Lewis Hamilton looking cool in Bahrain as drivers gather for new F1 season - in pictures

British driver facing a tough task winning back the crown from Max Verstaoppen

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There is no doubt Lewis Hamilton will have his work cut out if he is to wrestle back the Formula One world championship from Max Verstappen, starting in Bahrain on Sunday.

The seven-time champion agonisingly lost out on a record eighth title triumph in Abu Dhabi when he was overtaken by Red Bull's flying Dutchman on the very last lap of the season's final Grand Prix.

Hamilton and Mercedes have gone through months of agonising over the controversial end to that race, when Verstappen was unexpectedly given the chance to take maximum points on fresh tyres while Hamilton wrestled with ageing rubber.

But the British superstar has moved on, and by the look of his relaxed approach in Bahrain, he is relishing another momentous effort in his new-look drive.

But Verstappen has the No 1 on his car and the Red Bull driver intends to live up to the billing.

The Dutchman was fastest in pre-season testing last week at the same Sakhir circuit that hosts the floodlit opener.

"I’m very excited to turn our attention to racing now, it’s a whole new era for the sport and anything can happen," said the 24-year-old.

"The car looks good and as a team we are in a good place."

Formula One has undergone its most radical rules overhaul in decades with cars designed to create better racing and several teams eyeing an opportunity to upset the established order.

Ferrari in particular seem set to end a winless streak dating back to the 2019 Singapore Grand Prix but drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz have been keen to play down their car's potential.

"I feel we are still a bit behind Red Bull," said Leclerc.

"I don’t think we are speaking about a [gap of a] second like last year or even more the year before, so I feel it is going to be closer for sure and this is already a good sign."

Mercedes, who are tied with Ferrari as the most successful team at Sakhir having won there six times, are chasing a fourth consecutive win at the venue.

Hunting for a ninth consecutive constructors’ crown, and with Hamilton now alongside youngster George Russell, Mercedes cannot be written off.

"It’s a clean slate for everyone and all to play for,” said team boss Toto Wolff. "I’m excited to see what the weekend has in store."

Updated: March 18, 2022, 5:04 AM