Is anyone ready to challenge Red Bull? Team-by-team F1 testing review · RaceFans

In less than a week’s time, the first points of the 2023 Formula 1 world championship will have been awarded in Bahrain.

To prepare for F1’s longest-ever season, the 10 teams and 20 drivers have only been afforded a single three-day test – at the circuit where they will race next weekend.

As ever, it is near-impossible to establish any kind of ranking of the teams from how each of them chose to spend their three days of track time. But that does not mean that some teams will not be feeling more encouraged than others about their new cars heading into a whole new season.

Here is your guide to how testing went for all ten Formula 1 teams – and how they each feel about their own performance during the pre-season.

Red Bull

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test

Combined testing laps: 413 – 2,235km (5th)
Max Verstappen: 1’32.837 (11th) – 204 laps (10th)
Sergio Perez: 1’30.305 (1st) – 209 laps (9th)

It’s a good life, being a member of the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team. Reigning double world champions. Winners of 30 of the last 50 grands prix contested. And after pre-season testing, the clear favourites to kick off 2023 as the team to beat once more.

The champions burst out of the gate with supreme confidence. It was warranted, as they went quickest two out of the three days of running including Sergio Perez setting comfortably the fastest time of the test on the final day – better than Charles Leclerc’s pole time from last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

But the most ominous signs came at the start of the second day. Verstappen casually strolled out of the garage and immediately beat his best time from the first day with his very first timed lap. Such instant speed, coupled with no notable reliability problems, will strike genuine dread into the hearts of Ferrari, Mercedes and the rest of the field before the season has even begun.

What they said:

A very successful end to the test with another day of uninterrupted running. It has been a positive three days for the team, but there are always areas for improvement, and the focus will be on trying to extract more performance gains before next week.
Gianpiero Lambiase, head of race engineering


Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test

Combined testing laps: 417 – 2,256km (3rd)
Charles Leclerc: 1’31.024 (4th) – 199 laps (13th)
Carlos Sainz Jnr: 1’31.036 (5th) – 218 laps (6th)

Ferrari could hardly have been happier with their 2022 pre-season, following which they stormed to their first win in over two years at the opening race and took a second just two rounds later.

But all that momentum faded away over the rest of the year and Mattia Binotto forfeited his position as team principal for it. Now, Frederic Vasseur has assumed control of the team – but he won’t be feeling quite as confident about their chances of repeating their Bahrain Grand Prix success based on what he saw in testing.

Not that Ferrari endured a bad test – not by any means. Charles Leclerc finished his programme midway through Saturday with the fastest time anyone had put in up to that point. Team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr pointed out the team has made clear progress on improving its car’s straight-line performance, raising hopes that they will challenge Red Bull for kings of the speed trap this season.

As their title charge was derailed by reliability problems, three trouble-free days will have helped calm the pre-season nerves. However, Leclerc and Sainz want to win this season – not just races, but the championship. So being markedly slower than Red Bull on identical tyres in the final session will have done little to further boost their confidence – nor will the signs they have suffered more from tyre degradation than their closest rivals.

What they said:

“The main target was getting as much mileage under our belt as possible and we did that, although it’s also true that you always want to do more and have more time. But it’s the same for everyone. The mood in the team is perfect and we are in a good shape to start this long season.”
Frederic Vasseur, team principal

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George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test

Combined testing laps: 398 – 2,153 (7th)
George Russell: 1’31.442 (8th) – 178 laps (16th)
Lewis Hamilton: 1’30.664 (2nd) – 220 laps (4th)

After failing to fight for the championship for the first time in nine years in 2022, no team was more motivated, more determined and more eager to start the 2023 on the front foot than Mercedes. It did not work out entirely as they had hoped.

In 2022, Mercedes knew they were in trouble when they ran the W13 in the second test in Bahrain. Although their showing was much more encouraging in 2023, both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell openly admitted their team was not where they had ideally hoped to be coming into the season.

There were positives. Porpoising has been almost entirely eliminated from the new car, according to Russell, and Hamilton was indeed the closest driver to Perez’s overall fastest time of the final session. But unlike Red Bull and Ferrari, Hamilton and Mercedes had used the softest tyre compound, C5, to achieve it.

A hydraulic failure late on Friday was a concern, especially given that their immediate rivals appeared rock solid throughout the three days. But Hamilton’s complaints about the balance of his car will likely be the bigger concern for Mercedes heading into the start of the season. Russell highlighting how long the upcoming season will be is a clear sign he does not expect Mercedes to be in the fight for the win in the early rounds.

What they said:

“It’s clear that we still have work to do on car pace but today has given us a much more coherent picture of where we need to focus our efforts. We’ll be using the time ahead of next weekend to go through the data we’ve collected, and aim to extract a bit more lap time.”
Andrew Shovlin, trackside engineering director


Pierre Gasly, Alpine, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test

Combined testing laps: 353 – 1,910km (9th)
Esteban Ocon: 1’33.257 (20th) – 178 laps (15th)
Pierre Gasly: 1’32.762 (17th) – 175 laps (17th)

Last year’s ‘best of the rest’ team has one obvious goal for 2023 – try to close down the gap between them and the top three teams at the front of the field.

Will they feel confident of doing that based off their pre-season programme? It’s difficult to say. Not least of which when they ended the test as the ‘slowest’ of the ten teams based on the fastest times set by each over the three days. They also failed to cover 2,000km of running between Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly – something every other team managed, bar McLaren.

Visibly, the A523 seems much stiffer than its peers on the Bahrain circuit. Ocon was seen locking up under braking a few times while in the car, conspicuously running wide at turn one during the final session.

Nonetheless, Ocon said he felt very happy with his new car’s long run performance. Alpine were also clearly uninterested in participating in any ‘glory runs’ to generate hollow buzz ahead of the season starting. And they’ve already revealed two updates will be on the car for the first race.

What they said:

“It’s been a very consistent and conservative pre-season test for the team where we’ve remained committed to our programme to ensure we are as best prepared as we can be for the season ahead.”
Otmar Szafnauer, team principal


McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Combined testing laps: 312 – 1,688km (10th)
Lando Norris: 1’32.160 (13th) – 142 laps (19th)
Oscar Piastri: 1’33.175 (19th) – 170 laps (18th)

McLaren fans all over the world – it is now time to start worrying.

No team endured a more difficult three days in Bahrain than McLaren. So much so, it would be tempting to copy and paste the description of their pre-season from just 12 months ago.

McLaren spent less time on the track and more time in the garage than any of their rivals. Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri logged the fewest laps of any driver except for Felipe Drugovich, who only took part in two half-day sessions.

Unlike in 2022, when a fundamental braking problem provided a clear impediment to their performance at the start of the season, McLaren’s problems were harder to determine. A lot of time was spent pulling apart the MCL60 to fortify some of its components before they failed, rather than responding to any actual problems which had struck their new car.

Team CEO Zak Brown was candid about how his team had missed some of its targets for the pre-season, setting expectations for the early phase of the season lower than they would have hoped. Reports that Norris was visibly frustrated at the end of the test quickly spread like wildfire on social media. It appears there are tough days ahead for the Woking team, at least until its first major upgrade arrives at the end of April.

What they said:

“I would say our objective through the season is to be a top four car. At the moment I would say we are not necessarily in this range.”
Andrea Stella, team principal

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Alfa Romeo

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Combined testing laps: 402 – 2,175km (6th)
Valtteri Bottas: 1’30.827 (3rd) – 202 laps (11th)
Zhou Guanyu: 1’31.610 (10th) – 200 laps (12th)

Last year, Alfa Romeo were one of the surprises of the early season – despite having a regularly disrupted testing programme that limited track time for its two new drivers.

In 2023, however, Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu are heading into the start of the season much more prepared and positive than they were this time last year. After reliability was their Achilles’ heel throughout last year, both drivers were convinced that the C43 will be a clear improvement where they need it most.

Their three days were not without concerns. Zhou abandoned a practice start attempt late on day two with a suspected problem and Bottas stopped on track when his car slowed to a stop in the early session. But what was encouraging was how little time this trouble cost the team.

Bottas also claimed the new car was “50% better” with its handling than last season, putting his car third fastest ahead of the two Ferraris with help from the C5 tyres on the final day. Alfa Romeo will hope to emulate their 2022 and start racking up the points from the first race

What they said:

“We can be satisfied about these three days of solid work. We collected plenty of data and I feel we’ve prepared for the season as best as we could. Performance wasn’t yet our main aim: we didn’t focus on what the others were doing but simply looked at ourselves.”
Jan Monchaux, technical director

Aston Martin

Felipe Drugovich, Aston Martin, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Combined testing laps: 387 – 2,094km (8th)
Fernando Alonso: 1’31.450 (9th) – 270 laps (1st)
Felipe Drugovich: 1’32.075 (12th) – 117 laps (20th)

The most intriguing team of the 2023 pre-season? Aston Martin’s rivals certainly seemed impressed with their performance in testing.

The arrival of Fernando Alonso was enough to generate plenty of buzz around the launch of the AMR23 earlier in the month. But as Alonso regularly hovered in the top five on the timing screens over the three days, other teams began to take notice.

With no Lance Stroll to share the load, Alonso benefited from an extra session in the car to every other driver, naturally logging the most mileage as a result. Reserve driver Felipe Drugovich, who will step in if Stroll is declared unfit to race, got two sessions and well over 100 laps in the car which will prepare him well if needed.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner had to admit Aston Martin looked like they had made a “big step” from 2022. How big that step is remains to be seen, but Alonso was adamant that there was “a lot of potential left to unlock” from the new car. It could be a good time to be an Aston Martin fan.

What they said:

“We managed to complete our run plan and got a number of laps on the board with both drivers. The car ran reliably and again we managed to gather a lot of data. We are still getting to understand the car and learning about various operational and procedural matters, but we have made good progress.”
Tom McCullough, performance director

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Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Combined testing laps: 413 – 2,245km (4th)
Kevin Magnussen: 1’31.381 (7th) – 219 laps (5th)
Nico Hulkenberg: 1’32.466 (15th) – 196 laps (14th)

Haas’s 2023 pre-season has been a marked improvement over last year by virtue of the fact their car actually arrived on time to Bahrain this time around.

When it hit the track, the VF23 seemed bulletproof. Haas barely had a problem to note. Remarkably, they actually recorded more milage over three days than they had achieved across two full tests last pre-season.

Nico Hulkenberg says he immediately got back into the rhythm of driving a Formula 1 car again after almost a year since his last grand prix and nearly four years since his last full season. Kevin Magnussen completed a full race simulation, giving the team very useful data heading into next weekend.

The team’s reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi – who did not take part in the test this year – offered his assessment of where he believes the team may be come the opening round next weekend. “It’s hard to say, but I’d say out of the ten teams, [we’re] between seventh and maybe fifth,” Fittipaldi said. “Around that area.”

What they said:

“The whole team came here very well prepared – we did our homework – so when we arrived, we were ready to go, and you could see that. It’s difficult to say still but we are in the midfield, let’s see if we’re at the top or the end of the midfield but we’re now ready for the race next weekend.”
Guenther Steiner, team principal


Nyck de Vries, AlphaTauri, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Combined testing laps: 456 – 2,467km (1st)
Yuki Tsunoda: 1’31.261 (6th) – 210 laps (8th)
Nyck de Vries: 1’32.222 (14th) – 246 laps (2nd)

If there was a prize to be awarded to the most distance covered over pre-season testing, then AlphaTauri would be the winners. Yuki Tsunoda and new team mate Nyck de Vries put nearly 2,500km on the AT04 between them over the three days – nearly the distance from London to Istanbul.

Such early reliability is a huge boost for AlphaTauri, as so much data is invaluable for a smaller team. Yuki Tsunoda was able to conduct a full race simulation run on day two, while tests on the final day produced some interesting results that the team had not expected.

Despite Tsunoda posting the sixth-quickest time of the test, De Vries reported there were some “limitations” with the car’s handling – his wide experience of driving four different 2022 cars last year coming into use.

Ultimately, the team are modest in their aspirations for the 2023 season. Chief race engineer Jonathan Eddolls said AlphaTauri “should be able to put up a fight with the midfield”.

What they said:

“Overall, this test has been very busy and challenging at times, but I’m very pleased to see some good progress being made in understanding our package and the car running very reliably.”
Jody Eggington, technical director


Logan Sargeant, Williams, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Combined testing laps: 439 – 2,375km (2nd)
Alexander Albon: 1’32.793 (18th) – 210 laps (7th)
Logan Sargeant: 1’32.549 (16th) – 229 laps (3rd)

Williams’ 2023 Bahrain pre-season test was a marked improvement over their three days in 2022 by simple virtue of the fact their FW45 did not catch fire once during the test.

But as well as remaining free of spontaneous combustion, Williams enjoyed a trouble-free test to kick off their 2023 campaign. In fact, only next-door neighbours AlphaTauri covered more laps.

Rookie Logan Sargeant could hardly ask to be better prepared for his grand prix debut, having pounded out 229 laps of the Bahrain circuit over the two days in which he got to drive the car. His mammoth 154 laps on Saturday was the second-highest of any individual driver: Verstappen did 157 on the opening day.

The team didn’t exactly set the timing screens alight, with both Albon and Sargeant sitting near the bottom of the order at the end of Saturday. However, no team gained as much lap time between last year’s Bahrain test and this week’s than Williams. An encouraging start to the James Vowles era.

What they said:

“In terms of mileage, we’ve had a very good three days. We’re definitely in a better place in comparison to this time last year, it’s just more about how far we can take it.”
Alexander Albon, driver

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