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Formula 1 2022: A huge February awaits with new car launches, testing and Lewis Hamilton update

Looking ahead to the key dates this February - a crucial month for F1 - as the FIA's Abu Dhabi inquiry has its first meeting, while launch season begins and teams test their all-new cars for the first time in Barcelona...

The start of the new season may officially be signalled with lights out for that first race on March 20, but Formula 1 2022 really gets under way in February - a month which looks set to be hectic with its schedule, illuminating with a new era of cars debuting, and incredibly important with the future of a certain seven-time champion still not confirmed.

Ahead of a crucial period for the new campaign and the sport as a whole, we preview the big storylines, the things to look out for and the several key dates as anticipation builds.

The Abu Dhabi inquiry and Hamilton's future

F1 is filled with enough talking points to start the season without thinking about last year but, understandably, the fallout to December's title-deciding Abu Dhabi GP remains one of the biggest topics heading into February - when we should at least start to get more clarity on the future. That's the future of how races are run, and of Lewis Hamilton.

The FIA, F1's governing body, has launched an inquiry into the now-notorious conclusion to 2021's final race and last week revealed that the findings of the "detailed analysis" will be presented at the F1 Commission meeting on February 14 "after an open discussion with all F1 drivers".

The findings will then be published at the World Motor Sport Council meeting on March 18.

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A special F1 Show as the Sky Sports pundits reflect on the aftermath from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that sealed Max Verstappen's first World Championship.

Why is that first meeting important? Well, it will likely have a big say on two key names when it comes to F1.

First, there's Michael Masi, the F1 Race Director whose handling of the late Safety Car period was criticised and whose position remains under huge scrutiny, with many teams thought to be pushing for change.

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Even the FIA's executive director of single-seaters Peter Bayer - who is heading up the inquiry - stated in an interview last week: "There is a possibility there could be a new race director."

Bayer also suggested there could be a new management structure which "divides the various tasks" of a race director.

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Sky Sports F1's experts debate whether or not Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes will race under Michael Masi's watch in the 2022 season.

How F1 has reacted to the events of Abu Dhabi and how it plans to move forward with race management will also be key when it comes to Hamilton.

Hamilton has not spoken publicly since leaving the paddock after losing the title to Max Verstappen on December 12 but is said to be "disillusioned" with F1 and Sky Sports understands he will not make a decision on his future until the outcome of the FIA's inquiry.

So February 14, and the days leading up to it presuming Hamilton has that "open discussion" with the FIA, is particularly pertinent.

Another date to look out for is February 18, when Mercedes will be launching their new car. The team say "both drivers" will be available for media interviews on that day, although they are still refusing to confirm whether Hamilton will be one of them.

Should Hamilton, who does have two years left on his Mercedes contract, be satisfied and appeased by that date, that could be the first time we hear from the British driver in over two months.

F1 launch season: The all-new cars are revealed

Pre-season launches are always headline events on the F1 calendar, but this year they take on extra prominence as we get a first glimpse of the cars that are set to completely reshape the sport.

Yes, another reminder - we've got a huge rules change for 2022 with F1 overhauling the cars and their aerodynamics.

Such is their scale, many have described the changes as the most drastic in the sport's history while Mercedes technical chief James Allison, adding credence to that, admitted their car has been redesigned "from tip to toe".

And this month it's time to see those new cars.

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Mercedes technical director James Allison explains the challenges ahead in detail as Formula 1 prepares for one of the biggest rule and car changes in history.

So far, six teams have confirmed their launches. Aston Martin are currently slated to be the first to say goodbye to social media teases and hello to a physical unveiling, ready to kick off launch season on February 10.

On February 11, McLaren will then reveal the car they hope will propel them from the top of the midfield to the top of the championship.

Both Aston Martin and McLaren will be launching their cars from their team bases.

AlphaTauri are the next team with a confirmed date, on February 14, before Italian counterparts Ferrari reveal their potential new title challenger on February 17. Ferrari's launches, in particular, are seldom without glitz.

Then it's time for F1's world champions Mercedes to reveal their W13, on February 18. The team say it will be a "special digital launch event" at Silverstone.

Alpine currently have the latest reveal date, with the French outfit launching their new car on February 21, just a couple of days before the first pre-season test.

Image: Left: Williams' car reveal from 2021. Right: A Williams livery on a 2022 car

While the launch cars are rarely identical to the ones that hit the track, they are sure to possess points of intrigue and technical nuances. Not to mention the potential for new livery designs and colours.

F1's new era debuts with first pre-season test

Like the launches, pre-season testing also goes up a notch in terms of importance this year because of the radically-different rules and cars.

There are two three-day tests in 2022, the first of which is in Barcelona on February 23-25.

It is a behind closed doors event and will not be broadcast on TV, although you can still follow the action with Sky Sports.

On top of live trackside updates from Sky Sports News' Craig Slater and a live commentary service across Sky's digital platforms, there will be post-session recap shows on Sky Sports F1.

Testing is due to run from 8am to 5pm each day.

F1 have called the event a "pre-testing track session" and a "shakedown" but make no mistake, it is a winter test and a crucial one at that as teams and drivers put the new cars through their paces.

Testing, particularly after sweeping rule changes, offers the chance for teams to fly, or rather stumble, out of the blocks. As Mercedes' Allison stated: "I would imagine, given that the cars are so new and so different, that one or two cars on the grid will have got it really badly wrong, and they will have a terribly painful year."

There's also the potential for a brand new pecking order and team to beat - following years of Mercedes dominance and Red Bull challenging - with teams aiming to ace the new regulations for a Brawn-esque start.

The Formula 1 2022 season starts with the Bahrain GP on March 20. All 23 races are live on Sky Sports F1.

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