Formula 1: Time to get excited or was it all just a game?

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Mazen MAHDI / AFP) (Photo by MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images)
Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Mazen MAHDI / AFP) (Photo by MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images) /

The good news is now that preseason testing is done and dusted, the opening race of the 2021 Formula 1 season is just around the corner. But have the performances provided us fans space for excitement, or was it all just a tactical game?

In typical Formula 1 fashion, the performances of each team are up in the air. Predictions will be made about the order of the teams this season, but no matter how hard we try, most of them will be wrong. So let’s just throw the predictions out the window.

With new regulations coming in for the season, most notably on the rear section of the floor, the order of performance could be a surprise. But there are multiple questions that can and should be asked following the test.

Red Bull achieved undoubtedly their best preseason test in a number of years. Despite completing 369 tours around Bahrain International Circuit, placing them only seventh out of 10 on the lap count list, it was lead driver Max Verstappen who drew the attention.

A seemingly comfortable Dutchman finished fastest through day one and day three, setting the fastest lap of the test along the way. New acquisition Sergio Perez came to grips with his new RB16B toy as well, as he successfully navigated his way, seemingly without any hiccups.

It seems that Red Bull have potentially made a step forward in their pursuit success, but is it finally enough?

Of course, there is one team they have all been chasing: Mercedes. Did Mercedes empty any of the sand from their car? Who knows. But probably not. Actually, definitely not.

Not only were their lap times more than drab for their standards, but the seven-time reigning world champions completed the least amount of laps out of all the teams with 304.

However, it would be smart to not believe any of this. Many fell for this trap back in 2019 testing, and Mercedes won the opening eight races of the season. However, the W12 does seem more “alive” then its predecessors, causing multiple spins for both drivers, with Lewis Hamilton causing a red flag during day two after losing the rear and finding a casual spot to beach the car.

Mercedes would not have slipped back, but the real question is whether or not they have made steps forward.

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Surprisingly to some and unsurprisingly to others, McLaren looked good. With the new Mercedes package, they had everything they needed to make a couple leaps forward and break away from the midfield.

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The only potential issue would have been whether or not the Woking-based team successfully redesigned parts of their car to install the Mercedes transmission in such a short amount of time. Well, it seems to have gone as well as they could have hoped so far.

With what has been a solid car base for a number of years with no clear reliability issues and both drivers performing as well as they could have hoped, it all adds up to a positive answer.

However, McLaren managed to find their name being discussed for another matter. The rear diffuser strapped on the car seemed to have caught the eye of the people who know what they are on about.

“Loophole” is a term that should be used lightly, mainly because it kind of isn’t. In terms of size, measurements, distance and being bound the regulations, it all seems to be legal, meaning expect it to be on multiple cars by the summer. Maybe another double diffuser situation?

The midfield bunch showed signs of being closer than they were before. But it again includes Ferrari, sadly for Formula 1. If the test was for showing signs of improvement and room for potential within the car, Ferrari kind of failed.

This statement could be massively out in left field, but it was not a promising test for Formula 1’s most famous team. What seemed to have similar characteristics to last season’s car, this year’s Ferrari, with a strange green mix, looked alive. But not the “alive” you want what when it comes to racing. Maybe too alive?

A nervous-looking car and a stoppage on track during the first day for Charles Leclerc did not provide their fans with plenty of hope for a strong recovery. Being the biggest team in Formula 1, extra pressure is mounted upon their shoulders without having to mumble a word. The quicker they are back at the front, the better for Formula 1, love them or loathe them.

Seemingly fighting Ferrari will be the likes of Alpine, AlphaTauri and Aston Martin. The clearest improvement out of those three teams was shown by AlphaTauri. What is now effectively the rear of a Red Bull mixed with a new design for the front areas of the car, the AlphaTauri looked comfortable — and smart with their livery.

Although Pierre Gasly seemingly focused more on long race runs without any hicks, it was rookie Yuki Tsunoda whose name was in a lot of peoples’ mouths. Constant qualifying runs within the finals hour of testing on the C5 tyres left Tsunoda producing impressive lap times as he built his confidence in the car, lap by lap.

However, his laps cannot be compared to official times, purely because of his massively illegal use of DRS during these late runs, which would totally be invalid during an official session. But since it was only testing…who cares? As long as he was enjoying himself.

Promise and expectation may have taken a toll on Aston Martin. As new signing Sebastian Vettel struggled with reliability on each of his sessions, the team ran only 314 laps, ranking them ninth in the lap count. Fewer laps and pretty boring lap times was not a great start.

Aston Martin could potentially be looking in their mirrors for the very blue Alpine, as 396 reliable laps for the rebranded team and the returning Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon provided plenty of positives. One large pro was that Alonso did not seem too bothered about his recently injured jaw as he pounded round and round.

Despite probably being the most technically developed car throughout the three days of testing, and a very chunky 1970s rendition airbox, it is very unclear whether or not they have improved on their performance last season as Renault. But the real question is this: is it Alpine or Alpine with a silent E?

Now the potential back three. Alfa Romeo looked impressive compared to last year, backed up by over 150 laps for everyone’s hero, Kimi Raikkonen, on the final day of testing. Raikkonen made it clear that the Ferrari power unit is a big improvement from last year’s. Provided Alfa Romeo have made a stable, consistent car, more points should be in the cards. More importantly, Alfa Romeo should win livery of the year. 10 out of 10 for them.

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And just like the previous two seasons, Haas and Williams look like they’ll be battling at the back. Haas have the classic challenge of having two rookies in their cars, and expectations are low for this season.

With a car that will not be developed as much as others throughout the season, reigning Formula 2 champion Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin will have the year to get over the learning curve.

Williams did not look much better. The car’s behavior looked similar with more impressive reliability. Maybe it will be one final testing year for them with George Russell pulling off the odd impressive result and qualifying performance. Since we gave Alfa Romeo the award for best livery, we’re giving Williams the worst. It’s grim.

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Most importantly, this was only testing. Every team would have had their sandbags out in full force throughout the three days, some more then others. *Mercedes*. The first time we will see the real order will be when the green light shines at the beginning of qualifying for round one in less than two weeks.