Why Bahrain revealed the weaknesses of the 2022 F1 cars
The aerodynamic ground effect worked well at speed, the tires seemed to handle well, and while the added weight meant the cars were quite bulky, there was nothing to worry about too much.
But last week’s Bahrain test prompted a bit of a rethink as the three days of action delivered much more difficulty for all the riders. A lack of grip, unease over bumps and inherent understeer made them much more difficult.
In fact, while there were very few mistakes and pitfalls in Barcelona, it was impossible to keep track of the number of riders in Bahrain who ripped off an inside wheel and ran wide into the tricky left-hander in downhill 10. This will be a place to watch closely this weekend.
As Lewis Hamilton said on the final day of the test: “I think the 2022 car regulations have caused everyone to slip. We all seem to have less grip than before, and the tires are worse this year.
What we don’t know yet is if what we saw in Bahrain is the norm or just an outlier. However, it’s fair to say there were plenty of factors at play at Sakhir that revealed potential weaknesses in the F1 2022 concept.
The higher temperatures in the Middle East, gusty wind conditions, more abrasive track surface and low speed cornering characteristics all added up to create additional challenges.
As Carlos Sainz said: “I think the tarmac is much older, rougher, so immediately the car has less grip overall, which I think is normal here in Bahrain.
“We still have the same delta as a car which is still fun to drive in Barcelona, you arrive in Bahrain and everything is a bit more tricky because the grip is lower.
“If on top of that you add the fact that it’s a lot bumpier, and we know these cars are generally stiffer, then the limitations are probably a bit more exposed. That’s why I guess you see people making additional mistakes, blocks, corrections.
“On top of that you add the wind. These cars still feel relatively wind sensitive, as they still produce a lot of downforce, so you add another variable. This means that the car will be even trickier.
Nicholas Latifi, Williams FW44, stops with a rear brake light
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
A theory that began to be aired in Barcelona, which appears to be very true after Bahrain, is that there may not be a single answer for how F1 2022 cars handle on individual tracks.
Because the cars are better at high-speed corners than low-speed corners, it could well be that on faster circuits they are much more fun to drive than on slower venues.
As Alonso said: “We said it in Barcelona, it looks like high speed is pretty good with this new set of regulations. And Bahrain is all low-speed corners. So maybe that shows a bit of the weaknesses of these regulations, plus the weight etc.
“It could be one of the races that is significantly slower than last year, while some of them will match the lap times. But it’s the same for everyone.”
In the meantime, however, the way F1 cars behave in Bahrain means the season opener could be quite difficult, especially when it comes to covering race distance without drama.
The understeer characteristic of the heavier 2022 cars and tyres, combined with the added challenge of less downforce in low-speed corners, has meant that entry lockups are a pervasive problem.
It’s something Alpine’s sporting director Alan Permane said all teams have battled and will need to overcome ahead of Sunday’s race.
“One of the issues we had with this car, and I think it seems to be up and down the pitlane, is a bit of front wheel lockup,” he said. .
“That’s one of the areas that we’ve just tried to refine to reduce that without just kind of a wrap [brake balance] bias to the rear, so you end up with a lot of rear lockout.
“We played around with different settings to help that. Some things made it better, some things made it worse.
“But it’s something that can kill you very quickly in the race. If you puncture a tire, you can really ruin a relay.
George Russell, Mercedes W13, locks up
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
The other big unknown is how much harder the cars’ set-ups are going to make life physically difficult for drivers, especially when it comes to pushing full race distance.
Teams are going to have to make a trade-off between what’s best for ultimate theoretical performance and what’s best for keeping drivers in a happy place.
As Sebastian Vettel said: “We have to find the right compromise. First of all, I think you have seen us all suffer from similar problems. You know, regulations have pushed cars to be much stiffer. The tires are different, they take less absorption due to the smaller and stiffer sidewall, different philosophy. So it’s very different.
“I think it will be about managing, trying to find the right set-up, going into qualifying and then the race. Hopefully you find the right compromise.
But even though the cars are tougher for the drivers, they understeer like crazy in slow corners, there are lock-ups and wild off-track moments, having nice compliant Grand Prix cars wasn’t the objective of the 2022 regulations.
It was about delivering cars that produced better races: and that’s something we won’t find out until Sunday.
Vettel added: “The big hope is that we race against each other every weekend and it’s a lot closer than in the past.
“I think that would make up for the cars being a bit nasty in terms of stiffness levels, or the tires maybe falling off, or the cars being generally very, very heavy. So we’ll see.