In the few days between pre-season testing and the season opening race at the same Bahrain circuit, experts and pundits are busily predicting the likely pecking order.
Alex Wurz, chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association and a former Formula 1 driver himself, thinks Ferrari is looking “similar to last year”.
“They can get close in a single lap, but there’s too much degradation in the long run,” he told Krone newspaper. “That could be their weak point.
“But on tracks with less rough asphalt, less understeer, they could annoy Red Bull.”
Like most 2023 cars, they are more evolutionary rather than revolutionary – but the new Ferrari has some eye-catching innovations including front wing winglets and mysterious sidepod channels.
“We were sure to have a discussion about them with the FIA,” new boss Frederic Vasseur said. “For them, it was crystal clear that it was ok.
“The emotion of the other teams? I don’t care about that. It’s the game of F1.”
The goal of Ferrari’s engineers was to catch up with Red Bull on the straights – but the result is that the balance in the corners may have suffered.
“If we manage to get the setup in the perfect range, we can win,” said Charles Leclerc.
But that will also depend on improvements in the strategy area, which is part of why Vasseur was brought in to replace his predecessor Mattia Binotto.
Indeed, one of the Frenchman’s first moves was to demote strategy boss Inaki Rueda to a factory-based role, and promote his successor Ravin Jain.
“We have changed the organisation a bit,” confirmed Vasseur. “But it’s more about the flow of information rather than who pushes the button on the pitwall.
“At Sauber we had much less than Ferrari and yet the flow of communication was easier.”
Vasseur denies that Leclerc and Carlos Sainz finished the Bahrain test feeling “unhappy”, and in fact La Gazzetta dello Sport claims the Maranello team may have always been doing its running on high fuel.
As for where Ferrari lines up in comparison to Red Bull and Mercedes, Wurz says it’s clear that Red Bull and Max Verstappen are easily leading the way.
Mercedes, however, is “the most difficult to assess”, according to the Austrian.
“The TV recordings showed that the car doesn’t run like it’s on rails. There are problems with the rear,” Wurz said. “Maybe they drove with lower engine settings too.
“But I actually don’t think too much bluffing does you any good, and they know that. I think they’re a bit behind Ferrari,” he added.
What Wurz is clear about is that Aston Martin has made the biggest “leap” forward compared to any other team.
“The long runs were promising – I see them at the top of the midfield,” he said. “The opposite is the case with McLaren. They’ve made the biggest step backwards.
“I see a car with too much drag.”