The 2023 F1 season is edging ever closer but before attention turns to the season-opening race in Bahrain, there’s the small matter of a vital pre-season testing period.
All 10 teams will head to the Bahrain International Circuit to put their 2023 challengers through their paces in an effort to learn all they can about the cars before the lights go out on the first Grand Prix of the year at the same venue on 5th March.
With testing having been greatly reduced over the years and teams only getting a combined 25.5 hours of track time in Bahrain, these three days are vital to getting a better understanding of the cars as far as both the teams and drivers are concerned.
Expect to see the teams try all sorts of different tactics to learn as much as they can, adding different parts, throwing on fluorescent flow-vis paint to test airflow and attaching aerodynamic rakes to gather vital data.
While the results from testing should always be treated with caution, the lack of time to fix any issues that arise before the lights go out on the season means there’s a lot of pressure on the teams in Bahrain.
|What||F1 Pre-Season Testing|
|Where||Bahrain International Circuit|
|When||Thursday, 23rd February - Saturday, 25th February|
|How to watch||Sky Sports F1|
Having scooped both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles last year, there’s plenty of interest in Red Bull’s new RB19, which has been kept away from prying eyes thus far.
The team used a ‘temporary’ launch car to show off its new livery at their unveiling in New York, while there was little actual footage of the car during a run out at Silverstone recently.
Teams are permitted to conduct two 15km demonstrations and two 100km promotional events before testing and some blurry leaked footage from Silverstone aside, little is known about Red Bull’s car.
The team kept their cards close to their chest at testing last year, bringing in a raft of upgrades on the final day which pushed them to the top of the timesheets.
World champion Max Verstappen says his initial impressions of this year’s car are good and Red Bull’s general silence about their new car is a little ominous for the rest of the grid.
Ferrari and Mercedes have been far more forthcoming about their 2023 challengers with the Scuderia so confident they ran the SF-23 in front of fans in Maranello at its launch.
The Italians set out their stall at testing last year, consistently laying down quick times on the first two days before Red Bull stepped up their game, and built on that good testing period to win two of the first three races in 2022.
Poor reliability, along with some head-scratching tactical calls, curtailed Ferrari’s title hopes but the Scuderia are adamant they have fixed those problems.
They will hope to prove they have got to the bottom of their power unit reliability issues by having Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr push the SF-23 hard in Bahrain and Ferrari should be close to the top of the timesheets once more given their exceptional one-lap pace last year.
Whether they are joined by Mercedes in setting quick times will be another area of interest in testing with the Silver Arrows having lagged behind Ferrari and Red Bull for much of last season.
Mercedes had major problems with porpoising in 2022, which came to light in testing and made them far less competitive than hoped, but the rule changes governing ride height are expected to work in the team’s favour.
No-one did more laps in testing last year than the ultra-reliable Mercedes, which has retained its unique sidepods look and a bounce-back year is expected from the team.
While the big three of Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes have retained the same driver line-ups from last year, the majority of the other teams have at least one new driver in situ.
For those new recruits, testing is even more vital as they get used to their new car and Fernando Alonso, who will drive for Aston Martin this year, is amongst those to voice their frustration at the lack of track time drivers get.
Teams are only allowed to bring one car to testing to limit traffic on the circuit so tend to split the time between the two drivers.
Alonso may get his wish of more time on the track though after his Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll was ruled out of testing following a bike accident while training for the new season.
Aston Martin are amongst the teams hoping to take a major step forward in 2023, despite their rear wing design being outlawed, along with Alonso’s old employers Alpine, who have set themselves the target of challenging for race wins by 2024.
McLaren are also plotting a resurgent year after their progress towards competing for honours in 2023 stalled and testing will be the first indication we get of how likely these teams are to achieve their lofty goals this season.