The beginner's guide to F1 pre-season testing

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 23: Logan Sargeant of United States driving the (2) Williams FW45

Our beginner’s guide provides all you need to know about F1 pre-season testing, explaining what it is, where and when it takes place, why it matters and how you can stay up to date with all the latest.

What is F1 pre-season testing?

Formula 1 pre-season testing is a chance for teams to put their cars through their paces ahead of the opening race of the year. It enables teams to see if their new designs are working as they should and gives everyone the chance to see all the new F1 cars on track for the first time.

Testing time is limited in F1, so it’s a highly-regulated event that ensures equal time and conditions for all 10 teams and 20 drivers. Every second counts. Teams have a total testing time of just 24 hours over the course of the event – and are only allowed to run one of their cars at a time.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about F1 – Drivers, teams, cars, circuits and more

When is F1 pre-season testing?

In 2024, pre-season testing takes place over three days on February 21-23. Each of these days is scheduled to begin at 10:00 local time and end at 19:00 local time, with an hour's break (14:00-15:00 local time) separating two four-hour track sessions.

Where is F1 pre-season testing?

This season, pre-season testing is being held at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain.

You can find circuit information, plus the testing schedule (where you can convert track times to your time zone) and latest news on our dedicated Pre-Season Testing 2024 page.

What to watch for at pre-season testing in Bahrain

Where can I watch F1 pre-season testing?

F1 TV Pro subscribers can experience every angle live on any device, get in-depth analysis, plus catch up with full session replays and highlights.

Alternatively, pre-season coverage may also be carried by our F1 broadcast partners in your area, so check your local listings.

Here on F1.com, we’ll have text commentary and updates in our live blog – just as we do for every race weekend – plus live timing, up-to-date reaction and in-depth written analysis from every session.

READ MORE: The beginner’s guide to the F1 Drivers’ Championship

Why do F1 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. They need time to test the new parts – while also making sure their cars are reliable – before the opening race of the season. To finish first, first you must finish.

Pre-season testing is also important for drivers, whether they’re multiple world champions who have been in the sport for years or a rookie entering their first full F1 campaign. While they may have had ample hours in the simulator, testing might be their first time at the wheel of the brand-new machine and is an invaluable chance 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 challengers and make sure it correlates with what the wind tunnel and computer simulations have shown, while the mechanics will sharpen their skills during the event by practising pit stops before the season begins.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 24: Members of the Aston Martin F1 team work on the car as Fernando

F1 teams have very limited testing time and need to make sure their cars are in the best possible shape for the season ahead

What should I watch for in pre-season testing?

This is our first proper chance to see the new cars on track, each hopefully sporting new parts – though that isn’t always obvious! Teams might have re-shaped their sidepods and engine covers over the winter break, or tweaked elements of the floor, wings or underside of the car for example.

Look out for lots of flow-vis paint (a mixture of fluorescent powder and a light oil) and aero rakes (scaffolding-like structures covered in sensors) liberally applied or attached to the cars. This helps the teams to work out if the car (or part of it) is performing as intended.

READ MORE: The beginner’s guide to the F1 Constructors’ Championship

Mileage is at a premium given how short the pre-season test is, but the number of laps isn’t necessarily an indicator of future success. Last year, AlphaTauri (renamed RB for 2024) covered the most ground with 456 laps over the three-day event, while McLaren – who struggled to get to grips with their aerodynamic package – completed the fewest laps with 312.

Don’t expect the cars you see in testing to be identical to the machines racing in the opening round of the season either. In the past, teams have added major upgrades between testing and the first race. While that’s not likely to be the case this year, given the short amount of time between the two events, teams will almost definitely be fitting upgrades of some description before the first Grand Prix, which also takes place in Bahrain, on March 2.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 23: Oscar Piastri of Australia driving the (81) McLaren MCL60 Mercedes

Aero rakes packed with data-gathering sensors are often attached to F1 cars in pre-season testing

Do the timesheets matter in pre-season testing?

Yes, to a point – teams will be looking to put in some fast laps by running their cars with lower fuel loads and softer tyre compounds – but testing times do need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

READ MORE: The beginner’s guide to F1 car launches

Red Bull drivers have set the fastest testing times in the previous three years, with Max Verstappen winning the drivers’ championship in each season – though that doesn’t mean testing gives us a full picture of the competitive order as teams continue to develop their cars throughout the campaign.

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. Look out for suggestions about sandbagging too (where a team deliberately puts in slower than expected laps to hide the true potential of their car).



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