Paddock Diary: Bahrain pre-season test

Paddock Diary

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RaceFans’ Claire Cottingham headed to Bahrain International Circuit for the first chance to see the new cars of 2023 in action and hear from the drivers and team bosses.


After landing in Bahrain overnight, I made my way to the hotel in preparation for the first day of testing on Thursday. Familiar faces filtered through the turnstiles, eagerly anticipating the first opportunity for teams and drivers to discover how they may fair this season.

The day started with a trip to AlphaTauri, where an upbeat team principal Franz Tost spoke at length to the media, before quickly being followed by technical director Jody Eggington. The pair were animated and confident about testing and the upcoming season, and clearly impressed with new driver Nyck de Vries.

Tost admitted to me De Vries had given their engineers a “wake-up call” when he first tested for them last year and was very impressed by his input to the team. I put that to Eggington, who shuffled uneasily, before responding diplomatically and agreeing their ninth place finish last season wasn’t good enough.

Nyck de Vries, AlphaTauri, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test

The first day of testing tends to be a sociable affair with a chance to catch up with teams and PR. Testing is a more laid back affair than race weekends, and drivers and teams are free to roam the paddock without fans stopping them for pictures and autographs.

Strolling down the paddock I bumped into the former team principal of McLaren, Andreas Seidl, who stopped to give me a warm welcome. Now working for Sauber and not in a media-facing role, I joked with him that I had “only just got used to him” in media sessions. Seidl has a wicked sense of humour, and I will very much miss our pre- and post-race chats.

The afternoon was spent interviewing drivers at the back of garages, fresh from their cars. Nico Hulkenberg seemed to already be clutching his back as he spoke about his comeback, a clear sign that some time out of the car has taken a hit.

Finishing the day with room service after leaving the track very late, I set my alarm for 7am for an early sit-down with De Vries.

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After a chaotic drive in – the road discipline in Bahrain leaves a lot to be desired – we made our way down the long tunnel towards the paddock. Hearing the familiar sound of the turnstiles as I pressed my pass up against the sensor, I made my way back to AlphaTauri.

Drive to Survive season five screengrab
Feature: Netflix’s ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive” season five: Spoiler-free review
Walking towards the round table session I was once again struck by the fact I was still the only female in the room this season, bar the press officer Fabiana Valenti. She smiled warmly as De Vries addressed the media for a quarter of an hour. I have noticed in testing especially that even fewer women were present in the paddock. This is notably so among the print media, which has somewhere between one to two women in their sessions during race weekends, including myself, but I am often the only woman at most sessions.

Later that day I stopped at Haas for a roundtable discussion with Kevin Magnussen. Like most of the drivers, he seemed calm and relaxed ready for the new season.

I asked a quick question about the recently-released new season of Drive to Survive, as he features prominently in the first episode. He had little to say about it, other than he was pleased to see his daughter involved, and that she would be able to look back at it as a diary of what her dad was doing when she was younger, which I felt was a nice touch.

In the evening we were treated to a meal by the Miami Grand Prix promoters who had much to say about new changes to the event. More on that coming here soon.

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Waking up to thick fog, our drive in felt a lot calmer with locals taking far more care in the dodgy conditions. As the sun started burning off the haze, we arrived at a relatively clear track ready for the final day of testing.

A quiet start to the morning meant we had time to stop in at Haas to have a media breakfast with team principal Guenther Steiner. An off-the-record sit-down makes for such an interesting insight into paddock individuals, particularly with someone like Steiner, who has no filter.

Our first media commitment of the day was the press conference, and our first chance to speak to the now two-times world champion Max Verstappen. He seemed in a very chatty mood, at least with his peers. As moderator Tom Clarkson put questions to Logan Sargeant, Verstappen and Pierre Gasly seemed very caught up in a conversation to his right. Seemingly unaware of how loud their voices were getting, a schoolmasterly snapping of fingers from Clarkson brought the pair back to attention.

But their chatting soon resumed, and when it came around to my turn to ask a question, Verstappen seemed so embroiled in his conversation with Gasly it took four or five attempts to grab his attention. “I’m sorry, we were talking about Wi-Fi,” the world champion chuckled.

The final day was a busier one for the media, as teams offered up more representatives to discuss their progress and journalists hurried from session to session to get the latest. Heading to hear from Esteban Ocon I found myself shoved out of the way by one of the male journalists standing next to me – sometimes not a rare occurrence, however, there are plenty who would never dream to do such a thing. Ocon spotted this and turned to me to saying, “shove him back,” with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

Aston Martin convened a late chat with team principal Mike Krack who faced questions not only about what looks like a rather quick AMR23, but also the absent Lance Stroll’s replacement if his injuries to keep him from driving. Krack indicated they would take a couple of days to decide on their ‘Plan B’, but as this article was being completed we learned the team has chosen Felipe Drugovich, though remain hopeful Stroll will return.

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Felipe Drugovich, Aston Martin, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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2 comments on “Paddock Diary: Bahrain pre-season test”

  1. Thank you for the article.

  2. Many thanks for your honest diaries which give us an insight in the patriarchal world that F1 in too many ways still is.

    It makes me cringe sometimes and although that isn’t what I come here for, I appreciate it. Because apparently it’s still necessary to highlight the issues, which you do by reporting on the behavior you and other women encounter around F1.

    Side note:
    I’d love for Ben Sulayman to be confronted with these situations and be asked if it would be okay for drivers to speak out about them…

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