We’re past the end of 2022 Pre-season F1 Testing! It feels like the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ended a week ago! But it’s been 3 months, and now the season opener of 2022 is just a few days away. But with the season opener being so close to testing, the teams that are doing well have a better chance to continue their form, whereas the struggling teams have even less time to fix their issues. In this post, I’ll analyse the performances and info from Day 3, and I’ll link this with previous performances. I’ll also be making some predictions for the Bahrain GP…
First of all, at the top of the table was Max Verstappen. That’s a bit of a shock, considering how top teams are always sandbagging in F1 testing. I’ll analyse the info about Red Bull and Mercedes later in this post. There’s plenty to get into because sandbagging is even more interesting and important this year. Behind Verstappen was Mick Schumacher, who pulled off another mad performance for Haas in their extra hours. In 3rd was Charles Leclerc, who continued Ferrari’s strong form.
I’ll talk about the dark horses of this year later. In 4th place, Fernando Alonso had a much better day. He raced in both the morning and the afternoon sessions, completed 122 laps, and was only a second off the pace. That seems like a lot, but it was still a Top 5 result. In 5th was George Russell. He set his time on the C5 tires as Verstappen did. A second off the pace on the same tires? Not great for Mercedes…
In P6 was Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo. Alfa Romeo finally had a positive day of testing, with Guanyu Zhou in P11. Bottas finishing the session in P6 is really great for Alfa because he was 1.2 seconds off the pace and only 2 tenths slower than George Russell in the Mercedes, despite setting his fastest time on the C3 tires. He also didn’t have any reliability issues- oh wait, Bottas DID have reliability issues, again.
After setting that quick lap, Bottas had to pull off the track because he got stuck in 4th gear and his car then went into anti-stall. The Red Flags came out because Bottas’ car had to be removed from the track. Alfa Romeo’s cars are quick but unpredictable. I don’t think Bottas will be happy if he moved to Alfa Romeo to not make it to the chequered flag. In F1 testing teams often face issues. But it’s better to struggle in testing than during the season. So there is hope for Alfa Romeo, and overall, it was a better day for Alfa Romeo.
Despite some teams ending testing on a high, some teams didn’t have the greatest end to testing. AlphaTauri didn’t have the greatest day, with Tsunoda in 7th and Gasly in 12th. I expected more from Tsunoda considering he went out on the C5 tires. And Gasly was 3.1 seconds off the pace. Even though he was on the C4 tires, the C4s are only meant to be half a second slower than the C5s. Given the kind of pace Gasly had on Day 1 in Bahrain (fastest on the day), he should be at least in the Top 5.
Another driver who struggled was Lando Norris. However, that was McLaren’s struggles continued and confirmed. After the first day of testing in Bahrain, Norris confirmed that McLaren were facing issues with the brakes. The brakes were heating up too fast, and that was why McLaren couldn’t go for long runs, and why their times weren’t as competitive as they were in Barcelona. On top of that, Norris was the only driver driving, since Daniel Ricciardo tested positive for COVID-19. While Daniel Ricciardo will most likely race at the Bahrain GP, McLaren have Oscar Piastri and Nyck De Vries as options to replace Ricciardo if he can’t race.
Another two teams that struggled were Aston Martin and Williams. With reliability issues on Day 2, Williams’ form declined from the Top 5 on Day 1 to the bottom 5 on Day 3. You could argue that both Williams drivers were on the C3 tires on Day 3. But that so were Lando Norris and Valtteri Bottas. Both were over 2 seconds faster than Williams. Do you think George Russell leaving the team hit them hard?
Season 4 of Netflix’s docuseries Drive To Survive showed how much Williams relied on Russell to outperform the car and bring results. Will Albon and Latifi show Williams’ true pace? Latifi isn’t a great driver, and it left Russell carrying the team. Albon has had a year away from F1 and will be getting used to the new team and the new car. It could just be a testing issue, and I hope that this isn’t a sign of Williams’ 2022 performance.
Before we start talking about the dark horses, another team that struggled was Aston Martin. They were doing great in Barcelona and in the first 2 days in Bahrain. They were able to continue their form. Although the car was initially tough to handle, the drivers were able to set competitive times in it. However, on the final day, their pace just dropped off. Lance Stroll was suddenly 4.3 seconds off the pace. Given how Day 3 was not competitive for them, especially compared to their Day 2 performance, they must’ve made a change after Day 2 that really didn’t work out.
We’ve looked at the performances at all of the teams except for 4 teams. First, we’re going to look at the emerging dark horses, and then we’ll analyse the Red Bull v Mercedes fight and how that might play out in 2022.
The Dark Horses Are Emerging
A dark horse in sports is a previously less known or less competitive person or team that might have a shot of succeeding and rising to the top in a certain situation. The situation is the 2022 F1 season, and there are a couple of dark horses this year. When it comes to midfield, Haas are the obvious dark horse. I initially thought it would AlphaTauri, but the Haas drivers have shown some killer pace. Yes, their fastest laps have come in the track time that they have alone. Yes, they have had plenty of reliability issues. Kevin Magnussen only completed 38 laps on Day 3 because his car had a fuel system issue. But Haas have been working overtime. On Day 1 of F1 testing in Bahrain, they missed the morning session because of a freight delay that they couldn’t have done anything to avoid.
The mechanics had to work for hours with no break. Some of them had to work 30 hours straight to get the car on track on Thursday afternoon. They’ve been working really hard, and despite having some reliability issues, they’re still putting in those lap times. Schumacher’s fastest lap on day 3 was 5 tenths slower than Verstappen’s, which is perfect because Verstappen was on the C5, while Schumacher was on the C4. 5 tenths is supposed to be the gap between each compound. I think Haas will be really quick in qualifying, but they need to sort out their issues so that their drivers make it to the chequered flag in every race.
The biggest dark horse this year is Ferrari. They’ve really stepped it up. In all days of testing this year, in both Spain and Bahrain, they’ve been consistently at the top or near the top of the timesheets. They’ve had a clean sheet in terms of reliability issues, and have had a very smooth Testing. The only issue they had is Carlos Sainz finishing so low on Day 3. He did runs on the C2 tires, before doing a final run on the C5, which was 3.1 seconds off the pace. That’s the only hitch in their run. I knew Ferrari would do well this year, especially after the leap they made from the bottom of the midfield in 2020 to topping the midfield in 2021. But with all of the sandbagging from the top teams in F1 testing, was the Ferrari hype train more than just some distant hope?
While some people believe that Ferrari will fight for the title, I don’t believe so. I definitely think pole positions and podiums are on the cards. And yes, I do believe Ferrari will return to the top step of the podium. But with Red Bull’s real pace surfacing, it looks unlikely Ferrari will be fighting for the championship again. Even Carlos Sainz pointed out that it was “typical Mercedes, typical George. Just hype up the others and then come to the first race and blow the competition away, which is typical.” And I agree with him. But Ferrari’s performance is very promising, and I can’t wait for the day when I see a driver in red holding the Drivers’ World Champions’ trophy again.
Have Mercedes Picked Up The Sandbags RB Dropped?
Red Bull showed a bit of their real pace on the final day of testing. With Red Bull finishing in 1st and 8th, it seems that they dropped the sandbags for the final day. But Mercedes’ pace got worse, which is why I was thinking that Mercedes picked up the figurative sandbags that RB dropped. Sandbagging in F1 is when top teams perform poorly or slow down their cars for testing. They then bring their maximum pace in the races. This is used to surprise their rivals, and Mercedes are VERY familiar with it. However, Red Bull haven’t been in a situation where they needed sandbagging for a long time. That’s why testing had another level of sandbagging this year. We expected the rivals to sandbag and try to surprise each other when the season would begin.
But the sandbagging was the most interesting on the final day of testing. Before looking at the last day, let’s see how the top teams performed in the previous 2 days. On Day 1 in Bahrain, both Mercedes and Red Bull struggled and hovered around the bottom of the Top 10. On Day 2 in Bahrain, Hamilton was nearly a second off the pace despite going on the C5 tires. Russell was in the bottom 5 and ran prototype C2 tires, which explained his lack of pace. Verstappen, however, finished P3 and had a great day. He was the only driver in the car, and despite only completing 86 laps, it was a decent day for him. And on the final day, he set the fastest lap of the entire 2022 F1 Testing in Bahrain. However, it was a worse day for Mercedes.
Hamilton was nearly 4.4 seconds off the pace on the C5 tires, which is seriously worrying. George Russell was over a second off the pace on the C5 tires, which is the same tires that Verstappen used. So Mercedes’ final day was clearly worse than Red Bull’s. I think this is Red Bull trying to build up to the first race and trying to intimidate Mercedes. Imagine being Lewis Hamilton. The last day of testing before the Bahrain GP and your championship rival bangs in the fastest lap, while you’re down in P17, 4.4 seconds slower than him on the same tires. This is more than just racing on the track. These are mind games. Mercedes tried the same thing in Barcelona. They dropped the sandbags on the last day and pulled off a 1-2, with the RB drivers in 3rd and 4th.
At Bahrain, they showed up with an extremely aggressive technical innovation that could’ve been the stroke of genius that would beat Red Bull. But Mercedes struggled in Bahrain, and their pod-less car wasn’t that fast. On the other hand, RB succeeded in Bahrain. So will Red Bull unveil something new at the Bahrain GP? Maybe they’ll just unleash the true pace of that RB18. Whatever it is, I can’t wait for the 2022 season to get underway. Be sure to tune in for the Bahrain Grand Prix from the 18th to the 20th of March 2022!