A record-breaking season awaits with 23 races in store, and it all kicks off with a crucial three-day test in Bahrain this week. Last year brought a huge regulatory overhaul that produced very different cars, but there are still plenty of changes this year that will be keeping the teams busy during testing.
Here’s RACER’s guide to the key themes of F1’s pre-season.
This was the buzzword of Formula 1 in 2022 — at least in the early part — as teams battled against porpoising and bouncing due to the new regulations lending themselves to the phenomenon. While it became less of an issue as the season progressed, the FIA was still concerned enough that an improvement in car performance this year would bring it back to the surface, so it took action.
That action was raising the floor by 15mm to prevent teams from running the cars as close to the ground as possible. But with that comes a significant loss of performance, as the underside of the floor can no longer energize the air passing under the car as effectively due to the bigger gap.
Confirmation only came in the summer and the late notice usually makes it easier for the bigger teams to react more effectively than their smaller counterparts, but then there were a number of teams — such as AlphaTauri and Aston Martin — who will be grateful for the opportunity to reset a little after tough years in 2022.
The impact of the floor changes is one aspect to keep an eye on, but if any team still suffers from significant porpoising as they did a year ago, then they’re up against it even more…
A TIGHT TURNAROUND
…and that’s because it might have felt like a long off-season but Formula 1 is going to get up and running very quickly in 2023. Unlike last year when the new cars took part in an opening test in Barcelona (despite F1’s attempts to call it a shakedown) before heading to Bahrain, this year it’s straight to Sakhir for just three days and then the opening race of the season the following week at the same venue.
Having such a small gap between the test and race isn’t new, but this being the only pre-season running means any issues could have an even greater impact than we saw last season.
Cast your minds back and recall that the likes of McLaren and Aston Martin were a long way off the pace at the opening two rounds before clawing their way back to competitiveness as the season wore on. While the cars are similar, there have been regulation changes and they’re never bulletproof, so the pressure is going to be on.
ROOKIES AND AN ABSENT DRIVER
That’s even more true for the three new names on the grid this year, who will have just a day and a half each to prepare for their debut seasons in F1. While Nyck de Vries raced for Williams in Monza last season, it’s his only start and he’s now at a brand-new home at AlphaTauri.
That Williams seat eventually went to Logan Sargeant, while Oscar Piastri finally completed his highly anticipated promotion with McLaren after the wrangling over his contract with Alpine last year.
All three will be keen to get in as much mileage as possible in their very short time in the car, even if they’ve been able to use filming days and shakedowns to start to get comfortable with procedures. Given the limited running opportunities, getting up to the pace of their respective teammates might take a little longer than usual.
Another driver facing such a fate is Lance Stroll, who will miss testing after suffering injuries during a minor cycling accident this week. Felipe Drugovich will replace him on Thursday morning to add another rookie to the mix, and the Brazilian could get more testing time in case he’s needed to fill in during the opening round, with updates on Stroll’s recovery set to be a storyline that is chased regularly this week.
One of the more fun aspects of attending car launches is hearing what teams have to say about the work they have done over the winter and where they think they stand in terms of their own personal targets.
You’ll all have heard the standard response of, “We don’t know where everyone else is” etc., but the way teams talk about aims for the season can be very revealing.
The overriding impression was that Aston Martin and Alpine were both particularly confident in the cars they will be rolling out, while McLaren — Alpine’s main rival for fourth place last season — was much more cautious about its launch car but optimistic about an upgrade it hopes to introduce in Baku.
Red Bull has kept quiet on the performance front after having only launched a livery in New York early in February, while Ferrari delivered a statement of intent by running its car for the first time in public, but insists its biggest focus has been better reliability.
As for Mercedes, using a back-up filming day wasn’t ideal but also showed it was quickly on top of any teething problems when it rolled out the W14. And while any tempering of expectations would be sensible after 2022, it also regularly took the approach of underpromising when dominating in previous years.
Pairing up some of those impressions with the on-track reality is always fascinating, even if it’s better to wait for a much bigger sample size than three days of testing.
AN EXTRA TIRE COMPOUND
Not only are the 2023 tires featuring updated structures but this time Pirelli has also added a sixth compound into the mix. Confusingly named C0 to C5 (rather than C1 to C6), the six options will all need analyzing during the test, but it’s the C1 that is of particular interest.
That’s a brand-new compound that has been designed to sit between the hardest two previously available in order to reduce the performance gap between what had previously been the hardest compounds in the range. That means last year’s C1 has become the C0, the C1 is new, and the C2 is based on the previous C2. Got it? Easy.
Expect to see a lot of running on the C1 during testing, as it will be available during the race as the hardest compound in Bahrain.