Max Verstappen at the front, Ferrari “cautious”, Lewis Hamilton “for the moment” not in a position to fight for victory; this is the final picture of the F1 pre-season tests, which ended on Saturday in Bahrain.
Although generally speaking, testing must never be taken too seriously when trying to establish the pecking order of the grid, this year it would be very tricky for the teams to ‘sandbag’, that is hide their true pace too fully. The new regulations mean most will be too busy trying to understand their new cars rather than hiding true pace.
On the timesheets, it was the reigning champion who placed first ahead of Mick Schumacher (Haas), who set an excellent time of 1’32″241 in his extra run, although many believe the Haas to be on extremely low fuel therefore not a particularly representative time.
The next fastest driver was Charles Leclerc at Ferrari posting 0’695 slower, the Spaniard Fernando Alonso for Alpine clocked in at 0’978. Then British Mercedes driver George Russell set a time of over a second slower at 1’039.
However, these gaps must be weighed up against the choice of tyres: Verstappen and Russell were equipped with the softest tyres, which were faster over a lap, while Leclerc and Alonso’s tyres were on a slower compound.
At Mercedes, whose bodywork was the surprise of this second session of testing with sidepods almost totally absent from its sides, it is not time to celebrate. “I don’t think we’ll be fighting for victory at the moment, but the car has the potential to do it,” Hamilton warned in the press conference.
Frenchman Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) confirmed that he had seen Hamilton “struggling” and thought his team had “a bit of work to do to fight at the front”.
As for Ferrari, the drivers remain bullish saying: “It’s certainly one of the easiest preparations I’ve had before a season. No major problems,” commenting Leclerc.
“Especially on such a new project, you always expect to find obstacles and so far, apart from the porpoising which is always a problem in certain conditions, it’s been pretty straightforward and we’ve managed to keep improving.”
Unfortunately for Mclaren fans, things are not good after the last test. The Woking based team, expected to make steady progress since 2019, appeared to be promising much after the first tests in Barcelona at the end of February. But for Bahrain, brake issues and driver Daniel Ricciardo contracting Covid meant very limited running.
“Here, we encountered a number of problems that limited the number of laps we did, particularly on the long stints,” explained British driver Lando Norris. “So we are nowhere near where we want to be, where we need to be and where we could say we are confident going into the first race.”
As in previous seasons, TJ13 often enjoys looking at the betting odds of what might be for each race and according to the odds from SportsBettingDime.com, Lewis Hamilton is up as the 7/4 favourite for the Bahrain GP. Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc follow behind at 27/10 and 13/2 respectively.
Before anyone places their money on their favourite driver for the first race of the Formula 1 season, it might be worth looking at former F1 chief designer Gary Andersons’ analysis of the current pecking order who posted an article over the weekend.
Red Bull – Ferrari
Mercedes – McLaren – Alfa Romeo
Alpine – AlphaTauri – Haas – Aston Martin
Gary Anderson says that as the test was conducted over three days and drivers had varying programmes, his performance rating is in team not driver order. Each team’s drivers are or should be fairly equal, so given the opportunity, if one driver can set a time then the other should be very close.
Pirelli tyre offset table
C2 to C3 -0.9s
C3 to C4 -0.6s
C4 to C5 -0.3s
Anderson uses the Pirelli tyre performance offset shown above to come up with the lap time that would have been achieved if all the cars were on the C4 tyres. Let us know who you think will be on top in the comments below.