Ranked: How well did every team perform at F1 2023 pre-season testing in Bahrain?
Some teams were happier than others as F1 2023 pre-season testing concluded on Saturday ahead of next weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
But who has the most work to do before the first practice session just five days from now?
We must stress that this is not – not – an attempt to guess the competitive order, but simply an evaluation of who had a good test and who did not…
McLaren completed the fewest laps of any team in testing, with a final tally of 311 laps leaving them 42 adrift of next-best Alpine.
Of all the components on the car to pose a problem, it was the wheel brows that did for McLaren and talk of overheating brakes melting the inside of the brows brought back memories of the chronic brake issues the team suffered in Bahrain a year ago.
But the issues with this first iteration of the MCL60 seem to go way beyond that, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri struggling to bend the car to their will and McLaren’s dissatisfaction with their winter’s work bleeding into the test.
Their start to the season is almost certain to be heavily compromised.
The good news? Mercedes now have a firm grip on the porpoising problem that blighted their 2022 season. The bad news? The car still doesn’t look like a Red Bull beater.
That doesn’t tally with the narrative pushed by the team throughout last year, that if only the team could have found a way to eliminate the bouncing the W13 would not just have won, but dominated.
Did the time Mercedes spent trying to find a solution to their 2022 issues allow Red Bull to escape their grasp?
A fixture at the top of the testing mileage charts throughout the hybrid era, Mercedes were only seventh with 398 laps in 2023 – a figure hurt by the hydraulic problem that ruled George Russell out of the final 90 minutes on Day 2.
When it came to the eye test, the Mercedes also struggled for traction at points and Lewis Hamilton’s fastest time on the final day was more than three tenths slower than the (Sergio Perez-driven) Red Bull despite his use of the faster C5 tyre.
A more stable platform than last year, no doubt, but still much to do.
Williams enjoyed a better pre-season than last year, but really and truly 2022 couldn’t have been much worse.
With the second-highest number of laps completed (439), the James Vowles era got off to an efficient start and at first glance the FW45 has addressed enough of its predecessor’s vices for Williams, on the right day and in the right hands, to attach themselves to the back of the midfield battle.
Alex Albon’s quickest time on the final day on C5 tyres, however, was lost in the crowd of other cars on C3s, hinting Williams remain at the foot of the mountain.
AlphaTauri were the surprise name at the top of the lap charts (456) – but what does that really mean in a compressed testing schedule in which any lost time, for whatever reason, would leave a team falling dramatically down the order?
To illustrate the point, only 29 laps separated Ferrari in third from Aston Martin down in eighth. A medal for winning the mileage competition is no longer applicable.
AlphaTauri ended two of the three days in the top six, but given that almost every other team’s challenger turned sharper than last year’s car, the eye test was particularly prevalent in this case.
Reports from trackside confirm that the AT04 remains on the understeery side.
With star of Netflix Guenther Steiner cementing his status as F1’s “fok” hero for another year, attention turned back to more serious matters in Bahrain.
Haas’ test very much mirrored their driver line-up – solid and steady – and lacked the buzz of last year’s Bahrain test as it dawned on the team that the car was actually something they could race with.
This time? Not much to see here from a team who look set to be just fine in 2023.
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What exactly to make of Ferrari in Bahrain?
The SF-23 at least doesn’t seem to have taken a step back from 2022, but likewise there is no great leap forward here either.
And why would it be hugely different when the car, as good as may look, follows an identical low-drag design philosophy to last year?
The mood music at Ferrari is quite positive even though Charles Leclerc’s verdict is that the car is faster on the straights but slower through the corners, but whispers of quite severe tyre degradation hint at a similar theme to last year.
Could Ferrari be fast enough to cover off Perez and make Max Verstappen sweat on Saturdays, only to bow to Red Bull on Sundays?
Not once did Alpine trouble the timesheets in testing, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon instead quietly going about their business on the harder tyres.
A muted test by normal standards caused alarm in some quarters, but considering the team remained quietly confident even when the car was engulfed in flames this time last year – and were fully vindicated with their best season in years – there is no reason to doubt them now either.
So even though the Alpine was the only car to go slower than in the 2022 Bahrain test and logged the second-fewest number of laps, this is a team – with both drivers speaking positively about the A523 – heading into the first race with a quiet confidence.
A place very near the head of the midfield awaits.
3: Alfa Romeo
Alfa Romeo scored a large portion of their points in the opening months of 2022 and the early indications are that they may be about to do the same again.
This was not a perfect test – Valtteri Bottas caused one of the few red flags of testing by stopping with an engine problem shortly before lunch on the final day – but the C43 has emerged as a quick, well-balanced car.
Zhou Guanyu’s table-topping time on Day 2 may have grabbed the attention, but beneath the headline lap lies a car that looks to have eliminated Alfa’s biggest weakness – instability in fast corners – from last year.
Don’t be surprised if the Alfa once again bursts out of the blocks in Bahrain.
2: Aston Martin
With Lance Stroll ruled out through injury, Fernando Alonso took charge of Aston Martin’s running and was in the car for all three evening sessions, taking full advantage of the most representative conditions ahead of the season opener.
That left Felipe Drugovich – Stroll’s potential replacement for the Bahrain GP – with only 117 laps on the board, all in daylight. Not ideal.
But when the season gets underway next weekend, all eyes from an Aston perspective will be on Alonso in what is already shaping up to be one of the great stories of 2023.
Testing brought the first proper glimpse of the real Aston Martin – the mean, lean operation Stroll’s father Lawrence envisioned when he rebranded the Silverstone team two years ago – with the quick and compliant AMR23 translating the exciting numbers from the wind tunnel to the track.
Now – at long last – Alonso can fight, and he is primed to give Mercedes and Ferrari a hard time at the start of the season.
1: Red Bull
Amid all the talk that Ferrari and Mercedes, with plenty more scope for improvement, would close the gap to Red Bull over the winter, few seemed to consider that the bar would be raised even higher in 2023.
Yet that, on this evidence, is what has happened, the RB19 proving to be an enhanced, more refined and lighter evolution of last year’s dominant Championship-winning car.
Pace simply oozed out of the car, top of the timesheets on two of the three days in Bahrain, with Max Verstappen so satisfied that he left the whole final day of running – the time for the optimal conditions and quickest laps – to Perez.
Nothing seemed to better encapsulate the confidence within Red Bull, who start the year as strong favourites for a reason.
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