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Formula 1 - Motorsports: What to look for in this week's F1 testing

Last year's Formula 1 season saw the most intense title battle for decades as Max Verstappen pipped Lewis Hamilton to the championship in controversial circumstances after a year-long nip-and-tuck battle.

Following a raft of changes to the technical rules, this season's cars will look very different for spectators and feel very different for the drivers.

And before the action starts in anger in Bahrain on 20th March, we'll get some clues as to whether to expect more of the same in 2022 at the official pre-season test from Thursday to Saturday at the Sakhir circuit this week.

Who can run the most laps?

While it's tempting to read a lot into who can set the fastest time at pre-season testing, a better indicator of which teams are in the best shape can often be found in looking at who has completed the most mileage.

In days gone by, testing before and during the season was limited only by a team's budget, and so the richest teams had a huge advantage. In more recent years, testing has been strictly limited with last month's 'unofficial' three days of running at Barcelona plus this week's three-day test are the only chances teams will get to learn about their cars' behaviour on the track.

And at this stage that is exactly what testing is about.

With everyone starting from a blank sheet, how fast teams can develop their cars through the season will be more important than how competitive they are at the first race, and the team who best understands their car will be in the best position to do that.

Every lap of running provides the teams' engineers with valuable data - the more data they have, the better they understand the car, allowing them to identify strengths and weaknesses and how best to make their machinery more competitive.

Innovation

There were some concerns that the stringent rules package for 2022 would result in a field of identical-looking cars, however Barcelona saw several different design approaches take to the track.

Many teams ran cars that looked very different from the models they unveiled at their official launches earlier in the month, and there's a good chance the machines will have evolved again since they were last seen on track in Spain.

Of course it will be virtually impossible for casual viewers to spot even quite significant changes, but there will be no shortage of YouTube videos and analysis on Sky Sports to explain what changes the teams have made after each day of the Bahrain test.

The most significant problem teams encountered at Barcelona was a phenomenon known as 'porpoising', whereby the cars would bounce up and down while traveling at speed down the straights. This was caused by the way the new cars utilise air flowing underneath the car to generate grip, and will be an even bigger concern in Bahrain, which has faster straights than Barcelona.

The teams will no doubt make changes to try to address this, and those who get on top of the problem early will have an advantage.

If you're planning on tuning into the Sky TV coverage of testing, expect to see several slow-mo comparisons of how much the cars bounce around on the straights this week.

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Long-run form

At the end of each day of the test the fastest individual laptimes will be published and pored over, but a more significant measure is how quickly they can go when the cars are on track for a long run - when simulating a race distance for example.

A car with new, soft tyres and hardly any fuel in will be capable of going very fast, but championship points are awarded to the cars that are at the front after an hour and a half of running on a Sunday afternoon.

Teams hoping to attract sponsorship money will often try a glory run to make it appear they are more competitive than they are, but a team who can run consistently quickly over a large number of laps are in much better shape to win races. It may take a bit more digging to find this information, but there is no shortage of online analysts keen to share their findings.

The weather

The advantage of having a test at the same venue as the first race just over a week before the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend is that the teams can expect to be running in very similar conditions to what they will face at the opening round of the championship. F1 cars are very sensitive to weather changes.

A glance at the long-range forecast suggests it could be significantly cooler on race weekend than it will be at the end of this week. However, the expected conditions for testing - hot but with gusty winds - are more typical of the region at this time of year.

Sandstorms are not infrequent around Sakhir at this time of year, and form on a sand-covered circuit will not be as valuable as on a clear track, which it will be on race weekend.

What testing means for the championship

This week's test will generate a lot of information - some of it useful, some of it red herrings.

Last year, for example, Verstappen was fastest indicating, accurately, that he and his Red Bull were capable of mounting a championship challenge.

However, Hamilton and Mercedes looked off the pace and unreliable in the Bahrain test, yet ended up winning the opening Grand Prix and so nearly keeping up their run of titles.

Hamilton goes into the test as 11/8 favourite to regain his crown with an eighth world championship, while Verstappen is currently 11/4 to successfully defend the title.

New Mercedes driver George Russell is 11/2 to outdo Hamilton in the same car, while Charles Leclerc is 6/1 for the championship after the new Ferrari showed promising form in Barcelona.

Mercedes are odds-on at 4/6 to extend their run of constructors' titles to nine, while Hamilton heads the market for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix at 7/4 ahead of 11/4 Verstappen.

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