The questions the second F1 test needs to answer

Last month's Barcelona test was the first look of the 2022 Formula 1 cars, and the three-day Bahrain session that starts on Thursday should give us a clearer picture of where the teams stand.

The questions the second F1 test needs to answer

Much could change in the pecking order over the course of what will be a very long season, but this week we should at least get some idea of what to expect in the early races.

Here are some of the key questions that could get answers in Bahrain.

Are the Red Bull and Mercedes updates game-changers?

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18

Photo by: Erik Junius

All teams are expected to bring new parts to the Bahrain test. The gap between the first day in Barcelona on February 23 and the start of action in Sakhir is 15 days, and it's even longer if you track back to the earlier filming and shakedown days for the various teams.

That's a significant period in F1 winter development terms, and teams will have planned many months ago to have some parts built and ready for track use only for the second test, and not the first.

In addition, anyone who has anything really novel in the works in terms of aero parts would want to hide it for as long as possible, and not show their full hand in Barcelona.

It was obvious in Spain that there would be more to come from the big players, and the focus has been on what steps Mercedes and Red Bull will take for this week's second test.

"I think we'll see some changes come Bahrain," said George Russell. "And throughout the season I'm sure the development slope is going to be pretty rapid for everyone. Whoever can get on top of that the quickest and most efficiently will be the ones on top come the end of the season."

The big question now is just how much performance those two teams were holding back for Bahrain, and how quickly and effectively they can get any new parts to work.

Is Ferrari's pace real?

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The Ferrari F1-75 looked quick from the start of the Barcelona test, and Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz appeared to be able to run fast times effortlessly, and in all conditions.

Leclerc was fifth in the table for the week, but his best lap was achieved on the C3 tyres – and those ahead of him in the rankings were running the softer C5 or C4. Crucially, the car did a lot of laps, and thus plenty of data was gathered.

"I think it was important because these cars are so different," said team boss Mattia Binotto. "And the first objective is trying to learn them. And the objective at least this session was really trying to map the car in all the conditions try to understand the correlations with the wind tunnel, the simulator.

"Now that correlation will be an exercise of the next days back in Maranello. We will really try to cross correlate all the data. And let's see if it's working well. But the car is behaving well, overall."

The consensus of those who crunched the numbers is that the team's pace was genuine relative to its main rivals. The question now is how the F1-75 stacks up in Bahrain alongside the Mercedes and Red Bull, both of which will now be much closer to the spec they will use at the first race.

Binotto was keen to play down Ferrari's own upgrade programme for Bahrain, noting: "It will not be much different compared to what we've got. I think that the first step for us will be to optimise what we have."

Will Alpine gain some momentum?

Fernando Alonso, Alpine F1 A522

Fernando Alonso, Alpine F1 A522

Photo by: Erik Junius

Much is expected of the Alpine team this year, but the Barcelona test was not a great start.

Early on the final morning Fernando Alonso stopped on track after a hydraulic leak triggered a fire. Having inspected the damage the team announced that it would end the test early and head home.

That left Alpine eighth in the table of laps completed for the week. It also meant that the drivers missed out on the opportunity to run lower fuel and softer tyres on the final day. A time set very early on Friday by Alonso on the C3 tyre benchmarked the team as eighth fastest, ahead only of Haas and Alfa Romeo.

The Enstone outfit was hampered in terms of laptime after deciding on the first day not to run with the DRS open, for reasons that were not specified in detail. It was also using Viry's new RE22 power unit in anger for the first time, and given that there was still much to learn, it wasn't pushed to the limits.

In other words, Alpine probably underperformed relative to its true potential to a greater degree than any other team, and Bahrain will be an opportunity to show signs of progress.

"I don't want to say everything's fine and we're completely chilled," sporting director Alan Permane said in Spain. "Of course, we're concerned. But it's in no way, 'Are we going to be at the bottom of the timesheets?'"

Will Bottas and Alfa Romeo find more speed?

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C42

Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo C42

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The Barcelona test was also a difficult week for the Alfa Romeo team, which ran its new C42 in camouflage livery ahead of its official launch.

The car suffered from a string of mechanical gremlins. Reserve driver Robert Kubica managed only nine laps in his only session on the morning of day one, and then Valtteri Bottas ran only 23 laps that afternoon.

By the end of the test the car had logged 175 laps, with only Haas completing fewer. It was not good news for rookie driver Guanyu Zhou, who obviously really needs some mileage.

It was also clearly disappointing for Bottas, who has high expectations for his new team.

"It feels like we are still in very early stages of actually discovering the car," said the Finn. "For me, it was quite limited running that we had, only with two different tyre compounds, and only with very few set-up changes.

"So, there's still so much more to discover. So that's why we are really aiming to work hard between the test and hopefully get a better understanding in Bahrain. There's work to do. I'm not saying anything against that. But also I feel there is potential in this package."

Alfa team boss Fred Vasseur acknowledged that Barcelona hadn't been easy: "It was quite a difficult session. Now we have to think and to be focused on the next one. But we are trying to fix everything for Bahrain, and we can recover and look on the future."

Will the new tyres become more of a talking point?

A mechanic washes some tyres

A mechanic washes some tyres

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

The Barcelona test was the first time that F1 teams and drivers were able to experience the definitive 18-inch race tyres mated to the 2022 cars that they were designed for, having previously tested them on converted mule cars last year.

Given the engineering challenges involved in the switch it was perhaps surprising that the new Pirellis were little talked about, and conversations were dominated instead by the huge changes to the aero packages and the porpoising effect that teams experienced.

Few drivers offered public feedback on the tyres in Spain, but one of the most interesting comments came from Sainz.

"Compared to other years, maybe a bit less overheating, a bit less deg, but there's still deg, they're still a tyre that degrades, a tyre that overheats," said the Ferrari driver. "But the scale of it for me personally, I feel like it's a bit better. And the work done by Pirelli last year and the development seems to start to pay off a bit."

Will tyres become more of a topic in Bahrain? Firstly, temperatures will be much higher than they were in Spain, and thus more relevant not only for the Sakhir race itself, but also those that follow in warmer climes.

And secondly, the track is noted for being among the more abrasive, as the asphalt has a high granite content.

For the upcoming grand prix, Pirelli has taken a conservative route and chosen its three hardest compounds, the C1, C2, C3, having used the C2, C3 and C4 with its previous generation of tyres in 2021.

Naturally teams will concentrate on the race selections for the test, but the softer tyres will also be available if they want to try them, and that running could provide useful data for future events.

Will porpoising still be an issue?

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The porpoising teams experienced in Barcelona was the major talking point of the week, and is likely to continue to be so in Bahrain.

Teams have had a fortnight to study it, although given that even with all their wind tunnel and CFD work they hadn't fully anticipated the issue it remains to be seen how successful their modelling has been in addressing it.

These cars were designed to run close to the ground, and if raising the ride heights is part of the cure then teams will still have a lot of adapting to do at the Bahrain test and heading into the first race weekend.

It also remains to be seen to what extent do teams decide to accept that some porpoising is acceptable if it means faster lap times, if it is not too discomforting to their drivers.

"We were a bit taken aback, which I think has been the case for all of the teams or most of the teams," Alfa Romeo technical director Jan Monchaux said in Barcelona.

"I would suspect that we are going to get that under control with some modifications mainly on the floor that will allow us to get a bit closer to our optimum.

"But with the current state of the rules, I would also expect that we'll have to set-up slightly higher than we all thought at the beginning. The question will be how much higher, it is 3-5mm, or is it 20mm? I hope it's going to be five, because then the re-work on the car will be less."

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