With the first showing of the new breed of Formula 1 cars at the ‘group’ shakedown at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya now ended, we eagerly anticipate the conclusion of ‘real’ pre-season testing in Bahrain in just over a week.
What did we learn about the new formula, who has the advantage for now, and what changes should we expect for Bahrain?
What have we learnt about the 2022 F1 car?
For me, the most surprising aspect so far is that the new cars are not as slow as I thought they would be. I was predicting a 4-6 seconds per lap difference, but I suspect that by the time qualifying comes around in Bahrain, we might only be around 1 second slower, and that will only improve during the year.
It appears the 2022 F1 car is just as quick in a straight line, if not even a touch faster than the outgoing car, but carrying a bit less mid-corner speed.
Due to the combination of the adoption of a ground effect aerodynamic principle, an even heavier car, and larger diameter tyres, many observers have remarked that it appears the cars require a more finessed driving technique. Braking release and throttle feed-in need to be more sensitive and less abrupt, as does initial steering input, apparently.
A heavier car carrying a comparable amount of mid-corner speed with less tyre side wall compliance will break lateral traction a lot easier.
I suspect one of the keys to performance in race conditions will be the drivers that can adapt to the nuanced style that will be required to make the tyres last.
The amount of wind tunnel and CFD testing resource available to a team under this system is dependent on its finishing position in the previous year’s Constructors’ Championship.
With Ferrari’s disastrous finishing position of 6th in the 2020 Championship, this means that out of the Big 3 of Ferrari, Mercedes, and Red Bull, it is the Scuderia that has benefited the most from the resource handicapping system under which F1 has administered since the beginning of 2021.
More resource for aerodynamic development is afforded, the lower down the Championship ladder a team finished.
Ferrari have not only started the evolution of their 2022 charge with a unique design philosophy, primarily a beautifully sculpted larger sidepod that seem to direct airflow towards the rear beam wing, but it appears for now at least as though it works quite well.
There was another telling sign in that Ferrari’s solution to ‘porpoising’ wasn’t to butcher the rear floor tray, as most other teams did, but simply to raise the ride height.
Raising the ride height seems an elegant and simple solution, but the catch is that in doing so, ultimate performance will be compromised, thus in doing so, and not seemingly compromising lap speed to a great degree may well show that there’s plenty of performance in the Ferrari aero solution.
Of course, its very early days and only time will determine whether I am right or wrong!
Another important measure in testing is mileage, and amazingly Ferrari averaged more than 2 Grands Prix distances on all three days of the test.
When considering mileage, one shouldn’t overlook Williams who completed plenty of distance as the great improver – especially considering their recent testing history – and seem to have a very stable 2022 platform to start with.
What changes should we expect for Bahrain?
Last week’s test in Barcelona was hindered by the ‘porpoising’ issue that in reality every team experienced.
I would expect that to have been a primary focus to resolve in the week leading up to Bahrain. It will be interesting to see what the solutions will be, whether they are aerodynamic or mechanical solutions, or a combination.
It might even end up being an issue that some teams can’t resolve completely, but rather find a solution that’s an acceptable level of mitigation.
Given that last week was the very first real-world test of cars built to a completely new set of technical regulations, I expect development to be a steep trajectory for the first phase of the season, but to plateau out as time passes.
For this reason, I would expect significant changes to be tested by most teams in Bahrain, predominantly aerodynamic changes, and possibly significant ones that might change the appearance of the cars.
As the gap between the conclusion of the test in Bahrain and the race – the first Grand Prix for 2022 – is only a week, I also expect the test to consist of plenty of ultimate performance runs on low fuel and power unit settings turned up.
The next test in Bahrain is going to be where the 2022 F1 season will start to become real, and we start to really see who the Championship contenders might be.