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Formula 1

F1 2022’s first pacesetter quickly went off the rails

by Edd Straw
5 min read

Last season, you could count on AlphaTauri Formula 1 driver Pierre Gasly seeming at one with the car and supremely confident more often than not. But watching Bahrain Grand Prix FP2 at the Turn 11 uphill fifth gear left-hander, it was clear all was not well.

Several times on push laps, Gasly picked up understeer mid-corner and ran out of road at the apex. As a result, he either had to compromise the exit while he got the car rotated or ran wide. Things did not look right.

Watching from one corner during a session only gives you a snapshot, one that could translate to reflect a general trend around the whole track or might just be a localised limitation. But in the case of Gasly, and indeed team-mate Yuki Tsunoda, it was indicative of an AlphaTauri team that was struggling.

That was something of a surprise given, as Gasly put it, “the car clicked and it felt like things were working well in FP1”.

After all, he had been fastest in the first session and while that didn’t mean the AlphaTauri was really quickest, it showed the car was doing roughly what it should be.

Unfortunately for AlphaTauri, going well in FP1 and badly in FP2 is the reverse of what you would ideally want in Bahrain given qualifying and the race are held under floodlights, meaning there’s plenty of work to be done to understand what made the car so much more difficult.

“It’s very clear that we are sliding a lot more, both axles – front and rear and just not going in the right direction,” said Gasly.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Practice Day Sakhir, Bahrain

“This morning, it was just like riding a bicycle. It was just very natural and easy and the pace was there straight away.

“And straight from the first lap in FP2 I could feel ‘OK it doesn’t feel the same’.

“Obviously, it’s very different conditions, the tyres are behaving very differently. So quite a lot of things to go through tonight.”

By chance, Turn 11 was the place where, according to Gasly, the AlphaTauri AT03 struggled the most.

It’s a long corner, one where plenty of time can be given away if you can’t get a consistent balance through the corner. And the AlphaTauri looked troublesome.

Gasly, in particular, is a driver who you can’t help but spot from trackside when he’s struggling. Generally, he’s able to attack on entry and able to carry the speed through the corner. But a limitation on corner entry inhibits that style, particularly if he’s battling the understeer that was afflicting him mid-corner.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Practice Day Sakhir, Bahrain

To make matters worse, it wasn’t only the understeer that was a problem but also the rear instability on entry that contained him. It’s the worst combination, a little oversteer on entry that means you have to be hesitant in the entry phase, then understeer that delays getting on the power and leaves you under-rotated.

“The balance is quite open at the moment with quite poor rear on entry and then after giving up at the apex,” said Gasly when asked about this corner by The Race.

“And Turn 11 is probably the worst, so it’s one of the places where we know we have got to make time.

“We also changed a bit the car compared to this morning.. I’m sure we’re going to find some answers for tomorrow but at the same time, others seem really fast.”

The data backed up what Gasly said and what you could see from outside. While his fastest lap in FP2 was 0.572s quicker than in FP1, he was more hesitant on the throttle in the second session on his best lap and shifted up slightly later as a result. The grip simply wasn’t there mid-corner.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Practice Day Sakhir, Bahrain

It means things are very up in the air for AlphaTauri heading into tomorrow. The FP1 car would likely be a Q3 threat, the FP2 car perhaps at risk of Q1 elimination given how congested this part of the field looks to be.

“Haas were really impressive, Bottas was really impressive, Alonso with the Alpine was really strong so we know the midfield is going to be a lot tougher than last year,” said Gasly.

“There are at least two other teams compared to last year and we have got to find more pace if we want to make it to Q3.”

At the heart of the problem is likely the ambient conditions. In FP1, it was still warm and sunny but come the afternoon it was surprisingly chilly for Bahrain.

And it’s clear the problem is not limited to performance runs given Gasly also felt it on the long runs. As did, for that matter, team-mate Yuki Tsunoda.

“I think long runs were slightly better than short runs, but still I can still feel it,” said Gasly.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Bahrain Grand Prix Practice Day Sakhir, Bahrain

“This morning the car clicked and it felt like things were working well, tonight it wasn’t the case so even, in the long run, I feel that we’ve got something to unlock, something we didn’t fully understand yet so we’ll try to work on that.“

AlphaTauri has a car it is still learning and given this is the first ‘official’ day of 2022 there’s still lots to be understood. And there’s no reason why the team can’t get the car working for qualifying.

As Gasly himself put it, “I don’t want to sound like there is anything dramatic”. But what was clear was that what he was experiencing in the car accurately reflected what could be seen from trackside at Turn 11.

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