As soon as it began, three days of Formula One pre-season winter testing came to a close. Held between Friday of March 12 through to Sunday, March 14, all 10 teams had a total of 24 hours spread over the weekend of open track time around the Bahrain International Circuit. Some teams struggled surprisingly, while many made use of their reliability to clock on as many laps as they could. As we now head directly into the first race of the season in Bahrain two weeks from now, here are five key things we learnt from the test.
Both Mercedes drivers had limited run and still feel uncomfortable with the car. With a tweak in the technical regulations to reduce downforce, the W12 is said to be a handful on track. Hamilton had a few notable spins even had an excursion into the gravel. Valtteri Bottas actually said that the car was quite snappy and unforgiving. In fact over the three days, Mercedes covered the least amount of distance with only 304 laps completed between both drivers.
On the final day, Bottas has a better run to finally come out of testing feeling comfortable and confident going into the first race. He also set the fastest time on day 2. While that may be the case, Mercedes do seem to look like they are on the back foot as we approach the new season.
Unlike years in the recent past when Red Bull have struggled in testing but have bounced back over the course of the season, this time the story was different. Verstappen set the pace on day 1, and closed testing on top of the timesheets. However, times are not entirely representatives in testing as different drivers and teams would be testing various aspects of the cars at any given time. So getting apples to apple representation is not accurately possible.
Both drivers set comparable times to each other over the course of the weekend. Verstappen and Sergio Perez went home satisfied with 369 laps worth of data to analyse with confidence and excitement. If these numbers do actually represent the strength of the Red Bull package in 2021, they might just be in a position to take the fight against Mercedes for the championship this year. Especially with improvements made by Honda on the power unit before their departure from the sport at the end of the season.
Ferrari arrived at testing with what they claimed was an improved car compared to its predecessor. With a new driver line up consisting of Carlos Sainz teamed up with Charles Leclerc, the Tifosi may not be subjected to another disappointing season this year. Ferrari claims that the track performance favourably correlated to the dyno tests in Maranello and Team Principal Mattia Bonitto stated that straight-line speed was not a disadvantage any longer.
On the first day, Sainz was fifth fastest with 56 laps in the bag compared to Leclerc’s 59 laps. Day 2 saw Leclerc sixth fastest but Sainz came back in qualifying practice laps with the third-fastest time of the day on the C4 Pirelli tyres on Sunday (Day 3). Even though Sainz faced hydraulic issues, between two drivers, Ferrari went home with 404 laps in the bag. Ferrari’s race simulations too looked strong. With the improvements to the Ferrari engines, Haas and Alfa Romeo, customer teams also found reasons to celebrate.
Sebastian Vettel now with Aston Martin, formerly Racing Point, spent most of his testing in the garage. Over three days, Vettel only finished 117 laps, one more than Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes. Vettel’s Aston Martin was in the garage on day three of the test with turbo issues, which of course was not what the German driver would have wanted.
Lance Stroll finished his first day at testing with a strong run as fourth fastest for Aston Martin, while on day 2, he was third fastest with an even stronger run. However, between Stroll and Vettel, Aston Martin was only able to complete 314 laps, 10 more than Mercedes.
AlphaTauri seemed to have arrived with a great package with Pierre Gasly clocking up the maximum amount of laps of any driver over the three days. Additionally, his pace was commendable. But his rookie teammate Yuki Tsunoda getting to grips with the Honda-powered AT02 set some interesting low fuel runs as qualifying simulations. Tsunoda on day three set the second-fastest time.
AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo both topped the charts in terms of lap tallies. Both teams with their two drivers each clocked 422 laps around the race track in Bahrain. On the final day alone, 41-year-old Kimi Raikkonen showed his form with a remarkable 166 laps, just five short of three race distances of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The season kicks of with the Bahrain Grand Prix which will be held between 26-28th of March. But to understand the true pecking order with McLaren, Williams, Alpine, Haas in the mix it is best described in the words of Christian Horner, Red Bull Team Principal who aptly puts it every year, “We won’t know until the first race”.
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