Seventy-three days after a very controversial Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that ended the 2021 season, the 2022 campaign was launched on Wednesday February 23 at the Barcelona circuit. And it’s not a season launch like any other since Formula 1 is entering a new technical era: the regulations have been changed in depth, as have the appearance and behavior of the cars, with the aim of seeing more overtaking on the track.
As a result, all the teams started from a clean sheet and, for the first time, they had to design their car without exceeding a budget ceiling. This year, it is set at $140 million. The counters are therefore reset to zero, which raises huge questions about the new hierarchy of the championship. Will Red Bull and Mercedes manage to keep their throne or will they be beaten by a third thief? It will be impossible to answer this question before the first Grand Prix of the season, however the pre-season tests may give us some clues.
Under cool temperatures, 8°C in the air and barely 10°C on the track, Lando Norris was the first driver to take to the track, followed like his shadow by George Russell. The first lap times are far from competitive, which is not surprising: armed with numerous sensors and measuring instruments, the teams first check the proper functioning of the cars before going in search of performance. Thus, Russell leads the standings with a timid 1’25″548, almost ten seconds from the 2021 pole position established by his new teammate, Lewis Hamilton.
George Russell, Mercedes W13
After half an hour, nine teams have already been able to record a minimum lap. Only Alfa Romeo, which has not yet presented its new F1, is missing. Robert Kubica came out of the pits soon after, the test driver having had priority over starters Bottas and Zhou this morning. Kubica completed few laps, however, due to a few technical problems.
As the session progressed, the sun came out, the track warmed up and the lap times gradually dropped, even though the teams were mainly focused on accumulating kilometres. Yuki Tsunoda and Max Verstappen are fighting for the best time, the AlphaTauri driver has the last word with a 1’22″692 established with C3 tires before 10 a.m. The reigning World Champion’s car is causing a sensation – it presents several innovative solutions – and visits the gravel pit at turn 10, without gravity.
Charles Leclerc then took the fastest time in 1’21″718 with C2 tyres. The Monegasque was the first man to drop below the 82-second lap mark before being joined by Russell, author of a 1’21 » 403 on C3 tires then a 1’21″039 at the end of a stint of a dozen laps. But Leclerc did not give up so easily. Before noon, and even if it was still an uncompetitive lap, he improves the benchmark by almost a second thanks to a 1’20″165 in C3 tires.
Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin AMR22
Beyond the hunt for the best time, some drivers take advantage of this session to get an idea of the behavior of these new cars in « dirty air ». Russell was spotted chasing Nicholas Latifi in the last part of the circuit, before being followed himself by Leclerc a few minutes later.
Twenty minutes from the checkered flag, we hear an engine roar in the Alfa Romeo pit. The Italian team has finally solved its problems and sends Kubica on track. The Pole wasted no time and set a first timed lap in 1’29″516 before gradually lowering his mark.
The first part of the session ends with the best time for Leclerc, who is clearly ahead of his opponents. Only Norris stood up to him but the McLaren driver was still three tenths behind. When it resumed, no one rushed onto the track, but seven of the single-seaters had changed occupants: only Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso and Yuki Tsunoda continued their momentum.
However, as long stints multiply, this is not the time to look for performance. The main thing is to rack up maximum mileage and therefore optimal data with the new generation F1s, and that’s done for eight of the ten teams. At Haas and Alfa Romeo, however, the record is meager: after the indefinite problems encountered by the Italian-Swiss team in the morning, Valtteri Bottas only covered 23 laps this afternoon. On the side of Haas, the leak which hampered Nikita Mazepin this morning is followed by damage on the flat bottom, which prevents Mick Schumacher from doing more than 23 laps as well.
Mick Schumacher, Haas VF-22
The benchmark set by Charles Leclerc remains undefeated for a long time, and his teammate Carlos Sainz is the first to approach it, with a time of 1’20″416 set shortly before 5 p.m. A few moments earlier, Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time absolute in the first sector, before releasing his effort.
However, the improvements multiply at the end of the day. Lando Norris hits hard by being the first to go under the 80 second mark: he signs a 1’19″951 with the C4 compound and is the only one to have achieved his best time with the red striped tires. He then sinks the nail in 1’19″568. The lap times are probably insignificant, and the gaps are substantial, with more than three seconds between the leading McLaren and Schumacher’s Haas.
One thing is certain: with nearly 150 laps each, or about 700 kilometers, the Ferrari and Red Bull teams have plenty to work on their subject this evening, before returning to the track tomorrow.
Barcelona, Day 1