F1 season preview: Who’s hot and who’s not

SAHIR, Bahrain. After three days of testing in Bahrain, Formula 1 is only seven days away from the first race of the new season on March 5th. The single pre-season test went surprisingly smoothly for the vast majority of teams, but on the evening of the final day, some are much happier than others.

Below is the team rankings based on test data in Bahrain and paddock conversations over three days. Due to the sheer amount of variables, raw lap times from testing are notoriously unreliable for predicting real-world performance, but that didn’t stop us from trying.

The Formula One season kicks off with the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 5, live on Sportzshala at 9:55 AM ET.

1. Red Bull

Last year: 1st place

Fastest Preseason Lap: 1:30.305 – Sergio Perez (C4 tire)

Total laps: 413 (5th)

The Red Bull looked like class throughout the tests and had the best single lap and long distance pace at the Bahrain International Circuit. The team ran the test with confidence, finishing the simulated race on the morning of the second day with times that still looked competitive compared to those of the competing teams on the final day when track conditions improved.

Sergio Pérez’s fastest time on Saturday night came with all the usual caveats about fuel economy and engine conditions, but he was still 0.3 seconds faster than second-place Lewis Hamilton despite Pérez using a step-heavier rubber compound. . Factoring in the performance difference between the C4 compound used by Pérez and the C5 used by Hamilton, Pérez’ lead was closer to 0.7s over Mercedes.

Ferrari withdrew from the final evening of testing, making it difficult to compare performance on the same lap with Red Bull. The two teams’ racing simulation times were also not easy to compare, but taking several variables into account, Red Bull appeared to have a long-term lead of around 0.3 seconds over the Ferrari.

Add to that almost every other team in the paddock pointing to Red Bull as the team to beat and it would be silly to put anyone other than world champions at the top of that list before the first race.

What did they say

Current world champion Max Verstappen: “The machine works very well. We just go through a lot of things that we wanted to try, and everything is very interesting that we tried. So very positive days for me. And I just generally enjoy driving a car.”

2. Ferrari

Last year: 2nd

fastest lap 1:31.024 – Charles Leclerc (C4)

Total laps 416 (3rd)

Ferrari had a good three days of testing in Bahrain, but unlike last season, when it was a clear favorite before the first race, this year it looks like it is catching up with Red Bull. Direct comparisons between Ferrari and Red Bull, such as long runs or runs on the same tire compound at the same time of day, were difficult to draw over three days, but that didn’t stop the thread running through the data in Red Bull’s favour. .

In terms of fastest laps, Charles Leclerc was 0.7 seconds behind Pérez as both drivers used the same C4 tire compound. But there is one very obvious problem with this comparison: Ferrari was chasing lap times under the scorching midday sun, while Pérez set his time after the sun had set and the track had cooled to a more tire-friendly temperature. Each team has a different approach to testing, and Ferrari decided to use the best track conditions on the last day to work out the first stretches of the racing simulation with Carlos Sainz, rather than trading the best lap times with their rivals.

As mentioned above, from the few glimpses of long-term data that overlap between the two teams, the gap between Red Bull and Ferrari looks closer to 0.3s, but again, different testing approaches mean that figure is hard to trust.

One of the problems with running a Ferrari on heavy fuel was tire degradation, which was also a weak point for the car in the second half of last season. During this week’s testing, the car’s speed tended to drop on each lap of the longer stretch, while some competitors, especially those running on more fuel in the evening sessions, seemed more stable.

Speaking to the media on the final day of testing, new team principal Fred Wasser played down concerns. He said his engineers worked on a wide range of customization options, which could have resulted in alarming numbers on time screens, but it was actually the result of the team pushing the boundaries to better understand the car.

It’s also important to remember that the Bahrain International Circuit is one of the heaviest F1 rear tire tracks on the calendar, and any lag behind Red Bull in Bahrain could be a sign of track performance at one of the 23 tracks ahead. schedule.

Overall, Wasser appeared to be pleased with his team’s approach to testing and went to great lengths to discourage comparison between the teams due to different launch plans.

What did they say

Ferrari boss Wasser:“Whenever we were able to put it all together, the performance seemed to be there, but we are clearly still in the process of getting to know the machine, so it’s too early to say anything. The mood in the team is perfect and we are in a good mood. fit to start this long season.”

3. Mercedes

Last year: 3rd

Fastest lap: 1:30.664 – Lewis Hamilton (C5)

Total laps: 398 (7th)

The good news for Mercedes is that this year’s tests have gone much better than they did 12 months ago. The bad news is that the gap to Red Bull still looks too big for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell to fight for a race win from the first race in Bahrain.

Mercedes no longer suffers from the spikes that limited its development at the beginning of last year, but the solution to this problem is clearly not enough to return the team to the lead. Although Mercedes seems to be confident that it has the best platform for development, the car’s behavior on the track still causes problems for drivers.

The second day of testing was particularly challenging as windy conditions exacerbated the car’s balance problems, resulting in Hamilton catching huge drifts between corners in the morning session. To make matters worse, a hydraulic problem has cut the team’s workday by a couple of hours – much time on the track is wasted when testing is limited to just three days.

Working overnight on the team’s simulator at its factory resulted in the car becoming more predictable for the drivers on the final day, with Russell completing a race simulation in the morning before Hamilton set the team’s best lap time in the evening. Hamilton’s best time was 0.3 seconds short of Pérez in the test, but it was with Mercedes on the softest C5 rubber and Red Bull on the slightly stiffer C4 rubber. Compare Hamilton’s C4 best time on the same evening and it was 0.9 seconds behind Pérez.

The sustained pace, which is often a more reliable indicator of actual performance, suggested a smaller gap of around 0.3–0.6s as Hamilton and Pérez both drove out in heavy gas stations on C3 tires in the late afternoon of the final day. . But since they didn’t run “looks like it” racing simulations, fuel loads can still skew that comparison by a few tenths.

Rather ominously for Mercedes fans, Hamilton said his team still “had to climb the mountain” after he jumped out of the car on the final day.

What did they say

Lewis Hamilton: “The bouncing we had is pretty much gone. This is a huge step for us. It’s nice to ride it without bouncing around corners. But there are still some basic things that we are working on.”

4. Aston Martin

Last year: 7th

Fastest lap: 1:31.440 – Fernando Alonso (C4)

Total laps: 387 (8th)

While the tests can be misleading, it’s safe to say that Aston Martin made the biggest leap forward this winter. Not only did he emerge as the likely leader of the midfield group in his three days in Bahrain, but there is speculation in some circles in the paddock that he can take on Mercedes in the first race.

Much of the buzz around the team is based on Fernando Alonso’s simulated race at the end of the last day. Hitting the road just after sunset, Alonso completed 57 laps in three stints, first using C3 compound, then C1 and C2. The car’s tire handling proved exceptional, with Alonso posting the best time for his second lap stint before he returned to the pits for his last pit stop, and then set the fastest lap in his entire racing simulation – 1:36.125 – with five laps. remaining.

But a big caveat is the time Alonso ended the race simulation on Saturday night as he capitalized on the best track conditions in three days. Team Principal Mike Krak downplayed the excitement a bit, saying that the presence of several cars on the track using a softer compound had greatly increased grip levels on the final evening.

No other driver has completed a full race simulation at the same time of day to compare directly with Alonso, although his average lap times from the first stint looked about the same as Sainz, who lapped the Ferrari on the same tyres. compound. Again, Ferrari got off to a fast start, but seems to have suffered more tire wear than Aston Martin.

On one lap, Alonso’s best result was 1.1 seconds less than Pérez on the same C4 rubber and 0.8 seconds less than Hamilton’s on the C5. Both Pérez and Hamilton benefited from setting their times later in the day, and by adjusting for Hamilton’s advantage in the tire line-up, Alonso’s “true” pace was within a couple of tenths of the Mercedes.

What did they say

Fernando Alonso: “We have experimented a bit with very different routes in the settings and we have always found positives in these new routes, so there is a clear indication that…


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