PALMER: My verdict on all 10 teams’ pre-season performances so far ahead of Bahrain testing
Pre-season running at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya gave us our first chance to see all 10 of the new-for-2022 Formula 1 cars out on circuit together. Former Renault F1 racer Jolyon Palmer was keeping his expert eye on proceedings from trackside. Here, he gives his verdict on the performance of all 10 teams, as they get set for the Official Pre-Season Test in Bahrain on March 10-12.
Barcelona running couldn’t have gone much smoother for Ferrari. Carlos Sainz racked up the most laps of anyone, with team mate Charles Leclerc not too far behind. The car seemed to have next-to-no significant mechanical issues that derailed their running.
The innovative design of the Ferrari, featuring unusual sculpted sidepods, looked to be a bit of a risk from Ferrari – but the sounds out of Maranello were positive at the launch, and everything I saw in Barcelona backed that up.
The drivers had noticeably different styles out on track, with Sainz looking silky smooth at the wheel, while Leclerc was much more aggressive, demanding a lot from the rear end of the car. It looked like he had a great deal of confidence in it early on and could push without fear of unpredictable snaps of oversteer – something Ferrari have struggled with in recent years.
Both drivers looked quick and comfortable, and the early lap times agree, for what that’s worth. Is this a first sign that Ferrari can mix it at the sharp end again in 2022?
The first running in 2021 was actually far more dramatic for Mercedes than the first sessions in 2022.
Despite the cars being drastically different this year, the team looked to be in a decent position early on, unlike in Bahrain 2021 where the car looked undriveable at times, as the team battled the more minor regulation changes.
It was fairly metronomic as usual from Mercedes in racking up the mileage without serious mechanical issues, as well as getting on with the pre-season rituals of practice starts, pit stops and a semi-race sim from Lewis Hamilton on the final day.
Porpoising, which affected all the cars to some extent, seemed to be particularly harsh on the Mercedes on the opening day and the drivers weren’t particularly happy initially. Throughout the three days, it looked to improve, as did their lap times, with the help of the softest C5 tyre.
George Russell looks immediately settled and accomplished alongside Lewis Hamilton. This was a decent start for the reigning constructors’ champions and of all the teams, the feeling is that Mercedes could introduce the most upgrades next time out in Bahrain, and showcase their true pace a little more.
It was a steady start to the year for Red Bull, who finally revealed their true RB18 car, including eye-catching aggressive undercut sidepods.
Mileage seemed the biggest priority early on, with Max Verstappen driving what looked like a very heavy but stable car through the first day before handing it over to Sergio Perez on day two.
There were more glimmers of some underlying pace on the final day as Verstappen got back behind the wheel for the morning, running similar pace, or slightly quicker, than George Russell’s Mercedes, until Russell extracted more pace on the red-walled softer tyres.
Sergio Perez had slightly more troubled running and missed some laps on day two with a gearbox issue, but also ended the Barcelona running in good spirits after a cleaner run when the track dried at the end of play on the final day.
The team seem to be in a decent position overall, even if they acknowledge there is plenty more to do with the car. But as yet, I’d say they’ve maybe kept the most hidden of any teams – so they will be well worth watching in Bahrain.
For a team that want to be considered as underdogs this year, they went about it in a strange way in Barcelona, popping Lando Norris onto soft C4 tyres and topping the times on day one, much to the Brit’s tongue-in-cheek anguish!
McLaren did have a good test though. Along with Ferrari, they were noticeable in looking like they had a good baseline with the car early on in the week. On day one, Norris immediately looked like he had confidence in the car, and it looked particularly direct in the medium-speed corners compared to the other midfielders from last year, who were struggling more with understeer.
Daniel Ricciardo needs a really good pre-season to reset himself with this new generation of car and get back to his best in 2022, and he can’t complain in terms of mileage, racking up a huge total of over 200 laps.
McLaren are playing down their pace, saying they were on different run plans, and as always it’s difficult to tell much at this early stage. But the car certainly looks good – better than anything else in the midfield. But can they jump forward as far as Ferrari appear to have?
This was a challenging first test for Alpine. There were a few small issues, including not running any DRS as a reliability precaution and then a very early, very smoky end to their running on the morning of the final day.
The car had at least run reliably on the earlier two days to ensure they left with some 2022 car mileage under their belt, but the lap times reflected the tricky start they had, running with no DRS and – it seemed – a high fuel load, as they prioritised mileage over performance running.
There was a small window of optimism in the 12 laps that Alonso managed on the final morning, with the team believing they had got on top of some teething problems, as well as getting the car into a much more suitable set-up window. We’ll have to see if this bears fruit in Bahrain next week, when they should be in a much better position.
There was plenty of razzmatazz about Aston Martin, as they became the first team to launch their 2022 model nearly a month ago now. This is a team that have won a race in their previous guise, know their way to the podium, and have a multiple world champion at the wheel. But in Barcelona it was tough – from the outside at least – to spot any obvious signs that they’d made much progress towards the front end of the grid.
The car looked snappy and hard to drive, particularly in the low-speed final sector, and it was also the car I saw porpoise the most on one particular lap, as it was launched almost fully into the air down the start-finish straight.
Sebastian Vettel had the better of the running, and looked the more likely to get a tune out of it as well, but they don’t look like they have the car in the sweet spot just yet. It could be the case that minor set-up changes can transform the performance though, as engineers are constantly getting to grips with how to maximise this new generation car.
It was a very under-the-radar first test for AlphaTauri, with their smartly tweaked white-and-blue livery.
The most notable moment was Pierre Gasly becoming the only driver to crash across the three days, as he hit the wall on the exit of Turn 5 on the final day, which ended their running early and cost his team mate Yuki Tsunoda some important track time.
Aside from this mishap though, the car looked good, compliant and driveable, without ever setting the world alight.
Last year in Bahrain testing, they were talk of the town, as both drivers turned up the wick and extracted eye-catching lap times. Maybe we will see a little bit more of that in 2022 as well.
It was ironic that the team disguising their livery design in Barcelona were kept mainly hidden away in the garage anyway, with Alfa Romeo suffering numerous teething issues that seemed minor on the face of it, but which were annoyingly time-consuming to fix.
Valtteri Bottas must have been a frustrated man as he left Spain last week with a mere 54 laps under his belt, most of which weren’t at all representative. He started the week in good spirits, but seemed understandably concerned as the issues mounted.
On the other side of the garage, Zhou Guanyu had the better of the running, more than doubling his team mate’s lap tally. Watching on from trackside, it looked like he took a while to find his feet when he got in the car on day two, but got down to a sensible pace by the end.
The reality is, it’s impossible to judge where the team are given one driver is a rookie and the other barely did any laps. When it was running though, there didn’t seem to be anything majorly nasty going on.
It was a promising first run for the FW44 in Barcelona for Williams, who are also integrating Alex Albon into the team.
With Nicholas Latifi at the wheel on the first morning, the car looked a bit snappy and not very confidence-inspiring, but the team got a better handle of it and it improved from there.
Albon has nestled in well in George Russell’s shoes, and while he admitted to feeling a little rusty initially, he also picked up and looked more and more comfortable both in the car and the team.
The hope for Williams will be that they can get back towards the true midfield for this year, and the first test – while being far from conclusive – looked to be positive, as they got through most of their run plans with decent mileage, as some other teams struggled around them.
Haas were another team that encountered numerous issues that curtailed their running in Barcelona, with neither driver hitting 100 laps across the three days, culminating in the lowest mileage of any team – which is a tough start for a team that put all of their 2021 efforts into this car.
When the VF-22 was on track though, there were notable signs of progress from their straggling status as last year’s backmarkers.
Mick Schumacher looked good in the afternoon on day one, getting up to speed well and getting through some set-up work, with a few decent runs in succession on the medium C3 tyre. Like Alfa Romeo, there wasn’t really enough running to tell a huge amount about the car, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t have the pace to be running with the pack as a minimum. They look to be in a much better place than 12 months ago.