If there is one lesson learned from the Bahrain test, it is that three days is not enough time to properly assess the order of competitors. But, as is tradition at this time of year, that didn’t stop us.
During the three days in Bahrain, a few trends emerged. By extrapolating these trends, evaluating the lap times of the ten teams, and doing a little guesswork, we arrived at the following team rankings for the first race.
As we know from past years, things change between practice and the first race, and so the rankings below are based solely on what we saw in Bahrain, rather than what might happen when the cars take to the track in the first qualifying session…..
The two best… But not as you know them.
1. Red bull
Dan Istitene – Formula One with Getty Images
Best lap: 1:28.960s (Max Verstappen, Day 3, C4 tires)
Number of rounds: 369
After several seasons of slow starts, Red Bull finally enters the 2021 season as the favorite to win its first race. The team won’t admit it, and that may be hard to accept after seven years of Mercedes dominance, but the results of the test in Bahrain suggest that Red Bull is on top.
Does this mean Mercedes’ dominance is over and we crown Red Bull the world champion? No. But it does mean that Red Bull have produced a very competitive car that should be competing for the overall win on a much more regular basis this year.
The RB16 of last year is gone and replaced by a car that feels stable, fast and above all quick.
Max Verstappen’s fastest time – set in the final hour of testing, when track conditions were at their best – gave an indication of what Red Bull are capable of, but also suggested there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Red Bull decided not to send Verstappen on the fastest rubber, which would have added another 0.3 seconds. His top speed in the speed trap indicated that his Honda engine was not of the same level as the second-placed AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda.
Verstappens fastest lap of the test was supported by an impressive race simulation on day two with Sergio Perez at the wheel. The situation looked favourable compared to the handful of other teams that ran the simulated race over three days, albeit in less favourable conditions.
The Mercedes was rather strange during the three days of testing. Cleve Mason – Formula One via Getty Images.
Fast turning: 1:30.025 (Lewis Hamilton, Day 3, C5)
Number of rounds: 304
While it is too early to dismiss Mercedes’ chances of winning next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, the team is certainly starting the season with its back against the wall. The W12 was difficult to drive during testing. Both drivers complained of a lack of stability at the rear of the car and a general lack of power.
On Sunday night, the team still didn’t know why.
The drivers’ complaints manifested themselves in slow times, as Hamilton was a full second off Verstappen’s best lap on Sunday night, while using a softer tyre compound. History tells us that Mercedes consume more fuel than Red Bull during pre-season testing, but to make up the difference in lap times, the difference has to be significant.
Based on what we could see – and given the likely tyre compounds and fuel levels – Mercedes’ performance in Bahrain was not only inferior to Red Bull, but also to Ferrari, McLaren and AlphaTauri. However, on longer stretches, where the problem was less obvious according to the team, the W12’s performance was improved regardless of midfields.
There are two big questions for the first race: Can Mercedes fix the driving problem? And if so, how much energy would that release?
The technical team at Brackley is one of the best when it comes to troubleshooting, so it’s hard to imagine that a solution won’t be found sometime early in the season. But even if the car is repaired in time for the first race, it’s hard to imagine Mercedes having the same lead over Red Bull as they did at the start of the 2020 season.
The handling problems were compounded by a gearbox issue on the first day of testing, which cost the team a morning on the track and relegated them to the bottom of the standings at the end of the test. The failure to get a point was surprising, but the team’s biggest concern on Sunday night was the lack of power.
An even denser midfield
Ferrari want to get away from a windless 2020 season. Clive Mason – Formula One via Getty Images
Fast turning: 1:29.611 (Carlos Sainz, day 3, C4s)
Number of rounds: 404
Ferrari have done well over the winter, but make no mistake, they are still a mid-tier team. His position in these rankings is based on one impressive race on the final day, which provided a useful benchmark for comparison with other teams, but also left room for mistakes that could have dropped Ferrari lower in the rankings from the first race.
But here’s the good news: It seems Ferrari’s new engine for 2021 has provided the performance boost the team needs. This is a very important development for Maranello, as last year’s car was designed with the power gone as a result of the FIA’s investigation into Ferrari’s 2019 powertrain. The reduction in engine power for 2020 meant not only less power for the car, but also an inefficient aero package that was changed from last year’s power figures.
Last year’s cost-cutting rules prevented Ferrari from improving the engine during the season, but hard work was done behind the scenes in 2020, and the fruits of that labor have led to a significant jump in performance in 2021. This progress was evident not only in Carlos Sainz’s impressive lap times on the final day, but also in the car’s Speedtrap performance.
Last year Ferrari was at the bottom of the fastest car rankings, but during testing all the Ferrari’s looked more competitive, with Charles Leclerc in second place behind Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri (we’ll see later why Tsunoda’s data is unreliable). These are all encouraging signs, especially for a channel that is notoriously dependent on energy.
With a lap from Sainz on C4 tyres on Sunday night and a promising race simulation earlier in the day, which placed the SF21 well ahead of AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo, it looks like Ferrari are back in familiar territory near the head of the field.
Speaking to the back of the new McLaren car during pre-season. Joe Portlock – Formula One with Getty Images
Fast turning: 1:30.144 (Daniel Ricciardo, Day 3, C4s)
Number of rounds: 327
Considering McLaren switched from Renault to Mercedes in the winter, the season started surprisingly easily. The car ran reliably throughout the three days of testing and showed a decent level of performance.
On the first day of testing, the MCL35M took the lead as competitors learned of McLaren’s new approach to Formula 1’s new diffuser aerodynamic rules. The rule change requires a reduction in the length of the pillars at the center of the diffuser, but McLaren’s interpretation allows the two pillars to be angled to retain some of their length further back and still meet the dimensions specified in the rule.
While McLaren’s diffuser isn’t a panacea for performance, it will improve it, and technical director James Kay was pleasantly surprised to learn that his team was the only one to have read the regulations with this in mind.
In a frustrating analysis of our pace, McLaren decided not to push for performance in the final 90 minutes of the test, when cars like Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, Alfa Tauri and Alfa Romeo were running fast laps with low fuel consumption. Instead, Daniel Ricciardo signed a new heavy fuel contract and drove a race simulation that looked promising, but was overshadowed by the improving track conditions after sunset.
Alpine followed a similar plan on the final day of testing, and Riccardo seemed to have a 0.2-0.3 second lead over Fernando Alonso in practice and the race with enough fuel. This season, those boundaries seem to be the difference between the front and back of the midfield. As a result, McLaren’s position, like that of all the teams in the midfield, is anything but certain for the first race.
5. Aston Martin
Aston Martin had a number of reliability problems during testing. Hassan Bratik / photo alliance via Getty Images
Fast turning: 1:30.456 (Walking Bear, Day 2, C5)
Due to the lack of mileage and a slightly different testing approach to its rivals, the Aston Martin was incredibly difficult to place in this order.
A turbocharger problem on Sunday afternoon prevented Sebastian Vettel from testing the AMR21 in the qualifying races, while a gearbox problem on the morning of the second day also limited his mileage. Lance Stroll set the fastest lap time for the team at the end of the second day of testing, but it is difficult to compare his time with that of the previous day due to the different track conditions.
Vettel’s long runs on heavy fuel on Sunday afternoon gave no clear indication that the 2020 car is of the same midfield class as its pink predecessor, but without knowing the fuel taxes, it’s all guesswork.
The result is that the Aston Martin sits firmly in the middle of these rankings, with strong arguments to place it higher, but enough concerns about reliability and too few miles to push it down at the start of the race.
Alpha Tauri was impressive for three days. Joe Portlock/Getty Images
Fast turning: 1:29.053 (Yuki Tsnoda, third day, L5)
Number of rounds: 422
At first glance, AlphaTauri is the star of preseason testing, but when you dig a little deeper, his performance is marred by reservations.
Rookie Yuki Tsunoda lit up the time meters on Sunday night with a series of fast laps on soft tyres, finishing the test just 0.093 seconds behind Verstappen. But while the car is fast and should regularly finish in the top 10 this season, it is clear that it will remain in the middle ground.
During the fastest laps, Tsunoda activated his drag reduction system outside the areas where it was allowed during the race weekend. The speedometer figures suggest that this gave him a huge advantage in terms of top speed at the end of the pitlane (13km/h faster than Verstappen with the same Honda engine).
There are no rules during testing that specify where DRS may be used, but it’s telling that the team is trying to boost Tsunoda’s confidence with some fast times on low fuel instead of battling the competition. Tsunode was probably also helped by the use of some of Honda’s more powerful engine modes, although this could apply to any rider with fast lap times.
Regardless of what happened during Tsunoda’s fastest laps, the AT02 still looks like a fundamentally fast car. He was well balanced in all types of corners, which gave Tsunoda the confidence he needed to push hard and set an impressive time.
Earlier in the day, the Japanese racer also completed a racing simulator that offered a fairly direct comparison to Ferrari and Alfa Romeo’s racing simulators. Based on average lap times, AlphaTauri finished the imaginary Bahrain Grand Prix seven seconds behind Ferrari and three seconds behind Alfa Romeo, illustrating how competitive the midfield is this season.
Tsunoda’s more experienced teammate, Pierre Gasly, will likely have shortened his average lap time during the simulated race. So it’s possible that the car he has in his hands will move up the rankings next weekend at the real Bahrain Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso returned to Formula 1 this year with Alpine. Joe Portlock – Formula One via Getty Images.
Fast turning: 1:30.318 (Fernando Alonso, Day 3, C4)
Number of rounds: 396
Like McLaren, Alpine was out of step with most teams on the final day of testing. It sent Fernando Alonso on heavy fuel when track conditions were best. So it’s hard to read too much into the times, but the comparison with the McLaren shows that Alonso is 0.2 to 0.3 seconds per lap faster than Ricciardo.
The fact that we have placed two teams with a small gap between McLaren and Alpine shows how tight the middle ground is this year, but is also based on the lack of clear evidence that Alpine deserved a higher place. That’s not to say the A521 isn’t capable of finishing in the top ten or appearing in Q3 during the first race, quite the opposite, but the evidence from the three days of testing just wasn’t there.
On the other hand, the car has been reliable for three days and is certainly in touch with the other mid-pack teams. Combine these qualities with Fernando Alonso’s tenacity behind the wheel, and it’s not hard to imagine Alpine getting good results this year.
8. Alfa Romeo
Joe Portlock/Getty Images
Fast turning: 1:29.766 (Kimi Räikkönen, Day 3, C5)
Number of rounds: 422
Alfa Romeo is used to showing only the best figures in tests, which they can rely on in real competition. While it is almost certain that the same will happen this year, one hopes that Alfa Romeo has made progress over the winter and will be able to keep pace with the top ten more.
Much of that hope is pinned on the Ferrari powertrain in the back of the C41, which proved to be a breakthrough for both Alfa Romeo and the Ferrari team. Racing in straight lines is not what it used to be (the Alfa Romeo finished third on Sunday with Haas, another Ferrari customer), and Raikkonen’s best performance in the final hour of practice was good enough for fourth time.
A simulation of the race on Sunday afternoon showed that Alfa Romeo should be able to compete on the Grand Prix circuit with the AlphaTauri, which would be a positive step forward from 2020.
Joe Portlock/Getty Images
Fast turning: 1:30.117 (George Russell, Day 3, C5)
Number of rounds: 373
Williams also showed a turnaround in the final two hours of practice on Sunday, when George Russell set the sixth fastest time on the same compound, just 0.092 seconds behind Lewis Hamilton. The difference in fuel consumption is the most likely explanation for the surprisingly small difference, but it highlighted Williams’ progress, not to mention Mercedes’ lack of performance.
Russell said the FW43B was a marked improvement on last year, but admitted the car’s aerodynamic performance was incredibly sensitive compared to previous years. It caused some problems for test driver Roy Nisani and driver Nicholas Latifi in the strong winds during the first two days of testing, but Russell said the push for maximum performance was a conscious decision by the team in the hope of driving the car into the points at some tracks this year.
It remains to be seen if it bothers Russell and Latifi to run in traffic, but at least there are signs that Williams will be used in the middle of the field at times rather than just fighting in the backfield.
Haas concentrated on maximizing track time for its two rookies. Joe Portlock/Getty Images
The fastest lap ever: 1:31.531 (Nikita Mazepin, day 3, C4)
The decision not to make any significant changes to his car over the winter doesn’t mean it’s a surprise to see Haas at the back of the field this year.
The car has been modified to meet the new aerodynamic rules for 2021, but little development has taken place and the team’s resources are focused on preparing Haas for the next revision of the technical rules for 2022.
In 2021, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin will likely have a car several times behind Williams’ pace and firmly at the back of the grid. It’s unfortunate for both rookies, but Haas was always convinced that 2021 would be a transition year.
frequently asked questions
Which Formula 1 team became Red Bull?
Origin. The origins of the current Red Bull team go back to the Stewart Grand Prix team that started in 1997. Jackie Stewart sold his team to the Ford Motor Company in late 1999, and Ford decided to rename the Jaguar Racing Team, which had little success over the next five years.
How much is the Red Bull F1 team worth?
– Formula 1 teams with the most value in 2018 | Statista
Will Red Bull stay in Formula 1?
Honda, which is leaving Formula 1 after the 2021 season, will supply powertrain technology to Red Bull Powertrains Limited from 2022. The agreement comes after Formula One agreed to freeze engine development until 2025.
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