Formula 1 Bahrain Pre-season testing 2022: Everything you need to know

The 2022 Formula 1 pre-season testing is over and we have less than a week to go until this year’s season opener, the Bahrain Grand Prix. 

The new era cars took the Bahrain International Circuit by storm and three days of intense pre-season testing saw few cars succumb to new challenges, and few teams living up to or even crossing our expectations. 

Based on the time charts, trackside data and overall testing performances it is difficult to predict the pecking order for the new season. 

Given how teams have identified and isolated their problems, they shall do everything to sort themselves out, add the final levels of refinement and bring their A-game to Sakhir next weekend.

Here are the key takeaways from everything we learned at the Formula 1 2022 Bahrain pre-season testing.

New regulations, new innovations

The 2022 Formula 1 season is the beginning of a new era, with the FIA having modified and changed the technical regulations governing the sport, to promote better racing and achieve tighter competition. 

The weekend of the 2022 Bahrain pre-season testing saw a variety of interesting interpretations of these regulations, with few teams sharing similar approaches to designing their cars as well as few teams taking on radically different approaches.

The primary focal point of observable difference among teams is the sidepod design. The Aston Martin has a wider and longer sidepod with a huge undercut to draw airflow over the floor. The Ferrari has a similar concept with the addition of a dip at the top of the sidepod which navigates air towards the rear wing.

At the other end of the spectrum, we saw the likes of Williams and Mercedes that adopted a more minimalistic approach. 

Williams aimed to shrink their side pods as much as possible, with the addition of a vertical slit to allow additional airflow. Mercedes showed up in dramatic fashion and took this a step further with their sidepods becoming the talk of the paddock on day 1 of testing itself. 

They featured a pair of side pods that were more tall than wide, and so narrow towards the front that they seemed virtually non-existent.

On the final day of pre-season testing in Bahrain, Red Bull revealed a shrunken version of their sidepods which was in addition to their radical design, revealed last month at Barcelona. 

The length of the underside of the intake seems to have increased, along with the sidepods sculpted with its Oracle branding over the radiators and engine.

Although it is still very unpredictable to say which teams have ticked all the boxes in preparation, it definitely looks like the FIA’s new regulations have fulfilled the criteria of bringing about a high degree of innovation and variation, given how different each of the cars on the grid are from each other.

A closer field and a more competitive spread

The general feeling around the paddock after three days of testing in Bahrain, is that the competitive spread is tighter. The difference in lap times between the fastest and slowest cars during this test is very similar to the gap among the cars at qualifying in Bahrain, last year.

 On the surface, it might seem like nothing has changed with the gap at qualifying last year being 3.350s in comparison to 3.452s in the 2022 Bahrain test. 

However, if we do not consider the run by Alex Albon of Williams in the afternoon heat of the final day, whose lap was 1.879s off the back, the rest of the picture tells a different story. 

The eighth fastest McLaren was only 1.471s off the pace setter, Max Verstappen’s lap in the Red Bull during the final few minutes of testing on Day 3. 

If the gaps at qualifying this weekend in Bahrain are even remotely in line with these numbers, the FIA will have achieved another one of its objectives of the new regulations - to close up the field and tighten the gap.

McLaren’s race against time

McLaren had an almost flawless run at testing last month in Barcelona; however, this was not the case in Bahrain. 

The testing of the MCL36 suffered tremendously at the hands of its brake problems.

The engineers at McLaren underestimated the high speeds which these new cars could achieve, and miscalculated their brake-cooling requirements. 

This meant that the brakes would overheat quickly, and not cool down enough for a sustained run. This limited McLaren’s testing to shorter stints with the team scrambling to find a solution in the garage.

McLaren had new parts flown in from the UK just in time for testing on day 3. Whilst they showed improvement after the new upgrades were added, it still did not offer an ideal solution as McLaren struggled to even manage a race distance before the car had to be pitted. 

McLaren faced another setback on Friday when Daniel Ricciardo tested positive for COVID-19. This bestowed added responsibility on the shoulders of his teammate Lando Norris, who had to drive the car alone during all of the sessions at Bahrain. 

The team could only manage a total of 200 laps across 6 sessions and 3 days of testing - which was the lowest mileage by any team.

The biggest positive for McLaren is that they have been able to handle the problem of porpoising relatively well. They were one of the first teams to find an adequate solution and seemed least afflicted by it, both at Barcelona and Bahrain. 

However, unless they are able to sort their brake issue out before the season opener at Bahrain, it is likely they might have to retire.

Williams on fire?

After only 12 laps driven on day two, Nicholas Latifi’s rear brakes caught fire as he exited the first corner. 

Once the brakes were in flames, Latifi tried to bring the car back to the garage, but the fire melted a component of the car’s suspension thereby causing a failure. The total damage done was enough to force Williams to a premature end of testing on the second day.

Although no official reason was stated for the cause of the failure, it is suspected that an unspecified procedural problem led to the brakes overheating and catching fire. 

It is also safe to assume that the brakes were too hot already when the car left the garage on Friday morning.

Jost Capito, the team principal of Williams Racing laughed off the cause of the incident by saying it was “too silly to speak about”, but the reality was far from something to smile about for Williams.

This blow forced the team to restructure their plan for Saturday’s testing and put a dent on all the boxes they ticked off before - lots of mileage and no real setbacks. 

Latifi was given more running time on Saturday morning, with Alex Albon behind the wheel for only 18 laps post lunch, followed by Latifi again for the remainder of the day. 

This left Albon on the back foot as he could not drive the car in conditions that would represent the environment for qualifying at Sakhir the following weekend.

Is Ferrari the new title contender?

Ferrari has stolen the limelight throughout most of testing for several reasons. At their 2022 car launch, Ferrari’s sidepods with its unique design became a focal point of discussion. 

There were doubts about how the car would perform on track, but the team surely did take everyone by surprise and came through with fantastic runs during testing. 

On all six days of testing across Barcelona and Bahrain, the F1-75  proved to be reliable, robust, quick and consistent. 

The team achieved more mileage than anyone else across both venues. They hovered around the top end of the time charts consistently, with Carlos Sainz acknowledging he had “no idea”how strong they were competitively.

Ferrari have made some key developments and changes to their power unit and engine this year. By tapping into new modes, complemented by the reliability of their radical design, it seems like they shall be the ones to beat this year. 

It is safe to say that we have a new challenger for the title that is going to bring a strong fight to Red Bull and Mercedes.

Mercedes is far from perfect

Entering the new season, defending an 8th consecutive Constructors’ championship title, all eyes were on Mercedes as they showed up in Bahrain pre-season testing with their dramatic new sidepod design. 

Expectations were high, however the silver arrows unfortunately did not make a mark as strong as Ferrari and Red Bull - at least that is what the time charts say.

Mercedes’ W13 has been a constant victim to the porpoising problem that has haunted the new cars and remains one of the few teams that has not been able to find an ideal solution to tackle it. 

George Russel and Lewis Hamilton both seemed shaky and uncomfortable on the track with the car bouncing up and down along the straights. They have both acknowledged that there is work to do on the car and it seems like it will take a few weeks to get the problem sorted. 

In the current state, there is no data that shows Mercedes is at the same level of pace as Ferrari and Red Bull.

Lewis Hamilton has claimed that he does not think the team will be competing for wins. However, he does see the potential within the car to get them there. 

There is no doubt that if the porpoising issue is solved, the W13 will venture into untapped potential and unleash performances that can challenge for podiums. 

It is uncertain as to how close the team is to make the changes it needs, and whether the season opener will come too quickly.

Mercedes do have a reputation for downplaying their strengths during testing and sandbagging their way through the pre-season. However, is it different this time? 

Journalists and F1 experts are conflicted if Mercedes have a genuine problem that will take weeks to overcome or if it is going to be a recap of Bahrain 2021 when the team came back from a problematic testing only to win the season opener the next weekend. 

Red Bull raising the bar

The upgrades made by Red Bull for day 3 of pre-season testing in Bahrain have made them the ideal challengers of Ferrari and have arguably outdone them with their final few runs. Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen both looked comfortable in the car through most of their sessions. 

The RB18 did not succumb to porpoising issues like many other teams and neither were their front tyres locking up even close to as much as their rivals’. 

The latest upgrades have allowed the car to leak less air from the floor, maintain adequate downforce, handle porpoising on the long straights as well as stick well through the corners. The car carried speed into the corners and showed no signs of understeer. 

It did seem like the Red Bull was a little behind Ferrari, but was able to finally unlock its full potential when Max Verstappen set the fastest lap time of 1m31.720s in the final few minutes of testing on day 3 - a time that would put a car into Q2 at Bahrain last year.

Given the expectation of the 2022 cars being slower than the previous year’s, and that the RB18 was running on a heavier fuel load, it is safe to say that Red Bull have brought a strong fight to Ferrari in terms of being the fastest and most complete car so far. 

Could this be the year they end Mercedes’ winning streak in the race for the Constructors’ championship? Only time will tell.

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