After one of the most dramatic season closers in recent history, Formula One (F1) has finally returned for 2022. The ten teams spent three days at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which will host the Spanish Grand Prix (GP) later this year, for the pre-season track sessions from Wednesday, Feb. 23 to Friday, Feb. 25. The three days of on-track running allowed the teams to gather data on their new cars and prepare for the upcoming pre-season testing days in Bahrain, which will take place from Thursday, March 10 to Saturday, March 12.
The design and regulation changes for this year meant the cars looked very different to last year, with the new 18-inch Pirelli tires, wheel covers, and curved tip rear wings among the most visible changes. Though the teams and drivers will get another chance to adapt to the new designs in Bahrain before the first race of the season, the sessions in Barcelona allowed them to get their first taste of how the 2022 season could shape up. Here’s a look at how each of the teams fared during the pre-season track sessions.
No team principal would have been happier to return to the track than Red Bull’s Christian Horner, who is likely still living off the high of Max Verstappen becoming Red Bull’s most recent Drivers’ Champion since 2013. Following the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP, Verstappen was declared the winner and F1’s newest world champion, allowing him to run his RB18 with the number one for this season instead of his usual 44. Verstappen took over driving duties for both the morning and afternoon sessions on day one, finishing in P9 but managing to complete the most laps of all the drivers with 147 total laps.
Teammate Sergio Pérez took over on day two, having to stop on track in the morning session and bringing out a red flag, but reappeared on track late in the afternoon session to finish in P9. Both drivers split driving time on the third day of the track sessions, with Pérez and Verstappen finishing out their time in Barcelona in P3 and P4 respectively. The sessions in Barcelona were a good start to the season for Red Bull, which recently signed a contract to keep Verstappen with the team until at least 2028 and will be hoping to see another strong performance from the reigning world champion.
The 2021 Constructors’ Champions have already started off this season well, with the W13 making a very strong showing at the track sessions. The team returned to their former silver livery this year, and seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton made his return to the track after the incredibly disappointing results of the 2021 Abu Dhabi GP.
Hamilton slotted in behind new teammate and former Williams driver George Russell on day one in P5 and finished with the slowest time on day two in P16, but didn’t seem phased by these results when he appeared on track on day three. On the final day of the pre-season track sessions, Hamilton set the fastest time of the three days of running with a 1:19.138, sending the message that he is back and ready to race.
Russell finally made the transition to Mercedes after multiple seasons of waiting at Williams for a seat with the Brackley team to open up, and the British driver seems to have adapted well to the car for now. The Silver Arrows look to be in good shape ahead of testing in Bahrain and will hope that they can stay at the top of the timesheets when the first race weekend of the season begins.
The Italian team stopped developing their 2021 car in the middle of the last season to prepare for the 2022 season, and the pre-season track sessions seemed to show that choice paying off. Charles Leclerc hit the track in the F1-75 first and came in P2 on day one and topped the timesheets in P1 on day two, leading some to speculate about Ferrari’s possible return to the front of the grid. His teammate Carlos Sainz followed closely behind, taking P3 on day one and P5 on day two.
The two continued to split driving duties on day three, with Leclerc finishing in P6 overall after driving in the morning and Sainz taking over during the wet weather tire running in the afternoon to finish P7 at the end of the day. While pre-season results are never truly reflective of a team’s real race performance, the Tifosi will surely be hoping that Ferrari has managed to find a way to return to the top form they lost so dramatically in the 2020 season and have been trying to rebuild ever since.
At McLaren, British driver Lando Norris took the first shift in the orange and blue MCL36, spending the first day of the track sessions driving in both the morning and afternoon to end up in P1. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo got his first taste of the car on day two and ended up setting the fastest time of the morning session before finishing third overall after the afternoon session finished. The two split track time on the final day of the track sessions, with Ricciardo ending up in P10 and Norris just behind in P11.
While these results were nothing especially impressive for the team from Woking, they will have given McLaren a good idea of where their car stands and where they might be able to find improvements before the drivers get back in for the pre-season test in Bahrain.
Even before the cars hit the track in Barcelona, Alpine was making headlines with the news that former Aston Martin team principal Otmar Szafnauer would be joining Alpine this season. The team has seen multiple major position shake ups over the past two years, particularly the revelation that four-time world champion Alain Prost, who had been serving as a special advisor to the team, would be leaving in January. Ahead of the track sessions in Barcelona, though, the team also revealed the A522 and its new livery, which has added bright splashes of pink to the team’s conventional blue thanks to new title sponsor BWT.
On track, two-time champion Fernando Alonso got in the car for day one, finishing in P8, while Esteban Ocon took over on day two to end up in P14. The team only managed a bit of running on day three before a small fire started at the back of his A522 due to a hydraulic issue, leading to plumes of smoke and an early end for Alpine at the pre-season track sessions. The three days in Barcelona looked like a disappointing start to 2022 for Alpine, who will want to work out any remaining issues with the car before the grid heads to Bahrain.
Aston Martin’s AMR22 is perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing of the newly revealed 2022 cars, with its deep green livery shining under the bright sun of Barcelona as drivers Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll got behind the wheel for the first time. Four-time world champion Vettel appeared to be in strong form, finishing both days one and two in P6. He split driving duties on both days with teammate Stroll, who finished in P13 on the first day of running and P12 on the second.
Unfortunately, an oil leak and fire in Vettel’s AMR22 saw the end of the pre-season track sessions for the team from Silverstone, with Vettel ultimately finishing after 48 laps in a very strong P5 overall on day three. While Aston Martin surely would have been happier to get more track time, these results from the pre-season track session, particularly Vettel’s place just behind the top of the timesheets, should be promising for a team that too often found itself at the back of the midfield last year.
Red Bull’s sister team kept its driver lineup from last season, with Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda splitting time in the car in Barcelona. Tsunoda, who now has one year of F1 experience under his belt, finished in P7 on day one after a full day of running, while Gasly took over on day two to put up an impressive P2 finish.
However, Gasly ended up in the wall during the morning session on day three, preventing Alpha Tauri from running in the afternoon due to a broken suspension and front wing. The crash brought an end to the team’s planned track program for the pre-season track sessions and stopped Tsunoda from getting more track time, and both drivers will surely be hoping to get more used to the AT03 before the first race of the season.
Former Red Bull driver and Verstappen’s 2020 teammate Alex Albon returned to the F1 grid with Williams after spending the last season away, having been unable to secure a seat for the 2021 season. Though the FW44 didn’t shock the rest of the grid during the pre-season track sessions, the team also didn’t look to be in terrible shape, which can only be a good sign for a team that has slipped to the back of the field in recent years.
Albon and teammate Nicholas Latifi performed very consistently in the middle of the timesheets across all three days on track, with Albon in P11 and P9 on days one and two, ahead of Latifi in P14 and P11 on the first two days on track. The two rounded out the sessions in Barcelona with Albon in P8 ahead of Latifi in P9 on the final day of running. These results look to be a sign of clear improvement for Williams, continuing on the small advances the team made last year.
With 175 laps total across all three days, Alfa Romeo will not have been very pleased with the team’s limited track time during the track sessions. The C42 was running with a camouflaged livery in Barcelona as the team had not yet revealed its design for the 2022 season, but the car’s struggles on track did reveal that Alfa Romeo still has a ways to go to be fully prepared for the first race weekend of the season.
Former Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas was limited to just under 25 laps on day one, putting him in P10 ahead of reserve driver Robert Kubica in P16. Bottas again struggled on day two, getting only 21 laps in the morning before reliability issues brought him back to the garage with an ultimate P15 finish. Bottas’ teammate, rookie Zhou Guanyu, finished in P10 after driving in the afternoon session. On day three, Zhou took the morning session, finishing in P13, but Bottas was again limited in his running time to just 10 laps, leaving him to finish in P16. The team will need to work out their reliability problems before Bahrain if they hope to put in a better performance than last year.
Much of the media attention on Haas during the sessions in Barcelona was not focused on the new VF-22, but instead on Russian driver Nikita Mazepin and Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which began on Thursday, Feb. 24. It is widely known that the key factor behind Mazepin’s seat at Haas was financial backing from Haas’ title sponsor and Russian potash producer Uralkali, which is owned by his father and Russian oligarch Dmitry Mazepin. Haas removed the Uralkali branding from its livery for the final day in Barcelona on Feb. 25 and instead ran the car with a blank white livery.
Though the FIA decided that Russian competitors would be allowed to take part in global motorsport events, F1 announced on Friday, Feb. 25 that the 2022 Russian GP, originally planned for September, had been canceled, and later terminated its contract with the Russian GP. In addition, the recent decision from Motorsport UK banning Russian and Belarusian license holders from racing in Britain would also prevent Mazepin from participating in the 2022 British GP.
The pressure has been building on Haas, with Sky Sports Germany reporting that Haas had separated from Mazepin and chosen reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi to replace him. However, no official announcement has been made by the team yet as of Thursday, March 3.
On the track in Barcelona, floor damage and reliability issues limited the team’s running time, with both Mazepin and teammate Mick Schumacher finishing towards the bottom of the timesheets. Haas will surely need to make the most of the upcoming pre-season test in Bahrain to get a better understanding of its new car. More importantly, though, it will need to make an announcement soon regarding Mazepin’s spot in the team and whether he will be replaced.
While the results from the pre-season track sessions at Barcelona are hardly deciders for how the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships will end up this season, they are certainly indicators of which teams are starting off in the best shape. As the grid heads to Bahrain for pre-season testing, which will happen just a week before the first race of the season—the 2022 Bahrain GP, to be held from Friday, March 18 to Sunday, March 20—every team will surely be watching the others closely to see how the grid will shape up this season.
Jiyu Shin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.