The 57 laps of the Bahrain GP have provided us with some of the strengths, weaknesses and deltas between the various teams on the 2023 grid.
There was a lot of talk about the forward steps made by Red Bull and Aston Martin throughout the weekend, but there is more to be learned with an in-depth data analysis.
Both in qualifying and in the race, Williams has shown excellent steps forward. On the other hand, McLaren proved subdued, while Alpine is yet to show its potential – however limited – in this first weekend of the season.
Ferrari, telemetry condemns the SF-23: The same problems from a few months ago
With the same compound in the first stint, Charles Leclerc lost about 7-tenths per lap against Max Verstappen.
Thus, after a handful of laps, victory was a mere formality for the Dutchman. In the second phase of the race, albeit on different strategies, the gap between Verstappen and Leclerc remained at six-tenths per lap.
Apart from the reliability problems encountered later in the race, the biggest concern for Ferrari is the weaknesses the SF-23 shares with the F1-75, albeit with completely different characteristics.
Ferrari demonstrated good speed in Saturday qualifying but difficulty in race pace – due to a lack of grip at medium and low-speed corners, which often results in poor tyre management. The telemetric comparison between some fast laps of the first and second stints looks like a copy and paste of the last races of 2022.
The low drag of the Maranello car is evident on high-fuel runs, less dependent on the Power Unit than last year, although the difference in load between the Red Bull RB19 and the Ferraris has become more pronounced.
In qualifying, the extra grip of the soft tyre manages to hide some of the negative characteristics of the SF-23 in the medium and low-speed sections, but as often happens, these issues are exposed in the race.
Vasseur has stressed many times in recent months that “the world championship will last 23 races, and it won’t go in one direction or the other after the race in Bahrain.”
However, recovering such a gap in a short time frame seems a very difficult challenge, especially considering that it was not reduced during the winter break.
The next two races will give us more clues about the difficulties of the Maranello car; only there will a clearer picture be established.
Comparing the pace of the F1-75 and the SF-23 in the first two stints of the respective races in Bahrain, Leclerc was only 3 thousandths faster than last year.
This is alarming when considering that Red Bull improved by more than seven-tenths compared to their race pace in 2022.
Data analysis: Aston 2 tenths ahead of Mercedes, Alfa and Alpine not far from the top in Bahrain
Moving on to the other teams, Aston Martin was the second-best team in Bahrain.
After a relatively average first stint on the C3, Alonso and Stroll executed very good performances in the two remaining stints.
At the end of the race, the Spaniard was about 7-tenths per lap slower than Verstappen, although both drivers slowed down in the final laps.
The AMR23 was very close to the performance of the SF23, to the extent that LLeclerc’spodium finish would have been at risk even without his DNF.
Mercedes believed they could battle Aston Martin and Ferrari for the final podium spot, but the W14s were more than two-tenths slower than their customer team and nearly a second flat behind Red Bull.
Those who expected a step forward on Sunday from Mercedes- similar to 2022 – were disappointed, as Lewis Hamilton said: “We are a long way off. There was a Ferrari that would have been ahead of us, so we would have been sixth – the podium was nowhere near.”
Helmut Marko declared that “Leclerc’s retirement allowed us not to push to the limit in the second part of the race”, and that was indeed the case. Max Verstappen was told to slow down by seven-tenths per lap in his final stint.
In the first two stints, Aston Martin lost 1 second per lap from Verstappen, an excessive gap compared to the potential of the AMR23, and Mercedes, a tenth more than their customer team!
This pace deficit was reduced once Alonso was able to push on the hard tyres.
Further back, we find Alfa Romeo: the Swiss team took four points thanks to Valtteri Bottas, while Guanyu Zhou will be disappointed to miss out on points.
The C43 didn’t show exceptional pace in qualifying, improving last year’s lap by just over a tenth, but in the race, Bottas lapped within two-tenths of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell and 1.5 seconds behind Max Verstappen.
This is compared to the 1.7s per lap gap Alfa Romeo suffered last year against Charles Leclerc.
Despite starting from last place, Pierre Gasly finishes just a second behind Valtteri Bottas, salvaging a relatively negative weekend for the French outfit.
The difficulties began with Gasly’s catastrophic qualifying before Esteban Ocon collected penalty after penalty in the Grand Prix.
The car designed at Enstone showed some promising performance, despite its lack of pace. If they avoid unforced errors moving forward, we could see Alpine relatively close to the top four.
Alexander Albon made a great start to the season, finishing tenth and keeping behind Yuki Tsunoda – who performed well in Bahrain – thanks to his top-speed advantage and the AT04’s overheating.
However, the FW45s and AlphaTauri machines must progress to consistently compete for bigger points.
In terms of pace, Haas was the worst in Bahrain, two-tenths behind modest Williams.
Even before the lights went out, Gunther Steiner anticipated that the race would be difficult for Hulkenberg and Magnussen, and so it was.
The pace at McLaren, meanwhile, cannot be properly evaluated. Norris made a total of six stops during the Grand Prix due to a loss of pressure in the Power Unit – forcing the Englishman to stop every 10-11 laps to recharge the compressed air.
However, Andrea Stella believes the wheelbase was “enough to score” points without the reliability issues”. Piastri’s MCL60 stopped due to an electrical problem.
Author: Andrea Vergani
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang