Ferrari is the team to beat in Formula 1 in 2022. That’s according to top rivals Mercedes and Red Bull, who both believe that the Scuderia is the benchmark car.
On day two of testing, all three teams completed a soft tyre run in similar conditions and it was the Ferrari that was flying by some distance, engine modes and fuel levels permitting. But is it all as it seems?
So far in winter testing, Ferrari has led multiple sessions and despite Mercedes finishing the Spanish test fastest of all on the final day, the latter has warned the Italian team is quicker.
Likewise, 2021 title rivals Red Bull indicate that the Prancing Horse is on top of the main problems facing teams so far in ’22, and has been setting the pace overall.
Bahrain testing Day 2: fastest times
It was Pierre Gasly that ended day one fastest of all in Bahrain but the pace shown by Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz was good enough for second and third, having spent much of the day quickest.
Leclerc narrowly missed out on topping the session ahead of lunchtime on day two as well, and Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has taken notice.
“The car that looks the most settled on circuit is the Ferrari,” he said post-morning session. “At the moment I think they’ve had a very strong testing period both in Barcelona and in Bahrain so far.
“I would say they’ve looked extremely competitive whenever on track, but you have to remember these cars are still very immature. The rate of development will be fast and intense and I expect that to change.
“I don’t think Mercedes have fully shown their hand yet but I think Ferrari look the form team you’d have to say at the moment.”
Mercedes has attracted plenty of attention during the Bahrain test but the reigning constructors’ champions haven’t topped the charts in any session so far. Despite that, the top speed differential in the morning suggests that the team is yet to fully reveal anything near its top-end potential, running 10km/h slower through the speed trap than Max Verstappen did in the same session.
New arrival George Russell echoed similar sentiments about Ferrari on day one, and was quick to dismiss the notion that the team’s radical new sidepods would elevate it to the top.
“It looks interesting, but it’s not about how it looks it’s about how fast it goes,” Russell said on Thursday. “It’s caught people’s eye in the morning. From my side, I’m proud of the team that’s pushing with this innovation, all this hard work, blood, sweat and tears and to see something pretty spectacular being pulled off is pretty incredible. But as I said, it doesn’t matter what it looks like, it’s how it handles on track.”
“We’re bringing a few little bits and pieces but it’s more an evolution”
Handling was a real issue for the Silver Arrows on day one, which was clear from the side of the track in Sakhir. Both Russell and team-mate Lewis Hamilton arguably suffered more than any other drivers at Turn 10 with understeer and lock-ups.
The heavier cars combined with the loss in load in lower speed sections of track have meant that the 2022 cars are difficult to handle at this early stage. The Mercedes though appears to be more difficult to wrest control of than rivals and a great deal more uncomfortable as well.
Porpoising issues from Barcelona have persisted despite a reworked floor design and super-tight sidepod layout for the team in Bahrain. It remains one of the worst-affected cars of the 2022 grid but the reduced engine mode it is allegedly running according to rivals’ GPS data means it may still be in the hunt at the sharp end.
“I think at this stage we’re just trying to bring more downforce to the car,” Russell continued on Thursday afternoon. “The development rate will be pretty drastic for all teams and I think we’re gonna see a constant evolution over the course of this season.
“There are a few things coming at the moment but globally, Ferrari looks the strongest in every sector.”
Mercedes’ difficulties at Turn 10 were in contrast to the Ferrari’s assured behaviour.
While Russell and Hamilton strained to keep the W13 on the racing line, the scarlet F1-75 remained in the preferred groove over and over. There are no wild corrections of the steering visible when riding on board with either Leclerc or Sainz and the wild bouncing as a result of the porpoising sensation is much reduced for the red cars.
With just two days of testing left, there is less readiness from teams than would be normal at this point. The Bahrain circuit is inducing more extreme porpoising in the…
Ferrari introduced a new floor on day two of the Bahrain test with a raised edge at the rear of the car to better manage the sudden surge and loss of downforce that results in the violent bumping the drivers are experiencing.
It could be the reason why the car looks much more compliant than anything else out on track, but the team isn’t resting just yet despite its rosy red outlook so far this winter.
Red Bull though is playing things close to the chest. It has downplayed expectations throughout the entirety of testing, shifting attention elsewhere and focusing inward. Perhaps it will play its hand on the final day of testing, amid suggestions that it has a major upgrade in the works.
Team boss Horner downplayed those suggestions on Friday night, saying that the new parts flown in overnight would not be as radical as those seen on the Mercedes.
“We’re bringing a few little bits and pieces but it’s more evolution of what we have. It’s more focused on next weekend.”
He also made clear that there could well be further discussion over the regulations around mirror designs. Mercedes also brought redesign of its mirrors to Bahrain that has Red Bull and Ferrari seeking tighter restrictions.