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F1 pre season testing

F1 rankings after pre-season testing: Red Bull a class apart, one team surprises

RacingNews365 looks back on the test days and takes you through the (likely) ranking of the F1 grid after three days in Bahrain.

Verstappen Bahrain
Analysis
To news overview © Red Bull Content Pool

Hundreds of kilometers and two manhole cover incidents: it was the ultra-short summary of the past test days in Bahrain. Teams value the winter test more than ever because, with a film day here and there, it is the only opportunity to drive many test miles with the new Formula One cars. After all, the Bahrain Grand Prix is already scheduled for next week.

Which teams left a strong impression and which teams still have work to do? We discuss it below.

Red Bull: a class apart

Lap count: 391 (3rd)
Reliability: Good
Speed: Outstanding

The competition will have been watching Red Bull open-mouthed since launch. The dominant force of 2023 had not been idle and was once again radically changing the concept of the car.

As soon as Max Verstappen entered the Bahrain International Circuit, he was super fast. The big smiles during the media sessions spoke volumes: the RB20 was doing exactly what Verstappen wanted. Teammate Sergio Perez also seemed to feel at home in the new car.

The long runs on Friday were outstanding. Verstappen caused a stir by recording eleven laps within two-tenths on the C3 tyres. Partly for this reason, Red Bull appears to be in a class of its own again, although it is still unclear how it will fare for qualifying. But the fact that Red Bull skipped those short runs may say it all...

One critical note though was that some minor reliability problems hit on the second day. Sergio Perez was twice confined to the garage: once with a brake issue and then with an electronic problem. On the final day, those teething problems seemed to be remedied.

Mercedes: final step missing

Lap count: 361 (7th)
Reliability: Outstanding
Speed: Good

Well, what to say about Mercedes? The Silver Arrows didn't show the back of their teeth, leaving any 'wow' moments out of the picture. Lewis Hamilton and George Russell may have suggested that the W15 is much more predictable compared to the W13 and W14, but the onboard footage did not really show that.

Most notably, Hamilton's apparent fight was striking. The seven-time world champion, who moves to Ferrari next year, occasionally slid in all directions, although lap times came a little easier when Mercedes made adjustments. Test days are for testing, so it is to be hoped Mercedes can build from this point.

That, in fact, has been lacking in recent years. The zeropod concept failed and with that now ditched, Mercedes must now understand much of the new, mainstream concept. Therefore, a slight delay may not be surprising, but Hamilton and Russell will obviously demand more. The bottom line? Red Bull certainly seems too strong for Mercedes in the opening stages, but the Silver Arrows are slowly but surely clawing their way out of the doldrums.

Ferrari: the positive surprise

Lap count: 416 (2nd)
Reliability: Excellent
Speed: Very Good

Ferrari stood out in a positive sense during the test days. 416 laps and the fastest time was far better than last year's struggles. The iconic team is yearning for a successful season, as the last Constructors' title dates back to 2008. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are under no illusions yet in the battle with Red Bull and Verstappen, but optimism prevails.

And rightly so when looking at the data from the test days. In both the shorter and longer runs, the new Ferrari looked competitive and more importantly, the tyre wear problems seem to have been solved. A world opened up for Sainz and Leclerc, who both felt the car was stable. Team boss Fred Vasseur even dared to state that "Ferrari came from another planet in terms of consistency and tyre wear.

Ferrari looks to be Red Bull's closest rival. Whether it will be enough to actually compete with Verstappen? That's more hope than reality for now unless the Scuderia conjures a rabbit out of the top hat.

McLaren: many question marks

Lap count: 328 (9th)
Reliability: Sufficient
Speed: Good

"We are quite competitive and are in the position where we finished last year. That is exactly what we wanted." Surely it was a striking statement from McLaren CEO Zak Brown, for Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri would be only too happy to challenge Red Bull and Max Verstappen.

But Brown's summary does reflect reality. McLaren stood out by not standing out and also had some reliability problems. Norris admitted that testing went much better compared to last year's trials and tribulations but disappointment over lost time was also evident. For example, the talented Briton drove only 20 laps on Friday morning due to a clutch problem and did not get to a race simulation.

And so McLaren finished ninth in the lap count. The speed seemed reasonable, but Red Bull and Ferrari were certainly a long way faster. Norris said: "I think we definitely made some strides. But I think we're still way behind Red Bull and Ferrari."

A painful conclusion, or can McLaren provide another miracle?

Aston Martin: Alonso laughs and cries

Lap count: 379 (shared 4th)
Reliability: Very good
Speed: More than adequate

The revelation of 2023 did not really stand out during the test days. Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll worked steadily through their program without leaving a dazzling impression. Alonso accelerated on the final afternoon but fell well short of Red Bull and Ferrari, especially in the second sector.

This is how Aston Martin seems to be stuck for now. The Silverstone-based team is very ambitious after last season, although at the same time, it is not talking much about specific goals for the new campaign. The speed and reliability are good, but the final step does not seem to be there yet. Alonso did, however, show a smile, which is usually a good sign.

			© RN365/Michael Potts
	© RN365/Michael Potts

Alpine: simply not good enough

Lap count: 334 (5th)
Reliability: Sufficient
Speed: Moderate

With a radically new F1 car, Alpine began the test days hopeful. However, the French team may have to go back to the drawing board. The A524 was quite slow and unsettled in the hands of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly and even before the first race, it seems clear that Alpine once again cannot threaten the top.

It fits the picture of recent years. Alpine doesn't seem to know which direction to take and keeps muddling along. If the results start to disappoint, it would not be surprising if Ocon and Gasly start looking around. After all, both drivers have expiring contracts.

For now, of course, it's a case of looking at the bigger picture. The car's performance just doesn't show. At every corner, the drivers suffered from under-or-oversteer, so there was never a flawless time.

Williams: revolution fails to materialize

Lap count: 299 (10th)
Reliability: Poor
Speed: Satisfactory

With much fanfare, the new Williams was unveiled in New York. Attacking the midfield is to be the objective.

But you have to complete productive test days, and that is what Williams lacked. The team experienced a false start, driving only 61 laps on the first day due to reliability problems. Alex Albon stalled with a fuel pump problem, after which Logan Sargeant also found himself in the pit box most of the time with a new issue.

Williams did pick up after that. Slowly but surely the engineers understood how the chassis acts and the speed was reasonable in itself. Still, Albon and Sargeant might have expected a little more. Why? Because Williams was already shifting its focus to the new campaign early last year. So far, however, a revolutionary improvement seems to be out of the question...

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

RB: ambitions seem real

Lap count: 367 (6th)
Reliability: More than adequate
Speed: More than adequate

Visa Cash App RB (RB): it's a mouthful, as CEO Peter Bayer himself admitted. However, Red Bull's sister team caught the eye during the test days. Indeed, RB and especially Daniel Ricciardo looked very strong. Yuki Tsunoda was still searching a bit, but that the VCARB-01 has potential seems certain.

The closest competitors will be watching that development with suspicion. RB works closely with the main force Red Bull, and when the team can attack the midfield, there seems to be positivity ahead.

Stake F1: invisible with striking livery

Lap count: 379 (shared 4th)
Reliability: Ample
Speed: Moderate

Stake F1's car looked sparkling under the artificial lights in Bahrain. Now to make the speed sparkle...

Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou acted under the radar until suddenly the latter's name popped up in third on the final day. The Chinese worked a so-called glory run on the soft C4 tyre.

It produced a distorted picture. Stake F1 is in danger of falling into no-man's land as Audi enters in 2026. There is plenty of ambition, but so far the team seems to be facing another invisible year. The front of the midfield is just too fast for Stake F1, even in 2024.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Haas: A difficult year ahead?

Lap count: 441 (1st)
Reliability: Excellent
Speed: Inadequate

Haas is the only team that failed to show off its speed. Secretly, Ayao Komatsu, the new team boss, already announced this at launch but it's a painful story nonetheless. Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg together completed the most laps though as the team tackled its rear tyre wear issues from last year head-on.

And so another lost year is looming for the American team. Under Komatsu, a fresh wind is blowing through Haas, with no visible improvement. It is too early to place that responsibility on Komatsu, but something must change.

The ranking?

Top teams:Red Bull and Ferrari
Swimming between the top and midfield:Mercedes and McLaren
Front of the midfield: Aston Martin and RB
Backside of the midfield: Williams, Alpine and Stake F1
Backmarker:
Haas

Times usually don't say everything during test days and there are as many as 24 races to follow in 2024. We will know more on Friday, March 1, after qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

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