Kurt Verlin
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2021 F1 Pre-Season Testing Recap

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Pre-season testing for the 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship came to a close on Sunday, the third and final day of a shortened testing format. 21 drivers completed a total of 3,713 laps around the Bahrain International Circuit for 10 teams, clocking in almost 12,500 miles combined.

With just three days of testing to put their new F1 racing cars through their paces, teams did well with what little time they had. They covered about 56 percent of the distance than they had last year with only half the time, which was already down from the eight testing days that used to be the standard in seasons before 2020.

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As usual, testing revealed very little that can be extrapolated to championship performance — over the last decade, the fastest team in testing has never gone on to win either the driver’s or constructor’s title. When the new turbo-hybrid V6 power units were introduced, mileage — as a marker for reliability — was a better indicator of performance than lap times, but even that is no longer quite as relevant. After all, after eight years of the same regulations, all four engine manufacturers are slowly approaching parity.

Still, pre-season testing can still be revealing, if not interesting. The Red Bull Racing car in particular looked strong in the hands of both Max Verstappen and Sergio Peréz, with a short-run pace estimated to be 0.56 seconds better than reigning champions Mercedes. That being said, Mercedes is also a sandbagging champion, so take the data with a grain of salt. Or sand.

One of the losers of 2021 F1 pre-season testing was Sebastian Vettel and, to a lesser extent, Aston Martin Racing. The four-time champion, a bonafide testing machine who once put in 188 laps in a single day in 2018, only managed to go ‘round Bahrain 117 times throughout the three days, putting him at the bottom of the mileage table.

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2021 F1 Pre-Season Recap - table of laps completed

Vettel never even got to put in performance runs to push the limits of the car, and that’s owing to reliability woes that saw the new Aston Martin Racing car spend more time in the garage than on the track. The team experienced an issue with the Mercedes transmission, followed by a turbo issue, and then an electrical problem.

Only Mercedes put in fewer laps, which was surprising given that the team usually tops the mileage count during every pre-season test. It experienced its own reliability problems and the car seemed a handful to drive. Yet many expect the Silver Arrows to have something up its sleeve, including a whole new aero package that some believe will be revealed at the opening Grand Prix, also taking place in Bahrain.

For now, all we can do is speculate and wait. Fortunately, it won’t be long, and in the weekend before the season begins, we’ll have the third season of Netflix’s Drive to Survive to build the hype even more.