Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20, in the pit lane during the Pre-Season Test at Bahrain International Circuit on Friday February 23, 2024 in Sakhir, Bahrain. (Photo by Sam Bloxham / LAT Images)

Formula 1 News: What lessons we learned from Pre-Season test (Update)

There is something we missed in our original article – the strange underbody exit tunnel of the Red Bull RB20.

Rear of the Red Bull RB20. Look closely and note all the dimples on the exit tunnel walls of underbody. What does Red Bull know the others don’t?

We have not seen any other cars with exit tunnel walls that were not smooth.

We saw last year when Sergio Perez crashed twice and exposed the underbody of the Red Bull and just how sophisticated its design was compared to the simpleton design of its competitors.

Red Bull RB19 underside exposed after Sergio Perez crashed in practice for the 2023 Monaco GP

February 24, 2024 

The 2024 three-day F1 pre-season test in Bahrain is over and practice 1 for the first race of the season is Thursday. What lessons did we learn from the test?

–by Mark Cipolloni–

Here are the 5 top lessons we ‘think’ we learned from pre-season testing.

Lesson 1: Don’t believe the single fastest lap times

It’s hard to tell from lap times who really is fastest because teams always sandbag in pre-season testing. A good illustration of that is the fact that Max Verstappen remains very much feared by the rest of the grid, despite only going the fastest on day one. The young world champion is the most talented driver with a supernatural level of car control.

On Day 1 Verstappen ended up 1.1 seconds faster than Mclaren’s Lando Norris on the same tire compound and he was not even trying. His engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase had a sly grin on his face as he looked at Technical Chief Adrian Newey.

It was an ominous warning.

On the final Day Verstappen was only 4th fastest, 0.422s off the top time set on the fastest C5 Pirelli tire.  Verstappen was on the C3 Pirelli tire, a harder compound designed to be over 1-second slower than the C5.

You can do the math.

Red Bull ‘B’ team driver Daniel Ricciardo says Red Bull’s aggressive design push in creating the ‘A’ team’s RB20 is proof of how the Formula 1 team just wants to “crush the competition.

“I feel it’s a team that operates at its best when they’re winning. I feel like when they’re winning, it’s like they want to just completely crush the competition.

“It’s not like: ‘Okay, now we’re winning. Let’s go on holiday.’ It’s like: ‘Let’s really put our feet down.’ So that’s where I think they’ve come out this year. After the most dominant season in ’23, now they come out with a car that I think I was even like, ‘Wow’.”

“I feel like they’ve had the most – kind of – updates out of anyone, and that’s really saying something,” he said.

“Look, I love seeing Adrian near the car and that. And I don’t even feel bad singling Adrian out, because I know it’s more than just Adrian, but he’s obviously a big part of it. And it’s pretty cool to see.

“Whether I’m part of the family or not, I just – as a fan – love to see that kind of relentless approach and response to such a strong year. It’s like you have to, in a way, admire it. I know, obviously, for fans watching on the couch, they’re like, ‘Nah, I want someone to challenge Red Bull this year’. But you have to admire their approach.”

Similarly demoralized, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso said, “I think 19 drivers in the paddock now will think that [they] will not win the championship. It happens 99 percent of the time in your career. This is a brutal sport.”

Williams driver Alex Albon predicted Verstappen winning next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix with enough time to make a pit stop for fresh tires to then break the lap record.

The other drivers all look so depressed. Press Conference. (L-R) Lando Norris, McLaren F1 Team, Valtteri Bottas, Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber, Sir Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin F1 Team, Esteban Ocon, Alpine F1 Team, Logan Sargeant, Williams Racing

Mercedes driver George Russell reckons Red Bull has had a brilliant off-season and will be favorites to win the 2024 F1 World Championship.

“They are in such a great momentum at the moment. They started these new regulations on the front foot, and they came here and have been solid ever since. So, they are definitely the favorites, definitely a step ahead of everybody else here in Bahrain. They’ve had a massive winter no doubt, but that was to be expected,” said Russell.

Lesson 2: Max is happy

Max Verstappen was happy to see Red Bull take the risk to develop new parts of the RB20 instead of using last year’s car with small updates. Speaking to Sky Sports, he said that he loved how the team did not make a ‘conservative car’ for 2024.

Max Verstappen poses for a portrait during Red Bull Racing 2024 Season Launch RB20 in London, UK // Sam Todd / Red Bull Content Pool
Max Verstappen poses for a portrait during Red Bull Racing 2024 Season Launch RB20 in London, UK // Sam Todd / Red Bull Content Pool

“I do like what the team has done. It is not a conservative car, it is not like, ‘Last year was a great car, we will just add a few bits and will try to make it a little bit faster’. I do think they have been quite bold and that’s what I like, they have been quite aggressive. Everyone is very positive, everyone is very motivated, and I’m just very excited to learn more about the car,” he said.

Lesson 3: Mercedes has a trick anti-dive front suspension and trick front wing

Mercedes has showcased a significant suspension development today:

On Day 3, Mercedes lowered the rear arm of the upper triangle of the suspension, going in search of a much more extreme anti-dive effect than what was used in the first two days of testing.

Mercedes Anti-Dive trick front suspension. If it works as intended, the Mercedes car will be awesome under braking. @formu1a__uno

All the chassis are designed to have a support in that area that allows a small adjustment of the suspension geometry, however, Mercedes has pushed all this aggressively with a plate that allows the height of the rear arm to be moved by several centimeters.

Credit: @FormulaPassion

“We’ve clearly made an improvement with this year’s car, and it’s much nicer to drive,” said Lewis Hamilton. “We’ve still got progress to make, of course. But this is a good foundation for us to build on.”

Rival teams will be keeping a close eye on Mercedes’ new front wing in Bahrain.

The FIA has deemed it legal, but it will still be controversial, as it could be considered “against the spirit of the regulations.”

Rivals wait to see the performance of the W15.

Mercedes trick front wing
Mercedes trick front wing. Normally, everyone thought all the wing elements had to be securely attached to the nose.  Mercedes came out with a flexible wire like attachment to improve airflow under the car. Who will copy it first?

Mercedes’ technical director James Allison says he’s pleased with the performance of the car so far after three days of testing in Bahrain.

Lesson 4: The Ferrari Race Pace is Significantly Improved

In pure lap time race pace simulations between Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. and Red Bull driver Sergio Perez, the timing sheets suggested it was advantage Ferrari, in fact. Over the three race stints, Sainz proved to be quicker than the Red Bull.

It certainly points to Perez having run heavier on fuel.  But Sergio Perez was driving the Red Bull and not Max Verstappen, so that alone is worth 3/10ths per lap at least.

The high tire degradation which derailed much of Ferrari’s 2023 campaign appears to have been cured as Sainz lap times on the hard C1 tire were very consistent.

“Before the long stint, the most important was the feedback from Carlos and Charles that they are in a much better place with the car,” Ferrari team boss Fred Vasseur said. “It is much more consistent with less degradation.

“I think this is important for the race for sure. But now it is a bit more difficult to know exactly where we are in terms of pure performance because with the level of fuel we can play a lot, and I think nobody knows exactly where we are relatively.”

Race simulation pace after #BahrainTest according to

Formula 1 Projected Race Simulation lap times

Lesson 5: Wait until Bahrain Qualifying

We won’t know who really is fastest until qualifying in Bahrain next Friday.

Last year, the storyline was mostly about how fast the Aston Martin was out of the box, but we suspect the storyline next Friday will be about Ferrari and Mercedes and how close or far they are from Max Verstappen.

As their cars have run on track these past three days, they’ve gathered vast quantities of data from hundreds of sensors on the cars. Team photographers will have hundreds, perhaps thousands of images both of their race cars and their rivals’ cars.

Who has the best trick designs and who can copy them the fastest will be the focus now.

Other Stuff

The Haas dreaded tire deg nightmare may have been solved.

Team boss Komatsu ended the test upbeat: “Our race simulations show that yes, we’ve got lots more work to do, but at the same time we’ve got a base car that we can actually race. Considering the qualifying performance—we haven’t worked on it at all, today was our first time looking at it, but again, it was decent. We’ve had a very good start to the season with all this preparation in testing,” he said.

Williams has a car that’s so different from last year’s that Alex Albon told F1TV it feels like he’s switched teams. Williams lost time on day one with mechanical troubles, but American Logan Sargeant looks more at home in the cockpit this year, and the team is optimistic going into 2024.

Kick Sauber and RB (yes, those are real names) are joining Red Bull and McLaren in using pullrods (instead of pushrods) for their front suspension. Meanwhile, Mercedes, Aston Martin, and Williams have switched to rear pushrods, which interfere less with the underbody aerodynamics, leaving just Ferrari and their client Haas sticking with rear pullrods smack in the middle of the airflow. Ouch.

McLaren is something of an outlier because reliability problems stymied its planned race simulation running.

Lando Norris said this was “not exactly what I wanted”. Piastri was able to complete near enough a full GP length simulation for McLaren over the course of the final session on day three but we have no idea what their engine mode was set at.

Norris says McLaren are a long way behind Red Bull and Ferrari:

“I think we’ve definitely taken some steps in the right direction, but I think it’s still a very long way behind Red Bull and a long way behind Ferrari.”

Aston Martin appears to be sandbagging a lot so we don’t really know their true pace just yet.

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