The Red Bull RB19 definitely seems the car to beat in 2023, at least at the start of this year’s Championship.
The real potential of the AMR23, which seems high, alongside the full strength of the Ferrari SF-23, remains unclear. The problems with the Mercedes W14, meanwhile, seem greater than expected.
To get definitive answers, we will have to wait not only for the end of the weekend but for the first races. In any case, the first indications suggest the running order has significantly changed since last season.
FP2: Two Red Bulls behind Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin.
The conditions in FP2 were very similar to what the teams will experience in Qualifying, with the season on the verge of commencing. The AMR23 has proven very efficient, and capable of finding consistent pace. Lance Stroll’s immediate competitiveness is evidence of this, finishing sixth and ‘only’ half a second behind teammate Alonso.
The AMR23 appears especially strong in the braking zone, thanks to a very well-constructed front of the car. The Silverstone-based team has produced a car that gives Alonso plenty of confidence on the brakes.
At the moment, it still seems well matched against the RB19 – the current reference in F1 – in terms of load in slow and medium-speed corners. With that said, Red Bull still seems to enjoy an edge in the high-speed corners. Regardless, the team has made a significant step forward
One aspect that Red Bull and Aston Martin have in common – for now – is very good race pace: Both teams can immediately bring the tyres into the right operating window, which would make the difference over a race distance. Tyre wear also seems well under control with the AMR23 and RB19:
“It’s not yet the time to look at the times, let’s see what happens tomorrow and in the next races. Today is definitely another step in the right direction,” said Fernando Alonso after Friday’s Practice, whilst his teammate Lance Stroll made no secret of his satisfaction with his new machine.
The weekend didn’t in ideal fashion for Max Verstappen, who struggled a lot with the balance of the car in FP1 – although he found gradual improvement as the day progressed:
“The long run wasn’t bad, as was the last flying lap. We still have some work to do, but we improved over the course of the day,” said Verstappen.
These areas of improvement are not huge concerns, with Sergio Perez also seeming more comfortable in the RB19. This confirms Helmut Marko’s comments from earlier this week, that both drivers should feel comfortable in Red Bull’s 2023 machinery.
Ferrari SF-23: A more loaded beam wing and reduced ground clearance improve balance.
Ferrari’s driver pairing finished today with almost opposite moods. Carlos Sainz says he was immediately at ease with the SF-23, which is why he explored a wide range of available setups, in order to avoid any surprises. On the other hand, Charles Leclerc suffered from more difficulty with understeer during pre-season.
The single pylon rear wing appeared in FP1, with the team unconcerned about this new update facing some issues:
“We made up for the time lost in testing, it was just an element to test. No problem “, said Fred Vasseur at the end of the day.
However, the two Ferrari SF-23 machines underwent corrections to better adapt to the needs of Bahrain. In addition to the new beam wing, Ferrar’s technicians worked to reduce the car’s height from the ground, without reaching the extreme attempts made in the morning. This optimisation work has started producing interesting results.
However, Charles Leclerc seems happier with the changes made. Understeer seems less severe, (although it did not fully disappear), and the rear was manageable, limiting the appearance of bouncing:
“Our free practice went according to plan. We completed a good number of laps, and I feel more and more comfortable in the car. It is still difficult to say what the real values are on the field, (…) We remain focused on ourselves, determined to push in the right direction.”
Carlos Sainz faced a little more difficulty, as he searches to find a better feeling with the SF-23.
The Spaniard carried out the two runs on the softs, setting the exact same time of 1.31.956, therefore not improving. Leclerc, meanwhile, made about a half-second improvement in his second run. Even beyond the significant tyre degradation he suffered, which made his long runs difficult, Sainz has spoken about set-up changes that will be necessary:
“A more complicated Friday than expected. We had some balance issues today, and so a lot of settings had to be changed on the car to react to the limitations slowing me down,” declared the Spaniard, who remains optimistic for Saturday and Sunday.
Ferrari arrives at this first Grand Prix aware of its weaknesses. Tyre management is one of these, which first appeared during the pre-season tests. The Scuderia focused significantly on the C3 compound in the long runs in FP2, using two softs with shorter stints, to study its behaviour with different fuel loads.
The work on the simulator and the setup changes had their effects, and – especially with Leclerc – there was a clear improvement in terms of the SF-23’s tyre conservation.
There was not an especially large gap to Sergio Perez in race simulations – although Verstappen and Alonso enjoyed a slightly larger advantage.
From the data collected, Ferrari did not use a very high engine mode: Ferrari reached 322 km/h, whilst Haas reached 320km/h – albeit with a VF-23 machine featuring more drag than in treating. It is also likely that Ferrari ran with a slightly heavier fuel load than the excellent AMR23.
Although Red Bull appears at the front, Ferrari could still fight for the front tow. It is intriguing to analyse the unique characteristics of these 2023 cars:
Aston Martin is very strong in corner entry, Ferrari in braking, whilst the RB19 is the most stable in traction zones.
Disappointed Mercedes: the top teams are distant, while Alpine, Alfa Romeo and McLaren are slightly further behind
Mercedes continue to be plagued with issues. The W14 had given good responses on the first day of testing, only to lose the balance on the second and return to the right path on the third.
Today the team encountered more issues, which the team has made no issue to disguise.
George Russell described the W14 as a car, “with a very different balance sheet from the tests. Its usage window is completely different, it looks better, but we don’t know if that means it’s also faster.”
Lewis Hamilton, however, was slightly more direct about Mercedes’ position: “We are at the same starting point as last year, if not further back. Last year we made good progress, and the gap wasn’t as big as it is now.”
The W14 carries the defects from last year’s car. One of these is immense difficulty in maximising the softest compound – whether it’s soft or not – during qualifying. The two drivers took a notable step back on the Softs, finding themselves swallowed up by the middle group.
Mercedes’ pace seemed slightly better during long runs, but if these times are confirmed, Toto Wolff’s team will be facing new rivals this season.
McLaren has made progress after facing many difficulties, although not enough to compete with the front teams. Still, the team showed promising results in race pace.
Lando Norris showed very similar pace to Mercedes in his long runs, as well as Pierre Gasly in the Alpine, a direct competitor of the Woking team. Keeping up with the French squad would be a success for them at the start of 2023.
Gasly and Ocon showed some encouraging pace by immediately slotting behind the front-runners on the softs, ready to capitalise on any lack of performance from the teams in front.
However, the midfield appears very competitive – Alfa Romeo also seems a very well-balanced car at the moment, even if the race pace simulations (Soft for Bottas, Medium for Zhou) have highlighted some of their difficulties with tyre management.
Williams and AlphaTauri look to be near the back, based on the race simulations carried out today. Haas, on the other hand, showed they can be a threat – in both qualifying and race simulations.
Authors: Paolo D’Alessandro & Giuliano Duchess
Race Pace: Toni Sokolov
Telemetry: Andrea Vergani
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang