Formula 1 has returned to the familiar atmosphere at the Bahrain International Circuit for the first day of official pre-season testing, as teams ramped up their preparations for the 2022 campaign.
For some, the focus was on mileage after not being in Barcelona, and for others, it was all about longer mileages in different tire vehicles as they experimented with different formulations and fuel loads.
As always, main course times should be ignored – with the performance rounds expected to be postponed until the last day of Saturday – but there is still plenty to collect from Thursday’s run…
Mercedes causing a stir
High on the circuit-goers’ agenda on Thursday was getting a glimpse of the much-anticipated new spec Mercedes, which broke the cap when it was taken to the grid for the annual pre-season photo – and boy has it delivered its dazzling-factor with a radical side order.
It certainly caught the attention of rival teams, who are all looking at each other trying to decide who did the best job with the sweeping new regulations and whether or not they should borrow a concept and adjust their development direction.
2022 Pre-season testing: Mercedes’ contrasting side legs from Spain and Bahrain
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff said he was proud of his technical team, who have consistently pushed the boundaries of technical regulations since they went on to claim their so far winning constructors’ championship going back to 2014 – and who halted the game. He clicks on last year’s development very early in the season to throw all of their resources into this year’s machine.
It remains to be seen how fast the pack will be: presenting an exciting concept is one thing, and proving it’s time-consuming is another. But this caused a lot of up and down chatter, and our data team found they had the best race-simulated sprint ever, 0.29sec better than Red Bull, suggesting that the refresh kit has the potential to be special. We should discover over the next couple of days how special we are.
Haas is making headlines
Guenther Steiner has made a turnaround recently, as the Haas team manager tackles tough situation after tough situation with self-confidence in hopes that it will create the conditions for smoother days ahead.
After the team’s freight was late arriving in Bahrain, the mechanics did a great job putting the car together in time to go out for the afternoon session, giving reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi a VF-22 – decorated outside All-new livery – roll.
He will hand it to Kevin Magnussen, who will sensationally return to Formula 1 with the team he left at the end of 2020, after the Dane put pen to paper yesterday afternoon on a multi-year deal that not only emphasizes the team. His belief in him as well as his belief in Haas’ ability to fight back in midfield again in the short term.
There was some good news, too, as Steiner confirmed that they were given permission to run two hours after the end of the run on Friday and then Saturday to make up for the four hours lost on opening morning. That would be valuable car time for Magnussen, who will undoubtedly be a bit rusty after 16 months out of the F1 machine.
Finally, Alfa Romeo had a good day
There were happier faces at Alfa Romeo after the first day in Bahrain, as their century-plus lap number helped bury the memory of a tough session in Barcelona.
Despite those Spanish difficulties, Hinwil’s team didn’t seem concerned, their manager Jan Monchaux was confident in the team’s concept once they could weather a wave of shakeups.
Thursday was proof that they did just that, with Valtteri Bottas finally getting some decent mileage, which was important not only for him to help settle into new surroundings but also for the team, where his feedback will be crucial in helping get the most out of This package is fast.
Zhou Guanyu had a close run in the race, continuing to log miles ahead of his rookie year. You can see the confidence of the Chinese driver is gradually growing. President Fred Wasser hopes for more of the same on Friday.
Bottas is ‘much happier’ than he was in Spain after Thursday in Bahrain
Ferrari and AlphaTauri retain their dark horse status
Ferrari was pleased with their efforts at Barcelona, and it appears that the Scuderia has made a good move in terms of the relative competitiveness of the early runners. The word within the team is that the car has tons of downforce – and some felt that if the first race of the season was in Barcelona, the red cars would be in the fray.
They ignored the performance on day one in Bahrain, and instead focused on preparation – which is useful given that the first race of the year takes place at the venue – as well as reliability testing in the hottest temperatures (air was 37°C, track was 47°C) And trying a large number of solutions to solve the problem of porpoises faced by all teams.
Their Italian rival AlphaTauri had a similarly productive day, with Pierre Gasly – the well-deserved times leading – with an impressive 103 laps. Such is their progression in their program, they have already been shifting focus from aerobic testing to mechanical operations and testing softer compounds, including C4 and C5 before ending the day with downtime training.
There is a growing feeling within the ring that the two Italian teams can be dark horses in the early part of the season.
More hints at how easy it is to follow
We’ve talked about it quite a bit in Barcelona – and it’s bound to be a bigger topic this week, as drivers look to gather more experience following other cars and assess whether the new rules, designed to make it easier, particularly through corners – did the trick.
On Thursday, with many teams doing longer stints, we saw more evidence that it got easier. Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso scrambled for the position when they found each other on the track, Stroll fired an inside pass at Turn 1 and then Alonso scrambled and pulled side by side at Turn 5 before running out.
2022 Pre-Season Test: “The Right Race” on Thursday between Alonso and Stroll
We also saw Bottas closely following Alex Albon – staying comfortable within a second, which has traditionally been a challenge unless the next car had a significant performance advantage – through a series of turns before passing the Williams driver into Turn One. But the initial signals and feedback from the drivers are positive.
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