Things we learned from the Official Pre-Season Testing

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Formula One’s Official Pre Season testing has come to an end after three days of running at the Bahrain International Circuit. F1Technical’s Balázs Szabó analyses the key moments from the three-day Bahrain running.

Pecking order - While little can be read into the details of F1 pre-season testing, everyone is eager to find out the pecking order that is set to determine the outcome of the 2023 F1 season. Quickest laps might be particularly misleading in Bahrain as there are many variables to reckon with. Alongside the usual factors – different fuel levels and a wide variety of engine modes – the wind conditions and temperatures have an enormous influence on performance as well.

Former Mercedes Chief Strategist, newly-appointed Williams Team Principal James Vowles said that only weather conditions might add up to a difference of eight tenths of a second with drivers setting their fastest times after the sunset enjoying significantly better track conditions than those who go for hot laps right before lunch break.

Going by the fastest times of each team, Red Bull finds itself on top thanks to Sergio Perez’s effort that saw the Mexican set a time of 1m30.616s on Pirelli’s C4 compound. After a raft of hot laps on the C4 and C5 compounds, Lewis Hamilton posted the fastest lap time for Mercedes with a 1m30.664s that was only 48 thousands of a second shy of Red Bull’s best. However, the Briton set his best time earlier in slightly warmer conditions, but he used the softest C5 compound for his best effort that was around one and half tenth of a second faster than the other red-walled C4 compound.

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas grabbed attention when he posted a time of 1m30.827s on C5s, beating Ferrari’s best time of 1m31.024s. However, Ferrari’s benchmark set by Charles Leclerc was registered in the hot conditions on Saturday morning. Conditions were so hot at that point of the day that Leclerc was unable to make use of the C5 compound as he was forced to abort his hot laps on the softest Pirelli tyre with his SF23 producing instability under acceleration out of slow corners.

There was nothing to choose between AlphaTauri (1m31.261s), Haas (1m31.381s) and Aston Martin (1m31.450s), albeit Fernando Alonso’s qualifying simulation on the C3 was only a fraction slower than his absolute best on the red-walled rubber, indicating that there is much more to expect from the Spaniard and his new team when things go serious in a week’s time in Manama.

McLaren set the eighth fastest time courtesy of Lando Norris with a 1m32.160, followed by Williams with the Grove-based squad registering its best time with rookie driver Logan Sargeant. Interestingly, Williams was the only team to post its benchmark on Day 2. After having a rather low-key three days of running in Sakhir, Alpine finished tenth on this list with a time of 1m 32.762s courtesy of Pierre Gasly.

Highest top speed – While Ferrari had shortcomings with its top speed on the long straights last year, the situation appears to have altered for 2023. The Italian team did not hide its intention for this year which was to improve the biggest weakness of its 2022 car which was the aerodynamic efficiency.

The first signs show that Ferrari have made inroads with its top end speed, posting the highest top speed during the test with 327kph.

Alpine was second on this list with 325kph, followed by Williams (320kph), Red Bull (319kph), Haas (318kph), McLaren (317kph), Aston (316kph), Mercedes (315kph), AlphaTauri (315kph) while the Alfa Romeo team, which set the third fastest overall time in the test, recorded only a best top speed of 314kph.

However, Ferrari’s improvements came at the expense of cornering speed which was the 2023 car SF23’s predecessors strength to its main rival Red Bull’s RB18. The Italians’ Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc conceded that “we are a little bit quicker in the straights, maybe struggling a little bit more in the corners”.

Downforce levels – There are still some question marks concerning the rear wing specification Ferrari will use at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. The Italian team used a lower rear wing specification on the first two days of testing before debuting a new version on the third and final day.

The new rear wing sports a a single pylon as a support which is used by many teams, such as Red Bull, Alpine, Aston Martin, Mercedes, Williams, McLaren and AlphaTauri. The single-pylon solution is thought to produce a better overall efficiency which has been Red Bull’s key strength in the previous season.

Ferrari’s new singly-pylon rear wing also features a more loaded mainplane, producing higher overall downforce. The test carried out with Leclerc on Saturday morning was not successful tough as an issues arouse with the DRS actuator just after a few laps, forcing the team to abandon its test and revert to the previous version.

The most diligent team – AlphaTauri has been the most diligent team at the Bahrain test by logging in a total of 456 laps of running. Williams have also completed a huge amount of laps at the Bahrain International Circuit with a total of 439 laps, followed by Ferrari (416), Red Bull (413), Haas (412), Mercedes (408) and Alfa Romeo (401).

Three outfits have failed to reach the 400-lap mark with Aston Martin and Alpine racking up a total of 387 and 354 laps respectively. McLaren have endured a tough time in Bahrain with different issues hindering their progress, meaning that they have only registered a total of 312 laps. In total, Formula 1 teams clocked up 3,992 laps, which equals to 21,603km.

No big change – While there were rumours suggesting that Mercedes would introduce a dramatically different car for 2023, the eight-time world champion team decided to retain their 'zero sidepod' design concept for the upcoming season.

This unique concept generated much interest early in the 2022 season. However, the W13 later turned out to be a troublesome car with the aerodynamic porpoising limiting the setup variations of the 2022 machine. Following team’s unusually tough start to the season, many suggested that the main issue of the car was rooted in the W13's narrow sidepod concept.

During the launch of the team’s 2023 car, Team Principal Toto Wolff hinted that the Brackley-based squad will eventually implement updates on its W14 that could change the innovative concept. However, Technical Director Mike Elliot confirmed during the three-day pre-season testing that Mercedes intends to introduce a update package that will change the look of the car a bit, but it will be an evolution of the current package and the W14 won’t resemble the design concept of rival teams Red Bull and Ferrari.

Perfect car in all conditions – Following their dominant year in 2022, Red Bull left the three-day test by claiming that they are in a far better place heading into the 2023 campaign than they were this time 12 months ago. The Milton Keynes-based outfit ended the test week fastest with a time of 1m 30.305s

Red Bull’s Head of Race Engineering Gianpiero Lambiase commented: “A very successful end to the test with another day of uninterrupted running. Checo was able to complete a variety of test items, including a chance to get a feel for the car under conditions closer to Qualifying and the Race, which was important for his preparation.

“The start of the season is now upon us, and we have just a handful of days to analyse all of the data collected. It has been a positive three days for the team, but there are always areas for improvement, and the focus will be on trying to extract more performance gains before next week,” Lambiase concluded.

The Brazilian or the Canadian – With Lance Stroll having picked up injuries in Spain, there are still question marks about the identity of the driver who will drive for Aston Martin alongside Fernando Alonso at next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

The initial feeling was that new reserve driver Felipe Drugovich has the best chance to pilot the AMR23 as he has collected some vital mileages in Bahrain after driving the car on Thursday and Saturday morning. However, Team Principal Mike Krack indicated yesterday that the retired Sebastian Vettel could be a surprise option to replace Stroll.

However, on Sunday, the Silverstone-based squad ruled out the possibility of the return of the four-time world champion: “The team will continue to give Lance every chance to race, pending recovery from his injury. Should he not be fit to compete, then Felipe will drive the AMR23 alongside Fernando Alonso.”

Surprise team – Following a difficult season in 2022, Aston Martin turned heads with their AMR23 that seemingly responded to his every request. The Silverstone-based outfit’s new recruit Fernando Alonso produced some eye-catching hot laps on each of the three-day pre-season testing.

The two-time world champion said: “It was a good day for us with lots of laps and we have learned a lot about the new car. But it is only testing and we do not know what everyone else is doing so there are still many questions to answer.

“We have missed having Lance here this week, but I have to say Felipe adapted very well and did a good job. Overall, the car felt competitive across the three days, but we need to compare to the others next week. There is a lot of potential left for us to unlock and I think we are in a decent place heading into next week. Our goal is to make a step forward from last year and we will take things step by step,” Alonso concluded.

Missed projected targets - McLaren had a challenging pre-season in Bahrain 12 months ago when they suffered from brake-related issues. This pre-season testing was not different with both reliability issues and performance-related troubles hindering the team’s progress.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown conceded that “we know we set some goals for development, which we didn’t hit. We felt it was better, to be honest about that. think we will be going into the first race off of our projected targets and it’s hard to really know where that means we will be on the grid.”

The team also disclosed that the aerodynamic efficiency was the main reason for their headaches over the three days of running with the new car producing too much drag for a set of downforce level. However, newly-appointed Team Principal Andrea Stella sounded more delighted when assessing McLaren’s performance during the three-day pre-season testing.

“The final day of pre-season testing has been challenging, as we had some downtime during the repair of a minor ongoing issue. We are not concerned about the issue for the race but it required some attention today to ensure we could complete as much of our run plan as possible.

“Despite those small setbacks we could still get some good information about the car in representative night-time conditions. We were able to see that we have made some steps in terms of performance across the test, and we have some valuable information ahead of the race next weekend,” Stella concluded.