Formula One has been set on a path to ‘level the playing field’ for some time now and today we saw the evidence the sport’s various initiatives are indeed working.
The freeze of power unit designs from 2022 to the end of the 2025 season has certainly clipped Mercedes wings.
Teams closing the gap on big 3
The cost cap is also allowing teams like Aston Martin and McLaren to catch up on the infrastructure deployed by the big three. By spending less on building and racing cars Aston Martin will soon move into their new £200m facility at Silverstone.
McLaren too have a state of the art wind tunnel due which may impact next years car. At present the team is using the old Toyota wind tunnel in Germany.
TJ13 penned an op-ed following the recent Bahrain test that the old adage “testing is just testing” may now be a mantra the older F1 hacs trot out needs to be consigned to the garbage container.
Aston Martin the real deal
Aston Martin were the talk of the recent test, though the old accusations of sandbagging were suggested abut Red Bull, Ferrari and even Mercedes.
Well today debunks all the conspiracy theories for one simple reason. There is only really one representative practice session the teams have available to them for the Bahrain GP.
Due to the heat of the day, FP1 and FP3 are held at times when which do not represent the temperatures of there track for qualifying and the race. Only FP2 gives a true insight into one lap performance together with the long run simulations that indicate the race pace of the F1 cars.
Step up Aston Martin.
Verstappen has more pace to come
Their top of the time sheets qualifying simulation time set today proved the nay sayers wrong. Yes Verstappen was not on his A-game and complained his car did not have the feel it had during last weeks test.
Further, Verstappen lost the back end of his car on his fastest lap of the day, costing 1-1.5 tenths of a second.
So if Red Bull improve the balance of Verstappen’s car and he manages a clean lap during qualifying, he will probably eclipse Alonso’s best efforts and claim pole position.
However, the rest of the data reveals some fascinating and even shocking trends which in all probability be repeated tomorrow.
Ferrari in trouble
Firstly Ferrari are in big trouble.
There was no sandbagging from the Red Team over their single lap pace and Charles Leclerc admitted as much.
“I don’t think we have the performance maybe for pole, but we can be in the mix,” Leclerc revealed.
Further, analysis of the long runs reveal Charles Leclerc average lap time was a mere 1.37.9 and puts Ferrari at best in 4th behind Verstappen, Alonso and Perez.
Mercedes are nowhere
Visibly the Ferrari car isn’t as well planted through the corners as the Red Bull or Aston, but their predicament is nothing compared to that of Mercedes.
Hamilton was eighth fastest but he and Russell were an astonishing 1.6 and 1.4 seconds of Verstappen’s race pace. As Hamilton put it concisely, “We found out we are a long way off.”
Yet the most promising data from the first days running in Bahrain was that the first 13 cars were within 1 second of Alonso’s qualifying run simulation time.
This compares to a year ago when just 5 drivers managed to deliver a time less than a second slower than the FP2 time sheets topper.
Tightly bunched cars set for qualifying shockers
With such a group of cars bunched so closely, inter team battles will become even more ferociously fought and qualifying shocks will become the norm this year.
Based on today’s running its probably only 1 Mercedes will make qualy 3 and the team may even struggle to make the top ten with both cars.
The Haas car went well last year in Bahrain and Nico Hulkenberg was impressive on his return to F1 after a two ear full time absence.
The returning German driver should make a top 10 grid starting position on today’s performance, though the race pace of the American owned team is questionable.