Go With the Flow
text | Richard Kelley
edit | Henry Lau

New 2022 aero rules for Formula 1 turn gravity upside down. In Formula 1, nothing is permanent.


Thanks to regular rule changes, F1 periodically pulls both its rules “governance” and race car “formula” apart to rethink its “physics” and rebuild its competitive balance. More times than not, each new “formula” has birthed a new competitive order, literally erasing a dominant team’s hard-won advantage.

The 2022 season premiers the most significant rule change in the last 30 years, right down to the significantly larger 18-inch diameter Pirelli tyres.

Formula 1 rules now specify new machines from the ground up, based on “ground effect aerodynamics”, a 180-degree switch from the last decades’ flat-bottomed cars’ “over-car” airflow.

Teams will now profile the underside of their car to accelerate the airflow underneath the floor, generating low pressure that sucks the car to the track while creating less turbulent “dirty air” behind the car. The result makes cars less sensitive to running in the wake of a rival while enabling a following car to pass.

Theoretically, more overtaking leads to better racing. So does more testing time.

Following the 2021 season, F1 instituted a new framework of development cost cap regulations. The more successful a team was at the 2021 season’s end, the less wind tunnel testing time and development funds were available this off-season. Thus, Mercedes and Red Bull had to become very focused on spending funds to develop their 2022 cars.

Having shaken down their cars at Barcelona in early March, we rank the teams following Bahrain’s official pre-season test.


Red Bull’s impressive RB18 looked solid throughout both tests, but the way the defending World Champions paced themselves on Wednesday’s final afternoon said volumes about the new design’s potential.

Starting with a mildly developed upgrade from Barcelona, Red Bull used every second of track time to gather data for the factory before bringing the final updated bodywork and suspension to the track. The updated RB18 immediately rocketed to the top of the order by 0.521s at the chequered flag.

While Max Verstappen was clear that his fastest lap was far short of a “qualifying spec” run, his aggressive lap easily eclipsed the earlier fastest lap set by Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari by 0.695s.


Every lap the Ferrari was on track looked smooth, agile and fast. Both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz quickly produced leading lap times regardless of the track temperatures, suggesting that Ferrari has recovered a tremendous amount of performance over last season. Both drivers will be pushing for the front row.

Leclerc set Ferrari’s fastest lap at 0.695s off Verstappen’s benchmark time but was also set one hour earlier in the day with the sun still keeping the track above the optimum temperature. Leclerc set his best time on the second softest compound, the C4, before switching to the C5s but failing to improve.

Carlos Sainz completed a series of 12-lap runs in the morning around the same time that Lewis Hamilton was on his race sim. Each set yielded average lap times between 1:40.2 and 1:40.8 on the C3 compound, which compares favourably with the second stint of Hamilton’s race simulation.


Mercedes left Bahrain knowing that they were behind the 8-ball. The new W13-B underperformed over the three days of testing and needs to solve significant problems if it hopes to overcome Red Bull and Ferrari at the same circuit this weekend.

Proudly revealed on Wednesday morning, Mercedes’ B-spec seemed to have radically dissolved its conventional side pods tested in Barcelona, refitted with a slopping design that took both press and F1 leadership by surprise.

Once on track, Mercedes immediately experienced porpoising issues – violent cyclical up-and-down bouncing – at the end of straights and in high-speed corners. Left with no immediate solution other than running at a higher ride height, the team attached a cobbled-up metal “stay” bolted from the engine cover to the upper surface of the car’s floor. That, in turn, allowed the aerodynamic downforce to disappear at inopportune moments.

While it’s inevitable that Mercedes will find the answers, don’t expect those by the first GP of the 2022 season.


McLaren’s MCL36 looked strong at the opening test in Barcelona, but the team experienced two major setbacks in Bahrain. First, Daniel Ricciardo contracted Covid-19, sidelining the Aussie for the entire test and in quarantine until the eve of the first race weekend.

Lando Norris stepped up to carry through all three days, but brake cooling issues over the first two days provided only 50 laps and 54 laps, respectively. With no ability to complete long runs, Norris had to wait until the final day for new replacement parts to clock 91 laps.

Still, his pace was strong enough on the C3 compound rather than faster C4s or C5s, suggesting the McLaren is better suited to high-speed corners than low-speed corners.


Alpha Tauri shares its engine, gearbox and rear suspension with the Red Bull, so it’s no surprise it produced solid pace with plenty of laps over the two tests.

Yuki Tsunoda produced the fastest lap, a modest 1:33.002 on the C5 compound. Still, Pierre Gasly’s matching pace relative to Hamilton over comparable race simulations suggests that Alpha Tauri is a solid F1 car.


The team’s fastest lap of the test, set in the afternoon’s heat, was over two seconds off the pace despite being set on the C4 compound. However, Aston Martin focused more on long runs when the track cooled. As a result, Sebastian Vettel had one of the most impressive long runs of the test to his name, with an average lap time of 1:39.982 over 20 laps on C1 tyres.

Said Sebastian Vettel, “I think reading into lap-times is even more difficult this year but, behind the usual leading teams, it is a tight pack, so I expect fierce competition. Nobody really knows where everyone stands yet.”


After a disheartening Barcelona shakedown beset with porpoising issues and part failures, Alfa Romeo recovered some actual speed. Valtteri Bottas quickly found the car’s limit. His 1:32.985 on C3 tyres was only 0.2s off Hamilton’s best effort on the much softer C5 compound.

His was one of the most impressive lap times of any midfield team on Sunday evening. However, reliability also remains a concern, with Bottas stopping on track twice in the last two days.


Haas has returned to the midfield, a massive boost for a team facing so many challenges over recent years.

The impressive speed from Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher towards the end of the test underlined the potential that kept popping up throughout the three days. However, these times were set in the extra hours of testing granted to Haas in compensation for the time lost on Thursday morning due to a freight delay.

As easy as it would be to rule out the laps as low-fuel glory runs set by a team looking for sponsors, there were also long runs to back up the single lap pace. Kevin Magnussen lapped at an average of 1:40.2 over a 15-lap run on C3s on the final day, which matches cars fighting in the upper midfield and suggests it’s safe to say Haas will no longer be a second off the pace at the back of the field.


Everything seemed to click for Alpine in the final two days of testing. Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso flushed out Barcelona’s reliability problems with strong stints on Wednesday’s last runs, suggesting they are toward the top of the chasing pack.

Alonso’s fastest time of 1:32.698 on the C4 tyres was the fourth-fastest time of the test, ratified by a solid 16-lap long run on C2 tyres earlier in the afternoon that delivered an average lap time of 1:40.762.


Although Williams’ performance in Bahrain over the three days of testing was disappointing, the squad still has the strength to finish in the top ten consistently.

During Nicholas Latifi’s stint, a serious brake fire limited the team’s running to just 12 laps on Friday, leaving the car as the slowest of the teams. Hopefully, the return of a revitalized Alex Albon promises to offer the team glimmers of hope.

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