It is race week! The Bahrain GP this weekend will kick off the 2023 F1 season.
This year, teams had just three days of pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit (the same venue where the first race will be held). Now, testing rarely gives us the full picture, with fuel loads, set-ups and team programmes varying across the grid. It does, however, give us an idea of how all the teams stack up, which ones look strong and which could be trouble.
Red Bull Racing
Drivers: Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez
2022 was a record-breaking season for Red Bull and the reigning champions look like they are on solid footing for 2023. Max Verstappen was fastest on Day 1 and Sergio Perez went on to set the fastest lap in testing with a time of 1m 30.305s — that is faster than last year’s Bahrain GP pole time.
They were the fastest in race trim as well. More crucially, Red Bull enjoyed three trouble-free days of running with no evident reliability concerns. So they definitely enter the 2023 season primed well to defend their double titles.
Drivers: Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz
Frederic Vasseur replaced Mattia Binotto as Ferrari team principal earlier this year and has made some crucial changes within the team. The most notable of these is Ravin Jain taking charge of trackside strategy, with Inaki Rueda (who held the role previously) moving to a factory-based role.
There is plenty of buzz surrounding the team, with reports suggesting they can now run their engine at full power. “We have scanned a number of items on the car and ticked many of the boxes of our programme, without worrying about lap times or what the others have been doing, simply focusing on ourselves,” Vasseur said at the end of testing. As it currently stands, Ferrari look like they will be Red Bull’s biggest challenger this season.
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton, George Russell
Mercedes seemed to have a few reliability issues during testing, and even Lewis Hamilton admitted the W14 has some underlying issues that need to be worked on. Based on testing pace alone, Mercedes sit behind Red Bull and Ferrari in the pecking order, and could even face a challenge from Aston Martin.
There are, however, some positives. Team principal, Toto Wolff, says the porpoising issues that plagued the team last year are “essentially gone”. Wolff hinted that there could be more to come, admitting that Mercedes were still hiding some pace in testing.
Drivers: Fernando Alonso, Lance Stroll
Aston Martin appear to have made the biggest gains over last year. Their testing pace did not just place them at the head of the midfield, but was strong enough for them to be a potential top-three contender. Tyre management in particular looked like a strong point. The AMR23 is the first Aston Martin racer to be developed under the leadership of former Red Bull aero chief Dan Fallows and sports some innovative bits. New recruit Fernando Alonso also appears to be pretty happy with the way the car is responding.
There is still a big question mark over whether Lance Stroll will race in Bahrain, though. The Canadian had to skip testing after sustaining a wrist injury in a bike crash. Aston Martin has confirmed that reserve driver Felipe Drugovich will race in case Stroll is unable to compete.
Drivers: Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon
Alpine did not set the timing sheets alight; in fact, their qualifying run was the second slowest, just ahead of Williams. However, it should be noted that they did not attempt any low-fuel attack laps.
The team, however, remains quietly confident about its chances. Esteban Ocon said the A523 is definitely an improvement on its predecessor and even Pierre Gasly hinted that there is more pace to be extracted.
Drivers: Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu
It was an up-and-down pre-season test for Alfa Romeo. On one hand, Zhou Guanyu topped the time sheets on Day 2, but the team did have two major reliability scares.
Nevertheless, both Zhou and Bottas have praised the C43’s balance and it looks like the team was able to figure out a good set-up. Should they sort out the reliability concerns, they could be a regular in the points.
Drivers: Lando Norris, Oscar Piastri
McLaren enter the season on the back foot after another difficult pre-season test, this time due to issues with aerodynamic efficiency and the winglets over the front wheels. They finished testing at the very bottom of the mileage chart with just 312 laps. With just three days of testing in the whole year, every single lap counts and this means the team probably lost out on collecting some crucial data. McLaren CEO Zak Brown even admitted that they did not meet all development goals.
However, with a major update planned for early in the season, Brown added that the team is encouraged by “what we see around the corner.”
Drivers: Kevin Magnussen, Nico Hulkenberg
Haas describe this pre-season test as their best ever. The only real issue they ran into was a minor throttle problem on Day 1, other than that, they did collect plenty of data from running.
Nico Hulkenberg, who is returning to racing full-time in F1 after three years, seemed to get a hang of things quite quickly. Together with Kevin Magnussen, Haas has a pretty strong driver line-up. And from the looks of it, we are in for a tight battle in the midfield.
Drivers: Yuki Tsunoda, Nyck de Vries
AlphaTauri topped the mileage chart with 456 laps — that is seven times the distance of the Bahrain GP. Tsunoda set a rather fast lap in the closing stages, however it looks like that was a low-fuel run. So do not expect the team to make any giant leaps when it comes to pace.
Nevertheless, it was an overall positive test for AlphaTauri, with both Yuki Tsunoda and rookie Nyck de Vries having trouble-free runs.
Drivers: Alex Albon, Logan Sargeant
Williams did not show any blistering pace in testing, but data shows that they have made some big gains over last year’s car. Alex Albon further backed this up, saying the FW45 is “definitely quicker”. They also racked up an impressive 439 laps to sit second in the mileage chart.
They are another team undergoing management changes in 2023, with former Mercedes strategy chief James Vowles taking over as team principal. From the looks of it, Williams have a stronger package this year that should help them take the fight to the likes of Haas and AlphaTauri.