The Official 2022 F1 Pre-season Test began in Bahrain on the 10th of March 2022. F1 Testing is always hugely important and incredibly interesting. But this year, it’s on another level, with the beginning of a new era in F1. That’s why the testing format is relatively different. There were 3 days of testing in Barcelona, and there are 3 days of testing in Bahrain. F1 called the 3 days in Barcelona a “shakedown” or the “pre-season track session”. In Barcelona, there was no live broadcast or live leaderboard. It was all rather secretive because of the new regulation change. When there is a major regulation change like this one, there is a lot of room for things to go wrong. F1 didn’t want the teams to come under heavy media scrutiny if they struggled.
The thing is, we’re in 2022, and with the internet and plenty of sources, if a team’s struggling, everyone will find out. I wrote about this in my analysis of Day 1 of Testing in Barcelona, which is when it was clear that teams like Alfa Romeo and Haas were really struggling. But the lack of live broadcast and leaderboard only built up the hype for the 2022 Official Pre-season F1 Testing in Bahrain. These 3 days were where the teams would really push to gain as much data and insight as possible. This is especially because the F1 season begins at the Bahrain GP just 6 days after testing ends.
Day 1 of testing was adorned with plenty of chatter as big news dropped before the season even began. Haas terminated Uralkali and Nikita Mazepin’s contract. That left them in need of a driver and a sponsor. A day before testing began, Haas confirmed that Kevin Magnussen would make a sensational return to F1. It was fantastic news, and I think he was the perfect driver to replace Mazepin. He spent 4 seasons with the team from 2017 to 2020, and his experience in F1 could really help Mick Schumacher. Haas also missed the morning session on Day 1 because of a logistics problem, but they will get 2 hours after the evening sessions on Day 2 and Day 3 to make up for that lost time. While Haas made headlines, when F1 testing actually begin, the Silver Arrows took centre stage.
Mercedes unveiled a W13 car with updates that shocked the F1 world. They brought some major changes to the sidepods of the car. On an F1 car, there is a sidepod on both sides of the car. The sidepods hold important Power Unit components, which is why there is an air intake on both sidepods. However, the Mercedes car had virtually no sidepods. It was an extremely aggressive and intriguing design that took everyone by surprise.
The new 2022 regulations mean that the new cars don’t have bargeboards, leaving the sidepods completely exposed. That means more air flows through the sidepods of the F1 cars, which is why there is so much focus and so many variations in the teams’ sidepods. But Mercedes took this to another level. Their car has almost no sidepods. On the face of it, it looks like this would be great for directing air at the right speeds through the top of the floor and the underfloor. It would allow the floor to generate more downforce. But will it work as Mercedes hope it would? We’ll have to wait until the season opener for the answer to that because I’m sure Mercedes will sandbag in testing.
Also, it could be that teams chose not to go with this design because they tested this already. Given how Mercedes had the least CFD and wind tunnel testing time, it could be that they made a mistake here. But with the level of technical innovation that Mercedes’ aero team have proved they have, I doubt that Mercedes have dropped the ball here. There are a lot of questions, but only time will tell. To show you just how radical Mercedes’ sidepod is, here’s a comparison with other cars. You can see that the other cars have bulkier sidepods. You can also see that each car has different sidepod designs. That’s one of the beauties of F1 testing – the teams are always experimenting with new ideas. Despite Mercedes’ sidepods being a lot less bulky, they passed the crash tests and are believed to be legal.
Gasly On Top Ahead Of The Flying Ferraris
Pierre Gasly had a great first day in Bahrain as he beat the Prancing Horses to top the timesheets. Gasly put in a 1:33.902 and completed 102 laps. However, that time was on the C4 tires, whereas the two Ferraris behind both set their times on the C3 tires. This means that the Ferrari’s have some serious pace. Sainz and Leclerc were clearly the fastest drivers on the grid since they finished that high up the order despite using the medium tires to set their fastest lap.
They also had great reliability, completing 116 laps combines. The fact that drivers like Lance Stroll and Alex Albon finished behind Ferrari despite using the soft tires is a great sign for the Scuderia. While some may say that Gasly only finished fastest because he used the C4 soft tires, he was half a second clear of Sainz. That’s the delta time difference that Pirelli were aiming for this year’s compounds.
In P6 was Lando Norris, who completed only 49 laps in the McLaren. Daniel Ricciardo was feeling unwell, so Norris had to complete both sessions on Thursday. Norris said that there were problems with the brakes, which is why he couldn’t complete many laps. The brakes were heating up so much that Norris couldn’t complete long runs when he did go out on track. McLaren seemed to be trying to gather long-run data because Norris set his fastest lap on the C2 tires, which are the hard tires. It was a decent lap time and was clearly the fastest of the C2 runners, and faster than almost all C3 runners.
Right behind Norris was Valtteri Bottas, with much better performance for Alfa Romeo compared to testing in Barcelona. While Bottas’ teammate Guanyu Zhou was 3.2 seconds off the pace, Alfa seemed to have gotten rid of their gremlins. They completed a good 120 laps in total on Thursday. Behind Bottas was Vettel, who didn’t have the greatest day. Not many laps completed and a mediocre lap time was not the form he was on back in Barcelona.
Behind Vettel is a Mercedes sandwich, with Perez in the middle. there’s no way of hiding that Mercedes are really sandbagging here. While Red Bull were clearly doing endurance runs with Perez on the C2 tires, both Mercs were on the C3 tires. Are they trying to make it look like the “pod-less” car isn’t working? That’s what it looks like to me. In terms of reliability, Mercedes did pretty well and completed 121 laps.
Alpine didn’t have a good day – Ocon was 2.8 seconds off the pace and completed only 42 laps. It was even worse for Alonso, who, despite being on the C3 tires, was only 0.023s faster than Ocon. He only managed to complete 24 laps in total, reportedly because of engine issues. However, he had a great battle with Stroll on track. A sign of things to come this year? I hope so because that’s what these cars are designed for.
Behind Zhou was Pietro Fittipaldi in last for Haas. It was a tough day for them since a freight delay meant they missed the morning session. On top of that, Fittipaldi is just a test driver. He is a long way away from a full-time job in F1, which is why he was far off the pace. Although Haas don’t have a title sponsor, Magnussen coming to the team would’ve brought some stability and morale to the team. Hopefully, we can see their full performance on Day 2.