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Understanding what to expect ahead of F1 Pre-Season in Bahrain



F1 pre-season Bahrain

Following an unusually extended winter, Formula 1 pre-season testing has arrived. Due to a limit of three days of running this season in Bahrain, every F1 team has already taken to the track to accumulate critical shakedown mileage.

Starting on Thursday and continuing through to Saturday at the Sakhir circuit, the atmosphere will become more intense. There are several essential aspects that we’ll be watching closely.

How does the RB19 perform?

The RB19 has been shrouded in secrecy, to the point where not even the shakedown was publicly announced.

The team’s wind tunnel penalty, which was imposed for breaking the F1 cost cap, is clearly a significant issue that could have impacted the RB19’s development. However, the extent of this impact is currently unknown.

Red Bull caused a stir during the launch season by revealing the “RB19” over two weeks ago. However, it’s now time to encounter the actual car, not a showpiece dressed up in 2023 livery.

It’s not just us who are eager to get a glimpse of the RB19. The competition will also be curious to see how the benchmark team from last year has developed the fastest car of F1 2022.


During last year’s testing, Red Bull introduced a bodywork update later on at the second test in Bahrain. However, this year, with just a single three-day test, it’s likely that the car that debuts, almost certainly on Thursday morning by exiting the pit lane, will be very similar to what will be raced next week.

Since many cars have shifted towards “Red Bull-style” designs, it will be captivating to observe if the RB19 sets a new benchmark for others to follow.

What have the teams been concealing?

Red Bull isn’t the only team that has been engaging in games during the off-season. Before the Bahrain test, Formula 1 teams have authority over what the public can see of their cars.

Even when images of the cars were made public, they were meticulously chosen to conceal any details that teams want to keep under wraps. Additionally, there will be parts that will be added to the cars during the Bahrain testing, further adding to the teams’ efforts to keep their developments hidden from their competitors.

Despite the teams’ best efforts to keep things confidential in Bahrain, it’s impossible to entirely conceal any developments or changes made to their cars.

The cars are entirely visible when on the track or driving through the pit lane, and it’s not just media outlets like The Race that have photographers ready to snap the hidden details, but the ten Formula 1 teams themselves as well.


The three-day test in Bahrain will offer the first real opportunity to see the 2023 Formula 1 cars, and their secrets will gradually unfold to the world. This is what makes pre-season testing so captivating.

Has Ferrari regained their engine advantage?

Enrico Cardile, Ferrari’s head of chassis, commented on the SF-23, stating that the team had two primary objectives for its aerodynamics: to increase vertical downforce, compensating for what was lost due to the new aero regulations, and to achieve the desired balance characteristics.

The team also completely revamped the suspension to assist the aerodynamicists in achieving their objectives and to broaden the range of adjustments that can be made to the car on the track.

It was during the Bahrain Grand Prix last year that the potency of Ferrari’s distinct small turbo/long inlet power unit became evident.

The car’s acceleration out of the slow turns was particularly noteworthy, and it became a recurring theme during the early races. While the Red Bull was faster at the end of the straights, the Ferrari would accelerate more aggressively onto them. The Ferrari engine proved to be more effective on tighter tracks.

After the first third of the season, Ferrari turned down the engines to avoid a recurrence of the MGU-H induced failures that were experienced in Barcelona and Baku. Unfortunately, the remedy for the issue was not immediate, and as a result, we did not see that early season acceleration advantage again.


Ferrari is optimistic that with the reliability fix in place, they can return to running the engine hard this year. Moreover, the Sakhir circuit is one of the tracks on the calendar that rewards engine power more than others.

Could the Mercedes encounter bouncing issues?

F1 pre-season Bahrain

The primary reason for the W14 livery being mostly black is to reduce its overall weight by eliminating the silver paint.

Although the distinct “zeropod” sidepods are retained, there is a possibility that they will be redesigned in early-season upgrades, as hinted by team principal Toto Wolff. Nonetheless, the fact that Mercedes is sticking with the “zeropods” for now suggests that they do not consider that design element as a major factor in their underperformance in 2022.

Wolff stated that the team does not consider the narrow sidepod design as the fundamental cause of their underperformance, and they are open to exploring new ideas without being bound by tradition or past success.

After completing his first shakedown in the Mercedes W14, George Russell was asked if he experienced any bouncing, to which he replied with a smile, “You’ll find out next week.”

Regarding porpoising, it will be intriguing to observe whether any teams have pushed their solutions to the extent of triggering bouncing issues or if the recent floor rule changes during the winter have completely eliminated it.


Indeed, porpoising has been a relatively common issue for Mercedes in the past. However, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the W14 will require more than just observing whether it bounces on the straights. Nevertheless, monitoring porpoising during pre-season testing will be crucial for two reasons.

The first reason to monitor porpoising during pre-season testing is due to public interest. Many people will undoubtedly want to know if it’s happening. However, the second reason is more critical as it could be a legitimate indication of Mercedes’ performance. Porpoising can be a sign that Mercedes may not have made the expected gains during the winter and could potentially start the season at a disadvantage. Therefore, it’s essential to watch for any visible signs that support or disprove this notion, as it could be a crucial factor in determining how competitive Mercedes will be in the upcoming season.

Can we expect a significant improvement from Aston Martin this season?

Dan Fallows, the technical director of Aston Martin, who previously worked at Red Bull, designed the AMR23, drawing inspiration from the championship-winning RB18. The car is described as “bold and aggressive.”

The sideboards are a significant point of difference, according to Fallows, although he noted that there are changes and improvements throughout the whole car.

Fallows also mentioned that substantial engineering improvements have been made to many of the mechanical components and aerodynamics, which are not visible to the naked eye.

During this time of the year, rumors are rampant among teams regarding what the wind tunnel data is indicating. However, these rumors should be taken with a considerable amount of skepticism.


Despite the prevalence of unreliable rumors, a recurring rumor over the last few weeks suggests that the new Aston Martin AMR23’s wind tunnel numbers are exceptionally impressive. This isn’t just good by the standards of a midfield team, but rather, genuinely competitive, potentially making for a competitive car.

Indeed, the abundance of “goods” in the rumor might seem too good to be true. However, there are times when these tunnel rumors prove to be accurate, as was the case with the 2009 Brawn car.

If Aston Martin has indeed produced a competitive car, it would add an Alonso factor to the mix, which would need to be taken into account. The Bahrain test might provide a first glimpse into this matter.

Has Williams passed its significant test?

F1 pre-season Bahrain

The most noticeable change on the FW45 is the sidepod, which was initially conceived last year but could not be implemented due to the coolers’ positioning. Additionally, the addition of the Gulf sponsor is significant.

According to Williams’ head of vehicle performance, Dave Robson, “The car build is going well, with quite large chunks of the car’s systems tested independently and now coming together.

He further commented that the FW45 is an evolutionary design in terms of its physical appearance, incorporating a few changes from the regulations as compared to its predecessor, the FW44.


Despite almost always being able to compete in the lower midfield, Williams had the slowest car in F1 last year. However, the team is aiming to take a significant step forward in 2023.

To achieve this goal, the car needs to have improved through-corner balance. The combination corner entries, involving both turning and braking, particularly highlighted how poor the previous year’s balance was.

This issue was evident early on, even during pre-season testing in Bahrain. The Williams car was frequently seen locking up and running wide at the challenging sequence, especially at the double-left turn, where the track crests at Turn 9 before dipping into the ever-tightening Turn 10.

Alex Albon stated at the team’s launch event earlier this month that this particular corner sequence will be an indicator of whether Williams has made progress with its car, saying, “Turn 9/Turn 10, that’s the kind of notorious corner. Hopefully, if we’re backing it in on the rear, that’s a good sign.”

Will there be sufficient track time?

If even Fernando Alonso, who is the most experienced F1 driver of all time, is voicing his concerns over the lack of pre-season track time, it must be even more challenging for the rookies. Since the in-season testing was prohibited in 2009 (although it has returned in various forms subsequently, never in such unrestricted form as before then), this has been a problem.

With only three days of pre-season testing in 2023, each race driver has only a day and a half of track time, which is not a lot. This is particularly challenging for the rookies: Oscar Piastri (McLaren), Logan Sargeant (Williams), and Nyck de Vries (AlphaTauri). Even for experienced drivers who have switched teams, such as Alonso, Pierre Gasly (Alpine), and Nico Hulkenberg (Haas), this is a significant challenge.


In 2021, the last time when there were just three days of pre-season testing, and teams were running carryover cars, the highest number of laps anyone managed was 237 by Gasly, which is equivalent to 1282km. Unfortunately, some drivers completed significantly fewer laps than that, with Sebastian Vettel, a newcomer to Aston Martin, managing only 117 laps (633km).

Even with a full day-and-a-half of track time, it is not enough given that the testing program is about more than just the driver acclimating. So, if any team has reliability issues, it could place a driver at a severe disadvantage early in the season.

Has a significant development for 2023 proven effective?

Last year’s new Pirelli tires for the shift to 18-inch wheel rims had a slightly understeering balance. This was further exacerbated by the challenge of attaining front-end aero load under the current regulations. However, this year’s tires have been adjusted to decrease the understeer by improving the front tire’s footprint.

Pirelli has been cautious not to make drastic changes, which is a practical approach given the anticipated improvements in the cars’ balance. The concern is that altering the balance too drastically could result in an inherent oversteering balance in the tires.

The final-specification construction and compounds were tested during the post-season test in Abu Dhabi and elicited a mix of mildly positive or indifferent feedback from drivers. However, given that these new tires will be used on all-new cars, the Bahrain test will provide a clear indication of their inherent behavior and how well Pirelli has achieved the desired outcome.

What are the initial indications of the pecking order in F1 2023?


Every year, it is the same situation, and we emphasize that numerous caveats are considered, such as no information on fuel loads or engine modes, different tire compounds, and drivers pushing to varying degrees. The list of considerations is lengthy.

Nevertheless, by the end of testing, there is generally a rough framework of the order. At the very least, it is evident who is in a particularly precarious position.

The exciting aspect is that, with only three days, the general structure of the order may become more apparent in some respects but more ambiguous in others.

Teams cannot afford to waste time with their run plans, but they will have to prioritize various tasks since there isn’t sufficient time to complete everything.

Some teams will conduct complete race simulations, while others may divide them. Some teams may completely deplete their fuel tank to obtain a true qualifying simulation at the conclusion of day two or three, while others may reserve 20-30kg of fuel.

While we will be making educated guesses, we will at the very least have an initial indication of the pecking order. Furthermore, concerning the teams’ competitiveness…

Can we expect the field to be more closely matched in 2023?

F1 pre-season Bahrain

The technical regulations introduced last year were intended to narrow the gap between teams. Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA’s single-seater technical chief, remarked that the gaps were minimal in the first year of the regulations.

There is a prediction that the gaps between teams will diminish in the following years, and the Bahrain test will give us our initial, tentative hint as to whether that will happen in 2023.

To provide context, the average gap from first to last over the course of last year was 2.6%, with the midfield trailing by 1.35%. During the Bahrain GP weekend, the gaps were comparable, but the midfield was slightly nearer, trailing by 1%. During the Bahrain test, the gap from the quickest (Red Bull) to the slowest (Williams) was 3.65% (3.350 seconds).

Another key factor that can be evaluated during the Bahrain test is the pace effect of the changes made to the rules this year, which includes the 15mm increase in the floor edges and the raise of the diffuser throat.

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