Three days of Formula 1 pre-season testing flashed by in Bahrain, giving some hints of a pecking order ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix but leaving plenty of questions too.
There’s more movement in between the top teams, midfield and backmarkers than might’ve been expected but nothing is certain until the first race.
And with just five races in the first two months of the season, there’s plenty of scope or teams to bring upgrades before the first quarter of the campaign is done.
However, despite all the caveats a pecking order did emerge throughout testing and here we’ve ranked the teams on their strength approaching the start of the season.
The most inexperienced lineup on the grid completed the most laps at testing, but the car looks nothing special.
AlphaTauri had a fantastic car through 2019, 2020 and 2021 and failed to really capitalise on that, but they’ve now slipped to the back of the pack and barely look like they’ve improved from 2022.
All of the teams around them look like they’ve taken noticeable steps forwards but the AT04 didn’t look rapid the car understeered in quicker corners and it looked a handful in the slower stuff.
With this unspectacular testing combined with an unproven driver lineup, it looks like it’ll be a difficult start to the season for AlphaTauri.
After finishing dead last in four out of the last five seasons, being ninth is progress for Williams – but should they really celebrate running second last?
The car just looks very middle of the road but with Alex Albon at the wheel, they should be in with a shot of at least Q2 at the Bahrain GP.
One of the best signs from the test was Logan Sargeant‘s apparent comfort in the car – the rookie put in an astounding 154 laps on the second day of the test and finished the day with the seventh-best time of the day as he was able to really push the FW45.
This is where the distinction between ranking and prediction starts to change things.
If McLaren do finish eighth in the constructors’ championship – just three years after ending 2020 in third – it will be a massive disappointment. But given how McLaren developed in 2022 and hung in the battle for fourth so long then they should be able to rise up the standings.
However, none of that fixes a really disheartening three days in Bahrain where McLaren managed comfortably the fewest laps and missed their aerodynamic targets amid fractures in the team.
Mechanics had to regularly bodge the front winglets which restricted runtime and while the brilliance of Lando Norris will maximise what the car can give, if he loses faith in the team it could be a very long season for the Woking team.
The MCL60 looks a handful for Oscar Piastri to start his F1 career with too.
7. Alfa Romeo
How things have changed since the days of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.
It’s hard to separate Alfa Romeo and Haas right now but one thing’s for certain: the Swiss-based outfit have continued their positive momentum from 2022 and should be battling for points at the start of the season.
Though not the outright quickest, the C43 looks friendly for Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu to drive as both quickly settled into its operating window and Zhou finished day two top of the timesheets.
Guenther Steiner described 2023 as Haas‘ best-ever pre-season, and the team seem really optimistic about the year to come.
The returning Nico Hulkenberg got a healthy 196 laps under his belt and the VF-23 didn’t have any obvious weaknesses, both drivers were able to get up to speed pretty quickly and their race runs mirrored those of Alfa Romeo.
The key for both teams will be translating early season pace into points on the board before getting too deep into the development race.
On paper, Alpine‘s test looked a poor one: second-fewest laps completed and slowest times of all, but it seems Les Bleus have plenty up their sleeve.
They’ve already got upgrades in the works for the opening races and focussed on high-fuel runs at the Bahrain International Circuit, without truly unleashing the A523‘s full potential.
The car didn’t always pass the eye test and looked to suffer from some significant porpoising on day three, but as part of testing teams were looking to find where the car would porpoise so we’ll have to wait and see what caused those problems.
Combine that with such a strong driver lineup, they should be just behind the true frontrunners early on.
Another reminder that this isn’t a prediction for the constructors’ championship standings.
Mercedes certainly look better than 12 months ago and if they can replicate their 2022 development then they won’t be staying fourth.
However, they had mixed success on long runs amid a pretty mixed test – Lewis Hamilton seemed to unlock something on the final day and they ended with the second-fastest time of the week.
Mercedes still seem to be dealing with balance issues as the car looks like it has a narrow operating window but they improved noticeably just over the three days of the test and that bodes well for the 23-race season.
3. Aston Martin
Quite simply the talk of the test. Fernando Alonso‘s day three race sim was genuinely stunning and matched only by Red Bull, he seems right at home at his new team.
Alonso looked like he was pushing more than most but the numbers are still mightily impressive, as was the AMR23‘s appearance on-track.
It looked really driveable and while it wasn’t too surprising that Alonso quickly got to grips with it, the way Felipe Drugovich was able to immediately look comfortable in the car spoke volumes.
Drugovich acquitted himself well over the three days and could get chance to make his grand prix debut too – Aston Martin are a genuine podium contender for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The team with the most question marks around them, after a pensive day one Ferrari seemed happy with their test but still look distinctly second-class to Red Bull.
If anything, Ferrari seem further behind the pacesetters than in 2022 so we’ll have to see come raceday whether they’re holding back.
Ferrari look like they could be in the conversation for Bahrain pole but their struggles in race pace and tyre degradation remain from last season.
That said, they look clear of Mercedes and Aston Martin and should pick up at least a podium to start the season.
1. Red Bull
Red Bull had the smoothest test imaginable – fastest lap, best long-run pace and the biggest issue they face was a loose sensor helicoptering off the back of Sergio Perez‘s car.
Max Verstappen put a frighteningly fast race sim on day one that set the tone for the test and the car looked really responsive to both drivers.
While it’s not what most fans want to hear, there’s no reason why Red Bull shouldn’t be favourites heading into the Bahrain GP.
Top Ten F1 Testing Times 2023
|1||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||1:30.305|
|3||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo||1:30.827|
|9||Fernando Alonso||Aston Martin||1:31.450|
|10||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo||1:31.610|