Data by Ekagra Gupta, words by Jake Williams-Smith
The final test ahead of the 2022 Formula 1 season is over and the competitive order is growing clearer, though it’s far from crystal just yet.
Bahrain provided a better opportunity to understand which of the teams has found a promising concept and which has work to do ahead of the first race.
Over the three days in Sakhir, Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren experienced differing fortunes. By collecting all of the most relevant long-run data from the three-day test, a tentative comparison of race pace can begin to be formed.
We have designated any stint of more than five consecutive laps as a race run. By analysing these stints across the three days, we can formulate a picture of what the competitive order might look like.
Mercedes’ slim sidepods dominated coverage of Day 1 in Bahrain, with rival teams wondering whether the radical design would prove a gamechanger in the 2022 title race.
If it does, then there was no evidence from the initial times, as Ferrari recorded the “better” pace, as shown by consistently lower average lap times than Mercedes. This could be down to both teams exploring different run plans but it may also show a bit more of an aggressive approach by Ferrari from the off.
Perhaps the confidence is justified, or maybe the others were simply holding back. Sergio Perez’s times would certainly indicate a more conservative approach by Red Bull, especially given the favourable conditions for his runs: later in the day with cooler temperatures.
High temperatures on day two meant that running was very difficult to read into. Many teams changed their planned programmes in the face of 37C heat, leaving the long run focus for the final day in Sakhir, which was forecast to be considerably cooler.
But the constant remained, with Ferrari again showing strong pace. Variance dropped throughout the session, suggesting good consistency.
Russell’s efforts are interesting to note. The tightness in the bands were very consistent and he showed reliable pace in these programs – especially compared to the Ferrari. This is meaningful as more time on track for long run sims means the team didn’t have to spend as much time with setup configuration to find confidence and be on the pace.
The final day of testing and the last chance to gather data before the coming race weekend brought plenty of long-run simulations, as well as an upgraded floor and sidepod for Red Bull’s RB18.
While less dramatic than Mercedes’ update, the new elements appeared to do the trick, with Red Bull showing more pace after they were fitted to the car.
Max Verstappen’s outing in the final afternoon was solid. There weren’t many race sims from the world champion but he was on the pace in no time – on par with Ferrari. We can’t accurately speculate as to how much performance is remaining, but we’ve seen enough to say that both teams are close.
Ferrari once again demonstrated impressive consistency throughout the many long race simulations that it performed during the final day.
It’s much more than can be said for Lando Norris, but the McLaren driver did at least manage to get some laps on the board on the final day: a positive sign after the team struggled to keep brake temperatures down in the Bahrain heat. Generally speaking, the performance we’ve seen isn’t bad by any means, but we didn’t see a lot of it: the braking issue is a dampener.
Hamilton and Russell ended the test with a pessimistic view of Mercedes’ chances at the start of the season. It’s a familiar stance from the team, which has given a similar verdict in previous years, only to resume its place at the front of the grid at the first race.
There’s no evidence of any drastic struggles in the long-run times, although the team does appear to be struggling to control the bouncing at high speeds, which rivals are getting on top of. Hamilton’s 18-lap stint was pretty solid as well as he was not far off the benchmark of Sainz who was lapping on mediums. It was also on par with McLaren’s shorter hard tyre run. Variance for Hamilton was also low. His other stints, such as Stint 8 were also strong.
So where does that leave the teams going into the start of the season? And which one will win the Bahrain Grand Prix?
The Prancing Horse was arguably the stand-out team throughout both pre-season tests. Consistently at or near the top of the times, Ferrari’s F1-75 has been tipped by rivals as the car to beat, and it will be no shock to see Charles Leclerc or Carlos Sainz standing on the top of the podium. Whether their convivial relationship can stand the stress of a championship battle is another question.
The car’s single-lap pace was immediately obvious; the speed and consistency of its long-run performance, shown above, reveals that Maranello’s latest creation should be more than a one-lap wonder.
Most rivals said that Ferrari looked strongest and while Mattia Binotto wouldn’t boast the team was quickest, he was at least quietly confident of his drivers’ chances at the first round of the season.
But the cars won’t necessarily glide to victory.
For a team that struggles to understand the term ‘publicity-shy’, Red Bull had a conservative test. It spent little time on long-run pace simulations, which accounted for around 70 laps of its track time in Bahrain, but it was not too hampered by reliability concerns.
When the team was out doing sims its drivers showed good pace, on a par with Ferrari. More so on Day 3, following the upgrades than on Day 1.
With new parts that appear to deliver performance upgrades and to control the porpoising that cars are suffering at higher speeds, Red Bull seems to understand how to set up the car for strong underlying pace. On this evidence, expect to see it at the sharp end of the grid.
Examining the data only gets you so far when analysing Mercedes’ chances. Standing at the side of the circuit in Sakhir, it was clear that it remains one of the cars most affected by the porpoising phenomenon, despite its upgrades.
The issue was still present on the final day as the team began its race simulations, making any conclusions difficult to draw while it is yet to get on top of its ideal car setup.
Along with Ferrari, Mercedes seemed to invest considerably in its long run programmes. It completed 140 laps as part of stints that were above the five-lap threshold and these were spread relatively consistently across the three days.
Several of the runs showed good consistency and lap time. Although pace comparisons favour Ferrari, Mercedes was considerably behind through the speed traps throughout all of testing – indicating that they were holding back somewhat. As always, we just don’t know the full picture.
For many, McLaren was the dark horse of Barcelona testing, posting fast times and reliable runs. Then the team arrived in Bahrain.
Daniel Ricciardo being sidelined due to Covid didn’t help, but the brake issues really crippled McLaren’s plans. Lando Norris should have been the busiest driver in Bahrain, but a critical overheating issue on the front brakes of the MCL36, left him stuck in the pits for far too long.
The team couldn’t fly new parts out in time prior to the conclusion of the Sakhir tests and so will be hoping any fixes that arrive in time for the race weekend rectify the issue.
It also makes reading into the team’s competitiveness a tough job. Norris had the least long-run simulation work of any top team driver. What little we saw was comparable to the top teams, but it will be for nothing unless the team gets on top of its brake problems.
While there is a lot of time for testing, there is not that much time that is spent on long runs alone, which can indicate race pace. This analysis has looked to collect the most notable stints across each of the three days of testing for the “top” teams.
It would be bold to establish a clear pecking order amongst these four teams at this stage, but Ferrari had a confidence-inspiring showing, Mclaren has some good potential but may struggle to find it, Mercedes doesn’t seem to be in as much trouble as it suggests and Red Bull looks strong despite the convervatism. Fingers crossed they all are within a tenth come Saturday afternoon.