seven, level with Michael Schumacher, but his motivation does not seem diminished by the controversy in Abu Dhabi.
          "I would say so," Hamilton replied when asked if he was a more dangerous driver than before, in a video uploaded onto Mercedes' Twitter page.
          Verstappen is at the opposite end of his career and has long been billed as a potential multiple world champion. Last season, the Dutchman's consistency was remarkable as he finished first or second in every race he completed without damage to his car.
          He is the focal point of the Red Bull team, with whom he will remain until at least 2028.

          Driver changes

          The traditional merry-go-round of drivers swapping seats ended rather late this year as teams sought to fine-tune their rosters ahead of the 2022 season.
          Alfa Romeo will sport an all-new driver's line up as Zhou Guanyu, the first Chinese F1 driver, joins the team -- the only driver making his F1 debut this season.
          Zhou Guanyu during the Alfa Romeo F1 Team Orlen filming day on February 27, 2022.
          Zhou joins Alfa Romeo after finishing third in Formula Two last year and serving as a test driver for both Renault and Alpine.
          "To be the first ever Chinese driver in F1 is a breakthrough for Chinese motorsport history," Zhou told F1. "I know a lot of hopes will be resting on me and, as ever, I will take this as motivation to become better and achieve more."
          Valtteri Bottas also joins Alfa Romeo, replacing the retired Kimi Raikkonen. His seat at Mercedes has been given to George Russell, after months of speculation, who in turn is replaced by Alexander Albon at Williams.
          Russell's association with Mercedes stretches back to 2017 when he joined their junior driver program.
          George Russell looks on from the pit during Day Two of F1 Testing in Bahrain.
          Following Haas' dismissal of Mazepin, Kevin Magnussen will rejoin his old team on a multi-year deal. Previously, Magnussen drove for Haas from 2017 until the end of the 2020 season.

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