Verstappen with an ‘ominous’ start in Bahrain and with Aston Martin in his slipstream

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Max Verstappen recorded the fastest times of test day 1 in Bahrain in both the morning session and the afternoon session. The Formula 1 season has officially started and Red Bull Racing made a strong first impression. However, several teams have stood out. For example, Aston Martin started the day dramatically, but made up for it in the afternoon. We have only had one day on it, but after about eight hours of testing, a few things have already become clear.

One could not ignore Red Bull on Thursday. Verstappen managed to set the fastest time in the morning and went even further during the afternoon session. For those who think that these times have too little predictive power, let’s take a look at words from Formula 1 editor Lawrence Barretto: ‘I spoke to Verstappen tonight. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so confident during a week of testing.’

“He got up to speed straight away, the car – an evolution of last year’s car – responded well when it started and he has covered almost three Grand Prix distances. Ominous,” said the Briton on location. The Dutchman was the only one who took action for Red Bull, as teammate Sergio Pérez takes on the entire last day. With 157 laps he was also by far the most productive driver of the day, but he had the RB19 at his disposal all day long. All his competitors had to hand over the car to teammates halfway through the day.

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With a 1:32.837, it is about two tenths less than the fastest time of the first day of testing in Bahrain in 2022. That is not surprising, because because the teams had to raise the ride height by 15 millimeters, they surrendered downforce. It took about half a second, which has already been regained with aerodynamic improvements. The teams have mainly achieved this by working on the air supply at the front of the floor. According to AlphaTauri CEO Jody Egginton, this is one of the most important development areas of 2023.

Aston Martin’s two-faced day

Aston Martin’s first day is a special story. The F1 drivers were on the road for six minutes early this morning before the British car came to a standstill. Felipe Drugovich missed testing time as a result. The Brazilian fills in for the injured Lance Stroll, of which it is still not fully clear what exactly is wrong with him. There is talk of two broken wrists following a cycling accident, but Aston Martin’s PR team refuses to elaborate.

So Drugovich saw a lot of time pass, according to the commentators of F1TV because of a sensor problem related to the internal combustion engine. The 2022 Formula 2 champion did take action afterwards, but it was far from a good start for the team from Silverstone. “It’s great to pilot the AMR23 for the first time,” said Drugovich.

“At the beginning I had to come in a bit, but I quickly got into my rhythm. Despite some minor electronic problems, we completed our program and collected valuable data. I’ve done a lot of aero testing, which is incredibly important with new material. At the end I was able to switch on and I also enjoyed that, “said the youngster in a press release afterwards.

Alonso to P2

In the afternoon, Aston Martin managed to make up for a lot. Fernando Alonso was pushed into his hands and managed to set more or less the same time as Verstappen with the new material. Fun fact: in the pre-season, Red Bull top designer Adrian Newey designated Aston Martin as one of the competitors for 2023. After day 1, it seems that he may just be right. “I am generally satisfied with the first day of testing in the AMR23,” said Alonso afterwards.

“As a team we did 100 laps. That is a strong start, despite some start-up problems. We experiment a lot. Every lap we make now is important, because every time we go out on the track, we learn something new. Those first laps are always intriguing and so far I’ve enjoyed the preparation. We will continue optimizing tomorrow’, concluded the Spaniard, who also gave up testing time due to damage to the floor.

However, we are wary of Aston Martin’s results on day 1. According to Giedo van der Garde, the top teams always drive with full tanks during the test days, except for a few qualifying simulations on day three. Whether Aston Martin will also follow this example remains to be seen. If the team has decided to drive with less fuel for self-confidence, this may mean that the strong time of two-time world champion Alonso gives a distorted picture.

The Aston Martin at Bahrain International Circuit.  (Photo: Aston Martin F1)
The Aston Martin at Bahrain International Circuit. (Photo: Aston Martin F1)

Ferrari’s dent

Ferrari was close to Verstappen and Red Bull in terms of pace and productivity, but did not have a flawless first day. Under the leadership of Frederic Vasseur, Ferrari fans have hope again. The mismanagement of recent years must be rectified by the experienced Frenchman, and with the appointment of a new chief strategist, Vasseur hopes that Ferrari can put the tactical blunders of 2022 behind it.

In the morning session we saw Ferrari shooting across the tarmac with a dent in the nose. It almost seemed deliberate, but it gradually became clear that it was a production error. When the front wing had to deal with a lot of air pressure, the dent appeared, and in the corners the part dented out again. It is something Ferrari will undoubtedly look into, but is only a relatively minor blemish on a very creditable day of testing.

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Mercedes seems to be recovering

“We don’t bounce anymore, except for that huge bump at the end of the straight. That’s good news’, said a satisfied Toto Wolff from Sakhir. After being plagued by porpoising for a year, Mercedes is finally rid of it. “This is a very solid foundation. From now on it’s important to optimize the car, we haven’t started that yet.’

In addition to a comfortable ride for the drivers, the W14 was also quite fast. Lewis Hamilton was about six tenths off the fastest time. Perhaps even more important is that the Englishman managed to drive no less than 83 laps. Team and compatriot George Russell drove 69. Together they are therefore close to the lap total of the dominant Verstappen. A solid first day for a recovering Mercedes.

McLaren’s start-up problems

A team that has started less energetically is McLaren. Judging by Lando Norris’ P5 you wouldn’t immediately say it, but the British team has had to endure some technical problems. Among other things, the brake problems that occurred halfway through the afternoon session were downplayed by brand new team boss Andrea Stella. ‘A productive day in Bahrain that mostly went according to plan.’

‘Despite some very small problems, which occur during tests, we managed to gather a lot of information and completed a lot of our testing process. We have occasionally been in the garage because the team wanted to strengthen the chassis as a precaution. These were precautionary measures, but we felt they were necessary for safe and reliable driving for the rest of the day. A positive day that we want to follow up with two more good days.’

Debutant Oscar Piastri finished eighteenth after only taking the morning session in the black and papaya orange car. He speaks of ‘quite a smooth’ morning and a ‘good start to the season’. He indicated that he still has to get used to this generation of Formula 1 cars and that there is still a lot to improve. “I think I’ll get there though. Everything felt comfortable. I look forward to learning more about the car.” As one of the sport’s most promising new names, nothing less is expected of him.

The 2023 McLaren. (Photo: McLaren F1 Media)
The 2023 McLaren. (Photo: McLaren F1 Media)

Diverse midfield

In midfield it was diverse in terms of performance. Almost all teams used both drivers on day 1 and those times were not always comparable. The team that did this to a greater extent and stood out in a positive way was Williams. Both Alexander Albon and Logan Sargeant made a lot of meters and seemed to have a good pace. It remains the first day and Williams has a huge amount of catching up to do to qualify for points on a regular basis, but the start is there.

That beginning seemed to be less with AlphaTauri, which is in the lower regions after two test sessions. Of the two drivers, it was Nyck de Vries with the stronger start, but what the team from Faenza has put on the asphalt so far is not too good. Alpine’s first day wasn’t good enough either. The French team was far from the pace, but completed many laps.

In addition, it is now known that Alpine with its car is even under the minimum weight and can therefore play with ballast. That makes it easier to balance the car and so you can expect that two-second gap to the top of the field to be unrepresentative of the form of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon in 2023. The two Frenchmen are certainly eager to take the unlock the full potential of the new blue-pink car, and will certainly get a 3 on day 2. On to the next!

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