Technical F1 Unlocked
ANALYSIS: How do McLaren, Haas and AlphaTauri stack up after pre-season testing in Bahrain?
The final day of testing, at Bahrain on Saturday, did nothing to change the impression given in the preceding two days that Red Bull look set to begin 2023 just as strongly as they finished 2022.
Ferrari and Aston Martin looked very evenly matched for pace as the next fastest after Red Bull, with Mercedes trailing just behind them by Saturday.
That was despite Mercedes making significant progress in the set-up direction of their car, as confirmed by the team’s engineering chief Andrew Shovlin: “A fair bit of work took place overnight to find some refinements to the car specification and recover our direction on the set-up.
“We do seem to have made progress; both drivers felt the car was in a much better place across the range of conditions today and the balance is closer to what they require on single lap and long run. It's clear that we still have work to do on car pace but today has given us a much more coherent picture of where we need to focus our efforts.”
The programmes of the teams were quite different, with Alpine, for example, not doing any single lap low fuel attack laps, but two quite impressive long runs on Friday and Saturday which suggested a pace quite close to that of Mercedes.
Picking out the part or full race simulation runs gave an approximate competitive order, with account taken of the various fuel loads (gained when teams did a race sim run) and tyre compounds. This allows us to look in a little more detail at the three teams we didn’t cover on Thursday and Friday: Haas, McLaren and AlphaTauri.
Haas did what appears to have been a race simulation run on Saturday, with an opening stint on the C3 tyre, a switch to C2 for the middle stint and the tough C1 for the final stint. Obviously, each stint is faster than the previous one as the fuel load reduces. It also became clear from everyone’s running that the C1 was by far the fastest tyre over a stint, with the C2 and C3 fairly evenly matched over a stint despite the C3 being much faster over a single lap.
On the same tyre as the AlphaTauri in the first stint, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen averaged around 0.6s faster. On the same tyre as the Alfa Romeo in the second stint, he was slightly slower. On the same tyre as Ferrari and Aston Martin in the final stint, he was 1.3s slower.
Haas test driver Pietro Fittipaldi observing the tests gave an educated guess of the team being ‘between fifth and seventh’ fastest of the 10 teams over the three days. Our numbers suggest the more pessimistic end of that range. Red Bull, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Mercedes and Alpine definitely look faster.
On raw pace, Haas appear to be in a very similar place to Alfa Romeo and McLaren. But the margins are small enough around the sixth- to eighth-place group that the order could change with just small swings.
McLaren had a dispiriting test, with continued interrupted running because of problems with the ‘wheelbrow’ winglets over the front wheels.
Consequently no real race simulation work was completed by the team on Saturday and all we have to go on is the Friday data.
That suggested the car to be on around the same pace as the Alfa Romeo at around 1.2s off Red Bull, which would put it smack in the middle of the closely-contested midfield.
Although Yuki Tsunoda did a very quick lap on the C4 tyre right at the end of the day, that lap does not correlate with any of the car’s performance patterns prior to that, which would suggest that it was a genuine low-fuel effort.
Typically in testing, even on their single lap attack laps, teams will run a base level of fuel in the tanks. That varies from team to team but is typically between 25-35kg (around 0.3s-per-lap). This does mean it’s quite possible to look unrealistically fast if the single lap is done with genuine qualifying simulation fuel levels.
The car appeared to suffer an understeer balance in slow corners and in its race simulations on Friday looked to be around 1.5s adrift of Red Bull and on Saturday around 1.2s off Ferrari/Aston Martin. With Williams making progress on Saturday, that potentially put the AlphaTauri at the back of the pack, Tsunoda’s anomalous lap notwithstanding.
But it’s all just theory and extrapolation of numbers and we’ll be finding out the reality in just a few days from now.