Home Featured What did drivers learn, and show, in the Dallara F2 2024’s first outing?

What did drivers learn, and show, in the Dallara F2 2024’s first outing?

by Ida Wood

Photo: Dutch Photo Agency

F2 has had two-and-a-half days of testing at Bahrain with its new car, but the first session was blighted by rain. What can be learned about the season ahead from last week’s track action?

Rookies and series veterans all had one aim in Formula 2 pre-season testing, which was to learn as much as they could about the new Dallara F2 2024 car. And when rain began to fall on Bahrain’s deserts, that made it all the more important.

Some, like Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 protege Andrea Kimi Antonelli, found the wet running “productive” and “very helpful” for that learning process, but his Prema team-mate Ollie Bearman was among the drivers whose frame of mind was that a day “was pretty much thrown away because of the weather”.

A dry track made Bearman – one of the assumed title favourites for this year coming into the test – feel more positive but he did admit that despite “quite a lot” of work on days two and three of testing Prema was “not quite where we want to be”. In fact, the series’ most prominently victorious team was slowest of all and more than two seconds off the pace.

“We need to do some work to find some performance, but especially this track seems to be a bit of a tough one for us,” said Bearman. “A lot to work to do before the first round, but I have no doubt we can get there.”

Pace does not equal productivity, and vice versa, so assessing how well drivers and teams learned the new car off laptimes alone is an inconclusive way of judging that. And those who did a lot of laps may have hit a ceiling where, unless they were able to visit another track before the season begins, they were not sure how to extract more pace.

The lapcount was probably the most important statistic of the test though, since everyone – from drivers to engineers – was starting from the same base position of no experience of the chassis.

Hitech GP’s Amaury Cordeel spent the most time on track, completing 171 laps, with Virtuosi Racing’s Gabriel Bortoleto next best on 168 laps.

Single-lap pace

Pos Driver Team Pace Pos Driver Team Pace
1 Z Maloney Rodin 1m41.501s 12 R Miyata Rodin +0.919s
2 J Crawford DAMS +0.125s 13 R Verschoor Trident +0.934s
3 E Fittipaldi VAR +0.234s 14 P Marti Campos +1.038s
4 I Hadjar Campos +0.420s 15 R Villagomez VAR +1.135s
5 K Maini Virtuosi +0.481s 16 A Cordeel Hitech +1.158s
6 G Bortoleto Virtuosi +0.648s 17 T Barnard PHM +1.292s
7 Z O’Sullivan ART GP +0.661s 18 P Aron Hitech +1.365s
8 V Martins ART GP +0.671s 19 J Duerksen PHM +1.542s
9 J M Correa DAMS +0.793s 20 A K Antonelli Prema +2.106s
10 F Colapinto MP +0.812s 21 O Bearman Prema +2.211s
11 D Hauger MP +0.814s 22 R Stanek Trident +2.274s

There were 10 drivers, including the Prema duo, who did more than 150 while others encountered teething troubles with the new car and lost out on track time as a result.

Campos Racing’s Pepe Marti was one of those, completing six laps on the second morning of testing because of it and ending the test with 113 laps to his name. Only Trident’s Roman Stanek ran less, and he hit trouble on the second afternoon. It contributed to his team’s tally of 229 laps being almost 100 short of the 327 achieved by Hitech, the most active team.

Stanek also fared badly on pace. He was the slowest driver in the 22-strong field, 2.274 seconds off the benchmark 1m41.501s pace set by Rodin Motorsport’s Zane Maloney. There were seven drivers who put all of their best sectors together to set their fastest lap, all of them in the top half of the order and with Maloney among them. Stanek was the next closest to achieving that, with an improvement of 0.019s had his best sector three split featured in his fastest lap.

The top 13 were spread by less than a second on outright pace, and that group included drivers from seven of the 11 teams.

The drying of the track was reflected in how the pace was lowered over the first three sessions. MP Motorsport’s Dennis Hauger topped Sunday night with a 1m53.175s, Virtuosi’s Kush Maini set a 1m44.219s the next afternoon, then later in the day Maloney set his 1m41.501s. He was also fastest on Tuesday, but 0.967s slower than before despite the track being more rubbered in. The Formula 3 test sessions running before F2’s, and the desert winds, no doubt impacted the track evolution.

Nobody attempted long runs in the sole Sunday session due to the rain, then in the first Monday session there were four drivers who completed them. Bearman and Maloney did one, while Cordeel and team-mate Paul Aron did two each. Isack Hadjar made up for the loss of mileage Campos suffered in the morning by setting 42 laps in the afternoon session and being the only driver to complete a long run. He was on average 2.5s per lap faster than Maloney’s benchmark long run from earlier in the day, and nobody on Tuesday would beat Hadjar’s pace over a stint with their long runs.

Theoretical best pace [bold for actual best lap]
Pos Driver Pace Pos Driver Pace
1 Maloney 1m41.501s 12 Miyata 1m42.362s (-0.058s)
2 Fittipaldi 1m41.573s (-0.162s) 13 Verschoor 1m42.409s (-0.026s)
3 Crawford 1m41.626s 14 Marti 1m42.467s (-0.072s)
4 Bortoleto 1m41.871s (-0.278s) 15 Villagomez 1m42.525s (-0.111s)
5 Hadjar 1m41.921s 16 Cordeel 1m42.547s (-0.112s)
6 Maini 1m41.982s 17 Aron 1m42.708s (-0.158s)
7 Hauger 1m42.033s (-0.282s) 18 Barnard 1m42.734s (-0.059s)
8 O’Sullivan 1m42.162s 19 Duerksen 1m42.831s (-0.212s)
9 Martins 1m42.172s 20 Bearman 1m43.502s (-0.210s)
10 Correa 1m42.246s (-0.048s) 21 Antonelli 1m43.565s (-0.042s)
11 Colapinto 1m42.313s 22 Stanek 1m43.756s (-0.019s)

Hadjar actually topped the times in Tuesday’s first session, with a gap of 0.216s to Marti in second and 0.979s to Maini in third. Stanek, Antonelli and Maloney were the only other drivers within 1.5s of him. However, laptimes were some way slower than what had been set the previous day, and the best laps came from the first runs in the two-and-a-half hour session.

The focus had switched to long runs, with all but DAMS’ Juan Manuel Correa completing at least one. Correa did not even set a flying lap until the session’s send hour, and was 5.307s off Hadjar’s pace.

Hitech and Virtuosi’s drivers all managed to fit in three long runs, but did no more laps in those than Rodin’s Maloney and Ritomo Miyata who did two 21-lap runs each. MP duo Franco Colapinto and Hauger went furthest between pit visits, each making their sole long run last 22 laps. For reference, last year’s feature race at Bahrain (which ran behind the safety car for the first three laps) was 32 laps long and only three drivers pitted on lap 10 to give themselves a 22-lap second stint.

Pre-season testing lap count

1 Cordeel 171   2 Bortoleto 168   3 Miyata 165   4 Martins 163   5 Villagomez 159   6 Hadjar 158   =7 Maloney & Aron 156   9 Antonelli 155   10 Bearman 152   =11 Maini & Hauger 149   13 Duerksen 148   14 Colapinto 147   15 O’Sullivan 145   16 Crawford 134   17 Barnard 124   18 Fittipaldi 123    19 Verschoor 121   20 Correa 118   21 Marti 113    22 Stanek 108

Pre-season testing lap count [teams]

1 Hitech GP 327   2 Rodin Motorsport 321   3 Virtuosi Racing 317   4 ART Grand Prix 308   5 Prema 307   6 MP Motorsport 296   7 Van Amersfoort Racing 282   8 PHM Racing 272   9 Campos Racing 271   10 DAMS 252   11 Trident 229

Most laps – session Duerksen D3 AM – 51   Longest stints D2 Maloney & Hadjar – 15, D3 Colapinto & Hauger – 22

Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

DAMS’ Jak Crawford got closest to Hadjar’s day two race pace, but was still on average 0.795s per lap slower than that run. Hadjar set the second fastest long run of the first Tuesday session, just 0.022s per lap slower than Crawford’s effort.

“We did really well as a team figuring out this new car which was quite tricky to set up,” said Crawford afterwards. “Things like qualifying trim stuff we got nailed down [too].”

The final session of testing also heavily featured long runs, and was bookended by drivers trying to improve their single-lap pace. The average pace being set over the course of 10 laps was significantly better for most drivers than what they were able to do before, although only ART Grand Prix’s Victor Martins, PHM Racing’s Taylor Barnard and the Hitech and Virtuosi drivers actually did two long runs in the session.

The surprise pacesetter (albeit still going 0.64s/lap slower than Hadjar’s benchmark) was Van Amersfoort Racing’s Rafael Villagomez with an average laptime of 1m48.056s. Colapinto was just 0.024s slower than him, and impressively the next two fastest runs of the test were both by Bortoleto. He averaged a 1m48.187s pace on his first, then 20 minutes later went on another run and averaged 1m48.186s. Maini almost matched him on his second run, with an average pace of 1m48.199s.

Having fared badly over just one lap, neither Prema or Stanek really got redemption from the pace they showed when doing many of them back-to-back. Stanek did two long runs on Tuesday and was slowest of all, while the best of Bearman’s four over the test only made him 15th fastest on long-run pace and trailing Hadjar by over 1.5s.

Antonelli, who is now being talked about in serious terms as a candidate for an F1 seat with Mercedes next year, was down in 20th. That was bad, but in light of Bearman’s comments about Prema’s track-specific struggles, maybe he should be encouraged that on his best long run he was only 0.132s per lap slower than his team-mate on average.

Prema’s team principal Rene Rosin admitted that Bahrain “was a track where we performed less in the past years”, but said that during testing “we seem to have understood the cause of it”.

Average long-run pace

Pos Driver Race pace Pos Driver Race pace
1 Hadjar 1m47.416s 12 Marti +1.153s
2 Villagomez +0.640s 13 Miyata +1.244s
3 Colapinto +0.664s 14 Barnard +1.523s
4 Bortoleto +0.770s 15 Bearman +1.560s
5 Maini +0.783s 16 O’Sullivan +1.586s
6 Crawford +0.795s 17 Verschoor +1.586s
7 Martins +0.816s 18 Cordeel +1.599s
8 Correa +0.899s 19 Aron +1.626s
9 Fittipaldi +0.937s 20 Antonelli +1.692s
10 Hauger +0.983s 21 Duerksen +2.925s
11 Maloney +1.025s 22 Stanek +3.152s

The 17-year-old Antonelli is making the jump up from Formula Regional, where races are routinely five laps shorter than the feature races of the FIA F3 Championship and therefore around 10 laps shorter than F2’s. But his two long runs at Bahrain were only 11 and 13 laps long, and the only other drivers who failed to reach 14 laps without pitting were VAR’s Enzo Fittipaldi, Stanek and Richard Verschoor.

Team bosses said on the second day of testing it was “too early” to give assessments about the new car, how their crews were adapting to it and how it differed from the retired Dallara F2 2018, and two told Formula Scout that the wet conditions posed a very specific learning challenge compared to other circuits.

“Obviously it helps to have a first experience in rain. But at the end, I think this track is quite particular, the asphalt is very abrasive,” said Campos’s eponymous team principal Adrian Campos Jr. “So yesterday, for being in wet, the times were very, very, very quick comparing to other places when it rains. The difference between wet and dry, it’s a lot smaller here.

“So it helps, it’s the first experience with wet. But still, we would all prefer that the only three days that we have of testing before the first race, to have it on dry and without any issues. But it is what it is.”

ART GP’s Sebastien Philippe was in agreement that he would have preferred an all-dry test, but said “it gave my rookie driver [Zak O’Sullivan] a nice experience to handle an F2 car on wet”. The fact that all teams test together, so were equally impacted by the weather restricting running, meant “it’s not a big issue” despite leaving teams with more to find out when they return to Bahrain for the opening round of the season.

Hauger also pointed out the “quite high grip” in the wet compared to European circuits, which then made it tricky to figure what set-up changes were required for the dry.

The heat of the Middle East didn’t even provide enough information for teams to learn about the thermal management required with the new car.

Photo: Prema

This year is set to be the hottest since records began, and F2’s Baku round has moved from Apil to September, meaning air temperatures could be 10°C higher than teams have previously experienced. On a track featuring a lot of slipstreaming, and with the aerodynamic profile of the car following a ground effect model for producing downforce, there could be an issue of a lack of cool air flowing over the car and therefore reaching the engine.

“I think it’s too complicated this question because we still don’t know all these kinds of things from the car,” said Campos mid-test. “So maybe when we finish this testing, we will have more information about how to cool the car a bit better. But for the moment it’s, at least for us, we have no idea, to be honest.”

Dallara and the FIA sought to make the Dallara F2 2024 better than its predecessor at running closely behind other cars, and even when alone on track it has been noticed how stable it is. That should inspire confidence in the drivers stepping up to F2.

“The first thing that we have been surprised, let’s say, the first feeling, was in Barcelona [for the shakedown]. When we had a few laps with dry, it was very stable on quick corners. Even more than the last car,” Campos noted.

“The aerodynamics are a bit different, so it changes the car’s behaviour and the way we have to set the car up. There’s still stuff for us to work on there but so far, it’s been positive to drive around in and enjoyable,” said Hauger. “All the miles we can get at this stage is vital.”

As the fastest driver of all, Maloney had some interesting comments to make about how testing had panned out and what it means for the season ahead.

“I think this year, for the first part of it, it’s going to be all about who can make the biggest steps with the car and then the driver getting a feel for it as quickly as possible,” he predicted.

Photo: Formula Motorsport Ltd

“No one is sandbagging that much. We might not be at the limit that we will be in qualifying, but we also aren’t much under, it’s impossible to be. It’s a good sign [to be on top] but it still doesn’t mean anything unless it’s qualifying, and you have to put the lap together. It was a good lap from my side and I’m happy with the job the team and I did, got through all of our test plans and we’re learning as we go.”

Pre-season test session reports
Day Morning Afternoon
Sunday Read here
Monday Read here Read here
Tuesday Read here Read here