Formula 1 is finally back after a three-month absence. With the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend, fans will be busy with racing on Saturday and Friday evenings.
Red Bull ended last year with a victory in Abu Dhabi and will be eager to continue their winning streak with the RB19 – which has proven to be a great step up from the dominant RB18.
The Milton Keynes team hasn’t won on the Sakhir track since 2013 with Sebastian Vettel, but they came extremely close in 2021 and 2022 – will triumph this year?
Ferrari absolutely certainly has a chance against the World Champions, despite facing some problems with the SF-23’s front end during testing. The SF-23 will rely on the new rear wing and cooler temperatures to try to return to victory in Bahrain.
Mercedes and Aston Martin appear slightly further back, but they could still be in the mix – especially given the pace shown by Fernando Alonso in the AMR23 in testing.
Regardless, the midfield order will become clearer this weekend.
In Bahrain, good aerodynamic efficiency and attention to the rear load will be needed
The four main straights of the Sakhir circuit exalt the cars with a good engine and aerodynamic efficiency: horsepower is essential given the three DRS zones (the first will be 80 meters shorter), alongside ERS management (department where Honda is still one step ahead of the competition for two years now). This will be especially relevant in the exit of the final corner.
From the little that we have been able to observe in the tests, the SF-23 excels in low-fuel runs.
However, in order to compete with the RB19, the engineers will have to find a better aerodynamic and mechanical compromise because there is no shortage of medium and low-speed corners.
There are no less than 7 turns to be tackled at speeds below 200 km/h, and it is precisely there, especially in the middle of the bend and in traction, that the RB19 will make the difference if what we saw in testing is confirmed this weekend.
The set-ups we will see will mainly have medium downforce, especially to protect the tires in the 57 laps that will have to be tackled on Sunday: the Bahrain asphalt is one of the most demanding in this first part of the calendar.
Pirelli with a change from 2022: change the hard rubber
Pirelli recently announced that the compounds selected for the Bahrain Grand Prix are C1, C2, C3.
This might seem like the same choice from 12 months ago. However, Pirelli introduced a new C1 compound during the winter, which has intermediate characteristics between the old C1, called C0, in 2023, and the more performing C2.
So the white band tire that we will see in action this weekend will be one step softer than the one seen (just) 12 months ago.
Only Ocon, Alonso and Gasly used the more resistant option in testing, the winning strategy without the Safety Car would have been a two-stop race: two stints of around 15 laps on the red, then switching to the yellow until the end of the race.
This year we will be able to see different strategies: last week, many teams simulated the race using all three ‘compounds’, and also to collect more data in view of the season.
The low temperatures encountered in the competitive sessions will be able to help those teams that find it more difficult to manage the tyres.
Both Qualifying and the Race will be run with temperatures of 19/20°C, which will generally correspond to asphalt temperatures between 25° and 30°C, similar to those encountered in last year’s race.
In Bahrain, the strong wind will test the 2023 cars, often present at the roll call in various sessions of the weekend: it will be essential to have a balanced single-seater also to be able to manage this factor in the best possible way.
Updates for Alpine, Ferrari and Mercedes change wings
During the final day of testing, Ferrari introduced a new medium downforce rear wing, more suited to the characteristics of the circuit where the first round of the season will be held.
Also, this weekend, the two SF-23s will have it available, with the technicians ready to evaluate the best set-up to adopt during the weekend. Similar, but opposite, the situation for Mercedes.
The W14 used a very high-downforce wing during testing; over the weekend, even the black arrows will have a more suitable medium-load wing at their disposal for the 5.412km Manama track.
Alpine is the team that hid the most in the three days of pre-season testing: only within the French team do they know how much-hidden potential there is still in the A523. Technical Director Matt Harman said:
“We have a nice package to take to the track, and hopefully that will help us chase third position (among manufacturers, if not third position”.
Furthermore, Harman admitted that so far, the A523 has run with a very rigid set-up, but through a new technology that will be tested for the first time in FP1, the French single-seater will be able to race closer to the ground without paying the consequences.
Words that demonstrate a good level of confidence in the car resulting from the efforts of Enstone and Viry: with the new updates, will Alpine be able to play the role of third force with Aston Martin and Mercedes?
The gap between the other five teams on the grid does not seem large, and a lot will depend on which car will be able to adapt to the characteristics of the circuit while awaiting the first seasonal developments. Already on Friday after FP2, we will be able to have a clearer idea of the values in the field both on the single lap and on the race pace.
Author: Andrea Vergani
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang