8 major things to look out for at the F1 pre-season test at Bahrain

Alex Gassman

by Alex Gassman

F1 cooling scoop 2024

The Formula 1 off-season is almost over, with the new 2024 cars set to hit the Bahrain circuit this week for three days of pre-season testing.

Below are 8 key things to look out for during the test sessions.

Bahrain pre-season testing

Pre-season testing at Bahrain International Circuit starts on the 21st February and lasts for three days. 

Each day involves a total of 8 hours of open track time; 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the afternoon, with a 1 hour lunch break in the middle.

Below is the timetable for the three days of testing in local, UK and USA Eastern Time zones.

2024 F1 Pre-Season Testing Timetable
Day Morning session Afternoon session
Wed 21st Feb 10am - 2pm (local)
7am - 11am (UK)
2am - 6am (ET)
3pm - 7pm (local)
12pm - 4pm (UK)
7am - 11am (ET)
Thu 22nd Feb 10am - 2pm (local)
7am - 11am (UK)
2am - 6am (ET)
3pm - 7pm (local)
12pm - 4pm (UK)
7am - 11am (ET)
Fri 23rd Feb 10am - 2pm (local)
7am - 11am (UK)
2am - 6am (ET)
3pm - 7pm (local)
12pm - 4pm (UK)
7am - 11am (ET)

First race of the season

Just one week later the first round of the 2024 Formula 1 season will take place on the same circuit. That will mark the beginning of the sport’s packed 24-race calendar, spanning the next 10 months.

See the full Bahrain Grand Prix schedule for exact timings over the race weekend where the race actually takes place on a Saturday.

Pre-season testing: what to look for

The three days of testing at Bahrain will give the teams a chance to understand how their new cars perform.

This year’s technical regulations are very similar to last season, so the cars aren’t going to look vastly different. However, there are some subtle differences the eagle-eyed fan might be able to spot. 

1: New cooling scoop

One change to last year’s regulations was the addition of a chassis-mounted air scoop to provide additional cool air to the driver and the cockpit.

This came after the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix when drivers experienced one of the hottest F1 races in recent times, with some vomiting and passing out due to the heat.

We’re not exactly sure what the new cooling scoop design will be, but it could well look similar to McLaren’s infamous F-Duct from 2010.

2: Williams playing catch up

Williams team Principal James Vowles said that in the off-season his team have ‘pushed everything to the limits’ for the design of their 2024 car.

The result is a slight delay to their schedule where they chose to miss the shakedown day at Silverstone.

Image licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

That means they’ll use the start of the Bahrain test to shakedown their car, something all other teams have already done. They’ll be on the backfoot and will have less time to capture meaningful data.

Let’s hope the changes have been worthwhile and they continue their progress in the right direction up the leaderboards.

3: Flo-vis paint

On day 1 of the testing it’s likely you’ll see the cars covered in streaks of fluorescent paint, ruining their new liveries.

Being F1, that paint has a technical name. It’s called Flo-Vis, and it’s purposely sprayed on to the major aero components of the car (usually front / rear wings and sidepods). It’s used to visualize the flow of air over those important components, hence the name.

Image licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The paint dries quickly, and once the cars return to the garage the team will photograph the new paint job.

The images will be sent back to the team at the factory where they’ll analyze the air flow of the car in reality, compared to what they expected to see from wind-tunnel testing an 3D modelling.

You might not see the paint on every car, however. 

Some teams are now using UV paint that’s only visible when a UV light is shone on it. That stops the other teams seeing it and gaining information about their competitor’s air flow.

4: Aero-rakes

On Day 1 of the testing you might see some cars with large metal grid-like structures attached to their sidepods.

These look a little like garden rakes (hence the name) and are fitted with a number of different sensors used to gather data about how the air flows away from the car, after it’s hit a certain part of the bodywork.

Image licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Again this data is fed back to the team at the factory so they can compare real-world against their wind tunnel and Computation Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modelling data.

Drivers will be asked to avoid the kerbs and stay a minimum distance away from any cars in front when fitted with these. 

That helps both avoid dislodging the aero-rake and corrupting the data it gathers from the dirty air of the car ahead.

5: Hidden cars

The teams will be extra protective over their car’s design during the three-day test, as changes can still be made in the week leading up to the first race.

If they think they’ve got a winning design, they’ll want to keep the other teams from seeing the specific details of it as much of possible.

That means that the pit garage doors are likely to be closed in between sessions, or barriers will be placed around them to stop prying eyes from have a close-up look.

If a car has an issue out on track and has to be recovered on the back of a truck, expect to see it being covered in a sheet before it gets anywhere near the pitlane for the other teams to look at.

6: Everyone talking about 'sandbagging'

It’s pretty rare for a team to show their true outright performance during the three days or pre-season testing. 

And why would they? All that would achieve it having their rivals look at their cars under much more scrutiny and try and copy their design cues as closely as possible.

Instead, most teams like to ‘sandbag’. That’s where they don’t show their car’s true potential, even if they know they’ve got a race winner on their hands. 

They might put an extra heavy fuel load in, fit worn rubber or turn the engine’s performance down to hide their ultimate pace.

Then, if they’re as fast as they think they are, they’ll turn up at the first race and surprise everyone else. 

7: Long stints on track

Teams will want to gather as much data as possible about their car’s performance and how it affects the degradation and heat loading of the Pirelli tyres. The more they’re out on track, the more data they can gather.

They’ll often do this by simulating long full-distance race runs, or sometimes even longer so they can put the maximum 100kg of fuel in the car and stay out for as long as possible. 100kg gets them 66 laps of Bahrain at race-pace.

These long stints are often one of the best ways to understand how one team’s performance compares against another’s, as cars start and end on the same fuel load.

8: Tight-lipped teams and drivers

The press will be eager to grab any news-worthy soundbites or statements from drivers or team members over the three days, but one thing’s for sure. Nobody will give much away.

If a driver knows he’s got a good car, he’ll downplay its performance. If a driver knows he’s got a slow car, he won’t let on just how bad it is.

 Everyone will keep their cards close to their chest and the real proof will be when the lights go out at the Bahrain GP a week later.

Image licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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Alex Gassman

I‘m Alex. I write F1 and motorsport travel guides based on my experience as racing driver and full-time motorsport nerd. I’ve traveled the world watching F1 and other racing series.

I started oversteer48 with the aim of helping other motorsport fans who are planning on watching some racing themselves.

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