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F1 2023

Dieter's Diary: Stroll mystery, McLaren misery and Red Bull mastery

In the latest edition of his diary, Editorial Director Dieter Rencken looks back on the opening three days of 2023 Formula 1 action in Bahrain for pre-season testing including the mystique around Lance Stroll, complaints over the lack of testing, and the troubles at McLaren.

Testing starting grid test
To news overview © XPBimages


Having collected my (23rd to date) FIA media pass on Wednesday to avoid a rush on the opening day of testing I head for the pitlane upon arrival at Sakhir Circuit to catch a glimpse of the new cars. In many ways it’s 2023 Launch Season 2.0 as most teams kept their new designs well hidden during so-called ‘launches’, which were mainly upmarket jollies for sponsors. Thus, the Bahrain pitlane reveals many secrets.

First on my to-do list is Aston Martin after the team revealed no details about injuries suffered by Lance ‘Son-of-boss-Lawrence’ Stroll in a cycle incident on - I believe - last Sunday in - I believe - Spain. That day and location are subject to conjecture indicates how little information was forthcoming. Why this is so I fail to understand given falling off bicycles is neither a crime nor should it be something to be ashamed of.

Niki Lauda regularly spoke openly about his (serious) injuries, as did double leg amputee Alex Zanardi and Helmut Marko - indeed, I have variously discussed the latter’s loss of his left eye during the 1972 French Grand Prix - so clearly Stroll’s silence is a modern (or control) thing. Whatever, the team should not blame the media for rife speculation; indeed, I suggest they point the finger at Lawrence…

A recurring theme during pre-season testing is a lack of actual testing. George Russell pointed out during his Mercedes team’s (virtual) launch that F1 is about the only elite sport where participants practice for a day-and-a-half each before going into battle for a year. The costs of testing and lack of pre-season time are the official reasons for restrictions.

There are, though, two sides to the issue: during the afternoon press conference Kevin Magnussen suggests that restricted testing more benefits the major teams due to their having sophisticated simulation tools, so are able to better understand their cars away from the circuit. Red Bull boss Christian Horner argues that such restrictions create unpredictability ahead of the new season.

That said, is it coincidental that testing is regulated by F1’s commercial rights holder (Liberty Media), who annually takes hundreds of millions out of F1? I hear, though, that moves are afoot to appoint some or other ‘Working Group’ to investigate all non-competitive running, whether shake-downs, ‘filming days’ or actual testing.

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			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages


Catch up with Mark Webber, who relates an amusing tale: Now manager to Oscar Piastri, the nine-time grand prix winner arrived at the accreditation centre to discover no paddock pass had been printed for him. “Have you ever held an F1 pass?” the Australian was asked by staff in attempts to resolve the issue…

During the morning session I head down the main straight to Turn 1 to catch a glimpse of the cars at full chat and to check out their stability under braking and turn-in. Red Bull are planted, as are Ferrari, Aston Martin and Alpine while Mercedes seems to bounce more than the rest. McLaren is skitterish and Williams looks simply, well, slow. When I later check lap times these chime with my snapshots.

After lunch - as always, Bahraini catering is superb, with choices of local and traditional cuisines - I visit team media folk to update them on both RacingNews365 outlets and share our plans for the year, which include extremely exciting plans for increased audio and video coverage. Watch this space!

F1’s hosts annual promoter meeting during testing for obvious reasons, providing ideal opportunities to meet with race bosses. I take the opportunity of chatting with Amro Al Hamad, Executive Director of Qatar’s Motorsport Federation and the country’s two- and four-wheel grands prix. He won’t be drawn on whether this year’s event will be a night race - as per the MotoGP round - but from his smile I suspect it will be.

During McLaren’s end-of-day media session Team Principal Andrea Stella confirms my fears: a “lack of aero efficiency”, F1-speak for the ratio between downforce and drag being out of kilter. Effectively the car has too much drag (which slows it on straights) for the amount of downforce it produces (too little, slowing it in corners). Sure, drag can be reduced, but at the cost of downforce – so lap time.

When I separately catch up with Stella we discuss the causes, which he puts down to not having state-of-art facilities after the team was forced to cut back on upgrades. Then, plans for a new wind tunnel and simulation tools were delayed by Covid. The bottom line is that Papaya (and Lando Norris) fans are in for a long season; the flipside is the weight of expectations is lifted off Piastri’s shoulders.

Dinner is by kind courtesy of Tyler Epp, CEO of Miami Grand Prix and here for the promoter gig, at the upmarket Foundry restaurant. We’ll bring you news about the event shortly, but the bottom line is most of the maiden event’s issues have been addressed, while Tyler accepts the event cannot survive purely on the fickle, self-indulgent ‘selfie’ crowds that (over-)populated last year’s grid. Good news…


Final day and thus last chance of catching up with F1 folk in a semi-relaxed environment before it explodes next week. Sure, the pace is intense during testing given cars run for up to nine hours, but key personnel and drivers are more ‘open’. I hear fans complained about a lack of action, but here’s betting they’d complain if testing was not televised. Don’t tune in if you don’t understand the difference between testing and racing...

During my walks I bump into promoters who stayed on a day, and while they are cagey about discissions it seems the 2024 calendar will be revamped to ‘group’ races geographically, thus reducing travel and F1’s carbon footprint. Details unavailable as yet as the calendar has not been finalised, but it will be intriguing to learn which races agreed to date changes.

For the day’s afternoon session I head for the pitlane to observe the final hours of testing at closed quarters. At times like this I marvel at the seemingly unhurried pace of F1 personnel, yet every action is deliberate and undertaken at speeds and with levels of accuracy well beyond those of the ‘civilian’ motor industry. F1 truly does attract the cream, be the activities technical, sporting, marketing or hospitality.

During my walkabout I pick up that teams are seriously concerned about Red Bull’s lap times – primarily Max Verstappen’s although today it’s team-mate Sergio Perez in the car - despite a Friday hydraulics glitch while being complimentary about the race pace of Ferrari, Aston Martin and Alpine, with the green car said to be particularly benign on its tyres despite 30C ambient and 55C track temperatures.

Also attracting positive comments is Alfa Romeo although question marks remain over reliability – as per last year. Indeed, the word is that Mercedes should be worried, and not only about Ferrari and Aston Martin.

That’s the testing wrap – now number crunching starts as teams analyse not only their own pace but that of the opposition. Plus, of course, thousands of photographs taken by team snappers over three days will find their way to engineers to see which gizmos can be nicked. Will the pecking order subsequently change? Unlikely, but in F1 you won’t know until Saturday’s white-knuckle hour who has sandbagged…

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

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