Charles Leclerc fastest on second day of test as Red Bull suffers setback


BARCELONA, Spain — Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc set the pace in the second day of preseason testing at the Circuit de Catalunya as hype continued to build around the performance of the Italian team.

A clear favourite has yet to emerge from the first F1 test of 2022, with teams focusing on gaining a better understanding of their cars before switching to the pursuit of outright performance later in the preseason.

However, Ferrari’s presence either at or near the top of the timesheets on both days of this week’s test has created a buzz around the team.

Leclerc’s lap, a 1:19.698, was the fastest on Thursday but just shy of the fastest time set by McLaren’s Lando Norris on the opening day of the test.

Comparing the two, Leclerc’s time was arguably the more impressive, being set on the third lap of a 17-lap run, suggesting he was on a relatively heavy fuel load. He also used the C3 compound tyres to set the time compared to the softer, and faster, C4 compound tyres used by Norris on Wednesday.

Leclerc split the day’s running with Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz and the two drivers completed a combined 149 laps. That compared to 147 laps for Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri, who was second fastest with a 1:19.918 set on the C4 tyres, and 126 laps for Daniel Ricciardo, who was third fastest and set a fastest lap of 1:20.288 on the C3 compound.

“It’s been a good start in terms of reliability,” Sainz said. “We’ve managed to complete one day and a half of testing without pretty much any single issue which is an encouraging start for us. This is what we’re here for in Barcelona.

“Unfortunately for you guys [the media], it’s not very exciting because we are nowhere near to the limit of the car or finding where the performances is, but we’re doing laps, and we’re completing them nicely.”

Mercedes completed 105 laps between its two drivers, with Lewis Hamilton on track in the morning and his new teammate George Russell taking over in the afternoon, setting the fourth fastest time with a 1:20.537 on the C3 compound.

Asked where he thought Mercedes stacked up against pacesetters McLaren and Ferrari, Russell said: “Certainly not ahead, pretty sure of that.

“They seem to have things well under control. They are on top of everything and look very strong in low and high fuel and with the tyre management. Who knows!

“We all know that we are on different programmes but we definitely know from the average of all the different runs, we’re behind them at the moment. So let’s wait and see.

“The championship’s not won in Barcelona pre-season testing, but it’s certainly been an intriguing two days for now.”

By contrast Red Bull had a slow day with just 78 laps by the chequered flag. Sergio Perez, who took over driving duties from teammate Max Verstappen, stopped on track before the lunch break and then only completed limited mileage in the afternoon as Red Bull spent much of the remaining time working on the car in the garage.

Perez’s stoppage caused a red flag, suspending the session for 20 minutes — the first of two red flags during the day. The second was caused by Nikita Mazepin when his Haas stopped on track with a fuel pump issue.

One theme that has emerged from the opening two days of testing is the unusual behaviour of the new cars when travelling at speed on the pit straight. As they reach top speed, almost all cars have been spotted bouncing up and down on their suspension — a phenomenon known as porpoising.

The porpoising is linked to F1’s rule changes for 2022, which have allowed teams more freedom to generate downforce from the underside of the car through the use of ground effect aerodynamics. Essentially, the length of the car is treated as an upside-down aeroplane wing with the lower surface profiled to generate low air pressure under the car and suck it to the track.

The idea of using the floor of the car to create significant amounts of downforce is nothing new. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, F1 teams started to better understand the potential of ground effect aerodynamics, leading to a sudden increase in cornering performance but also problems similar to the ones experienced by teams in testing this year.

As the car becomes fully loaded with downforce and pushes down on its suspension it runs the risk getting close or making contact with the track, which has the potential to stall the floor.

The sudden loss of downforce results in the car bouncing back up on its suspension, which in turn allows the floor to start working again and force the car back down. Once it starts to happen over and over again, it results in the odd phenomenon of the car bouncing up and down on the straight before the driver hits the brakes, knocking off significant speed that allows the airflow under the car to return to normal.

Some teams suffered more than others and, although the Ferrari didn’t seem to be among the worse of the bunch, a video emerged on F1’s social media late on Thursday perfectly illustrating the phenomenon on Leclerc’s car.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto said it was not something the team had seen in its simulations.

“I think most of us at least underestimated the problem, in terms of [being] on track and bouncing more than expected,” he said. “When you’re setting these cars up with the ground [effect] floor, the situation it’s different. It’s a learning process.

“I think that solving it can be quite straightforward. Optimising the performance, because it should not be a compromise, you should try to avoid the bouncing by getting the most of the performance of the car. But that could be a less easy exercise.

“I am pretty sure that at some stage the team will get to the solution. How long it will take? The ones that will get there sooner will have an advantage at the start of the season.”

The final day of the first test will take place on Friday at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Times at close:

1. Charles Leclerc – Ferrari – 1:19.689 – 78 laps
2. Pierre Gasly – AlphaTauri – 1:19.918 – 147 laps
3. Daniel Ricciardo – McLaren – 1:20.288 – 126 laps
4. George Russell – Mercedes – 1:20.537 – 65 laps
5. Carlos Sainz – Ferrari – 1:20.546 – 71 laps
6. Sebastian Vettel – Aston Martin – 1:20.784 – 73 laps
7. Sergio Perez – Red Bull – 1:21.430 – 78 laps
8. Nikita Mazepin – Haas – 1:21.512 – 41 laps
9. Alex Albon – Williams – 1:21.531 – 47 laps
10. Guanya Zhou – Alfa Romeo – 1:21.885 – 71 laps
11. Nicholas Latifi – 1:21.894 – 61 laps
12. Lance Stroll – Aston Martin – 1:21.920 – 55 laps
13. Mick Schumacher – Haas – 1:21.949 – 66 laps
14. Esteban Ocon – Alpine – 1:22.164 – 125 laps
15. Valtteri Bottas – Alfa Romeo – 1:22.288 – 21 laps
16. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – 1:22.562 – 40 laps

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