What can you learn from F1 testing 2024?

F1 testing at the Bahrain International Circuit will kick-off Formula 1 in 2024

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A new season of Formula 1 is upon us and first we have the matter of testing before the Bahrain Grand Prix. It’s the first time we will see F1 cars live on track in 2024 and the excitement is growing.

Defending champions Max Verstappen and Red Bull are the bookies favourites to reclaim their titles from 2023 but that could all change after testing.

What should you look out for though? And is testing indicative of what we will see in the opening race weekend which is on Thursday, February 29 to Saturday, March 2 due to Ramadan.

What happens in F1 testing?

It might not look like much is happening when you’re watching F1 testing from your home, but there is a lot going on and eight-and-a-half hours of running over three days is not much to play with.

First of all, the teams want reliability. Although there is an engine freeze until the end of 2025, the FerrariMercedesHonda and Renault power units have all had updates to the software or the way they are packaged, which is allowed in the regulations.

The gearbox also tends to be vulnerable during the early stages of a new car, so making sure everything is fitted correctly and working as intended is key. How do you test this? Just do plenty of miles.

Only one car from each team can be run, so some teams will have the same driver in the car all day and others will have a driver competing in the first session, before their teammate takes over for the evening session.

A change of the driver’s seat and pedals will take place in between the sessions, which can sometimes cause a minor delay.

What do the F1 teams learn from testing?

The more mileage you do, the more you can learn and that’s the whole point of pre-season testing. Once the team knows everything is working and correlates with what they see back at the factory, you can begin to work on performance towards the end of day two and certainly for most of day three.

Many teams will have multiple front wing, rear wings, floors and more to test as they keep all their fingers and toes crossed that what they have seen in the wind tunnel, correlates to performance on the track.

This is where Mercedes went wrong in 2022. They were confident about the numbers they saw back in the factory with the shape of their car, but were not able to discover that Lewis Hamilton and George Russell would suffer from a very bouncy car, known as porpoising.

The teams will also be testing different setups, engine modes, tyre pressures – the list really is endless, so it’s all about how much can you learn and understand.

Having a good relationship between the driver and the engineers is key here because, ideally, teams will be improving with every run, or at least learning.

George Russell gets dialled into the Mercedes W14 in pre-season testing in Bahrain | Jiri Krenek / Mercedes F1 Team

Fastest times don’t mean much

In 2021, the order on the final day was VerstappenYuki TsunodaCarlos SainzKimi RaikkonenLewis HamiltonGeorge RussellDaniel RicciardoSergio PerezFernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc.

Of those, only VerstappenRicciardo and Alonso qualified within three positions of their testing finish at the first race in Bahrain and just two drivers – Verstappen and Ricciardo – finished the opening race within the same bracket.

In 2022, Verstappen‘s fastest time was seven-tenths ahead of Leclerc at the end of testing but the Ferrari man beat him to pole position by 0.123s at the Bahrain GP, and the Scuderia recorded a one-two after both Red Bulls retired.

Outside of those two, none of the final testing top five occupied the top five come the first qualifying of the season.

Ignoring the COVID-impacted 2020 it’s much the same story the further back you go. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel finished 2019 testing in Barcelona just 0.003s apart and looked to be set for a grandstand title fight but the German finished the championship in fifth, 160 points behind Hamilton.

Neither driver managed pole position at the Spanish Grand Prix either, that honour went to Valtteri Bottas.

In 2023, Perez was fastest at the end of testing and Red Bull went on to have a very dominant car but Hamilton was second and Alfa Romeo‘s Bottas was third, so you really can’t just look at the final leaderboard to see what the pecking order is.

Zhou Guanyu pushes for Alfa Romeo during 2023 F1 Testing in Bahrain | Alfa Romeo F1 Team

Race runs and lap counts

However, you can still tell a lot from testing. The most obvious thing is reliability – Mercedes were consistently near the top of the lap count for their period of dominance from 2014 to 2021, which also gave the Silver Arrows lots of valuable data to get started on upgrades before they’d even flown to Melbourne to start the season.

In 2022, Red Bull edged Ferrari on the lapcount that foreshadowed their stronger reliability over the season while Mercedes‘ monster final day meant they managed more distance than both – and proceeded to have no reliability retirements over the season.

But there was another key Mercedes takeaway from testing – the eye test. The Silver Arrows were already in deep trouble with porpoising while Ferrari rode the bumps better than most and were immediately setting the pace come the start of the season. Finally, Mercedes‘ race run was noticeably slower than Ferrari‘s.

In 2023, Red Bull‘s race pace was clearly strong and that continued into the first race and beyond. Conversely, McLaren struggled and were at the bottom of the mileage charts. A week later, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri found themselves at the back of the field in Bahrain.

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