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What we learned about 2022 F1 cars in Barcelona test

The three days of testing in Barcelona provided Formula 1 drivers and teams with their first proper insight into how the 2022 cars behave on track.

George Russell, Mercedes W13

It was a fascinating session, not least because of the unexpected emergence of the porpoising phenomenon, something that despite all the modelling work that they had undertaken, the teams had seemingly not anticipated.

The issue was a major topic of conversation through the week, and it is likely to remain so as F1 heads into the season.

Here we look at some of the lessons learned about this new breed of cars.

Are the 2022 F1 cars fun to drive?

Fernando Alonso, Alpine F1 A522

Fernando Alonso, Alpine F1 A522

Photo by: Erik Junius

The drivers were not sure what to expect before they sampled their new cars and the definitive 18-inch tyres in Barcelona, with the increased weight limit a particular cause for concern.

However, once they got up to speed they gave positive feedback on how they felt out on track. They also enjoyed the challenge of trying something different and thus having to adjust their approach in the cockpit while also helping their engineers to optimise the new packages.

"I must say, they are fun," said Pierre Gasly. "Last year, I felt pretty lucky we managed to experience the fastest car in the history of F1 so obviously they were amazing to drive.

"I think our starting point in terms of performance is not so far from last year, so considering all the development that we're going to see at the start of the season and over the next couple of months, I think we will see pretty much similar performances."

"The cars are always fun to drive," said former world champion Sebastian Vettel. "I remember the days when the cars were significantly lighter. That's the only downside, it's just the weight. I think they feel too heavy."

Weight was a theme in nearly every driver response.

"I think with such heavier cars and less downforce with the new regs, I was probably expecting a bit worse of the car, or a bit more of a difficult car to drive," said Daniel Ricciardo. "But so far it actually felt pretty balanced."

"Apart from the weight, I really enjoy actually this winter testing," said Charles Leclerc. "The car is completely new, so you have to really change your driving style, and it's very interesting for us drivers to try different things."

How does the performance over a lap compare to last year?

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

It was clear from the start of testing that the 2022 cars are faster than had been expected when the new rules were formulated.

Exactly how close to last year's laptimes they are at the moment was impossible to judge at a cold first test in Barcelona where no one really showed their hand, and thus a more accurate picture will emerge in Bahrain.

So where does that pace come from? All drivers praised the performance of their cars in the high-speed corners, where the ground effect really kicks in. And as sim running had shown, thanks to the extra weight the cars are now less agile than they used to be in the slow stuff.

"I think we've seen every single team is far faster than the four seconds slower than they were planned to be," said Mercedes recruit George Russell.

"But the high-speed performance is definitely on a par with what we were seeing last year. It's pretty impressive."

The buzz that drivers are getting in fast corners was a recurring theme.

"Obviously, in high speed it is super nice," said Carlos Sainz Jr "Because you're stuck to the ground and the car is producing downforce and it feels consistent downforce, feels really nice to drive."

Are the 2022 cars going to be better for overtaking?

Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo C42, Fernando Alonso, Alpine A522

Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo C42, Fernando Alonso, Alpine A522

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

The consensus from drivers who had managed to follow rivals in Barcelona was that it is now easier than in the past, which was the key aim of the 2022 regulations.

The real test will come in race conditions, when there are multiple cars in line and the DRS comes into play, but the early signs are positive.

"I've been following a few cars, and it seems like it's a little bit easier to stay behind," said Max Verstappen.

"At least you don't have this weird loss of downforce where suddenly you have a lot of understeer or massive oversteer.

"Of course, I don't expect it to be fully gone and that you can follow on the rear diffuser, because of the speeds we're still doing in an F1 car, but it all seems a bit more under control."

Leclerc made the intriguing observation that as he got closer to the car in front the ability to follow dropped off, before picking up again when he was right on its tail.

"It is quite interesting," said the Monegasque driver. "Because I'll say from three seconds to one second behind the car in front, you actually can follow closer.

"Then from one second to five tenths I will say it's similar to the feeling I had last year.

"And then from five-tenths to extremely close, then this is much better than last year. It is nice, it's interesting. I mean, I'll have to do a few more laps behind a car, but it's looking good for now."

However Russell noted that the new cars don't provide as powerful a tow as their predecessors, hinting that it might not be that easy to set up a pass after all.

"The following has been improved," said the Englishman. "But the slipstream effect has been reduced quite substantially, I think.

"You obviously need that delta on the straight to be able to overtake because you can only really overtake at the end of the straight into the corner.

"I think we can follow closer, but from what we've seen, the slipstream effect is definitely less effective. So, we'll have to wait and see.

"I got right up behind Lando, and I was a car length or two behind him, and I didn't catch him down the straights. So that was slightly concerning."

Were visibility concerns realised?

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Towards the end of last season drivers who had run the 2022 cars in team simulators noted that visibility was impaired because of the higher front tyres and the aerodynamic deflectors that sit next to them.

Those concerns were realised as soon as the definitive cars began to take to the track for filming days ahead of the Barcelona test.

Drivers generally felt that they would get used to it, while cautioning that it might be particularly tricky to place the car accurately on the tighter temporary tracks.

"With the tyres as well, they're quite a bit bigger, so visibility is a bit different," said Verstappen. "Which I think on a track like this is less of a problem. When you go to street circuits it's going to be a little bit more challenging."

Daniel Ricciardo made the interesting point that the lower stance of this year's cars, without the rake seen in the past, also impacted driver sight lines.

"Visibility is a bit trickier," said the Australian. "Basically, all the cars this year, are more square, more flat. So it kind of brings the nose up of the car.

"And that kind of changes our line of visibility, and we see less basically around us. It's something we'll get used to, but it is not as good at the moment."

Is porpoising going to be a season-long problem?

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75

Photo by: Erik Junius

In Barcelona, all teams suffered to a greater or lesser extent from porpoising or bouncing at high speed on the pit straight.

Teams thus spent much of the three-day test looking for ways to control it through ride height or aero adjustments.

The consensus among engineers appeared to be that the characteristic is built into the 2022 car concept.

Thus it may take some time to fully get on top of the issue while not compromising overall performance, for example by being obliged to run the cars significantly higher than the optimum figures with which they were designed to be fully effective.

Controlling porpoising at different tracks with differing characteristics won't necessarily be easy, and the fact that teams hadn't anticipated the phenomenon after their long months of tunnel and CFD work indicates that they will have a lot of work to do to successfully model it and thus address it.

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

"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."

McLaren technical chief James Key suggested it would take a few races for teams to fully understand the issues.

"I'm sure it's something everyone will get on top of. It's kind of a topic because it's very visible, but ultimately, there will be solutions there between the set-up and aero development where you discover how to manage it, I wouldn't have thought it would be much of a talking point after the first five or six races."

What are the engineering challenges?

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR22

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR22

Photo by: Motorsport Images

The F1 teams face many other challenges as they try to optimise their new packages and get the most out of the 18-inch tyres.

The new Pirellis were rarely a topic of conversation in Barcelona, but they are likely to become more of a focus as F1 heads to warmer climates and drivers start to properly explore the performance limits of the new cars.

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The porpoising may also have contributed to some of the unreliability seen across the field in Barcelona, with several cars suffering from issues such split pipes and leaks, and the teams concerned will have to beef things up before Bahrain.

The fact that the cars run closer to the ground than their predecessors creates other concerns, including the risk of wearing the plank too much and thus potentially facing a penalty, not to mention the obvious risk of kerb damage to floors.

Optimising ride height at different venues and in all circumstances is one of the main challenges that teams face, even without the porpoising issue to consider.

Barcelona was just the first step into the unknown for teams and drivers. Now teams and fans need to wait to find out how things unfold in Bahrain.

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