After just three days, 2021 pre-season Formula 1 testing is over – and despite the carryover cars, the picture is far from what would’ve been expected.
Our F1 writers have ranked the 10 teams based on our assessment of who’s really fastest and slowest when the headline times are adjusted for fuel loads, tyre compounds and track conditions.
Here’s our rundown of where everyone stands.
1. Red Bull
Best time: 1m28.960s – Verstappen, day 3, C4 tyres
Total laps: 369
It is difficult to envisage how Red Bull’s test could have gone better.
Max Verstappen was quickest, the RB16B looked brilliantly responsive on the front and stable at the rear, and its all-new Honda engine proved reliable enough for Red Bull to tick off everything it needed to over three days of running.
Verstappen’s feedback that the car was responding well to set-up changes offered a different kind of encouragement, while Sergio Perez seems to have started life at the team solidly – although he is talking with the sort of caution that suggests he might be short of his full potential early on, given his limited preparation.
Best time: 1m30.025s – Hamilton, day 3, C5s
Total laps: 304
Many will doubt Mercedes’ claim it is slower than Red Bull heading to the season opener, but the world champion is a wounded giant.
Once Friday’s early gearbox problem had been overcome, and half a day’s running sacrificed in the process, Mercedes was able to rack up laps in a more familiar manner.
But its work rate was not the most impressive and performance did not seem so easily forthcoming.
The car looked better on high-fuel runs on the final day than earlier in the test, when Lewis Hamilton spun into the gravel and Valtteri Bottas said the W12 was “quite snappy and unforgiving”.
But it was still slower than Red Bull, and on Sunday evening Hamilton had a spin on soft tyres, while the team professed itself “confused” by the lack of pace on lower fuel.
Some think this is all just a bluff and Mercedes will win the season opener. It might do.
But Mercedes does have a lot of work to do to get there.
Best time: 1m30.144s – Ricciardo, day 3, C4s
Total laps: 327
The transition to Mercedes power here was accomplished astonishingly smoothly.
McLaren was the team that pushed hardest to have the test two weeks before the first race rather than one week – because of the big technical task of changing power unit provider, especially with an engine so different in architecture to the previous one.
Yet the new car ran reliably from the off and what’s more it looks a driveable, lithe machine, one in which Daniel Ricciardo immediately pressed on hard.
Best time: 1m29.053s – Tsunoda, day 3, C5s
Total laps: 422
With a fastest lap time just half a second slower than the team’s qualifying best in Bahrain last year, and a tendency to run Honda’s higher engine modes at the end of testing, we can make the relatively assured assumption we saw very close to AlphaTauri’s best in Sunday’s final hour.
Is the sister team really a tenth slower than Red Bull? Almost certainly not.
But its performance, coupled with what looked like a neat package on-track, bodes well for AlphaTauri.
It looks like it has established itself firmly in the top half of ‘the rest’ again. How far forward Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda can be will depend on how much the other teams were holding back – but AlphaTauri has sent a decent statement of intent through testing, with a real lap time to back it up.
5. Aston Martin
Best time: 1m30.460s – Stroll, day 2, C5s
Total laps: 314
It was a frustrating few days for the newly-badged team and its beautiful-looking AMR21, which suffered a litany of niggling problems that seriously limited the much-needed running for Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll.
An electrical glitch, a gearbox problem and a troublesome turbo at various points had the car sitting in the garage and the driver doing nothing.
But Stroll showed in the ‘happy hour’ of Friday that the car has pace and there’s no reason yet to believe it won’t be vying hard for the ‘best of the rest’ status throughout the season.
Best time: 1m29.611s – Sainz, day 3, C4s
Total laps: 404
Ferrari has reason to be encouraged but not elated.
The new car looks a definite step on from last year. Both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr completed solid race simulations on the final day and with more power unit performance apparently unleashed late in the day Sainz’s single lap pace put Ferrari nominally at the upper end of the group behind the two Honda-powered teams.
At no point did the car look to have the sheer performance of the Red Bull and we might suspect that whatever is at the root of Mercedes’ struggles, it will soon enough be fixed and that Ferrari will therefore be demoted from its apparent position on the final day.
Best time: 1m30.318s – Alonso, day 3, C4s
Total laps: 396
Fernando Alonso’s performance looked so assured and Alonso-like despite his two years away that the biggest novelty about Alpine’s running wasn’t the two-time world champion being back in an F1 car, but the eye-opening girth of the A521’s airbox. The team is adamant the packaging gains are worth it.
On track, Alpine looked strong without being exceptional, and was hard to split from Ferrari in terms of performance.
There was no obvious sign of a step forward from where it sat in 2020 in its Renault guise, but encouraging long runs and a generally trouble-free test present a good building block for the first year of its new era.
8. Alfa Romeo
Best time: 1m29.766s – Raikkonen, day 3, C5s
Total laps: 422
There was an Alfa Romeo driver in the top six on all three days of testing and no team racked up more miles than the Sauber-run operation.
That means every box was ticked – and more – even if the car isn’t as rapid as setting the fourth-fastest time suggests.
On track, the C41 looks reasonably well-balanced despite not being blessed with especially high levels of downforce.
Kimi Raikkonen’s best time was set in the final hour using the softest-available C5 Pirelli tyres, with Alfa Romeo’s recent history suggesting that was likely on genuinely low fuel.
Technical director Jan Monchaux described the final day as “flawless”, but was careful not to get too carried away. But with reliability seemingly proven and both drivers confident enough behind the wheel, Alfa Romeo had good reason to be satisfied with its three days of work.
“The results are encouraging but we’re not getting carried away,” said Monchaux. “We know there is still a lot of work to do. We feel ready to start the championship and we feel better prepared than last year.”
With the aerodynamics working well after spending its development tokens to change the nose, as well as gains from the Ferrari power unit, Alfa Romeo might well have taken a stride towards joining the midfield group.
Best time: 1m30.117s – Russell, day 3, C5s
Total laps: 373
Williams was the sixth-fastest team courtesy of a lap George Russell said “wasn’t full quali trim, but we didn’t have the sandbags onboard”.
And with the sixth-most laps completed – 373 across the three days – it was a productive but challenging test for Williams.
The main problem was the windy conditions that were evident throughout the test, given the car is, as Russell put it, “incredibly wind sensitive”.
While he expects that to mean the team’s performance yo-yos this season, the result of a conscious decision to chase peak downforce even if it means there will be struggles on weekends when it is windy, the belief is that the car works well in neutral conditions.
Beyond that, it was a relatively straightforward test for Williams, which was the only team to give mileage to a test driver with Roy Nissany driving on day one.
But with some new test items promised for Friday practice in Bahrain in just under two weeks, there’s still more to come from Williams.
And while there’s no sign of a significant leap forward, there is confidence that, on weekends where conditions go in its favour, the odd points finish is achievable.
Best time: 1m31.531s – Mazepin, day 3, C4s
Total laps: 394
As expected, the Haas was the slowest car during the three days of testing with Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher building up their mileage in a design that, while it has changed since last year, was the gentlest evolution of any on the grid.
Haas, after all, was the only team that did not spend the available development tokens.
Things didn’t start well with a hydraulic problem forcing a gearbox change on the first morning when Schumacher was behind the wheel. But thereafter, the car ran reliably and racked up 394 laps – the fifth highest tally.
Perhaps surprisingly, there were also a few development parts on display that appeared as testing progress.
On Saturday, the car ran with an under-nose cape, while on the final day a tweaked front wing appeared.
Although that’s likely to be it for new parts with no in-season development planned, it will help an undercooked, but apparently fundamentally sound, car.
Still there was nothing to suggest that this season is going to be anything other than the long, hard one of treading water everyone expects, even with a power boost from the new Ferrari engine.