The new Formula 1 2022 season is upon us, and there are countless talking points with new rules, new cars, new driver pairings and potentially a new championship battle.
The Sky Sports F1 pundits are ready – and they’ve had their say on some of the big topics ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain GP…
Will George Russell provide a bigger challenge to Lewis Hamilton than he’s had in recent years at Mercedes?
Anthony Davidson: “George has shown lots of promise in a Williams and we all wondered how he was going to go when he got a chance in the Mercedes. We saw a glimpse of that in Bahrain  of course when Lewis wasn’t able to race and George immediately did more than I expected.
“I think by right he should be right there in terms of speed and I’m just fascinated to see how that relationship is going to evolve between himself and Lewis. It’s kind of like the apprentice versus the master. I think speed wise they’re both going to be very comparable, and that’s exciting.”
Karun Chandhok: “My gut feeling is that George will be a bigger challenge to Lewis than Valtteri Bottas was in recent times. Valtteri is a very quick driver on his day, especially in qualifying, but over the last two or three seasons it became clear on a Sunday that Lewis was just on a different level to him.
“I think George is working really hard and you can see there’s an energy about him and he’s hungry. He knows if he can get close to or beat Lewis Hamilton, his life is made. It’s a golden opportunity. Most importantly, he knows it.”
Paul Di Resta: “George is absolutely superb in qualifying, there’s no doubt he’ll pull laps out and surprise Lewis.
“But I think people underestimate Lewis and how relentless he is in the race. He’s an absolute animal when it comes to what he can get out of the car. It also depends what Lewis’ mindset is. He seems in good spirits and I think he’s still definitely at his prime and I think he will want to prove a point, more than anything, that he can win this eighth world title.”
Natalie Pinkham: “I think it’s a completely different type of challenge for Hamilton – I think Russell is chomping at the bit, he’s been incredibly patient, biding his time, putting the hard yards in to really get his chance in a front-running car.
“Although what I find so interesting about this is there’s no guarantees the Mercedes is going to be the quickest car!
“I don’t think we’ll ever see a hungrier Lewis because of last year, but I think he will have his hardest challenge yet in Russell as a team-mate, and getting to grips with the new regulations.”
Johnny Herbert: “Valtteri could beat Lewis on his day, but those days were few and far between. George has shown some really good pace – even at Mercedes in Bahrain – and now all the eyes are on him. The team will expect him to deliver every time he’s in the car, exactly what Lewis does.
“It’s a different kind of pressure. But George will be able to absorb it I think, he has the raw talent to turn the pressure into a positive and be competitive all the way through the year. He’ll be a much harder team-mate for Lewis.”
Rachel Brookes: “I don’t think he will this season. Moving to a new team is never as straightforward as drivers would like it to be. George stepped into that Mercedes at the Sakhir GP and did a phenomenal job but I think his first year as a full-time Mercedes driver will be a year of bedding in.
“He knows he has a role to play and he can learn a lot from Lewis this season before making his own challenge.”
Damon Hill: “It’s going to be very exciting to watch. Lewis is probably the worst team-mate you could possibly hope for in the sense – he’s just so good. And he’s at home, and you’re coming into his team!
“But, very much in George’s favour, he’s shown he’s a very eager and talented driver.”
David Croft: “I think he will give Lewis a bigger challenge. I’m not saying Lewis has had it easy against Valtteri, he’s a fine driver but I think George has that extra hunger, he knows the team very well, isn’t there to play second fiddle and will take every opportunity he can to show he’s a future world champion.
“He’ll have to raise his game though, as he’s fighting Lewis on equal terms. George has got the right mindset, and I think he’ll succeed.”
Will the fierce Hamilton vs Verstappen rivalry continue this season?
RB: “Without doubt. I think there is unfinished business. They both have a point to prove – Max that he is a worthy champion with or without the controversy, and Lewis wants to put to bed any comparisons between the two in terms of talent.
“He wants that eighth world title and he wants it now. He will be more focussed and more determined than ever before. They both will in fact, and I can’t wait!”
JH: “Just like Senna and Prost, Schumacher and Damon in the past, it will continue to be a fierce rivalry. Will Lewis be more motivated? Will he be more aware of the threat of Max?
“Their rivalry will just carry on the same and they will battle like they did before, but hopefully there will be a slightly different dynamic – we can’t see the racing like we saw at Brazil and Saudi Arabia last year.”
DC: “I would like to think that Max and Lewis would pick up where they left off. Max isn’t going to change his driving style, unless he is told to. He’s never changed it, he’s been fairly consistent, whether you think it’s right or wrong.
“Lewis isn’t going to change either and I think he’ll be even more determined than he was last year, if that is possible, to take that world championship. It’s not just an eighth world title now, it’s stopping Max Verstappen and that will give him immense satisfaction.”
AD: “There will be nothing more than Lewis wants from this season than to destroy Max Verstappen. Let’s not beat around a bush, he feels absolutely robbed as to what happened last year in Abu Dhabi, he wants to come out with a dominant car and he doesn’t even want to see Max on track, I’m sure.
“He just wants to show him a clean pair of heels, disappear off into the distance and win his eighth world championship. I do feel like Red Bull and Max himself will have other plans, and hopefully we’ll see that competition, that rivalry that just exploded last year and continue into this year as well.
“I’m sure when those two drivers come close to each other on track – which hopefully these new cars allow – it’s going to be sleeves rolled up. There’s no love lost.”
PDR: “I hope it carries on. I think there was still mutual respect, and I think that whole dynamic will still be the same. I think they’ll race the same way, Max will still be slightly more aggressive in that sense, Lewis will maybe be more aggressive than he was.”
KC: “It was super intense last year and it all started to unravel. But the most important thing for me was we saw quality of driving from Lewis and Max of a different class last year. They took the sport to a new level.
“It will be great to see more of that and I think we will. One of two things is going to happen, either Lewis was going to get disillusioned with the sport or you’ll pull the tail on the tiger. I suspect we’ve got the latter.”
DH: “I think Lewis knows what he’s dealing with with Max. I think Max has shown he’s a hardcore, uncompromising driver and competitor, and Lewis showed last year willing to show the hard side to him, too.”
NP: “What made last year so compelling was the rivalry, and I think that will just crank up a notch because it ended in such a controversial way, both will be out to assert themselves early doors this season.
“I think what’s interesting is that this isn’t going to be a two-way fight. Ferrari and McLaren are both going to be competitive and you’ve got four great drivers there. Everywhere you look there’s talent and potential.”
So, what other drivers could join that fight at the front?
NP: “Ferrari have made no secret of the fact that it was all about 2022. They’ve ridden the lows of 2020, and kept their eyes on the ball. There’s a huge amount of anticipation there, and there’s no doubt about the talent they’ve got…
“Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are phenomenal drivers, and I think they can really take the fight at the front this year.”
KC: “I think Ferrari is a big story, but the other one is to see what Daniel Ricciardo does. He had a disappointing 2020 season, particularly in the first half, by his own standards. We assumed he was going to be the number one when he went to McLaren.”
DH: “I think Hamilton and Verstappen showed last year they’re in a different league.
“Leclerc is very talented, as is Pierre Gasly, as is Sainz and Norris. As is Fernando Alonso! There’s a lot of really good drivers, but most of them have never run consistently at the front and raced for championships. That’s the big question, whether you can cope with all the things Formula 1 throws at you.”
AD: “I’m sure Lando would love to get involved. I’m also sure Russell cannot wait to join Lando and Max, drivers of his era. He’s seen Lando get all of this limelight, all this press, from basically just having a better car than him over the last couple of seasons.
“George used to beat him in F2 and arguably on paper has a better record. He probably can’t wait to have that moment he can probably fight his contemporaries in equal machinery.”
DC: “Russell has already proven that if he’s in a very good car he can compete at the front. I’d like to think George would be up there, and I’d like to think Sergio [Perez] would be up there as well – but he needs to improve his qualifying as well.
“The two Ferrari drivers, I’m looking at them to join that fight too. They’re both very capable of winning races, Leclerc has already shown that. If the Alpine is good, the Alonso is in their league, while Esteban Ocon has won a race. Sebastian Vettel is the same, he’s still got it.
“And then you have Lando and Daniel. Daniel is a proven race winner while Lando should have won a race, and he’s shown on more than one occasion he can compete with Hamilton and Verstappen.”
JH: “Charles, yes. We’ve seen it in the past. He showed he’s got what it takes from a mental point of view, while Carlos showed he can match Charles, too.
“Then Sainz’s ex team-mate Lando is getting better and better, his maturity is coming through and he always had the skills.”
PDR: “I don’t think any of them have the ability of Max and Lewis. Nobody has proved they’ve got stamina over the whole year, and that’s where those two are unique.
“It’s a bit like the tennis era, with Nadal, Federer, Djokovic. How many Grand Slams would they have won if they were in different eras? They haven’t, they’ve all been equal.”
RB: “I don’t think that right now any of the other drivers match them for absolute raw talent but I do believe there are drivers on that grid who will take wins from them with a combination of opportunity, talent, teamwork and a little bit of luck.
“I expect Carlos, Charles, Daniel and Lando to all win races this year. Sergio and George too for that matter.”
How many different teams will win races?
DC: “There’s 22 races and we might get 23… so I’m going for six. Why not?”
AD: “Five. I think there will be a lot of performance shifts through the year.”
NP: “Five, a big spread.”
KC: “Four. I hope!”
PDR: “Four. I see Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes being in there. Then I think McLaren could fall in there.”
JH: “Four. I think that would be the max – though I think Ferrari could win a few races.”
Which race are you most looking forward to?
KC: “Bahrain. I think it’s a great step into the unknown.”
AD: “It’s got to be the first race, hasn’t it? That’s when we really get to see a flavour of how this year’s going to be. Then at least we know where we stand, we know what we can look forward to seeing.”
PDR: “Definitely the first race. Qualifying on Saturday evening – we’ll see what everybody’s got.”
DH: “I think when we go to new venues it’s always exciting. We’ve had a great reaction in the States to the offering of Formula 1, and more is better.”
DC: “I’m very much looking forward to Miami. We all love Miami, and I also think Miami will love Formula 1. I love going to races which embrace Formula 1. But I’m looking forward to them all, that’s the trouble!”
RB: “Miami. The welcome we got in Texas last year was sensational and I can’t wait to see what Miami brings. When I came into this sport everyone said the Americans don’t like F1, they don’t understand it, but there has been a massive change in that and you can feel it.
“I can’t wait to experience the atmosphere and I hope we have a great race. The city itself isn’t bad either!”
NP: “I can’t wait to go back to Singapore.”
JH: “Japan. The circuit is old school, it hasn’t changed, and it will be great to return there. The atmosphere is sensational, too!”