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Analysis
Formula 1 Bahrain GP

What F1 GPS data tells us about Red Bull, Ferrari and Aston Martin

Red Bull has locked out the front row of the grid for the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix by almost perfectly mimicking what thrust Ferrari into title contention at the start of last year.  

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

And for good measure, the latest creation to come out of Maranello excels in the very same areas of the Sakhir circuit as the now-retired RB18. Imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. 

How Verstappen drew first blood 

Max Verstappen bagged his 21st and latest pole position in Formula 1 courtesy of a 1m29.708s effort. He pipped team-mate Sergio Perez by 0.138s as 2022 championship rival Charles Leclerc ranked third, 0.292s in arrears with a 1m30s dead. Twelve months previously, it was the Ferrari driver who edged ahead, with Verstappen completing the front row 0.123s down on Leclerc’s 1m30.558s.  

Back then, at the dawn of a new ground-effects era, the RB18 was 10kg overweight. Meanwhile, the Ferrari was far kinder to the scales and its lighter weight was teamed with an urgent engine to produce class-leading acceleration out of the low speed corners. Now, though, it’s the RB19 that can’t be caught under initial power, even though Leclerc is quicker to pick up the throttle out of the tight Turn 1 right-hander on their critical Q3 laps.  

2023 F1 Bahrain GP qualifying GPS data graphic

2023 F1 Bahrain GP qualifying GPS data graphic

But Verstappen’s advantage is short-lived. Down the backstraight on the approach to Turn 4, it’s the SF-23 that enjoys the superior top speed as Leclerc hits 189mph before stamping on the brakes. That compares favourably to his rival’s 187mph. Interestingly, once again, the two cars are displaying the opposite traits as to how they performed at this track a year ago when the Red Bull had the legs in a straight line.

The RB19 appears to produce the superior downforce though as Verstappen is the quicker through the right-hander and then the more violent medium-speed Turn 7. But between these two bends, through the more flowing middle sector, Leclerc is setting the pace. And so, the trend is set for the remainder of the lap. The Red Bull accelerates better than the Ferrari out of the circuit’s most recognisable corner, the tight, downhill left of Turn 10 before carrying more speed through the fifth-gear Turn 12 ascent.   

Verstappen continues to find the time through Turn 13 to give him a superior run on to the penultimate straight. But the lower-drag Ferrari can only be kept behind for so long. Leclerc is another 2.5mph faster into the final braking zone. Of note, he outperforms the Red Bull through the apex (one aspect that has carried over directly from 2022) before the Milton Keynes creation sets the standard under acceleration. It’s not until the timing line that the Ferrari is able to finally match the Red Bull’s speed at 182mph.  

What about the ‘dark horse’? 

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The lower-speed prowess that contributes to Verstappen’s near three-tenth advantage over Leclerc becomes more interesting when Fernando Alonso’s earlier Q3 lap is overlaid. So far 2023’s surprise package, the Aston Martin impressed in testing and set the pace in FP2 and FP3 before slipping to fifth in qualifying, an eventual 0.628s adrift after Alonso ran out-of-sync by starting his sole flier with almost five full minutes of the top 10 shootout remaining.

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The two-time champion appears to be doing most of his heavy lifting on the brakes. He’s better than both of Verstappen and Leclerc at getting the car stopped into Turn 1. Ditto for the more substantial decelerations into Turns 8, 10 and 11. Having starred also at the lowest apex speeds, he seems to have access to greater mechanical grip. 

Yet his AMR23 is the slowest of the trio on the straights. He’s nearly 4mph down on the main straight and for the run into Turn 11. Although he is a match for the Red Bull into the final corner, he just can’t quite keep up for the dash to the timing line, however, as the Aston is out of puff and 3mph short of its rivals. 

 

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