Formula One 2023 Pre-season Testing at Bahrain

Formula One 2023 Pre-season Testing at Bahrain

Formula 1 2023 is officially underway, with the pre-season test complete and the beginnings of a pecking order starting to show. As ever, any conclusions drawn from testing are premature and come with a massive asterisk.

Published:
February 26, 2023

Formula 1 2023 is officially underway, with the pre-season test complete and the beginnings of a pecking order starting to show. As ever, any conclusions drawn from testing are premature and come with a massive asterisk. However, smiles and frustrations may tell a relatively reliable tale, so here's the outlook from three days in Bahrain.

Formula One 2023 Pre-season Testing at Bahrain

The Big-Three Remain

Anyone hoping for a challenge to the long-established 'big-three' teams of Red Bull, Mercedes, and Ferrari won't be happy. The trio again operated in their little championship away from the midfield rabble.

Last year's champions, Max Verstappen and Red Bull, serenely remain perched atop their ivory tower. No alarm bells rang, and rather worryingly for their competitors, Verstappen hailed his new car as "definitely an improvement to last year." You may recall that last year, the Red Bull RB18 won all but five of the races...

Ferrari is under new stewardship with Frederic Vasseur stepping in for Mattia Binotto and seems to have the same job as his predecessor — close in on the superior Red Bull. The speed trap data suggests Ferrari is more comparable to their Austrian rival in raw power this year, but will that carry over to lap times? Time, literally, will tell.

The all-British Lewis Hamilton and George Russell lineup remain at Mercedes for 2023. The now-black Silver Arrows didn't porpoise this year, which is an improvement on 2022. That's not to say they're back at full strength, though, and the consensus is that they're either at or just below Ferrari's pace at this early stage of the season.

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Formula One 2023 Pre-season Testing at Bahrain

Midfield Congestion

Perhaps the most 'exciting' news of the testing week preceded it. Aston Martin's Lance Stroll suffered a bicycle injury that the team kept oddly tight-lipped over. As a result, 2022 F2 champion Felipe Drugovich replaced Stroll, and the Brazilian will debut at the Bahrain GP should Stroll's supposed broken wrists not recover. 

Injuries aside, Aston Martin had much to smile over. Fernando Alonso defied his years with consistent lap times and high cornering speeds. The Spaniard seemed happy, and the two-time champion is the first to criticise when he's not in a good place.

In contrast, McLaren completed the fewest laps of any team. Issues with the car's front wing reduced the on-track time for Lando Norris and rookie Oscar Piastri. F1 journalist Will Buxton even reported that Norris punched a wall in annoyance to show that there's an unhappy camp at the Woking-based team.

The remaining 'As' of Alpine, Alfa Romeo, and AlphaTauri all seem content with enjoying some standout moments in an otherwise unremarkable test. AlphaTauri took the highest number of combined laps, Alfa Romeo's Guanyu Zhou topped the timesheets on Day 2, and Esteban Ocon thinks the 2023 Alpine is another step forward.

Formula One 2023 Pre-season Testing at Bahrain

Backmarkers No More?

Haas escaped the bottom of the standings in 2022 after their woeful 2021. With their experienced Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg pairing doing decent in the test, it looks like they'll continue the midfield fight. It was plain sailing for Haas, with over 400 laps completed to give the American team plenty of valuable test data.

For the 2022 wooden spoon winner, Williams can find encouragement in the second-highest lap tally. Furthermore, with top F2 rookie Logan Sargeant getting ample seat time and Alex Albon echoing Ocon's thoughts that his 2023 car is better than last year's entry, Williams isn't necessarily going to be the guaranteed team bringing up the rear.

There's no way to know what engine modes, fuel runs, or strategies the teams are working on in testing. So a single lap time at the end of a day only serves so much, with a driver's rivals likely running different tyres and pushing way more or much less.

As such, the first actual way of knowing the likely 2023 heroes and zeroes will come in 2023's first competitive session – the Bahrain Grand Prix's Qualifying. Tune in on Saturday afternoon to see F1 roar back into action.

Formula One 2023 Pre-season Testing at Bahrain