F1 POWER RANKINGS: We've ranked the teams from 10 to 1 after pre-season testing – do you agree?
“That went quickly!” said Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, speaking at the end of the three days of 2021 pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Yes, the shortest pre-season test in recent memory is now complete, with a picture beginning to form of what the pecking order might be when racing begins at the same track for the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 26-28.
So, which teams are looking in the best shape ahead of the 2021 season? And which teams could have done with a few more days of lappage? With the caveat that testing rarely provides the full picture of pre-season form, here’s our ranking, from 10 to 1, of the teams heading into the first race of the year...
Barring the gearbox issue that blighted Mick Schumacher’s first morning in the car, nothing much went wrong for Haas in Bahrain. And yet despite that, there are some ominous signs that the team could struggle in 2021.
The VF-21 looks to be the car that’s had the least development over the winter (and won’t be updated at all during the season) while the all-rookie driver line-up of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin is, unsurprisingly, the least experienced on the grid. And although our data analysis put Haas’ short run pace ahead of Williams, they appeared to be by far the slowest team of all on long run pace.
Still the VF-21 at least looks to be a stable platform with which to bed Schumacher and Mazepin in as Haas focus their efforts on 2022. Whether we should expect much more from the team than that in 2021 remains to be seen.
Much has been made of the apparently peaky aerodynamic performance of the Williams FW43B, with George Russell predicting after testing that the team would be “fast at some events and slow at others” – while adding that the windy conditions in Bahrain were “the worst conditions we would like to see for our race car”.
They’ll be hoping so, as although Williams’ long run pace was significantly better than Haas’, they lagged behind as the 10th quickest team on short run pace in Bahrain. Planned upgrades in the early part of the season, however, could be a boon for Williams over the development-free Haas.
8. Alfa Romeo
Kimi Raikkonen’s fourth quickest time of the test in the final afternoon/evening session certainly caught the eye – but it seems unlikely that Alfa Romeo are going to be fighting for any ‘best of the rest’ honours in 2021, instead looking to be the strongest team of the three who were at the back of the field last season – namely Haas, Williams and Alfa Romeo themselves.
The C41 lapped metronomically and without major issue, with the drivers said to be extremely satisfied with what appears to appear a very stable racing car. Despite that, it doesn’t appear that Alfa Romeo have leapt dramatically from where they were last year in terms of pace.
7. Aston Martin
Possibly the juiciest, most intriguing unknown is just how quick Aston Martin are. The team demonstrated impressive long run pace – indeed, our analysis from the three days put them as no less than the third-quickest car in that metric – while although the team failed to put in a proper qualifying simulation on the final day, there were flashes of rapid short run pace too.
Their biggest worry, however, will be around reliability, with a gearbox issue and loss of boost pressure limiting new boy Sebastian Vettel to just 117 laps in Bahrain – with only Williams’ Roy Nissany recording fewer.
Despite that, the team seemed reasonably happy with their lot after testing – Vettel calling the three days “really productive” – and while they’re seventh on our list, Aston Martin probably have the biggest potential to shift positions of any team when the season gets under way.
Rookie Yuki Tsunoda’s liberal – but entirely legal, in testing conditions at least – use of his DRS button probably helped him to finish the final day just 0.093s adrift of Max Verstappen’s three-day-topping lap.
But away from the headline times, this was an impressive pre-season showing for AlphaTauri, who ran the joint-most laps of any team (422, shared with Alfa Romeo) while the new, technologically-sophisticated AT02 looked fast and stable.
Add to that a driver pairing made up of one of the stars of 2020 – Italian Grand Prix winner Pierre Gasly – and a rookie, in Tsunoda, who’s creating buzz aplenty, and AlphaTauri could be the dark horses for some big results in 2021. The only real question mark is the team’s long run pace, which appeared to be just the seventh-quickest of anyone.
After the tribulations of 2020, Ferrari’s 2021 pre-season test wasn’t exactly a sparkling return to the pace that saw them take poles and win races in 2019. But there was plenty of reason for optimism at the Maranello squad, who enjoyed a solid run in Bahrain and generally looked to have regained some confidence as they look to rebuild this season.
Charles Leclerc and new recruit Carlos Sainz were able to pump in some quick laps on Sunday, while there were signs, too, that the team weren’t chasing ultimate performance in Bahrain. But question marks remain over how comfortable Sainz is with his new steed, the Spaniard having looked ragged at points in the SF21 over the three days – while both he and Leclerc suffered technical issues too.
This may not have been spectacular test from Alpine – but that won’t concern them, the Anglo-French team having showed consistently promising pace throughout, spending the majority of the test nibbling around the top of the time sheets, while gaining plenty of headlines for their jumbo-sized airbox too.
The team looked strong on both long and short run pace, with Alpine appearing to have remained more or less where they finished off last season. That’s no bad thing, either, given that the team managed three podiums in 2020 – while with Fernando Alonso looking at home straight away in the A521 (despite his pre-test bike crash), the team will be hoping that more podiums for him and team mate Esteban Ocon will be forthcoming.
With a new Mercedes engine – and a new driver in Daniel Ricciardo – to bed in, you’d have forgiven McLaren for having a few wobbles at 2021 pre-season testing.
Not a bit of it. The team’s new MCL35M ran fast and faultlessly, and although the team managed nearly 100 laps less than the likes of Alfa Romeo and AlphaTauri (327 playing those two’s 422), McLaren, for one, seemed unbothered by that, appearing to run only as many laps as they deemed necessary.
McLaren looked good on both long and short run pace (the latter on a par with Mercedes) and have an ace line-up in Lando Norris and Ricciardo, while their innovative diffuser approach looks to have given them some useful performance too – with the team appearing poised to take the next step in their recovery in 2021.
Mercedes, it seems, are like pizza: even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good. There were some grim faces in the Silver Arrows camp in Bahrain, not least Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas themselves, both of whom looked ill at ease with Mercedes’ new W12 challenger across the three days.
Dig a little deeper into the data, though, and it isn’t quite as bad as all that, with Mercedes appearing to be quickest of all on long run pace, while lagging behind only Red Bull on short run pace. Yes, there’s work to do – but it seems that when they’ve got their issues ironed out, Mercedes could be back to their formidable best.
1. Red Bull
“Definitely, I think it has been the best,” said Max Verstappen, when asked whether he’d ever had a better pre-season test than in 2021. Red Bull were super strong over the three days in Bahrain, appearing to be the quickest team on short run pace by some margin, while their long run pace was second only to Mercedes.
The car also appeared to be reliable and stable at the rear – a nice change over the sometimes wayward 2020 RB16 – while Verstappen’s new team mate Sergio Perez looked to get progressively more comfortable with the RB16B as the test progressed.
The signs, then, point to Red Bull being in the strongest position of all ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend on March 26-28. But then again, testing has led to false dawns before – and with plenty of data for the teams to crunch between now and qualifying, we’ll just have to wait and see which of them comes out on top when the rubber hits the road – and the 2021 season begins in earnest.