Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturdays: Pre-Season Testing Rankings

After about 24 hours of on-track pre-season testing this past week, we are now officially one week away from the season’s first Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Before getting into rankings, there are a couple of notes to get through. The first is that all cars were generally reliable, and there were very few critical mechanical issues throughout the first three days.

One of the key reasons Max Verstappen won so many races last year was because Red Bull Racing built him a bulletproof car.

The rest of the teams have now caught up to them on the reliability front, which is to be a bit expected considering we’re in year three of the current regulations. I’ve been a proponent of extending points positions to the top 15 in a race for a while now due to just how reliable the cars are. Not having reliability issues or a new point system is likely to hurt midfield battles even more than last year.

The other note is that there were some issues with drain covers. On day two, Charles Leclerc scooped up a drain cover and damaged his underbody, causing an hour of testing to be cut.

On day three, the same thing happened to the Red Bull of Sergio Perez, causing another delay and forcing F1 to have one big seven-hour session to end the day instead of having a pre-planned hour for lunch.

This isn’t the first time the current regulation cars have been damaged by drain covers, with the first day of the Las Vegas Grand Prix last year being a mess owing to the issue.

The reality is that these ground-force cars create so much downforce that drain covers can absolutely be pulled up more easily with sustained running. There needs to be a serious investigation and experimentation done by the FIA to figure out how to fix this issue before the year goes too far forward.

And now, the rankings. Keep in mind that these are not necessarily a prediction of where each team will finish in the championship. This is simply where the order stands right now. It’s difficult to take strictly the times to heart in testing because cars are running all sorts of different plans and fuel loads.

Thus, it takes watching practice closely rather than pouring over the data to estimate where each team is now. Things might look different by race day next weekend. It could look different a month from now. It’ll definitely look different by October.

For the rankings, the teams on my list are divided into tiers. The cars in each tier should be able to compete with the others in their tier, but they are still ordered by ranking. Let’s start with Tier 5, perhaps the second-easiest team to preview.

Tier 5

11. Haas

A miserable off-season for 10th place in 2023 for Haas in which the only team principal they’ve ever known, Gunther Steiner, left/was pushed out midway through January and the change has not translated to showing success so far.

New team principal Ayao Komatsu inherited a mess, between a slow car that chews on tires, a lack of investment into facilities from owner Gene Haas, and taking the job up just a month until the season started.

Komatsu’s strategy for testing was different from every other team, focusing on figuring out tires and getting those right instead of chasing performance that isn’t going to come. He’s already admitted the team will be slow this season. Just how slow remains to be seen, but so far, they are clearly at the bottom.

Tier 4

10. KICK Sauber

It’s a team with a sharp livery but an incredibly dull mid-field car and an even duller driver lineup.

The Sauber didn’t show a lot of speed all week. Above anything, it just seems like this is a team that is counting the days until new owner Audi finally comes into power in 2026.

9. Williams

The low drag design of last year has been replaced with a more standard one.

This should improve stability as the team attempts to nurture Logan Sargeant in his second season on the grid, but it’ll also make it harder for Williams to excel at any one style of racetrack as they did with high-speed layouts last year.

Williams should be more consistent, but finishing 14th every week isn’t going to pay the bills like finishing seventh every five races does. This design change is a gamble that only works if mid-season upgrades improve things and Sargeant makes a step forward, neither of which are gimmies.

8. Alpine

The most anonymous team in testing this year, I really can’t get a decent read on them at all.

Considering their general lack of pace, the amount of carbon fiber exposed on their paint scheme (thus hinting at weight issues), and the French outfit’s history of incompetence, seventh seems like the best place to put them.

Tier 3

6. Aston Martin Aramco

Although I’m sure many would love to see Fernando Alonso get one more win before bowing out of Formula, it doesn’t look like it’ll come in this car.

Aston Martin are not awful, but they definitely did not stand out like they did last year. Alonso gave some fairly frank quotes to the media following his last stint in the car.

“This year, I don’t think we will be as fast as last year. There will be many more eyes on us, and it will be more difficult to surprise,” Alonso said to Motor Passion. He was also very frank about his thoughts on the season as a whole.

5. RB

The former AlphaTauri has emerged this season with a much worse name but a better car, a sharp livery, and fresh leadership.

New team principal Laurent Mekies joined the team after a long career at Ferrari and has overseen the development of a very solid race car. Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda will both have the equipment under them now to regularly score points and challenge for top fives.

RB’s more focused reliance on using components from the main Red Bull team is now under the microscope, but the reality is that the RB is not anywhere near the main team’s performance. Nor are they any different from the Haas team outsourcing literally everything they can per the rulebook from Ferrari and Dallara.

Tier 2

4. McLaren

If McLaren can continue their tendency to improve strongly throughout the season, they could actually bring the challenge to Red Bull.

They’re clearly behind the other two teams in this tier, but not by much. Considering they were the slowest car coming out of testing last year and ended the year fighting for race wins, keep an eye on the progression here.

3. Mercedes

The return of James Allison as car designer has paid off well for the Silver Arrows, as they have the race pace to hold steady with Ferrari.

Their only challenge is that the qualifying pace is a bit of a mystery, but they should be close enough not to make it easy for the Scuderia to finish on the podium.

2. Ferrari

The Tifosi can rest assured that Ferrari will not be taking a year off.

Lewis Hamilton will have a front-row seat to Ferrari’s pace in the early months, as his goal will be to stop them before joining them. Ferrari has made serious gains on their tire wear problems and could threaten Red Bull’s outright dominance.

Tier 1

1. Red Bull Racing

The kings are back.

Rumors and reports posit Red Bull is a second ahead of the field. Some only have it at a few tenths. Some even claim that Red Bull already has a game plan for upgrades that will bring even more speed to the team.

The one consistent is that the Red Bull is ahead of the rest of the gird. And it will be very hard to dethrone them with the current regulations for this year and 2025. The only big question at the top of the leaderboard is if Red Bull can have a 100% win season this year instead of merely near-perfect like one in 2023.

We are now within the Formula 1 season after a long winter. The first two races of the season this year will be rather unique in that they will be contested on Saturdays instead of Sundays. Lights out for round one, the Bahrain Grand Prix will come at 10:00 a.m. ET on Saturday, March 2nd. Coverage will be on ESPN.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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