The final preparation for the 2021 FIA Formula One season kicked off today when the lights switched to green at the end of the pit lane of the Bahrain International Circuit. With the extremely short pre-season testing, teams and drivers were eager to rack up mileage at Manama.
Perfect start for Red Bull
Red Bull Racing Honda’s 2021 Formula One Championship charge got off to a solid start in Bahrain today, with Verstappen at the wheel of the BR16B as this year’s sole three-day pre-season test kicked off at the Bahrain International Circuit.
In blustery and extremely dusty conditions, the Dutchman powered through 139 laps of the 5.412km track on his way to the day’s quickest time. After his first marathon stint in the new car, the 23-year-old said: “We had a very positive day and managed a lot of laps even though the track conditions were quite difficult. It was very warm with a lot of wind and we know the degradation is always high around here so I’m very happy with how it went.
“We aimed for this number of laps and when you can complete a full programme like this the Team can also be pleased with the information we have. We don’t need to talk about pace yet and it isn’t really a discussion until we get to Q3 at the first race weekend - it’s only then you see the real pace in all the cars. The main thing is that the car felt nice to drive, so it’s a positive start.”
Head of Race Engineering Guillaume Rocquelin added: “Today went well. The conditions were pretty difficult and very windy, especially in the morning. It calmed down a bit in the afternoon but a lot of dust had been kicked up and it was very hazy and quite difficult to run in.
“In terms of objectives we’re really pleased, as we had a target in terms of the number of laps we wanted to get through and a fairly busy run plan and we were able to stick to both. Lap time is not what it’s about at this stage and I don’t think Max will be getting too pumped up about being at the top of the timesheet on day one.
“What’s more important is that we were able to follow the plan and do the laps. For Sergio tomorrow, the conditions should hopefully be a little better. It’s not supposed to be quite as hazy, but the wind is likely to still be quite strong. The plan will be pretty much the same for Checo, so fingers crossed we’re looking forward to another good day,” he said.
High mileage for Scuderia Ferrari
Just as the majority of the field, Ferrari also divided its programme into two halves with both of its drivers getting behind the team’s 2021 F1 contender, the SF21 on the opening day of pre-season testing.
The team’s Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc kicked off the work in the morning, completing a total of 58 laps with his best being a 1’33”242. Leclerc completed his first laps with the car fitted with a rake before concentrating on longer runs. With ten minutes remaining, the 23-year-old driver was instructed by the team to park the car at the side of the track because of an anomaly with the combustion spotted on the telemetry.
"The first day in a new car is always very interesting, after all the work carried out over the winter. We completed the whole programme without any major problems and the first impression of the car is pretty good.
„But obviously, it’s far too early to give a full assessment. Now I can’t wait to get behind the wheel again tomorrow,” said Leclerc.
Despite strong winds, limited grip and poor visibility, Sainz’s work programme was similar to that of his team-mate, running both the C2 and C3 compounds. The Madrid-born completed 57 laps (308,5 kms), the best in 1’31”919.
"In general I think today was a positive first day of testing, where the target was to complete our whole run programme and we did it, so happy with that. I guess everyone wants to figure out the performance of each car after today, but I think it is way too early to tell, and very difficult to know in these kind of conditions – full of sand, very windy and with big variations in temperatures. All in all I think we can consider today a very good day. Thanks to everyone at the track and back at the factory. We keep working!"
On Day 2, the Scuderia will follow a similar programme to today’s. This time, Sainz will drive the first part of the day and Leclerc the second.
Nissany behind the FW43B
Williams was the only team to give its test driver the chance to get behind the wheel despite the heavily limited mileage during the three-day pre-season testing.
The French-Israeli driver notched up 83 laps in total with his best time being a 1:34.789.
„I think it was a strong first day even with the poor conditions where we experienced a lot of sand and dust in the air,” added Nissany.
„We got the most out of the car and I am happy with my performance, and I think the engineers were as well. We collected all of the data that we wanted and tested a lot of items so it has definitely been a very productive day, a lot of fun and a great opening to the season.”
Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance commented: „Conditions were tough throughout the day, with high temperatures, strong winds and a lot of sand on the track this afternoon. This made performance testing very difficult, however, we were able to change focus to data gathering and operational practice, including pitstops and race start simulations.
„Roy did a very good job in the difficult conditions, making no mistakes as he and his engineers worked nicely through their programme. He provided valuable feedback throughout the day, including on the new 2021 Pirelli tyres, which we had previously only run for a limited time at the final races of last season.
„We have plenty to look through tonight as we continue our preparation for the race here in a few weeks’ time, but there were no issues with the car today and we are now in a good position to push it harder tomorrow. Hopefully the conditions will improve enough overnight to allow Nicholas the opportunity to try a range of test items as he begins to optimise the FW43B ready for racing.”
The FW43B returns to the track tomorrow in Bahrain with Nicholas Latifi in the car.
The Japanse makes his debut
Pierre Gasly started the morning session strong, racking up an impressive 74 laps in his all-new AT02 – the highest of all drivers within the session.
“Everything felt really good with the car this morning, we had a positive start to testing and were able to do a lot of laps – our main goal for today. Running for just three days, it’s important that we make the most of this time on track. We managed to complete our full testing programme for the first day and I felt very comfortable in the car.
„Of course, there are areas that we need to work on and improve but that’s to be expected on the first day. The conditions today are quite tough to drive in – F1 cars don’t perform well with this level of wind – which isn’t great but it’s good to understand how the car works in these situations, especially as the first race of the season will be at this circuit.”
The afternoon saw Yuki Tsunoda head out for his first official test, with conditions becoming more difficult as an increase in wind saw large amounts of sand and dust settle on the track. The wind and the sand, both in the air and on the track didn’t make his day an easy one, but with a slightly shortened session due to an issue in the car, he could complete a total of 37 laps to finish in P9 at the end of his first day.
“It was great to experience the new car properly for the afternoon session and to complete my first official Formula 1 pre-season test as a Scuderia AlphaTauri driver. Obviously, at this stage mileage and data collection is key for me – as a rookie I want to gain the most out of the only three-days of testing available and learn a lot ahead of the first race here in Bahrain.
„It’s been quite a difficult afternoon session unfortunately. The weather has been bad, with the sand and wind making the conditions tricky to drive in, and then the team discovered an issue with the fuel system in my car. This meant that I had to box ahead of the end of the session – they’re investigating it now though and I’ll be ready to head back out on track when the lights turn green for the morning session tomorrow.”
Tomorrow both drivers will take to the track again for the second day of pre-season testing, with Tsunoda in the morning and Gasly in the afternoon.
Only 48 laps for Mercedes
The opening day of pre-season testing was not a perfect affair for the team that has dominated the proceedings in F1 since 2014. A gearshift problem in the morning session hindered the early progress of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team on day one of pre-season testing in Bahrain but a solid afternoon of running helped to recover some of the testing and development targets for the day.
The team discovered the mechanical issue on Bottas’ first lap with the Finn being instructed to drive back into the pits. He was able to complete five more laps, collecting aero data.
„The whole team was looking forward to getting on track but on the install lap we noticed an issue with the gearbox so we had to localise the problem and change the gearbox which takes quite a bit of time,” added Bottas.
„Only at the end of the morning session could we get back out for a few more laps before the red flag. A total of six laps for me, all with aero rakes on the car so not much running today and not an ideal start.
„In recent years things have been pretty much bulletproof so it’s not a familiar experience. The good thing is that this year if you miss some running you can hopefully catch up because of the mileage limitation linked to the cost cap efficiencies. I am confident we can recover and I’m looking forward to two good days over the weekend.”
His team mate Lewis Hamilton took to the track in the afternoon session, completing 42 laps exploring various set-up changes and signing-off several test items and procedures.
„Today definitely wasn’t the cleanest of days that we’ve had but these things are sent to try us,” added the seven-time world champion. „Everyone has worked extremely hard to get us here. We had that mishap in the morning which was very unfortunate for Valtteri in terms of losing time on track and the team is working hard to try and understand what that was.
„I think they did a great job to turn the car around. The second session wasn’t without its challenges, but we exist to find solutions to the problems we’re faced with. We just had a good debrief and we’ll keep working away.
„I’ve never seen a sandstorm come through here before in all the years that I’ve driven at this circuit. The sand was moving like rain would move. Having sand on the tyres isn’t good for their longevity and getting consistency on long runs is difficult. Over a single lap it isn’t the worst, but you need lots of laps at this time of year to get data,” Hamilton said.
High mileage for Alfa Romeo
The first day back at school was a pretty straighforward action for the Hinwil-based Alfa Romeo Racing outfit. The Swiss-Italian squad worked with its driver pairing, Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi.
The 2007 world champion racked up a total of 64 laps, registering his best time with a 1m33.320.
“First day in the car for me, so it was positive to run without any issue. It was quite windy and the conditions would change from corner to corner, which made it a bit tricky, but it was the same conditions for everyone so it didn’t really make a difference,” said the Finn.
„As far as our programme went, it was a typical testing day: we tried different things, made sure everything went as planned and ticked all the boxes on our list. It’s pointless to make guesses about where we stand right now, we will have to wait for the first race, but our aim is of course to move further up the grid compared to last year.”
Räikkönen’s team mate Antonio Giovinazzi racked up a total of 69 laps. The Italian registered his best time with a 1m31.945.
“I think we did a good job, despite the difficult conditions. I am happy with the car and the work the team did, taking into account it was just my first day this year. We need to keep working like this for these remaining days, of course, but we have a solid base to build on.
„After three months outside of the car, coming back behind the steering wheel is always tough, but we were helped by having a smooth day without any issue. I am hoping for another busy day like today when I am back in the car tomorrow.”
Giovinazzi will return to the cockpit for day two, with Räikkönen bringing the team’s pre-season programme to an end on Sunday.