After two tests, six days of track running, over 6,000 laps and 31,000km, the pre-season testing for the 2022 F1 world championship season is complete.Max Verstappen ended the testing phase of the new season on top, it has been an intriguing prologue to the longest season in Formula 1 history with plenty of unanswered questions to lead into next weekend’s hotly-anticipated opening race.
Looking back at all 10 teams, who has the most to feel satisfied about ahead of the first race of F1’s new era?
Number one on the car, number one on the timing screens. If Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s goal for the pre-season was to demonstrate that they have a genuine chance of defending their championship title this year, they certainly went about it the right way over testing.
Verstappen’s headline-grabbing fastest lap on Saturday evening certainly made a strong impression, but beyond the timesheets, Red Bull’s consistent, relatively trouble-free running over the six days left them with a solid base with which to head to the opening race of the season at the same circuit next weekend.
Showing up on the final day with a major redesign for the sidepods of the RB18 and immediately going quickest with Sergio Perez was a clear statement of intent after their rivals Mercedes had drawn so much attention for their own sidepod revisions on Thursday morning. With the RB18 visibly one of the most well-balanced cars around the Bahrain circuit, the mood at Milton Keynes will be optimistic heading into round one.
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When Lewis Hamilton topped the times at the end of the first test in Spain it looked like business as usual for Toto Wolff’s team. But that was the only session the team headed across the six days, and Mercedes let it be known they were unsatisfied with the fruits of their testing programme. That was also the case 12 months ago, however, and they went on to win the first race of the year.
Despite covering more ground than any of their rivals, Mercedes struggled to dial out the handling concerns that had appeared in Barcelona by the end of the third day in Bahrain. The W13 also appeared to be porpoising the most severely of all 10 teams. Once again, Mercedes’ drivers ended the pre-season playing down their chances of being in the hunt for race wins at the opening race of the year.
“I think we probably optimised the performance a bit more in Barcelona than we did in Bahrain,” said George Russell. “But nevertheless we’re struggling to find how to unlock a bit more. So as it stands, Red Bull are looking incredibly strong, Ferrari are looking really solid and we have some work to do.”
But for Mercedes’ rivals, this is a song they’ve heard them play many times before. Could next weekend reveal them as the team who cried Wolff?
- Analysis: The technical details Mercedes revealed already on their W13
- Analysis: Mercedes’ slimline sidepods and the “rocket” technology behind them
It’s likely no team will be as happy with their pre-season performance as Ferrari. As well as being consistently near the top of the times with both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr throughout both tests, Ferrari virtually matched Mercedes’ benchmark mileage total.
But lap times were less of a concern for the Scuderia than reliability and for that they were very satisfied not to have suffered any significant issues across both Barcelona and Bahrain.
“It’s been a very solid winter testing for us, especially in terms of reliability,” said Sainz on Saturday.
“We’ve managed to cover the whole run programme without any issues, without causing any red flags or anything. So very solid by a team because it’s not easy with such new cars to be so solid. So we hope that we’re going to keep it that way come the first race.”
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It was a tale of two tests for McLaren during the pre-season. Barcelona began with such promise, with Lando Norris ending the first day of testing fastest overall and the team logging 367 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya over the first three days.
Then, the troubles struck in Bahrain. First, Daniel Ricciardo was sidelined unexpectedly with an illness, though the team initially expected he would be able to step back into the car before the end of the test. Norris completed two full days back-to-back before McLaren confirmed that Ricciardo had tested positive for Covid, meaning Norris would have to run a third day on his own.
That would have been more of a problem had the car been running reliably, which would have been a greater physical strain for Norris. But McLaren spent three days struggling with overheating front brakes, limiting the amount of running they were able to put into the MCL36. Although Norris looked like he had speed when he was able to push, there is work to do at McLaren at the start of the season.
“We’ve had a very challenging test here in Bahrain,” admitted team principal Andreas Seidl. “Our running has been compromised by an issue on the front axle. Time constraints did not allow us to entirely solve this during the test but we were able to move forward, despite a limitation in the number of laps we could complete.
“The objective is to fully solve this issue before next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, giving it our all here at the track and at the McLaren Technology Centre to catch-up on what we’ve lost over the past three days.”
Alpine endured one of the more challenging starts to the pre-season in Barcelona. The team’s fastest time of the first three days, set by Fernando Alonso, was well down the order compared to where they would have preferred to be. Their third day was cut short when the A522 went up in smoke after only 12 laps in the morning, leaving them with work to do heading into Bahrain.
They got the second test off to another shaky start, with Alonso restricted to just 24 laps in the first morning session. However, fortunes improved for the team once Esteban Ocon took over the car in the afternoon and he was able to clock 153 laps over Thursday afternoon and Friday, setting the quickest time on Friday morning along the way.
Alonso ended the test on a strong note for Alpine, getting 122 laps under his belt on the final day while also setting the fourth fastest time of the test. The solid mileage over the final two days served to help make up for the time lost by the fiery end to the Barcelona test.
The radical new technical regulations for 2022 had the potential to spread out the field this season, but after six days of testing AlphaTauri team principal Franz Tost believes it will be harder for the team to score those impressive top six results they achieved so often last year.
“I see us in the midfield, but I think that the midfield is even closer together than it was last year,” explained Tost. “We have really to get everything together to repeat positions like last year when we finished fourth or fifth in qualifying.”
Despite Pierre Gasly crashing out of the final day in Barcelona and limiting team mate Yuki Tsunoda’s track time, Gasly managed to cover the first most laps of any driver over the six days. With the changeable wind and temperatures over the course of the day in Bahrain, the team have realised that the AT03 may be more sensitive to wind than some of its competitors.
“It depends how the wind is,” Tost said. “It depends whether there’ll be a headwind or a tailwind or side wind. This has a big impact to our car and I hope that we can get everything together because we have another week to prepare the car to find out the correct set-up and then we’ll see.”
Aston Martin enjoyed an undramatic yet unspectacular pre-season, neither setting the timing screens alight, but crucially not setting the AMR22 alight either.
The team ended the Bahrain test with the median number of laps covered by all ten teams with both Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll’s quickest laps seeing them in the lower half of the field. But after admitting that the team was not chasing ultimate lap time, Vettel expects the team could be in the thick of a packed midfield battle next weekend.
“It seems like there’s a big group with a lot of teams and we seem to be somewhere in there,” said Vettel. “Hopefully at the front – that could make a big difference.”
Having been the only team not to have tested the all-new 18-inch wheels introduced for the 2022 season due to not investing in a mule car last year, gaining mileage was of utmost importance for Williams ahead of the new season. They quietly did just that in Barcelona, with new arrival Alexander Albon alone clocking up 207 laps for his new team.
Bahrain began equally positively, with Albon putting in 104 laps on day one and setting the fifth fastest time along the way. Then, on Friday, a procedural error led to Nicholas Latifi’s brakes overheating and then catching alight, resulting in an alarming fire that engulfed the rear of the car and ending their day’s running very early.
Thankfully, the team enjoyed a trouble-free day on Saturday allowing Latifi to make up for lost track time. While it’s unsure how fast the FW44 is at this stage, team principal Jost Capito says his drivers are giving positive feedback about the new car, and the all-important correlation between simulation and reality is there.
“Alex is quite happy with how the car drives,” said Capito. “He says what he experienced in the simulator is very close to what he experienced on the track, which is quite good to see.”
No team had a more worrying start to testing than Alfa Romeo. Test driver Robert Kubica and new signing Valtteri Bottas managed just 32 laps in total. Bottas was the only race driver who failed to cover a grand prix distance by the end of the first test.
Thankfully, Bahrain was a far more productive endeavour for both Bottas and Alfa Romeo. Rookie Zhou Guanyu got almost 1,000km of running behind the wheel of the C42 over the three days – a useful volume of laps as he focused on learning all the various procedures and settings he would have to master ahead of his grand prix debut.
The Alfa Romeo also appeared to be suffering the least from the porpoising that afflicted the new ground effect cars over the two tests, while the two drivers combined for their highest lap tally on the final day before Bottas was forced to pull off the circuit in the final hour after his car developed an allergy to fourth gear.
After years in the doldrums and in desperate need of a fresh start, Haas was supposed to get just that in 2022. Instead, the team had to endure perhaps the most tumultuous pre-season of their relatively short history, almost entirely through no fault of their own.
Beyond the more serious problems they faced in Barcelona arose from the geopolitical crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which resulted in them removing all branding of their title sponsor from the car, the team also managed the fewest laps of any team bar Alfa Romeo in Barcelona. Nikita Mazepin managed just nine laps on what may well turn out to be his final time behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car.
Then, after arriving in Bahrain with just one race driver and no title sponsor, Haas had to face even more difficulties when their cars and equipment arrived late to the circuit, forcing them to miss the morning session on Thursday.
Eventually, when the team did get going, Bahrain proved a more promising test than Barcelona had done. With the newly returned Kevin Magnussen at the wheel, Haas took advantage of a clear track in the evening offered to them as compensation for missing the first session and delivered the fastest time of Friday after their rivals had already begun packing up for the day.
Mick Schumacher used the extra two hours given to him on Saturday to set the second quickest time behind Verstappen. That made him the only driver to lap Bahrain quicker than he had throughout the entire race weekend the previous season. Despite some reliability issues to iron out, there is finally something for the team to feel positive about.
“It’s a matter of ‘are we quick or not’ and that’s what is positive – we are,” said Schumacher. “We have a good car, we have something we can work with so everyone can be really happy and proud of themselves that we’ve achieved that.”
Over to you
Which team impressed you the most in pre-season testing? Have your say in the comments.
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