Practice start, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test

The key data from F1’s only pre-season test of 2023

2023 F1 season

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The only meaningful track time that the ten Formula 1 teams will have before the longest season in history kicks off in anger has come to a close.

Just three days and 25-and-a-half hours of scheduled testing time have come and gone – and on the face of it, it would be easy to assume that the 2023 F1 season is simply going to pick up where 2022 left off. Red Bull sit atop the times sheet, with Mercedes closest to them and Ferrari also looking within reach of the world champions.

But digging deeper, the data from almost 4,000 laps covered during the only pre-season test offers a better picture of who enjoyed a promising start to the season and who did not – as well as offering a striking demonstration of just how far teams have developed their ground effect philosophies just 12 months on from running the current generation of cars for the very first time.

Lap times: Driver

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Perez put Red Bull on top of the times
Sergio Perez has spent his second successive winter doing extensive homework, working hard with his engineers to figure out how he can offer a challenge to Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen. At the end of the final day today, Perez was the fastest of all 20 drivers who partook in the test, an ego-boosting three-and-a-half tenths of a second quicker than any other driver and a full 1.3 seconds quicker than Verstappen had gone the day before.

But it would be foolish to read anything into Perez’s margin over his team mate – especially when Verstappen did not run at all on the final day. What is more noteworthy is that Perez’s best time was comfortably quicker than Hamilton’s, despite the Mercedes setting his on the softer C5 tyres.

Of the three rookies embarking on their first seasons in Formula 1 this year, Nyck de Vries was the quickest despite not pushing close to his AlphaTauri’s ultimate pace on the final day. De Vries reported there had been some “limitations” with the car, but Logan Sargeant and Oscar Piastri will both be hoping to find more pace from their own cars next weekend.

Driver Day one Day two Day three
Sergio Perez 1’33.751 1’30.305
Lewis Hamilton 1’33.508 1’33.954 1’30.664
Valtteri Bottas 1’34.558 1’30.827
Charles Leclerc 1’33.267 1’32.725 1’31.024
Carlos Sainz Jnr 1’33.253 1’32.486 1’31.036
Yuki Tsunoda 1’34.671 1’35.708 1’31.261
Kevin Magnussen 1’35.087 1’33.442 1’31.381
George Russell 1’34.174 1’33.654 1’31.442
Fernando Alonso 1’32.866 1’32.205 1’31.450
Zhou Guanyu 1’33.723 1’31.610
Max Verstappen 1’32.837 1’31.650
Felipe Drugovich 1’34.564 1’32.075
Lando Norris 1’33.462 1’35.522 1’32.160
Nyck de Vries 1’34.559 1’32.222 1’38.244
Nico Hulkenberg 1’34.424 1’32.466 1’33.329
Logan Sargeant 1’34.324 1’32.549
Pierre Gasly 1’34.822 1’33.186 1’32.762
Alexander Albon 1’33.671 1’32.793
Oscar Piastri 1’34.888 1’33.175 1’33.655
Esteban Ocon 1’34.871 1’33.490 1’33.257

Lap times: Team

For the second year running, Red Bull will head to the first race weekend of the season having set the pace on the final day of pre-season testing. But unlike 2022, Mercedes are much closer to their fiercest rivals – Lewis Hamilton being the closest driver to Perez’s benchmark, albeit still over three tenths off despite the benefit of setting his best time on softer tyres than Perez.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Hamilton was second-fastest, but used softest tyres
The same C5 compound also helped propel Alfa Romeo to third-fastest, courtesy of a late Valtteri Bottas run in the final session. Ferrari sit in fourth with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr posting near-identical times on the final day.

Aston Martin’s best time set by Fernando Alonso was only good enough for ninth-fastest at the end of the test. But the team did not appear interested in carrying out any glory runs in the twilight hours, instead letting their consistent presence around the top five across the test do the talking for them.

One encouraging sign we may take at face value is the smaller field spread. The gap between Perez’s best time and Ocon’s personal best time – the slowest of all 20 drivers – was just under three seconds. This time last year, the gap between fastest (Verstappen) and slowest (Nicholas Latifi) was just under four seconds.

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2023 pre-season lap times compared to last year’s test and race

Alexander Albon, Williams, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
The raw numbers suggest new Williams is an improvement
Perez’s best time was 1.4 seconds faster than Verstappen’s quickest lap from the 2022 Bahrain test – a pretty impressive improvement in just a year despite the FIA introducing measures to curb porpoising that will almost certainly have reduced aerodynamic efficiency. It also would have beaten Leclerc to pole position in last year’s qualifying in Bahrain, although Perez benefited from one grade softer tyres than Leclerc used.

There are a few teams who will be pleased with the performance they’ve gained compared to this time last season. None more so than Williams, who made an impressive 2.5-second leap over their best time of the 2022 Bahrain tests. Despite not apparently attempting any white-hot low fuel runs, Aston Martin also showed their momentum from the end of last season seems to be carrying across to 2023, gaining 2.3 seconds from last year’s test to now and over a second over their best time from the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend.

Mercedes too are more than two seconds to the good, a considerably greater improvement than both Red Bull and Ferrari managed. Interestingly, Alpine were the only team to fail to match their best lap of the 2022 test of any of the ten teams, though they have already revealed they are bringing an upgrade to the first race.

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2023 pre-season mileages compared to last year

But while everyone knows not to read too much from the stopwatch, the amount of kilometres a car covers over a test day is much more consequential. More laps means more data. More data means more opportunities to develop upgrades to help solve problems and improve the car’s performance.

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
AlphaTauri’s drivers spent less time in the pits than anyone
At the end of testing, AlphaTauri has the greatest volume of data to sift through, with De Vries and Yuki Tsunoda logging a combined 456 laps – nearly 2,500km worth – over the three days. Williams also enjoyed a far more productive Bahrain test than they endured last season, putting up 439 laps over the two days. Even Haas’ 415 laps over the three days were enough for them to beat their combined mileage for 2022 across two full tests.

On the other end of the spectrum, McLaren have some long nights ahead of them over the coming week. The team covered easily the fewest laps of any team with 312 – just over 100 a day – at least a full race distance less than every over team except for Alpine, who also failed to put 2,000km the A523 during the test.

Of drivers, Alonso did not let his age prevent him from logging the most laps of the test among the field – although benefiting from an extra half-day’s running over everyone else. De Vries and Sargeant are well prepared for the start of his first season having amassed well over 200 laps, while Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri will have the least experience with their cars of any of the main drivers.

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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3 comments on “The key data from F1’s only pre-season test of 2023”

  1. Perez may have used a step-softer compound for his fastest lap than Leclerc for last season’s pole lap.
    However, the key difference is Perez didn’t push for maximum performance nor most likely had similar fuel loads to qualifying flying laps (thus nullifying the compound impact), so the upcoming pole time with full push will definitely be even faster.
    I reckon somewhere in the low to mid-1m29s & faster than the 2016 pole time of 1:29.493, given the improvement rate from last year’s fastest testing time to pole time.

  2. So here’s my snap judgement based on no rational evidence:

    – Red Bull still strongest
    – Aston and Williams have made a step forward
    – McLaren and Alpine a step backwards

    Roll on next week for some real times!

  3. The race sim times would’ve been interesting. Anyone seen them?

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