F1 – key insights from the opening day in Bahrain
It is too early to make definitive conclusions, but based on the first day of testing, here are some initial observations.
The emphasis of F1 2023 seems to be on gradual progression instead of drastic changes, and this theme was evident in the uneventful first day of pre-season testing.
While there were no major surprises or noteworthy occurrences, the benefit of a straightforward day is that it provided ample data to analyze.
Here are the key insights from the opening day in Bahrain.
F1 key insights Bahrain Day 1
The Mercedes car does not seem to be experiencing significant porpoising issues.
Following the shakedown, there were some murmurs that Mercedes might still be experiencing porpoising issues, but the situation appeared to improve during testing in Bahrain.
Observing from the sidelines, the bouncing that was noticeable at the same time last year was not visible on the straights this year.
According to team principal Toto Wolff, there was “a little bit of movement in Turn 12, but not anywhere close to what we’d seen last year and not close to performance-limiting.” Additionally, the car looked nimble on the track, particularly when it came to turning.
This seems to confirm that Mercedes can expect a much more typical start to the season, as opposed to the troubleshooting they experienced last year. Now, the focus is on squeezing every last drop of performance out of the car and making improvements to enable it to compete with Red Bull and Ferrari.
As Wolff put it, “it’s a good starting point.”
The level of secrecy surrounding McLaren’s floor design may have been overstated.
Before the test, there was a lot of interest in McLaren’s car due to some mystery surrounding the floor design. The team blurred the floor in both still and moving images that they released, although the floor was visible in other shots.
It is not uncommon for teams to use smoke and mirrors tactics, and McLaren has done so before, such as when it disguised its bargeboards during a Silverstone shakedown in 2021. Given that McLaren did not reveal its floor clearly at the launch, it seemed that the team was deliberately trying to keep its floor design a secret.
However, when the car was displayed for group launch photography with all the other teams on the first morning of the test, the floor was no longer concealed. It looked similar to the 2022 McLaren floor and did not appear to be anything out of the ordinary, at least on the outside. It also followed a well-established Red Bull concept.
This raises the question of why McLaren blurred the floor in the first place. It is possible that the team simply wanted to keep its developments under wraps for as long as possible.
Aston Martin had a rough start, but they were able to finish with a good lap.
During testing, any time spent in the garage is a costly setback. There are two periods in particular that can cause significant problems. Initially, it seemed that Aston Martin’s opening day would be regarded as disappointing in terms of mileage, as they encountered some issues.
However, the situation was not as severe as expected, thanks to Alonso’s afternoon running. Although there were some delays while the team repaired some floor damage, they were ultimately able to complete over 100 lap
From a lap time standpoint, Alonso’s performance during testing was likely an eye-opening one. He appeared to be pushing harder than any other driver and his run, which took place in the evening, seemed to be more of a qualifying simulation than anything else.
What immediately stood out was that Alonso’s lap time was essentially on par with the quickest qualifying lap set by Aston Martin, which was significantly faster than any other team’s 2022 qualifying time.
Given the progress that Aston Martin made last year, it is not surprising that their 2023 car is starting off so strong by comparison.
Despite a potentially rocky start to testing, Aston Martin ultimately ended up looking and sounding quite pleased with their performance.
Red Bull got off to a strong start on the first day of pre-season testing.
In this article, Ken notes that “there is no doubt that the Red Bull is incredibly quick and the team is in excellent form.” While it can be challenging to draw firm conclusions during testing, based on the main indicators of lap time, reliability, and on-track performance, it appears that the RB19 is in a strong position after the first day.
Verstappen’s concise summary emphasized an important aspect, namely that the team had an incredibly problem-free day, one that any team would be satisfied with.
“We managed to complete a lot of laps, which was our objective – nearly the equivalent of three Grand Prix distances,” he stated. “It was also a trouble-free day. We encountered very few issues and were able to concentrate on the car and experiment with a few things.”
This was evident in both the car’s on-track performance and how easily it was able to achieve competitive lap times, even at this early stage.
The launch and shakedown testing provided an accurate representation of the car’s capabilities.
The first day of testing is often expected to showcase a range of innovative car modifications that may have been concealed or omitted during the car’s launch. However, on this particular day, only subtle aero tweaks were unveiled.
This could suggest that F1 teams have progressed to a new stage with these cars, where they have established their concepts, have a solid understanding of them, and are now focused on incremental fine-tuning and constant adjustments to aero surfaces in order to optimize airflow. Even small changes can result in significant performance improvements when accumulated over time.
Nevertheless, it is still only the first day of testing, and there is a possibility that many more modifications will be revealed as testing continues.
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The team’s preparedness has resulted in a significant payoff.
The fact that every team completed at least one filming day before the start of testing has allowed for a significant amount of uninterrupted mileage. This was the case even though Aston Martin caused an early red flag.
Overall, the 10 teams managed to cover a distance of 6796km, which is over 31% more than the total distance covered on the first day of testing in Barcelona and Bahrain last year. It should be noted, however, that those tests occurred during the early days of a major regulation change, whereas the current packages are better understood and feature power units that were carried over from the previous year.
Despite complaints about the limited duration of testing, it is clear that all 10 teams are determined to make the most of the time they have.
McLaren has raised the bar significantly from the low level set by the previous year.
During testing, McLaren was able to achieve a solid headline lap time and cover a significant amount of mileage with two drivers participating. Additionally, the brakes did not catch fire, which is a marked improvement from the same test in 2022 where the bar was set very low.
While the McLaren never looked terrible, it also did not appear entirely convincing. From trackside, it seemed that the car was somewhat inconsistent when it came to Turns 10 and 11, which are two very different types of corners. This observation was made over the course of the final hour of testing.
It is challenging to make a definitive assessment based on a single snapshot of testing, but there were a few instances where Norris appeared to struggle to turn the car as he wanted to, resulting in some variability in his racing lines. This could be a sign of similar issues from last year, or it could be due to the nature of the run he was on, including tires that were past their prime.
Norris’ lap time was six-tenths of a second behind Alonso, and if this difference cannot be explained by fuel loads, engine modes, or driver commitment, then McLaren may have lost ground in the midfield battle rather than gained it.
However, it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusions at this stage. More time is needed to observe the McLaren in action and to determine whether the relative pessimism surrounding its launch was accurate or whether it was an exaggerated attempt to downplay the team’s potential.
The team has reached its desired outcomes.
At the launch of the new Alfa Romeo car, Technical Director Jan Monchaux emphasized that the team had placed a strong emphasis on making improvements to the rear of the vehicle. This was done in an effort to address the main issue that plagued the car during the previous year, which was rear instability in faster corners.
It remains to be seen how well the team will perform overall during the season, but the focus on addressing a major weakness from the previous year’s car is certainly a positive sign.
Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas, who split the running on the first day of testing, both suggested that Alfa Romeo had made progress. According to Bottas, last year’s car had a significant imbalance between low-speed and high-speed corners, which required a compromise in the handling. However, this year’s car seems to have a better balance between the two types of corners.
Reliability was also a major issue last year, due to a combination of problems with the Ferrari power unit and Alfa Romeo’s own difficulties, particularly with cooling. However, the team appears to have made strides in this area as well, completing 138 laps during the first day of testing, which is just shy of two-and-a-half race distances in Bahrain. This is a significant improvement compared to last year when they had 12 DNFs, the most of any team.
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