5 reasons Bahrain’s Official Pre-Season Test will give us a better sense of where the teams stand in 2022
As the dawn of a new season fast approaches, we’ve just got time for three days of Official Pre-Season Testing in Bahrain for the teams to tinker with their new machines before unleashing them in anger for the campaign opener. Here’s what to watch for at the Bahrain International Circuit over three days of running on March 10-12.
Teams will bring upgraded cars to Sakhir
The development rate in F1 is extraordinary. Even while the cars were on track in Barcelona for pre-season running, work continued at speed back at base in the wind tunnel and in CFD (or computational fluid dynamics simulations) on upgrades – many of which will head into production and then onto the car over the course of the season in the endless search for performance.
While Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto said the F1-75 will change very little from Barcelona to Bahrain, with the focus instead on accelerating their understanding of the current package and searching for performance sooner, the rest of the field are likely to bring updates of varying degrees as part of their development plan.
Mercedes and Red Bull are believed to be bringing significantly different packages, the duo preferring to give themselves a few extra days on the development of certain parts. Keep an eye on their garages – via F1 TV Pro – first thing on Thursday morning to see what they’ve produced, but be wary that they may leave some new parts off the car until the final afternoon of testing to reduce the amount of time for rivals to get a glimpse of their innovations.
It’s a final chance to iron out teething troubles
Pre-season running is limited, so every lap counts as teams look to gather as much data as possible on their brand-new machines to give them a baseline to set the car up for the first race of the season, before they focus on extracting the maximum performance and selecting areas where development will yield more lap time.
Alfa Romeo, Haas and, to an extent, Alpine will be desperate to hit the ground running, having ended up in the bottom three of the mileage charts in Barcelona. Fortunately, they have three days – each with eight hours of track time – in dry, warm conditions to run their new machines and iron out the niggles.
All the teams will have some learning to do with regards to porpoising, too, as they all experienced the phenomenon to different extents (McLaren appeared to suffer the least) in Barcelona. That sensation will have impacted the quality of the data the teams gathered in Spain, so there will be a focus on recapturing some of the information that the teams could have done with ticking off last month.
Attention will switch to performance runs
The first session of pre-season is usually reserved for checking reliability, and it’s not until you get to the second where teams start chasing performance. Expect those who managed high mileage in Spain – Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Red Bull and Williams – to turn their attention to chasing lap time sooner rather than later. Doing so should be easier to spot in Bahrain, too, with live timing available for fans on F1.com, along with full coverage on F1 TV.
Having proven reliability, engineers will then compile a run programme that involves going through a series of different set-ups to see what works and what doesn’t. They will vary the fuel loads and the tyre compounds to see how performance is affected through each set-up change.
Then it’s time to take out the fuel and see how the car performs on the softest compounds, so not only can they see the true pace of the car at this stage of the year, but also start experimenting with qualifying set-ups ahead of the first race.
The pecking order should become clearer
As teams turn their attention to performance, it will become a little clearer to see who’s hot and who’s not heading into the first race of the season. But as you’ll hear team personnel say often over the next few days, it’s not until the first few races that the true pecking order will emerge.
And even then, especially this year, things can change. With a new formula, development is expected to be relentless though the season, so a team that starts strongly may not finish strongly. Equally, a team that is strong on one type of track may not necessarily be as quick at the next with a different configuration.
It’s also likely that some teams will bring new parts to the first race of the season, while others will choose to keep their powder dry – and thus mask ultimate performance – before unleashing it at the first race.
We’ll get a glimpse into how much closer racing will be
A key aim of the new regulations was to produce cars that can follow another more easily, particularly through corners, which in turn should improve the chances of overtaking.
A flurry of drivers found company out on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and gave chase for a sequence of laps to get a feel for how easy it was to stay behind – and the early signs were positive.
Drivers were finding they weren’t suddenly having understeer or oversteer through a corner when following, and that it was generally easier to stay within one second of another car. That fact-finding mission will continue into Bahrain and be more feasible given attention will turn to long runs and simulating race stints – and thus cars will be out for long stints anyway.
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Coverage of the Official Pre-Season Test is also available live in selected territories via your F1 broadcaster.