After three days of pre-season F1 testing at the Bahrain International Circuit ended over the weekend, we now know which team will be the one to beat ahead of this week’s Bahrain Grand Prix. Red Bull remains the benchmark, despite being hampered by a 10 percent test deficit accumulated after being fined for exceeding the 2022 budget cap. Nevertheless, Red Bull carried over a significant advantage going into 2023 after decimating the competition last year. Simple maths can work out where Red Bull stands. The RB18 had at least a 0.5 second advantage over its closest rival, if you factor in the 10 percent penalty for wind tunnel testing, then Red Bull RB19 comes out with a 0.05-second deficit in performance.
The RB19 is an evolutionary upgrade, so one can expect Red Bull to claw back and add any performance lost due to the lack of time spent in the wind tunnel. In addition, Red Bull seems to have the ability to translate CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) modeling data into real-world results better than any team on the grid. For all its bluster, Red Bull is a highly efficient and effective team. And we’ve forgotten the other performance metric, Max Verstappen is easily worth another 0.5 seconds.
So when we take it away and add it all up, the calculator tells us that Red Bull will retain their dominance for the 2023 season ahead. Ferrari had single-lap speed throughout 2022, but not the tyre management needed to compete where it matters most, the Grand Prix distance. If Ferrari can sort their tyre management, it will be a closely fought season. Mercedes require a big leap to get back to winning ways after going AWOL for much of 2022. In F1, it is very rare to claw back a one-second deficit during a race season, Mercedes will be lucky to do so during pre-season development and testing.
From what we know after the Bahrain test, it appears the W14 has eliminated the porpoising but it lacks balance making it difficult to set up. A car lacking balance is a sign that the W14 is overweight in certain areas and no amount of ballast shifting can cure the issue until weight-saving measures are implemented. An unbalanced car is simply tricky and nervous to drive. However Mercedes does sound bullish, kind of, Toto Wolff said that the team was hiding a bit of pace despite much head-scratching.
Aston Martin appears to have made a step forward, by how much is difficult to say, often F1 test results are an illusion, going from mid-field to the front row isn’t going to happen for them, maybe they have a better chance of podium finishes, purely because Fernando Alonso will make the difference. McLaren is not in a good way, if reports are correct it appears the team has taken a step back. Another season of frustration awaits Lando Norris who is desperate to chalk up his first victory.
As for the remainder of the teams competing on the grid it will be very much business as usual, although there might be a slight change in the pecking order. What is certain is… Red Bull will continue where they left off from last season, perhaps Ferrari and Mercedes will have closed the performance gap, but we’ll only really know for sure after the qualifying session ends on Saturday, March, 4th.