Feature F1 Unlocked
WINNERS AND LOSERS: Who aced pre-season testing and who has work to do ahead of the Bahrain GP?
Red Bull looked every bit a World Championship-winning team in pre-season testing, with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez’s RB19 in sparkling form. It wasn’t so rosy for everyone, though. We have picked out five winners and five losers from three days of running at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Winners: Red Bull
Red Bull’s RB19 remained a secret until it broke cover on Thursday morning at pre-season testing in Bahrain – but it didn’t take long to make a name for itself.
READ MORE: Perez hails Red Bull’s ‘tremendous’ winter push and warns team will start 2023 ‘much stronger’ than last year
Verstappen was oozing confidence after his first stint in the car, the Dutchman delighted with the balance and set-up direction, which in turn allowed him to push the limits of the car after just a few laps.
Red Bull hold a 0.3s advantage over the rest of the field – though sources say some of their rivals believe the gap is closer to half a second. They are quickest of all in the race simulations, too, though the gap is smaller at 0.16s.
That they were only fifth in the mileage charts with 413 laps but still happy with how their test went shows just how confident they are about the package they have underneath them.
As Red Bull soared at testing, McLaren floundered for the second successive year. It wasn’t as painful as 2022, when brake ducts caused significant woe, but they still ended the test as the least prepared team.
They managed just 312 laps, 142 fewer than table-toppers AlphaTauri, having spent a bunch of time in the garage working on fixes for wheel brow failings.
Their race simulation pace was actually pretty good (they were fourth in the rankings, 0.74s off the pace) but they were down in eighth in qualifying trim with the MCL60 looking like one of the most unbalanced cars.
READ MORE: F1 team bosses reveal pecking order predictions as McLaren admit they’ve missed ‘projected targets’
Winner: Fred Vasseur
Ferrari ended testing as Red Bull’s biggest rival, the Scuderia racing through their programme across three days and successfully correlating on track performance with their wind tunnel and CFD data.
Not a bad outcome for new boss Fred Vasseur, who has only been in the job less than two months having joined from Alfa Romeo to replace Mattia Binotto.
While he will have had little influence on this car, he already seems to have had a huge impact on the things he can control in the short-term – the way the team operates and its culture.
On paper, things don’t look too bad for AlphaTauri.
They topped the mileage charts with 456 laps – which is exactly seven Bahrain Grand Prix distances – with Yuki Tsunoda pumping in a rather tidy lap with the C4 tyre in the closing stages of testing.
They are sixth in the qualifying simulations and seventh in the race pace charts, which is pretty good considering they were ninth in the constructors’ championship last year.
However, it is widely believed they were running lower fuel and are actually closer to eighth, maybe ninth overall in pure performance.
VOTE: Which of the 10 teams impressed you most in 2023 pre-season testing?
Winner: Fernando Alonso
One of the key targets for Aston Martin and their new recruit Fernando Alonso was to produce a car for 2023 that gave them a wide platform on which to develop aggressively through the season.
Based on their performance in testing, they’ve done just that. When rivals were asked who surprised them the most in testing, Aston Martin was a favourite choice.
The car looked very compliant out on track, with billionaire Lawrence Stroll’s team fourth in the qualifying rankings and fifth in the race pace charts – marking a huge step forward for a team that is believed to have plenty left in the tank.
It might seem strange to put a team second in the qualifying pace rankings and third in the race simulation charts in the loser section of this feature, but is a measure of Mercedes’ ultimate ambitions.
Last year was a chastening affair for the eight-time world champions, the Silver Arrows seeing their dominant run finally come to an end as the W13 bounced so much it broke some of their engines.
The bouncing may have gone, but there are still “underlying issues” that have left Mercedes with a “mountain to climb” according to Lewis Hamilton. They appear to be third overall, adrift of Ferrari and possibly threatened by Aston Martin.
READ MORE: The 5 key questions from 2023 pre-season testing in Bahrain
You might also find it odd that Williams are classed as winners given they finished bottom of the one-lap pace charts. But they have gained the most time of any team versus 2022 testing according to our data – 2.378s – and finished second in the mileage charts with 439 laps.
This is a remarkable feat given the recent disruption at senior level, with former Mercedes strategy chief James Vowles starting his new role as Team Principal just seven days ago, while the squad remain without a Technical Director or a Head of Aerodynamics.
They have a way to go to become a regular points-scorer, but it seems they are very much in the midfield pack and, if they are able to extract the most of a package that appears much more balanced and workable, Q3s in qualifying and more frequent points compared to last year are certainly doable.
Loser: Lance Stroll
Lance Stroll was in fine form during Aston Martin’s launch at their new $200 million factory, the Canadian super excited to get his season under way with a car his team believed was a huge step forward.
But he suffered a wrist injury in a cycling accident that prevented him from taking any part in pre-season testing. His team mate Alonso said Stroll’s absence “hurts lot” as they were without his feedback.
Aston Martin are giving Stroll every chance to return in time to race in the season opener in Bahrain, with reserve Felipe Drugovich on standby to step in if required. Even if he makes it back, he faces an uphill battle to get up to speed with no representative running under his belt.
READ MORE: Red Bull boss Horner picks his most improved team from 2023 testing – and explains why he’s not surprised
Winners: Alfa Romeo
Alfa Romeo are the dark horses of pre-season testing, the Sauber-run team overcoming a small blip on the final day – when a suspected PU issue halted their running – to head into race one with a very balanced and well set up car.
They are fifth overall in the qualifying simulations and sixth in the race pace rankings, and appear to have a strong chance of shooting for points consistently in the opening phase of the season, especially as they have a big upgrade planned for the first race and another big one for race four.
To read on, sign up to F1 Unlocked for free
You'll unlock this article and get access to:
- Live leaderboard data
- Epic experiences and rewards
- Money-can’t-buy competitions