A new era of Formula One got underway this week at the Circuit de Catalunya with all ten teams taking to the track for the first test of the preseason.
Although it’s too early to call a definitive order, it’s clear that some teams have made a stronger start than others and it was no surprise to see familiar names at the top of the timesheets, with Lewis Hamilton setting the fastest time of the test overall. However, Ferrari and McLaren appear to have made a significant step and at this stage cannot be ruled out.
But before getting too excited, it’s worth remembering these cars are just at the start of their development curve and even if you could accurately compare all ten in Spain, that competitive picture could change dramatically with updates at the second test in Bahrain.
Even so, we have grouped the teams into a rough order and listed the reasons for hope and concern for each outfit.
The front runners
Fastest lap: Charles Leclerc, 1:19.689 (C3 tyre)
Reasons for hope: The new season hype has been building around Ferrari ever since the covers came off the new F1-75 at Maranello last week. What lay underneath was a truly unique take on F1’s new regulations with valleyed sidepods and a distinct needle nose design. There was a feeling that the team had either got it very wrong or very right by carving its own path, but the early signs suggest the car is competitive and may even be the pick of the bunch.
Right out of the box the F1-75 was capable of setting quick lap times and did so without resorting to short runs on soft compound tyres. The fastest time on the second day, set by Charles Leclerc, was registered on the first lap of an 17-lap stint on the C3 compound, meaning it was anything but a low-fuel glory run. That lap time remained as the team’s best effort of the week as it only briefly attempted laps on the softer C4 compound on the final day as the track dried after Pirelli’s wet tyre test.
But more impressive than that was the long run pace. Ferrari’s most impressive stints on track stretched beyond 15 laps while still averaging lap times several tenths faster than the likes of Red Bull and Mercedes on nine or ten lap runs. Unfortunately, there weren’t race simulations to compare among the top teams, meaning fuel loads could have been lower on the Ferrari and a factor in the lap time difference, but the F1-75 is certainly no slouch. Along with the pace, the Ferrari proved reliable, notching up 439 laps in total, the most of any team.
Reasons for concern: Although the car looked quick in Barcelona, team principal Mattia Binotto has said the F1-75 will not feature a major upgrade in time for the second test. That’s not to say it won’t change at all but it’s unlikely to make as big a step as main rivals Red Bull and Mercedes, meaning any advantage Ferrari had this week could be whittled away or even turned into a deficit in Bahrain.
The car was also caught on camera suffering from extreme “porpoising”. F1’s new favourite buzzword describes the bouncing movement of the car on the straights as the airflow under the car stalls and reattaches over and over again in quick succession forcing it up and down on its suspension. But while there were obvious instances of the Ferrari porpoising on some runs, it didn’t happen all the time, suggesting it already has setup solutions to minimise the issue, even if they come at the cost of some performance.
Fastest lap: Lewis Hamilton, 1:19.138 (C5 tyre)
Reasons for hope: Mercedes set the fastest time of the test, registered the second highest lap count, and looked like one of the most impressive cars from trackside. Those inside the team said they encountered a number of unexpected issues over the three days, but the fact the world champions still emerged at the top at the end of it all by the end of the final day is an indication that the team was able to take those challenges in its stride.
Long run pace didn’t quite back up the short run pace, with Red Bull and Ferrari both showing more potential when lap times were averaged out, but that may have been because Mercedes was disguising some pace with either its fuel load or a lower engine mode. Perhaps most promising of all is the expectation of a significant upgrade to the W13 at the second test — a development strategy that has paid dividends for the team in the past.
Reasons for concern: After his final day in the car, Lewis Hamilton said Mercedes test had “not been the easiest, or the most smooth running.”
Hamilton added: “We’ve definitely had some obstacles to overcome.”
One of those obstacles has been the car’s porpoising, which Mercedes did not expect based on its simulations, and is something it has had to work around. As you’ll read further down, Mercedes was hardly alone in that struggle, but it was still a difficulty to overcome.
Fastest lap: Sergio Perez, 1:19.556 (C4 tyre)
Reasons for hope: The moment the Red Bull left its garage on Wednesday morning it turned heads. It was the only car that hadn’t been revealed ahead of the first day of testing and when it finally emerged it didn’t disappoint. The car looked purposeful and backed it up by spending most of the day towards the top of the timesheets.
Although the RB18’s fastest lap time was set by Sergio Perez on the C4 compound tyres, Max Verstappen wasn’t far off with a 1:19.756 on the C3s — the second fastest time on that compound behind Leclerc and one that is perhaps even more impressive than the softer compound runs of rivals. Over long runs it was a similar story, with Red Bull only very slightly off the pace of Ferrari.
The team from Milton Keynes is never one to overstate its achievements at this time of year, but by the end of the test head of race engineering Guillaume Rocquelin said it had been “a very promising few days”. Red Bull is also among the teams expected to bring a big update in Bahrain, meaning the long run lap times that put it in the same ballpark as Ferrari are only going to get faster at the second test.
Reasons for concern: There were some reliability issues, including a gearbox problem on day two that deprived Sergio Perez of a half a day of running. The team said it wasn’t worried about the issue becoming a long-term problem and seemed to make up quite a lot of track time on the final day to compensate for the lack of laps on day two.
New world champion Max Verstappen refused to give much away about his thoughts on the team’s position relative to its rivals, but that could just as easily be read as quiet confidence at this stage of testing.
Fastest lap: Lando Norris 1:19.568 (C4 tyre)
Reasons for hope: With no major reliability issues over the course of the three days and 367 laps completed, McLaren made a solid start to its 2022 campaign. What’s more the car looked relatively competitive and topped the timesheets on the opening day of the test with a lap time of 1:19.568 that remained the team’s fastest time by the end of the test.
The MCL36 was also the car that struggled the least with porpoising, meaning the team could experiment with lower ride heights to extract more performance. That much was clear from watching trackside, as the McLaren was one of the only cars that had sparks coming from the floor without the car riding up and down on its suspension.
It’s still too early to name Norris and Daniel Ricciardo as title contenders for 2022, but they certainly can’t be ruled out at this early stage either. It’s been a long time since McLaren has made such a promising start to a preseason and there is likely more to come at the second test in Bahrain.
Reasons for concern: The quick laps on shorter runs weren’t mirrored by as impressive lap times on longer runs. That’s not to say the McLaren isn’t competitive — it may be the case that it was consistently running heavier fuel loads during the test, but the MCL36 hasn’t yet shown the kind of pace over multiple laps that marks it out as an obvious contender for victories.
A clearer picture should emerge in Bahrain, so McLaren will have to trust in its planned updates in order to stay in touch with the likes of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.
Fastest lap: Sebastian Vettel, 1:19.824 (C5 tyre)
Reasons for hope: Sebastian Vettel set a 1:19.824 to go fifth fastest on the final day, albeit on Pirelli’s softest compound. A similar show of pace wasn’t so obvious over longer runs, but that’s likely due to harder tyre compound choices and heavier fuel loads relative to rivals.
Although the AMR22 isn’t among the fastest cars on the 2022 grid, it’s clearly not lagging too far behind at this stage of testing, providing a promising platform on which to build at the second test in Bahrain. Mileage was also strong on the first two days of testing, allowing the team to gather data for correlation with the wind tunnel and explore setup avenues before the problems struck on the final day.
Reasons for concern: An oil leak at the end of the final morning of testing caused a small fire at the rear of the car and stopped Vettel on track. The car didn’t return to action after that incident, meaning Lance Stroll missed his final afternoon at the wheel.
In terms of pace, the early signs are that Aston Martin has work to do to catch the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren. As a team with the lofty ambition of challenging for titles in the coming years, Aston Martin needs to make sure it stays in touch under the new technical regulations so it doesn’t have too large a mountain to climb when its new factory finally comes online and it has the facilities to match its ambitions.
Fastest lap: Pierre Gasly, 1:19.981 (C3 tyre)
Reason for hope: The team completed good mileage each day and by the middle part of the second day was already happy it had found a good baseline to work from. Pierre Gasly was one of only eight drivers to set a time in the 1:19s this week, which can’t be a bad thing as it puts AlphaTauri in the same company as Aston Martin, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. There were a few minor reliability issues, but for the most part the car ran well up until Pierre Gasly’s accident on Friday…
Reason for concern: Gasly was one the only driver to have a big enough mistake that he actually made contact with a barrier during testing, but it wasn’t entirely clear what the issue was. He was asked directly during a press conference but gave two deliberately vague answers, suggesting it may have been driver error.
The car itself sustained damage to the front wing and front right suspension, but also appeared to have damage to the front left suspension which didn’t strike the wall. The accident limited mileage on Friday, but not massively overall.
The performance over long runs on Thursday was far from impressive, but Gasly was running on the hardest compound tyre and the team admitted it had struggled to generate temperature in the rubber. When it switched back to softer compounds a lot of the performance returned, so it’s likely the case that the conditions simply didn’t match the tyre choice, which shouldn’t be an issue once racing gets underway in hotter conditions.
Fastest lap: Alex Albon, 1:20.318 (C4)
Reasons for hope: Compared to some of the opening tests in the team’s recent past, Williams’ three days in Barcelona was relatively smooth. The car has shown no signs of troubling the front few rows of the grid in Bahrain, but its lap times are in the mix among the cars in the midfield. The FW44’s fastest times were set on the final day using the C4 compound and were over a second off the pace of the Mercedes.
A series of long runs with Alex Albon at the end of the final day looked a little bit like a race simulation, but with very little to compare it against it can only really be marked as a sign of the team’s solid start to testing.
Reasons for concern: The team said it encountered a couple of issues when it started to chase performance with set up changes on the second day. The car also looked tricky on the brakes and a tricky to drive in slow speed corners, which could mean the FW44 performs far better at high speed tracks than low speed. Considering where the team is coming from in recent years, it was a good start to testing but don’t expect any miracles.
Back of the pack
Fastest lap: Fernando Alonso, 1:21.242 (C3)
Reason for hope: The test got off to a solid start with Fernando Alonso resuming “El Plan” by racking up 129 laps on the opening day. The Alpine was the sixth fastest car on the first day before dropping to the back of the pack on the second day — but that just underlines how the differences between run plans at different teams can completely skew the order each day. A setup change on the final day unlocked a few more tenths to give Alonso the 13th fastest time by the end of the test.
There were obvious setbacks (listed below) but it’s clear we haven’t seen anything close to the true performance of the Alpine at this stage. For example, the car was not spotted with its DRS open on the pit straight, which clearly hints at some kind of minor issue, but would have unlocked a few tenths of lap time had it been used.
At its launch the team also emphasised how it had prioritised engine performance over reliability with the upcoming freeze on performance development, so perhaps some issues along the way were to be expected as, in the words of Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi, the team “pushes the envelope”.
Reason for concern: Having a car stop on track in a cloud of smoke is never a good sign in testing. The failure of a minor seal in the hydraulic system led to a fire at the rear of the car that ultimately resulted in the premature end of the team’s test on Friday morning.
Such setbacks happen in testing, but Alpine’s week wasn’t looking that promising up to that point regardless of the fire. The car appeared to be one of the worst affected by the porpoising phenomenon and on Thursday the team lost running when a small bracket broke on the floor of the car – likely as a result of the bouncing.
Based on its lap times from Thursday, the performance of the car didn’t look spectacular, but it was clear Alpine’s run plan was not in sync with the other teams which makes comparisons difficult. While most rival teams tended to limit runs to between 10 and 15 laps while working through setup changes, Alpine attempted a race simulation in the afternoon of the second day that meant its average lap times were skewed higher than most of its rivals.
Fastest lap: Mick Schumacher, 1:21.920 (C3 tyre)
Reasons for hope: When the first real life images of the Haas emerged following a filming day ahead of the test, it became clear that the team was starting the preseason with quite a detailed and developed car. No one is expecting the team to challenge for podiums this year, but the decision in 2021 to focus all the team’s resources on the 2022 car appears to have paid off.
What’s more, because Haas’ business model means it buys as many components from Ferrari as it is allowed to under the regulations, the promising start for the Italian team should translate to plenty of potential for Haas. Of course, the test didn’t run without issues (both on and off track) but there is reason to believe that Haas is no longer languishing a second or so off the pace and could join the fight for points in 2022.
Reasons for concern: Haas could be about to lose its title sponsor Uralkali in the coming weeks along with driver Nikita Mazepin. Haas removed the Russian companies branding from its car, trucks and motorhome for the final day of the test following Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine.
Uralkali founder Dmitry Mazepin, the father of Nikita, was one of the business leaders who met with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the sanctions placed on the country, and Haas team principal Guenther Steiner said his team would consider its options for continuing with both Uralkali and Mazepin next week.
It’s hard to imagine Haas racing with its Uralkali livery, which takes inspiration from the Russian flag, and Steiner hinted at a break from the sponsor by saying the team would be financially secure regardless of what happens.
Against that backdrop, on track matters don’t seem so relevant, but the car did suffer a number of reliability issues over the week – the biggest of which came on Friday and limited the team to just 10 laps on the final day of the test, limiting the team to just 160 by the end of the week.
Fastest lap: Guanyu Zhou, 1:21.638 (C3 tyre)
Reasons for hope: It’s hard to pinpoint much hope after Alfa Romeo’s first week of testing, but there was steady progress after a bad first day.
Valtteri Bottas seemed relaxed at his new team and a natural fit while his rookie teammate Guanyu Zhou settled in quickly and, despite a spin at Turn 10 on the final day, didn’t have any major hiccups.
Reasons for concern: Alfa Romeo was very coy about the problems that curtailed its running throughout testing, but said they were understood. But even if that’s the case, the lost track time was significant over the three days compared to its rivals and that will ultimately have a knock-on effect over the rest of testing.
The pace of the car appeared to lag behind the competition on both long runs and short runs as the team made setup changes to combat porpoising. It will hope it can make up ground by getting some more running at the next test in Bahrain.