What to expect from F1 pre-season testing

What is F1 testing? How much can you read into pre-season testing from Sakhir ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix?


Formula 1 2023 is here and if you are not excited already, you almost certainly will be by Saturday evening because pre-season testing will have concluded and the Bahrain Grand Prix will be eight days away.

There might be no points or silverware up for grabs this week in Sakhir but testing is just as important as any F1 event.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull are the bookies favourites but that could all change after testing.

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 Ferrari, Mercedes, Honda 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.

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas during testing REUTERS/Albert Gea

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 you know everything is working, 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.

F1 – Pre-Season Testing – Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain – March 12, 2022 Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton during testing REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

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.

Can you get a pecking order from testing?

A common phrase you will read and hear is “it’s only testing”. Whilst that is true to an extent, there is only so much the teams can sandbag, so you do get a good idea of which teams are going to have a great 2023, and who will be struggling.

The best indicator is a race run. Every team will complete at least one race run, which is 58 laps of the Bahrain International Circuit, so you can compare the lap times from each race simulation to see who has the best pace.

You know that a driver will be topped up with a full tank of fuel, so this is why you can make a direct comparison.

Purely looking at the timesheets, or one lap pace, you have no idea how much fuel is on board which can make a big difference to performance.

It’s also important to see what time of day and what tyres a driver has used when looking at lap times.

In theory, lap times later in the day, when it’s cooler, should be quicker than lap times in the late morning or early afternoon when the track temperature can be close to 40 degrees celcius, with plenty of UV light from the sun.

We’ll break all that down for you here on Total-Motorsport.com as we find out which teams can look forward to tasting some champagne across the 23 F1 rounds.

Nigel Chiu
Nigel Chiuhttps://total-motorsport.com/author/nigel-chiu/
Nigel Chiu is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who worked at Total-Motorsport for 18 months until May 2023. He has been following F1 since 2007 and hasn’t missed a Grand Prix weekend since. Nigel’s worked with several motorsport websites, plus Eurosport and subsequently went on to work with Sky Sports F1 where he travels to multiple F1 races each season.
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