It is the most beautiful time of the year. F1 is back. After launch season, it is time for the cars to hit the track.
After a short off-season, the latest F1 cars take to the tarmac tomorrow for day one of pre-season testing. It is an exciting time for fans as we see the new cars and driver lineups for the first time on track. It feels like Christmas Eve for F1 fans. Therefore, it is the opportune time to preview the weekend ahead.
Where Is F1 Pre-Season Testing Taking Place?
2021 sees the F1 circus leave the cold confines of Barcelona for the warmer climate of Bahrain. The teams will run on the traditional GP circuit that debuted back in 2004. With minimal regulation changes, the testing period is only three days long.
Therefore cars need to stay reliable so that the new drivers can get used to the machine they are piloting. The other positive from testing in Bahrain is the weather will be fine. The forecast is dry for the weekend, which is perfect for logging miles and miles of running. It is an ideal setting for pre-season testing. And they can run under the floodlights. The testing day runs from 9 am-6 pm local time in Bahrain.
Bahrain is the first Grand-Prix of the season; the three-day testing weekend is the perfect chance for teams to start preparing for the race weekend. Therefore, in theory, we should see some race simulations and qualifying programmes on Sunday. That is exciting for fans and can dispel some elements of F1’s phoney war.
Who To Watch
The obvious answer is Mercedes. The reigning champions are the team to beat; they will take some stopping. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas return for their fifth year together. Historically, the Silver Arrows were never preoccupied with grabbing the headlines. Instead, expect the Merc to pound round and round for lap after lap.
Red Bull should be Mercedes’ nearest challenger. The test is pivotal for Red Bull and engine partner Honda. The Japanese marque brought forward their 2022 power unit for a big championship push before leaving the sport. Red Bull must clock the mileage this weekend.
Sebastian Vettel will wish to understand his new Aston Martin, while his ex-team Ferrari is desperate to test their new power unit. New driver Carlos Sainz needs to get as many laps as possible if he wishes to match Charles Leclerc.
Mclaren needs to get acquainted with their new Mercedes power unit, while Daniel Ricciardo hopes to develop his knowledge of the car before race one. Arguably, the test is most important for Fernando Alonso. After spending two years on the sideline, the former double-world champion must experience a problem-free weekend if he hopes to prove that he is still the Fernando Alonso of before.
Rookies Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin are in that position as well. The trio needs to get as much knowledge and laps as possible. Tsunoda is an exciting rookie who’ll hope to match Pierre Gasly over the season.
Reigning F2 champion Schumacher is in a tough spot. Haas won’t be fast, although if he applies himself and gets on top of the car, he will impress people.
Schumacher is bullish ahead of this year: “I think my racecraft is very good in general. The relationship that I have with a team is very positive, and I’m very happy about that, that I’m able to build a relationship quickly with the team and then try to improve in every aspect.”
Williams and Alfa Romeo sport the same driver lineups as last year. Both teams are desperate to move up the grid. Williams, under new ownership, is hoping to start the rebirth of the storied team.
Don’t Believe Everything You See
Testing is notoriously difficult to assess. No-one knows how much fuel other teams are running or what engine modes they are using. Therefore, the headline times are not always the most critical. Teams want reliability, flexibility and consistency. That is what drivers hope for as well.
With the FIA reducing the downforce levels, teams are eager to find out what they’ve lost and where they’ve lost the aerodynamic performance. The Pirelli tyres are the same; there is consistency there for the teams. Continuity is vital in such a truncated off-season. That allows teams to attack the testing period without the usual day-one struggles. We should see three days of F1 action. F1 pre-season testing really is the most beautiful time of the year.