Formula 1 pre-season testing, winter testing, pre-season sand-bagging call it what you will. None of it is a bellwether for performance. Pre-season testing is a combination of performance, systems and lab verification. Modern F1 regulations significantly limit testing compared to 10 years ago. As a result, Formula One teams have switched to wind tunnel testing. Teams also have at their disposal advanced computer simulations and modeling. The raw processing power this takes is huge. However, computer systems are now incredibly powerful at simulating the real world. But no computer system is powerful enough to match the instinctive raw power of mother nature.
That is the reason why teams have experienced high-speed wind buffeting caused by the return of ground-effect aerodynamics. The expensive computer simulations, the wind tunnel testing did not predict the return of porpoising. It was a known factor back in the 1980s. On March 10, it was Bahrain’s turn to host the last 3-day winter test, the previous one being held in Barcelona. So what did we learn?
As Socrates once said, I know that I know nothing. And we can apply this maxim to Formula One winter testing because after Bahrain… we know that we know nothing. We can guestimate. The 2021 qualification time for the Sakhir Circuit is circa 1:28s. At the conclusion of the 2022 Bahrain test, Max Verstappen topped the timesheets with a time of 1:31s. It is very easy to deduce that the time set by Verstappen is not representative of Red Bull’s true form.
The new regulations introduced for the 2022 season have added over 45kgs of weight. This equates to a time deficit of around 0.5 seconds. When the Grand Prix season begins in Bahrain next week, at minimum expect to see a pole position time of 1:29s. But we also have to factor in an increase in engine power, so we could see laps times matching if not exceeding the 2021 pole lap.
The most important winter test equation for every team is to get in as many trouble-free laps as possible. In that regard, Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari had perfect test sessions. Going forward, they are the top three teams for the 2022 campaign. However, they have been masking their performance, so we will only see who is the fastest when the Q3 session has ended next week.
Many have speculated that Ferrari is in the lead. Lewis Hamilton has played down any chances of being competitive feeling the team is behind the development curve in comparison to Red Bull and Ferrari. Red Bull has had trouble-free test sessions and spent the last three days of winter testing moaning and smirking. The equivalent of sand-bagging for them.
In the end, the last day of 2022 winter testing proved inconclusive to the outsider looking in. To that end, I know that I know nothing.