This Test – Bahrain

Features This Grand Prix

Hello, testing is done and now it’s time for racing. A new season is about to begin and the big question could if testing is accurate is can anyone catch Red Bull and Ferrari? Although the answers to who has not shown the true potential of their cars will not be clear until qualifying and the race next weekend…

General News

Honda says that several teams have approached it about a possible partnership from 2026, when the engine regulations change however they have not yet decided to stay in the sport when the regulations change. Red Bull has set up their own powertrains company in Milton Keynes and this month announced a new partnership with Ford from 2026.

While Honda officially withdrew at the end of 2021, has registered to be one of six power unit suppliers from 2026-30. Honda Racing Corporation president Koji Watanabe told reporters, “After we made the registration we have been contacted by multiple Formula 1 teams. For the time being, we would like to keep a close eye on where Formula 1 is going and just see how things go. For now we don’t have any concrete decisions on whether or not we will be going back to joining Formula 1.”

Honda withdrew wanting to focus on carbon neutrality and increased electrification. F1’s next generation of engines will retain the high-revving 1.6 litre V6s but with significantly more electric power and 100 per cent sustainable fuels. I think the sport has moved in the direction that both Honda and the car industry is going in.

Looking ahead to 2023, executive chief engineer Tetsushi Kakuda, told reporters the company had worked to address reliability issues for 2023. Despite Max Verstappen winning fifteen races there were reliability issues which lead to his retirement in Sakhir and Melbourne early last year.

A new Pirelli wet weather tyre that doesn’t need to be heated in blankets is to be introduced for the start of the European season in May. The change of specification was formally approved at Tuesday’s meeting of the F1 Commission.

Wet weather tyre temperature is likely to become a bigger issue next year when the use of tyre blankets are totally banned. Wet conditions and especially visibility have been a major talking point in recent years after several controversial races, notably the 2021 Belgian GP.

A vote on whether to ban tyre blankets next season will take place following Silverstone in mid-July. Pirelli has been making preparations for F1 to abandon the use of tyre warmers from next year as part of a wider push to improve sustainability.

However the reason the change was abandoned for this season was abandoned because of the technical complexities of coming up with products that can cope with excessive temperature and pressure variations, the change for 2024 is not yet guaranteed.

Pirelli has been pushing on with a private programme to develop tyres that do not need pre-warming, and it is now targeting a focused effort leading up to a post-British GP test of its latest products before a final decision will be made.

Test Recap

Day one saw Max Verstappen set the fastest time with saw 32.837 going almost three-hundredths of a second faster than the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso. The dutchman topped both sessions while Alonso set his best time during what will be the twilight conditions for qualifying on Saturday. Carlos Sainz was third fastest having driven the morning session going almost a hundredth and a half faster than Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc.

Day two Guanyu Zhou topped the times after setting his fastest time a 31.610 in the final half hour. That put the Alfa Romeo four hundredths ahead of Max Verstappen, who had set his fastest time before lunch and in unrepresentative conditions for qualifying. Fernando Alonso was third half a second behind Verstappen, with the Alpha Tauri of Nyck de Vries going fourth and Nico Hulkenberg fifth. Alonso used the C3 harder medium tyre as he had a full day running, Hulkenberg meanwhile pushed Carlos Sainz to sixth.

Day three saw Red Bull return to the top of the times with Sergio Perez setting a 30.305 going three-tenths ahead of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. The Red Bull has looked the most stable car on track as well as looking very slippery in a straight line. Hamilton’s time was also set on the same tyre compound on what was a more positive afternoon for Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas put his Alfa Romeo third going nearly two-tenths faster than the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc


CEO and Toto Wolff is adamant that Mercedes will “eventually” have a frontrunning car this year, although the recovering team believe they will be “starting behind” Red Bull and Ferrari at pre-season testing. The team go into the new season with a bullish redesign after a difficult 2023.

However, at their launch last week, they played down expectations, saying they were staying “humble” and playing “catch-up”. Wolff also committed to Mercedes “eventually” having a fast enough car “to fight at the very front of the grid”.

You need to I think take those comments with a pinch of salt but last year they were proved right. I think as Wolff said himself, Mercedes “want to say we will be competitive. On the other side, you need to stay humble and realistic. So you could be saying, I hope that we will be competitive.” I think this has always been the key to Mercedes success throughout the last decade has been the management of expectations and the management / drivers being able to manage expectations.

Lewis Hamilton, who partners George Russell again this year, admitted last year’s struggles were a “shock” and agreed: “I think this year everyone’s a lot more grounded. We perhaps won’t be the fastest out the gate, but we have the potential to hopefully be closer and to close the gap early on in the season.”

Well, it was a good start with the team saying the car was in a totally different place to last year, and reporting ‘no bouncing’ on the opening day of testing. It appeared to be a classic low-key day for Mercedes on the opening day of testing, as expected they focused on mileage and understanding the car.

Wolff told reporters, “It seems to be balanced in the right way,” said Wolff. “There’s no bouncing, which is good news apart from the big bump at the end of the straight. Its a good starting point. We are gathering a lot of data because that was important to correlate obviously after last year, and trying different things.”

Asked by if there had been any porpoising at all, Wolff said: “No, we haven’t seen any bouncing. We had a little bit of movement in Turn 12, the faster one. But it is not anywhere close to the degree that we had last year and at this stage not performance limiting.”

All cars were struggling to be fair with that bump, and this was however very different to watch we saw last year both in the test and race weekend. Their appeared to be generally less bouncing on track and these issues are totally different to the porpoising issues they had last year.

On Friday, Russell said Mercedes has been left with a “good problem” to solve with its new car. Mercedes problems are a lot easier to solve this year as the balance issue is the biggest issue for the team in the corner, where the Englishman said the car loses grip and is overworking the tyres in the hotter temperatures.

Asked by Autosport if Russell’s desire for a more predictable car had been fulfilled, the Briton said: “The entry phase has been improved. I think it’s no secret when you’re watching the onboard videos that we are struggling a little bit with the balance, struggling a lot in the mid-corner.”

Russell played down his team’s chances for the season-opening round in Bahrain but expects Mercedes to take the fight to defending champion Red Bull later in the year. Hamilton backed that up when he said  there are “underlying things” that have carried over from.

The other major issue the team had a part from the porpoising last year, was the “underlying” issues from the draggy W13 had carried over to the new car. He said on Saturday, “It’s difficult to sum [progress on new car] up. We’ve had a couple of difficult days and yesterday particularly was difficult. The first day didn’t feel too bad. Yesterday was a little bit more of a struggle.”

“George has had a much better morning today [running to second in the times behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc], so things are going up, so hopefully we’ve got the set-up in the middle of the place.”

Asked to compare the W14 to its problematic predecessor, Hamilton continued: “Right now, for example, the bouncing that we had has pretty much gone. That’s a huge step for us. It’s nice to drive it without the bouncing in the corners”

Red Bull

Max Verstappen had a perfect start to his season topping the first day of testing, of course, this was the first time we had seen the RB19 with the team only unveiling renders of the car at their launch in New York early this month

There was finally rolled along the pit lane, there was little major surprise, with the car following the highly successful design scheme of its predecessor, with the most noticeable change deeper undercuts on its sidepods. The initial signs were that it will also perform similarly to the RB18 on track, with Verstappen quickly moving to the top of the timesheet and ending the opening session on top after temporarily being displaced by Sainz.

Verstappen said following the morning session, “It was good. A lot of laps, which is of course what we wanted. Basically, a smooth day, no issues, and we could really focus on the car, try a few things and understand the new tyres for this year.” The car did look really good on track, which will only strengthen Red Bull’s status as favourites ahead of the new season.

On Saturday lunchtime, he added, “The car is working really well, just going through a lot of things we wanted to try. Very positive days for me and just in general enjoying driving the car.”

Chris Medland wrote, ‘Consistent and reliable, it’s such a strong platform for Red Bull that talk has been turning to whether the penalty they received for breaching the budget cap last year – which is a 10% reduction in permitted aerodynamic research for a year starting last October – will allow Ferrari and Mercedes to close the gap through the season.’ I couldn’t put it any better and this I think is something we are going to have to wait to see the impact of the regulation changes as well as that penalty, which may not be clear until mid to late season.

But the RB19 has looked comfortable throughout testing apart from the normal teething issues, although Verstappen lost some track time on Friday. Here’s what Verstappen said “I think the car is working really well. Just going through a lot of things that we wanted to try, and everything is very interesting, what we have been trying.”

“The main issue we had last year is that the car was massively overweight. So in the beginning, the car was just very lazy it was not turning in, because the weight was also in the wrong place on the car.” You did see that early on last season, a bit of twitchiness in the car and this year we haven’t seen it in testing bouncing like we saw last year, which was dialled out very quickly compared to Mercedes and didn’t have the same effect on their car last year


Charles Leclerc says he has been “very impressed” by Fred Vasseur’s start as Ferrari team principal, following the Frenchman’s off-season move from Alfa Romeo. Vasseur was brought in to replace Mattia Binotto who resigned at the end of 2022, following the implosion of last years championship.

The move reunited Leclerc and Vasseur after the former made his F1 debut with Alfa in 2018, having also raced for Vasseur’s ART Grand Prix junior team in GP3 in 2016 – winning that championship as a rookie.

Leclerc said of his new team boss, “I was very impressed by how well he introduced himself in the team. Ferrari is very different to whatever we are used to before. Ferrari is huge. And once he got here, he understood extremely well the way Ferrari works from the first few days.”

“He’s very clear in what he wants and he’s extremely good at putting the people in the right mindset and in the right ambiance to give their best. And this is very important.” I think that having both Vasseur’s existing relationship with Leclerc is beneficial to building this team and moving it forwards. It’s a difficult task for anyone being Ferrari’s team principal but he needs to prove to Leclerc over the next eighteen months its worth sticking with the team, as Lewis Hamilton, George Russell and Lando Norris are also out of contract at the end of 2024.

Leclerc explained “Speaking about my renewal in Ferrari, it’s not something that I’ve been particularly thinking [about] already. It’s still a long way to go – two years. I will, of course, do my best.”

Ferrari has “completely redesigned” their car for this year in a bid to match Red Bull on the straights, although that may make the SF-23 slower through the corners.

Saturday press conference Leclerc managed to avoid repeating the phrase “so far, so good” that has been something of a mantra for Ferrari this weekend (and which team-mate Carlos Sainz did say when he was up just before). “We’ve had a very intense three days of testing. It is not done yet, we still have some tests to do this afternoon.”, says it has learned that the teams strategy chief last year Inaki Rueda. As we know Ferrari lost last years championship partly due to strategy errors, The team was clear that it wanted to review matters over the winter, and the strategy issue became a priority for new team principal Fred Vasseur.

Vasseur’s early analysis was that it was wrong to blame the errors on an individual, as he felt that processes had been more at blame for what had gone wrong.

Vasseur explained earlier this year when asked about potential changes to the strategy team, “When you are speaking about strategy or aerodynamics or another topic, you have to avoid being just focused on the top of the pyramid. Very often, when you are speaking about strategy, it’s much more a matter of organisation than just the guy who is on the pit wall.”

Strategy chief Rueda has been moved off his role on the pit wall and will now take a factory position that helps support the sporting elements of the team. Replacing him will be Ravin Jain, who has previously been a race strategy engineer at Maranello.


McLaren has announced it has added Aston Martin reserves Stoffel Vandoorne and Felipe Drugovich to its pool of 2023 reserve drivers. The two British teams who share the same engine partner have agreed to share the current Formula E and F2 champions if Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri are unable to drive.

The deal covers the majority of the 2023 F1 season from the early March start in Bahrain until round 15, the Italian Grand Prix on the first weekend of September. Vandoorne and Drugovich join a pool that also includes Mercedes’ reserve driver Mick Schumacher, who has joined the Brackley team as a third driver after losing his Haas seat to Nico Hulkenberg.

Vandoorne is a former McLaren protege and raced for the team in F1 in the 2017 and 2018 seasons. After two difficult years alongside Fernando Alonso, at the nadir of the catastrophic McLaren and Honda partnership, the Belgian was cast aside in favour of Lando Norris.

On day two of the test, the team admitted it had failed to hit development targets with its 2023 Formula car, but is not yet sure how much that will hurt its early season form. On Thursday, the team limited running as they needed to reinforce parts on its car to avoid failure.

But throughout the test Norris and Oscar Piastri have not looked especially comfortable out on track, with their lap times not at the head of the timesheets either. While this hasn’t been a surprise for the team, team principal Andrea Stella revealed at the MCL60 reveal that it was not entirely happy with the launch specification car.

CEO Zak Brown admitted that McLaren was behind where it wanted to be but said there was not yet a clear picture of just where it stacked up against the opposition.

he said when asked by Autosport how much on the back foot he anticipated the team could be, “It’s hard to know until we get going. We know we set some goals for development, which we didn’t hit, and we felt it was better to be honest about that.   Like everyone, we have a lot of development coming. So, we are encouraged by what we see around the corner.”

It doesn’t appear to be as bad as last year’s test as when they are on track they are roughly about the same as Alpine their expected rivals the gap on day two just over a hundredth. I think they have a good base to build off but we don’t yet have an understanding of the midfield which we expect to be competitive again this season.

Piastri suggested that his early impression of the MCL60 was that it was not a dramatic step forward on the 2022 MCL36 that he tried out in the post-season Abu Dhabi test. He said “I would say a small step from last year. We know we’ve got a few things in the pipeline for hopefully soon in season. But, so far, it’s I think similar to what I remember from my limited experience in a ground-effect car.”

Alpha Tauri

Franz Tost says the arrival of Nyck de Vries has provided a “wake-up” call for the team. The Dutchman is one of the most experienced rookies to make his full-time debut in the sport having driven last year for  Williams, Mercedes and Aston Martin.

Tost says that the Dutchman’s recent F1 mileage as well, as the overall experience that he has gained in other categories, enabled him to offer useful feedback when he tried the AlphaTauri at the Abu Dhabi test in November, in effect alerting the team to some of the shortcomings of the AT03.

Tost said, “Nyck de Vries is doing a really good job,” “He is very experienced, you can see and feel that he is 28 years old, and that he won a lot of races and championships. And I think that he will be able to adapt to F1 immediately. I expect him to perform well from the first qualifying onwards.”

“Of course, always when a new driver is coming, if it’s not a young driver coming from a lower series, he brings in some input, some technical ideas. And with Nyck we were lucky that last year he was in contact with many teams and many cars.” De Vires while a rookie in terms of F1, he is the current Formula E champion and has lots of experience.

Asked to expand on the results of de Vries’s contribution after the test, Tost said: “A long to-do list. I liked it! And it was so funny, because the engineers wanted to argue that our solutions are good, and I always said to them, ‘Look where we are in the constructors’ championship.'”

Tost made it clear that he has already been impressed by the way de Vries works. Adding “His professional attitude, his discipline, his feedback also regarding the simulator. Ideas for changing working methods. And I expect a lot of input also after this test here from his side.”

I think while De Vires is a rookie this season he comes in as a very experienced one, he is a lot older than most rookies who we see, that could benefit the team as Yuki Tsunoda admits he needs to cut out the mistakes and be the senior driver.

Aston Martin

Lance Stroll was unable to take part in the test after suffering injuries in a “minor” cycling accident in Spain. Aston Martin did not confirm whether Stroll, who is the son of team owner Lawrence Stroll, will be fit to race at the 2023 season opener, but said he would be “assessed daily” ahead of the March 3-5 Grand Prix.

There is no obligation for teams to use a second driver over the three-day event in Sakhir, but with Aston Martin reserve Stoffel Vandoorne scheduled to be competing in Formula E in Cape Town, it is possible that reigning F2 champion Felipe Drugovich, the team’s development driver, will get an unexpected opportunity.

the 24-year-old Canadian said “I’ve had an unfortunate accident whilst training on my bike in preparation for the season. I am determined to get back in the car and I am excited about the season ahead with the team. I am motivated to bounce back from this setback as quickly as possible.”

The following day the team announced Drugovich would stand in for Stroll on Thursday as the pool reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne was committed to the ePrix in Cape Town. This move make sense as the main role off Drugovich is as simulator driver as well as reserve.

The team added that Stroll “is however expecting a quick recovery and return to driving duties. His fitness to return to the cockpit will be assessed daily and the team will issue an update ahead of the Bahrain GP.”

Assuming Stroll is fit enough to be able to take part in the race weekend he will in on the back foot having missed a vital one and half days of testing.

On Thursday it looked as if Alonso would need to continue the test on his own following Stroll’s injury. Drugovich took over the car for Thursday morning’s session, although his running was compromised by an electrical issue before he handed the car to Alonso for the second session.

However Drugovich is rumoured to be on stand by for next weekend’s race as the team may choose him over reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne given him driving the car in the test. Vandoorne was unable to step in this week because of Formula E commitments.

Team principal, Mike Krack, said Stroll “Was training, trying to improve or to work on his fitness last week. So he was cycling and he had a small incident and hurt himself. And for precautionary reasons, we decided it’s better to wait a little bit, and be ready next week.”

Krack would not go into details regarding Stroll’s condition, saying, “This is his personal thing. So he is injured on the hand, on the wrist. But I don’t want to go into detail, because this is also privacy.”

Aston Martin’s performance in testing has caught the eye of several drivers, with Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou admitting Fernando Alonso “seems to be very competitive”. While it is hard to draw conclusions from testing you can get an idea of who has made a jump forward, but it has been clear the team has made a step into the midfield.

He said, “It’s clear Aston Martin did a step. Alonso seems to be very competitive over the two days, both conditions. I think he will be one of the top guys in midfield battle.”

Zhou topped Friday’s timetable, albeit on Pirelli’s softest C5 tyres, but thinks Alfa won’t be too far off either after it enjoyed a productive and trouble-free pre-season. Saying “It seems like we both made a step and over the two days they seem to be a little bit faster, but we’re close. I feel like there’s still areas I can improve and there will be another tight battle.”

Esteban Ocon agreed with that assessment, but pointed out that there are still too many variables to get a reliable picture. he cautioned, “I think it’s early days to really give conclusion. With those cars, it’s so easy to go from five seconds slower to five seconds quicker in one go, so… it’s difficult to exactly tell, the fuel loads, the energy management and what engine mode you run.

Aston I think are the team who have made one of the biggest steps and have got possibly back into the leading midfield pack, but that’s almost like they have swapped places with McLaren going into this year.

Alfa Romeo

Parent company Sauber CEO Andreas Seidl says the must become a “desirable team” as it builds towards the transition to its Audi takeover in 2026. This season marks the start of the transition `as its deal with Alfa Romeo ends and it becomes a works team for the first time since 2009.

Seidl says he wants Sauber to raise its level of competitiveness on track and at the same time become more attractive to drivers, staff members, sponsors and fans. he said in a Q&A issued by Sauber, “Every area of the group is growing, and we want to continue that trajectory in the short, medium and long term. The team has shown its capabilities through continuous growth and sporting success over the years, both on-track and off-track.”

“Our vision in Hinwil for the future is clear – we want to keep moving forward and ultimately become a team which is able to fight for podiums and race wins.” Like any team, Audi will want to be a “desirable team” to attract drivers and staff and Seidl says they have a clear plan on how to get there.

As CEO, Seidl’s focus is on the bigger picture of building up the whole organisation for 2026, and as such he has handed day-to-day responsibilities to managing director Alessandro Alunni Bravi, who has been named as a team representative. Expanding on his own role Seidl said: “F1 is the Sauber Group’s core focus, so of course I will be involved and want to contribute with my experience. But I want my leadership team to run things on a daily basis.


team principal James Vowles says his priority is to put a new technical structure in place at the Grove outfit. Technical director Francois-Xavier Demaison and head of aerodynamics Dave Wheater both left the team in December, in parallel with the departure of former team principal Jost Capito.

While Vowels was snapped up very quickly finding a ne technical team will take a lot longer, this is because this role often require months of gardening leave before the chosen candidates will be able to start work.

When asked what his priority is, he said “I think the primary thing is we don’t have the structure in place technically, obviously, as a result of the changes that were made. Number one is let’s put in place a proper set of structures, in terms of technical director, head of aero. That’s number one, because clearly an organisation needs those to move forward.”

This is all the normal things you would expect, but Vowels is also is in no hurry to fill the top technical job, as he wants to get the right person. He added, “They did an incredible job over the winter to achieve that.”


The wreck of Romain Grosjean’s car he crashed on the opening lap of the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, is to go on display for the first time next month as part of a F1 exhibition in Madrid.

The French driver scrambled through the flames to safety in a miraculous escape after his Haas car, with a full fuel load, crashed on the opening lap at the Sakhir circuit and speared through the metal barrier. His last recorded speed before hitting the barrier was 137mph.

The remains of the chassis, which split in half on impact, have been kept under wraps for the past three years but will be placed in a dedicated room titled ‘survival’ with previously unreleased footage of the crash.

The Frenchman said, “The chassis is still in one piece, the halo is there and apart from the damage and burn it is still as it should be. I guess that saved my life. From my point of view, it was a big accident but I didn’t realise the impact or how violent it was from the outside.”

Grosjean’s crash was the worst accident seen for many years in F1, with him managing to escape the car despite his foot being trapped in the car.

My pecking order

  1. Red Bull
  2. Ferrari
  3. Mercedes
  4. Aston Martin
  5. Alpine
  6. Haas
  7. McLaren
  8. Alpha Tauri
  9. Alfa Romeo
  10. Williams

What we learned

I think the biggest thing we have to say about all the teams is reliability is good, the sport over the last decade has almost done a 360 where if you saw the reliability we saw this week you would have been saying “this is great,” but now its unreliability which grabs the headlines. You need to believe Red Bull and Ferrari remain the leaders with Mercedes looking to have closed the gap to the top two.

However, the normal caveats apply, but as I saw last year the Red Bull and Ferrari look quick and have smooth driveability with their cars. We, however, won’t understand the true qualifying and race performances until next weekend and then we will get a pattern develop over the opening races.

When we got to the quali sims on Saturday evening with the timing the same as next weekend, Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari were about the same. They were covered by half a second during the ‘mock qualifying’ runs they did during the final ninety minutes of the session, by three and a half tenths. But Hamilton was on the medium and Perez the soft tyres

There are teething issues for Mercedes which they need to resolve if they are going to take the fight to Red Bull. The car looks a lot better than it did in testing last year but the pace of the Red Bull looked to be still look to be the team to beat going into this season. You need to wonder if they will be weaker by the regulation changes designed to close the field up, time will tell as we go through the early races.

The feeling is that Aston Martin has made one of the biggest steps over the inter back to where they were before the regulation change last year and that makes the question where is McLaren. They need to be making progress, we think they know they were on the backfoot all season after the nightmare they had last year at this test. You need to start the season well.

Williams at this test also look to have made a small step forwards as we go into this opening race, I think we are seeing the sport generally going into this opening race in a good place. But this I think is a reshaping year again building off Jost Capito time as boss with James Vowels coming in, but I think they are closer to their back marker rivals going into this year.


That’s all from This Test, we hope This Grand Prix will be back again next Sunday evening at 21:00GMT, This Week will be back on Sunday 12th March at 09:00. On race weekends we will try to bring you an evening edition at 21:00UKT and on non-race weekends we will publish at 09:00 UKT