BEHIND THE HEADLINES – Sakhir Pre-season testing

Behind The Headlines Features

The first weekend of 2021 threw up surprising stories, most noticeable the underdeliver from Mercedes. Normally, we are used to writing stories about Mercedes delivering a lot in terms of lap times before on the final session they show something of there performance on the final day, but the test was blighted by technical issues.

I think however it would be very foolish after seven back-to-back titles and large stability to write off Mercedes when we are at the start of the season, because we know how strong they were last season, and the car has large parts carried over. But they still need to resolve these issues.

Sir Lewis Hamilton admits that the “perhaps not quick enough at the moment, but I have every faith in the team. We love challenges and this definitely is a challenge for us with the [rule] changes.” We saw at the end of last year that Red Bull had managed to beat Mercedes in Abu Dhabi, and we know that testing can be unreliable as to the form guide, but the shocking performance in testing. Remember 2019, Mercedes looked on the backfoot going to Melbourne before dominating the opening races.

The Sakhir circuit has not always been kind to Mercedes despite the dominance they have been beaten by Ferrari in 2017 and 2018. The circuit as we know is one that favours downforce and high speed, where Mercedes have since 2014 have been strong.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull said going into this season they needed to come out of the season strong, following recent seasons they need to be out of the box at the same level as Mercedes. The Dutchman according to analysis by F1, was half a second ahead of Mercedes.

Qualifying Gaps

Red Bull 0.00
Mercedes +0.56
McLaren +0.59
Aston Martin +0.72
Alpine +0.80
Alpha Tauri +0.97
Alfa Romeo +1.12
Ferrari +1.28
Haas +1.36
Williams +1.83

Analysis based on single-lap pace

Their analysis shows Red Bull have half a second over Mercedes, but three of the Mercedes teams were covered by 0.16 of a second and Aston Martin were 0.8 ahead of Alpine. However, Mercedes is about four-tenths on long-run pace behind Red Bull, but customer Aston Martin has slipped back and closer to McLaren.

Long Run Pace

Red Bull 0.00
Mercedes +0.39
Aston Martin +0.73
McLaren +0.76
Alpine +0.89
Ferrari +1.59
Alpha Tauri +1.78
Alfa Romeo +1.90
Williams +2.02
Haas +2.88

Analysis based on day three race runs

Although we need to be careful looking too much into testing, the reliability of Mercedes was the thing which stood out for me, as that was weaker and so be warry this as we have heard rumours somewhere that this wasn’t the final car. This leaves me to believe the five-second gap between Red Bull and Mercedes is not as large as the F1 analysis.

In his regular post-weekend de-brief, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said at the end of testing that the team’s data proved it was behind on pace.

He said, “We’ve made a bit of progress with the balance on higher fuel and the car was more predictable but we can see from the data we’ve collected over the last few days that on race pace, we’re not as quick as Red Bul. The lower fuel work was a more confusing picture, we didn’t gain enough, and we need to go and look at our approach as far too many cars were ahead of us on pace today.”

As Vettel says no doubts that the German car manufacturer will be back in the fight by the first race later this month. Vettel said, “It’s probably fair to say that Mercedes didn’t have the mileage miracle that they had in the last years.”

The midfield as we expected was very close, McLaren and Aston Martin I think are going to lead the fight behind Red Bull and Mercedes. The analysis shows also Aston Martin didn’t show their true performance, we had no data really to look at low fuel and soft running meaning the gap to McLaren is a lot closer, but we need to wait until qualifying to understand the performance of the cars.

I think we need to be patient before we can paint a picture of where we truly are, we cannot write off Mercedes or Aston Martin considering how strong they were last year. This would be a huge surprise if testing was accurate, and they were really behind this would be a huge shock after seven years of the near domination of the sport and stability in the regulations that they would be this far behind.

McLaren was either going to get the change to Mercedes engines right or it would have difficulties, I think it at this early phase has been a success and if we assume it will be Red Bull and Mercedes fighting at the front. Hopefully, we get situations like Monza and Sakhir last year where Alpha Tauri and Racing Point (Aston Martin) took the victory, where McLaren can be in this position.

Ferrari I believe are in better shape the new power unit looks stronger than last year, but I still believe the realistic target for them is to have a strong showing in the midfield. They could if the performance does see them regularly in the midfield, see they are challenging for third if they manage to keep their cars in the points

Another talking point in the test was the ten per cent cut in downforce analysis from car performance and the forces being put through the tyres last weekend, Isola estimated that teams had recovered around half of the downforce lost from last season. This always I believe was going to be the case, but the impact on the tyres remains one of the outstanding questions…

Bahrain should start to provide answers, but we will need to wait until we get a few races into the season before drawing any conclusions, I normally see Barcelona as the place to do that as that is both the normal test venue and the same race where teams bring their upgrades.


Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.