Following the shortest pre-season test in Formula 1 history, we consider the biggest winners and losers from the winter.
There were contrasting fortunes for F1’s class of 2021 with some teams heading into the Bahrain Grand Prix full of confidence, and others wishing winter testing hadn’t been cut back this year with problems yet to be ironed out.
The following list is not an attempt to order the team’s competitiveness or establish some kind of pecking order, but rather a ranking of who we believe enjoyed the most - and least - successful three days of running.[embedded content]
1. Red Bull
Best time: 1m28.960s, Max Verstappen - C3 tyres, day 3 (1st)
Lap count: 369 (7th)
A perfect pre-season test for Red Bull, hailed as the team’s best-ever by Max Verstappen, who rounded out the three days of running by topping the timesheets in Bahrain.
The Milton Keynes squad enjoyed strong reliability on both the mechanical and engine side, and appeared to boast single most impressive car with its upgraded 2021 challenger.
Aside from a half-spin for Verstappen on the opening morning, the RB16B looked fast and stable, with Verstappen hinting that the team had successfully eradicated the balance and handling issues of its predecessor.
While Verstappen was key to downplay expectations and dismissed the notion of Red Bull being the early favourites amid Mercedes’ struggles, he exuded an air of relaxed confidence - suggesting he is very happy with how things went.
Red Bull was undoubtedly the biggest ‘winner’ from the three-day test.
Best time: 1m30.144s, Daniel Ricciardo - C4 tyres, day 3 (7th)
Lap count: 327 (8th)
Considering the momentous workload McLaren faced just to get ready for the new season following one of the shortest winter breaks in F1, its pre-season testing programme could not have gone much better.
McLaren was first out of the blocks to launch and shakedown its Mercedes-powered MCL35M having been the only team to switch power units in the off-season.
Despite the huge task to incorporate the class-leading Mercedes into its revised chassis, the transition was remarkably smooth, enabling McLaren to run without any major issues across all three days.
The MCL35M looked particularly stable and drivable, with Daniel Ricciardo fitting in to his new team and machine seamlessly as he logged 173 laps and began to test the limits of the car.
According to technical director James Key, McLaren’s lap count was intentionally low as it prioritised time-consuming data gathering in its MCL35M which features a rather unique diffuser design that caught the attention of the Woking outfit’s rivals.
Best time: 1m29.053s, Yuki Tsunoda - C5 tyres, day 3 (2nd)
Lap count: 422 (Joint 1st)
It was a very strong pre-season test for AlphaTauri, with Pierre Gasly and F1 rookie Yuki Tsunoda clocked the equal most laps over the three days with 422 to put the team at the joint-top of the mileage charts alongside Alfa Romeo.
AlphaTauri recovered from some niggling reliability setbacks on the opening day to end pre-season looking like one of the standout midfield teams heading into the opening race.
Its AT02 looked impressive on track in the hands of Gasly and Tsunoda, who showed some promising pace on the softest tyres during a low-fuel run when track conditions where at their best to get within 0.093s of Verstappen’s benchmark on the final day.
Tsunoda caught the eye with his performances across the three days of running, demonstrating exactly why Red Bull was so keen to fast-track the 20-year-old Japanese racer to F1 after just four full years of single-seater racing.
Best time: 1m30.318s, Fernando Alonso - C4 tyres, day 3 (10th)
Lap count: 396 (4th)
As one of the team’s that had huge anticipation surrounding it heading into 2021, it was an overwhelmingly positive start to the year for the rebranded French squad.
Alpine’s new-look A521 not only raised eyebrows with its striking revised colour scheme, but also thanks to its bulky airbox design, which led executive director Marcin Budkowski to say he was “surprised by the amount of body shaming” its 2021 car faced.
The uniquely bulbous airbox and engine cover is the result of a repackaging effort which Alpine believes will improve aerodynamic efficiency and shed weight.
While there were no headline-grabbing ‘glory runs’ from either Esteban Ocon or the returning Fernando Alonso - whose F1 comeback started well as he convincingly dispelled concerns about his fitness after breaking his jaw in a cycling accident last month - the A521 looked strong out on track and ran reliably.
Best time: 1m29.611s, Carlos Sainz - C4 tyres, day 3 (3rd)
Lap count: 404 (3rd)
Ferrari won’t be leaving pre-season testing in an overly confident mood, but there will be a sense of optimism in Maranello after an encouraging test as the Italian outfit looks to bounce back from its woeful 2020 campaign.
Charles Leclerc said the SF21 displayed some “promising signs” across the three days despite a stoppage on Day 1, while team principal Mattia Binotto believes Ferrari’s straightline speed is “not any more a disadvantage” after its new power unit had its first extended run-out on track.
Ferrari’s pace was difficult to read, but a late surge up the order on Sunday evening as Carlos Sainz unleashed the third-fastest lap of testing, coupled with some solid long runs, suggested the team has made gains as it bids to haul itself up the grid this year.
6. Alfa Romeo
Best time: 1m29.766s, Kimi Raikkonen - C5 tyres, day 3 (4th)
Lap count: 422 (Joint 1st)
Alfa Romeo joined AlphaTauri in sharing the honours for racking up the most miles throughout three days of running in Bahrain.
While Kimi Raikkonen’s eye-catching late C5 tyre run on Sunday was most likely set during a low fuel run and with Ferrari’s power unit turned up, the Finn is convinced that Alfa Romeo’s 2021 F1 car is already quicker than its C39 predecessor despite the rule changes aimed at slowing cars down this year.
It was an encouraging and trouble-free test for Alfa Romeo, with technical director Jan Monchaux hailing the final day as “flawless”. The Hinwil-based outfit certainly looks in a much better position than 12 months ago as it looks to move closer to the sharp-end and regularly battle for points in 2021.
Best time: 1m30.117s, George Russell - C5 tyres, day 3 (6th)
Lap count: 373 (6th)
George Russell was another driver who showed a flash of pace towards the end of pre-season running in Bahrain, though he said his effort to take sixth place overall in the timesheets wasn’t on “full qualifying trim”.
Overall, it was a straightforward and productive test for Williams, with the team enjoying strong reliability and no major problems across the three days as it split its running between Russell, Nicholas Latifi and test driver Roy Nissany with each conducting full day programmes.
With the British squad bidding to make a step forward this year while keeping one eye on the drastic rule changes coming in 2022, Russell revealed that Williams is expecting its 2021 form to “yo-yo” and be at the mercy of the wind. The hope is that on weekends when conditions favour the FW43B, points could be there for the taking.
Best time: 1m31.531s, Nikita Mazepin - C3 tyres, day 3 (17th)
Lap count: 394 (5th)
It’s fair to say that Haas had relatively low expectations arriving into 2021, having taken the decision not to upgrade its VF-21 throughout the upcoming season to instead prioritise resources on the development of its 2022 F1 car with the aim of capitalising on sweeping regulation changes.
With that in mind, outright performance was not at the forefront of the American team’s testing programme in Bahrain. More importantly, was providing its all-rookie line-up consisting of reigning Formula 2 champion Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin with a reliable car to get up to speed ahead of their F1 debuts.
Other than a gearbox issue that curtailed Schumacher’s Day 1 run plan, Haas’ pre-season went incredibly smoothly, enabling Schumacher and Mazepin to complete almost 400 laps between them.
Best time: 1m30.025s, Lewis Hamilton - C5 tyres, day 3 (5th)
Lap count: 304 (10th)
As Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff put it, the reigning world champions found “hair in the soup” during what was arguably its worst pre-season of the V6 hybrid era.
The German manufacturer was hamstrung by a number of reliability gremlins, the first of which - a gearbox issue - was discovered after just one lap of running on the opening day and limited Valtteri Bottas to just six laps.
Both drivers reported balance and handling issues with the rear-end of Mercedes’ W12, and that was none more so apparent when seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton brought out the red flags with a spin on Day 2, before suffering a 360 rotation on Sunday as he geared up for a flying lap.
Asked about Mercedes’ biggest struggle going into the new season, Hamilton replied: “I wouldn’t call it a struggle necessarily, [we’re] just not quick enough. Just seems globally through the lap; there’s not one particular point more than the other.”
Mercedes completed the fewest miles of any team, marking a striking contrast to previous pre-seasons, while it is also left confused by its short run pace and believes Red Bull is quicker on the long runs.
2021 winter testing was by no means a disaster, but it certainly fell well below Mercedes’ exceptionally-high standards. The team now has its work cut out to get on top of its issues ahead of the season-opener.
The big talking point of Saturday morning
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 13, 2021
10. Aston Martin
Best time: 1m30.460s, Lance Stroll - C5 tyres, day 2 (12th)
Lap count: 314 (9th)
Aston Martin may well have come out on top of the F1 launch season with its star-studded and glamorous reveal event for its AMR21 challenger, but it was quickly brought back down to earth as one of the biggest losers of pre-season testing.
A plethora of problems - including gearbox, electrical and turbo issues - restricted Lance Stroll and new signing Sebastian Vettel’s running over the course of the three days in what proved to be a frustrating and disappointing pre-season for the rebranded Aston Martin outfit.
Aston Martin’s lack of mileage meant it was difficult to glean where it stands pace-wise, though Stroll showed some glimpses of what the team’s 2021 F1 car can do as it prepares for another titanic midfield scrap.
Having only managed 117 laps and ending up bottom of the mileage charts, four-time world champion Vettel is on the back foot in his bid to get up to speed with his new team after a far-from-ideal pre-season test.