The three days of the 2022 Barcelona F1 pre-season test concluded with success for many, with a few surprises and a slight foreshadowing of what lies ahead. While some teams have started off strongly, others have a lot of development to do. Most of the teams were occupied trying to understand the new ground-effect technology on the 2022 cars, which is unchartered territory for many.
Here are five key takeaways from the F1 preseason test in Barcelona:
Porpoising is essentially F1’s new buzzword, which refers to the car bouncing like a dolphin or a porpoise. Excessive downforce and less suspension control in the car make its floor stick close to the track. When the floor is too close to the track, it stalls and makes the car bounce as a result of the sudden loss in downforce, creating a bouncy movement called porpoising.
Most of the cars on the grid were porpoising on the straights, a problem that cannot be necessarily simulated in the best of simulators, therefore a lot of the teams had a reality check with the real-time data collected from the test. Most will return to their factories, however, to find a quick fix or permanent solution to overcome the obstacle.
For new cars under the new regulations, the reliability of the cars was impressive in the first two days, which did not witness any stoppages. In the morning session on the final day, however, five red flags were brought out, out of which two were due to stoppages caused by technical failures.
While the top teams had minor teething issues, the teams that had a difficult test were Alpine, Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo and Haas. The Alpine team was unable to use its DRS during the test and suffered a hydraulic leak that led to an engine failure on Fernando Alonso’s car. Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel’s car had an oil leak leading to smoke coming out of the rear and causing a stoppage for him.
Alfa Romeo's Guanyu Zhou had two off-track moments which led to the car needing severe repairs, which altered his team-mate Valterri Bottas’ track time. Nevertheless, when it comes to engine reliability, Alpine and Aston Martin are the only two teams to have witnessed technical issues. Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren were able to rack up a significant amount of mileage on their cars, with the scarlet squad topping the overall list.
#3 Diversity in design
Each team has adopted a different route or concept when it comes to designing 2022 cars under the new regulations. Despite their significantly different approaches, their performances have matched each other to a large extent.
While Red Bull and Ferrari have been head turners with their radical and aggressive designs, McLaren and Mercedes were slightly subtle with their design approach, yet similar in performance. Red Bull's sister team Alpha Tauri has opted for a completely different design approach, as the junior team that mostly has rookie drivers prefers designing cars with easier drivability.
Haas F1 has been regarded as one of the few teams to bring the most developed car design on track. Their test run, however, was hampered by world affairs and the effect of geopolitics on their team. The concept of the car has been good but the team has had difficulty getting their package to work. Alpine's design philosophy, on the other hand, has been the most basic but can change and develop throughout the year.
#4 New Pirelli tires
The new 18-inch Pirelli tires have received positive feedback from both teams and drivers. Compared to their 13-inch predecessors, the new tires have less degradation and overheating, and survive a longer span during a race. While their low profile makes the cars look good, the tires are also able to function better with the new complex aerodynamics on the new cars.
The tire compounds are classified as C1 and C2 which are the hard compounds, C3 which is the medium compound, and C4 and C5 are the soft compounds. The C2 white tire without brackets is the softer compound of the two hard tires and the C5 red tire without brackets is the softest compound of the soft tires, as well as the entire tire range.
#5 Pecking order
Given that it is too early to predict, the first pre-season test had a few giveaways in terms of the pecking order. Since the test run, Ferrari has emerged as a clear winner in terms of mileage and reliability. The scarlet outfit, along with McLaren, dominated the first two days of testing. The Maranello and Woking-based teams are definitely at the top of their game and could be serious front-runners for the 2022 season.
Reigning champions Mercedes had both their drivers dominate the final day of the test. Their lap times, however, were unrepresentative as they attempted their quick laps on the softest compound in Pirelli's range. Meanwhile, the rest of the field was not far off and ran on harder compounds. The Red Bull F1 team, on the other hand, had a glitch-free run apart from the gearbox failure on Sergio Perez's car. Max Verstappen’s mileage and error-free simulation program itself, however, indicated that the team was severely sandbagging.
If one had to chalk out a pecking order, McLaren and Ferrari would lead the field, with the Red Bull F1 team in the mix. Mercedes struggled with balance issues with their design concept and could be slightly behind the other three teams. From midfield, Alpha Tauri had a solid test which could result in them being the best of the rest. Aston Martin and Alpine will have to resolve their teething issues and both should be in the mid-field mix.
Williams seems to be better than the Haas F1 team and Alfa Romeo. All three, however, could improve and be in a completely different place by testing in Bahrain or the first race of the season.
This season will have cars developing throughout the course of the tests and 23 races. Consequently, the pecking order is expected to change throughout the season, making it one of the most anticipated in the history of the sport.