The beginner's guide to... Formula 1 pre-season testing
We’ve seen all 10 teams unveil their brand-new contenders – or at least their new liveries – but the official pre-season test will give us the first real chance to see all the new F1 cars on track for the first time. Our latest beginner’s guide takes you through the how, when and why of pre-season testing...
What and when is pre-season testing?
Pre-season testing is a chance for teams to run their cars on track ahead of the first race of the year. It’s been happening for decades, but testing used to be a mostly private affair, with teams at one time able to do as much testing as they liked.
But it’s now a highly-regulated event that ensures equal time and conditions for all 10 teams and 20 drivers.
In 2023, testing takes place at the Bahrain International Circuit on February 23-25.
Each of the three days of pre-season testing is scheduled to begin at 1000 local time and end at 1930 local time, with an hour's break for lunch. That's a total of 25.5 hours that the track will be open over the course of the test – and the teams are only allowed to one run car at a time.
Why do teams take part in pre-season testing?
Teams make considerable changes to their designs during the winter break and build entirely new cars for each new season. So they need time to test the new parts – while also making sure their cars are reliable – before the opening race of the season.
Though not as wide-ranging as last year’s set of rules changes, there are some new regulations for this season, so teams have had to tweak their floor designs while also working on the general performance of their cars.
Pre-season testing is also important for drivers, as while they may have had ample hours on the simulator, this might be their first time at the wheel of the brand-new machine. With three full-time rookies – Logan Sargeant, Oscar Piastri and Nyck de Vries – on the grid, testing is an invaluable chance for them to get some much-needed track time before the first race.
Meanwhile the engineers will use the three days to collect data on their new machines – and make sure it correlates with what the wind tunnel and simulations have shown – while the mechanics will hone their skills during by practising pit stops.
How do I watch and follow testing?
Here on F1.com we’ll have live text commentary – just as we do for every race weekend – plus live timing, up-to-date reaction and in-depth written analysis from every testing session.
F1 TV subscribers can even watch the sessions live, plus catch extra features, on the official streaming platform.
Alternatively, coverage of the pre-season test may also be carried by your local F1 broadcaster, such as Sky Sports in the UK.
What should I watch for in testing?
This is our first proper chance to see the new cars on track, each – hopefully – sporting new aerodynamic parts. The floors will definitely be different, given new rules to combat porpoising – that's when the cars bounce up and down at high speed – but teams might also have re-shaped their sidepods and engine covers over winter break.
Last year, some teams – such as Mercedes and Red Bull – brought markedly different versions of their cars to pre-season testing after the initial three days of running in Barcelona. This year, there are just three days of running in total, so we might not see such a dramatic change in designs from Day 1 to Day 3 in Bahrain – but they will almost definitely be fitting upgrades between testing and the first race of the season, which also takes place in Bahrain, on March 3-5.
Mileage is at a premium this year given how short the test is. Last year, McLaren – with Daniel Ricciardo recovering from Covid-19 – covered the least ground with 200 laps over the three-day test in Bahrain; Mercedes managed 385.
Finally, the test will also give us a glimpse of aforementioned rookies Piastri (McLaren), Sargeant (Williams) and De Vries (AlphaTauri), plus new signings Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin), Pierre Gasly (Alpine) and Nico Hulkenberg (Haas).
Do the timesheets matter in testing?
Yes, to a point – teams will be looking to put down some fast laps and run their cars with lower fuel loads and softer tyre compounds – but testing times do need to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Max Verstappen managed to set the fastest testing times in 2022 and 2021 – and he went on to win the championship in both seasons – though that doesn’t mean testing gives us a full picture of the competitive order: Yuki Tsunoda set the second-fastest time overall in 2021 and Mick Schumacher was second-fastest overall in 2022.
Teams don't generally reveal how much fuel they've been using during a session, either, which makes it even harder to tell who's actually going to be fastest.
Of course, if Ferrari and Mercedes manage a consistently quick and reliable showing in pre-season testing, then talk of a three-way title fight will erupt ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix on March 5…