The season opener in Bahrain could bring a surprise winner. Because reliability might be more important than speed in the first few races. Everything depends on one question: Who dares to swing how much?
Most of the experts in the paddock agree: "The first Grand Prix may not be decided by speed, but by reliability." The reason for this prognosis lies not only in the many defects that have repeatedly occurred across the board. It was often just small things, but they were enough to end the race prematurely. In addition, spare parts are scarce. But too much is allowed to break during the training sessions next week.
Two reasons are responsible for the concerns of the teams. The cars are still so new that the engineers still have to gain experience in terms of stability. The innards are packaged very differently in the 2022 cars than in the past. In many cases even more extreme. Then there is the bouncing problem. If you don't get it under control, you will hardly finish the race. "The driver is more likely to go on strike than the technology," predicts Mercedes.
Too much bouncing destroys material
The shaking on the straights not only determines the lap times, but also the reliability. "If you touch down too much on the road, you risk damage to the chassis and the underbody. You want to avoid both with regard to the cost cap," explains Sauber technical director Jan Monchaux. But control units, coolers, lines and cable connectors are also damaged if there is too much oscillation. The engine and transmission also suffer if the ground contact is too heavy.
According to the engineers, everything will depend on who dares how much ground clearance and spring comfort when setting up the cars. Deep is fast, but amplifies the shaking, increasing the risk of defects. Up is the safe way, but costs lap time. "It's not the fastest who wins the race, but the team that can handle the bouncing best. And you have to understand the causes first," says Aston Martin.
F1 teams are looking for a happy medium
Shaking has another unpleasant side effect. It increases tire wear. The long runs of the teams showed that. The more the car jumped, the sooner the tires buckled. That's why Aston Martin is quite confident in the first race: "We may not have the fastest car, but we know how to turn the bouncing on and off. Controlling it always takes time, but the key is finding the happy medium to find."
Only those who solve one problem can start to tackle the other. How do I find a good balance between fast and slow corners? "These are two pairs of boots. The answer to the bouncing does not solve the question of how you have to set the car up to be fast in all corners," lectures a Mercedes man.
The question of all questions is whether next week there will be gamblers who, for the sake of the starting position, allow more bouncing than is good for the car and hope in the race that they will somehow make ends meet with more fuel on board. You can't imagine that at Mercedes. "No one will sacrifice Sunday for Saturday. Everyone will look for the best compromise with the set-up." And if not? "Then we'll have a surprise winner in the first race," predicts Helmut Marko.