Sandbagging is something every team in F1 does to some extent. You may hear about top teams running slower than normal in testing and then suddenly having the fastest car during the first race. To understand why this is the case, it’s useful to understand what sandbagging is in F1.
Sandbagging in F1 is when teams purposefully hide their true pace from their competitors. Teams will often sandbag by adding more fuel to the car to make it heavier, as rival teams can never know how much fuel another car is running with, and a heavier car will naturally be slower.
Every Formula 1 team uses sandbagging in preseason testing. However, in some cases they might also use glory runs to get an idea of their car’s raw pace. In the article below, we’ll discuss why F1 teams use sandbagging and glory runs during testing and practice sessions.
What Does Sandbagging Mean In F1?
Sandbagging in Formula 1 describes a team or driver that is deliberately underperforming in order to hide their true pace from their competitors. This practice is not illegal and every F1 team will sandbag at some point during the season.
Mercedes is the modern F1 team most commonly associated with sandbagging. Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes team have downplayed their pace during preseason going all the way back to 2017. The strategy is essentially designed to throw other teams off the scent of their true pace, but after a year or two teams quickly caught on and knew what to expect.
This would give the other teams, such as Red Bull and Ferrari, some hope that they had caught up to Mercedes during the winter. However, when it came to the first few races, Mercedes would show their true pace, and go on to win the constructors’ championship in every year from 2013 through 2021.
Why Is It Called Sandbagging?
Sandbagging refers to teams adding heavy sandbags to their car to make it go slower than it can, hiding the car’s true pace and potential from other teams and drivers on the grid. While teams don’t actually use sandbags, they may add extra weight by filling the car with fuel.
The term sandbagging was brought in as a reference to cars being made purposefully to go slower. It was first used as a joke to describe why the favorites were going slower than they were before and seemed to have lost time against their rivals.
The term sandbagging stuck, and it has now become a common term in the F1 vocabulary. Sandbagging is always the talk of preseason testing, and most drivers, teams, and even fans now know not to trust preseason testing lap times. They are usually not representative of what to expect in the races.
Why Would Teams Sandbag In F1 Testing?
F1 teams sandbag during testing to make other teams believe the team is struggling and has issues with the new car they have built. This gives their rivals the false impression they have built a better car and have the advantage going into the first race of the season.
However, once the first race of the season comes along and the ‘sandbags’ come off the cars, the true pace of the new season’s car is revealed. The rival team might be surprised at the true pace of the cars, or they might have expected them to be sandbagging all along.
Do All Teams Sandbag In F1?
In modern-day Formula 1 almost all teams likely sandbag in preseason testing in one way or another. However, we never know just how much they are sandbagging. Some teams might have more weight on their car and others may have less, usually as a result of running low or high fuel runs, which will hide their true pace from competitors.
When there is a significant change in the rules and major changes to the cars, almost all teams sandbag. This was the case with the major aerodynamic overhaul in 2022, as just about every team was hiding their true pace. However, it’s not really possible to prove if a team is sandbagging, or just holding off their pace to collect different data.
Do Teams Only Use Sandbagging In Pre-Season Testing?
Sandbagging has become frequent during preseason testing, but it’s not the only time teams might be using sandbagging and hiding their true pace from their rivals. We have seen it happen during practice sessions throughout the season as well to hide true lap times.
Sandbagging during practice sessions makes rivals believe the car will be off the pace during the weekend, which may catch them by surprise. The idea behind this is their rival team will believe that they have perfected their set up and don’t need to work on improving it.
A False Sense Of Security
By sandbagging, F1 teams try to lure their rivals into a false sense of security. This can lead to teams getting complacent in the development race, allowing the sandbagging team to show their true pace at a point when it’s too late for rivals to catch up.
While it rarely has a powerful effect, as teams are constantly trying to find new ways to improve their cars and find out what their opponents are doing differently, it’s still used in every season at some point by some teams.
How Do F1 Teams Make Sandbagging Look Genuine?
To make their rivals believe new cars are lacking pace and struggling, F1 teams make it look like the driver is pushing the car and trying to set faster lap times. If the driver is hitting all the marks and driving great but still not matching the fastest lap times, sandbagging may look genuine.
It can be difficult for many teams to hide their pace from their rivals. Oftentimes, it can be easy to spot when a driver is under driving the car as they’ll be braking earlier and accelerating later out of the corners. This means that rival teams will quickly identify sandbagging, as they can access a lot of the same telemetry that’s often made available to the public.
In order to effectively slow the car down without showing their hand, teams will load the car up with fuel. This is the best way to slow the car down without other teams knowing exactly how much they are sandbagging, as they can’t tell how much fuel another car is running. The more fuel that’s put into the car, the heavier and slower it will become.
Some teams might use 25 kilograms of fuel, or they might use 90 kilograms of fuel. There’s a big difference between these fuel loads and it can easily slow a car down by up to a second per lap or more. Formula 1 cars can lose up to a tenth of a second per lap for every kilogram of fuel they have on board, and F1 cars can carry up to 105 kilograms of fuel.
Is Sandbagging Cheating?
Sandbagging is not cheating. It’s more like a poker game or a game of chess when it comes to preseason testing. A team that is sandbagging is simply hiding the true potential of their car, and there’s nothing illegal about it, and there’s nothing in the rules that says teams can’t do it.
There is no rule that states a car must always be driven at its full potential. There’s also no rule that states a team must run their car with low fuel to set the fastest lap that they can during F1 testing. Teams are free to drive their car how they want as long as it complies with the regulations.
Preseason testing is designed to allow the teams to gather their own data and learn more about their new car. It’s never about the lap times and where each driver sits on the leaderboard. Each team is entitled to run their own program in the way they see fit.
Does Sandbagging Really Make A Difference?
In modern Formula 1, there is a difference between each team and how they have built their car. Every car, down to the smallest nuts and bolts is unique from team to team. This means that each car will perform differently. Teams will always sandbag to hide their car’s potential from other teams.
Hiding their true pace during preseason testing gives the teams who have the best cars an advantage going into the first race. If they show up to testing and set the fastest lap every day, it gives the other teams a chance to try to copy what they’re doing. However, if they hide their pace through sandbagging, other teams will be less likely to try and copy them.
They Can’t Hide From Everyone
The problem is that teams like Ferrari, Mercedes, and Red Bull are always watched closely by other teams, and whether they are sandbagging or not, they will always attract attention to the designs on their cars. Sandbagging can help teams like these keep a technological advantage over the other teams, but with so many eyes already watching them, it’s hard to hide anything.
The other factor to consider is that Formula 1 teams are constantly trying to improve their cars, regardless of what other teams are doing. Teams are always developing cars and trying to improve them over the course of the season. Whether they are the fastest or slowest, there is a constant development race throughout the season to ensure that the cars are only getting better and better.
Is Sandbagging A Thing In Other Motorsports?
Sandbagging is sometimes used in other branches of motorsport, such as MotoGP, during preseason testing. However, it’s less effective in other motorsports that are run to tighter regulations. Although it can sometimes help in other races, sandbagging not as common elsewhere as it is in F1.
What makes Formula 1 so unique is that every team’s car is built in a different way. The rules are set up in such a way that each team can interpret them differently, which is why we see such a wide range of designs and concepts across the grid. With spec series or motorsports with tighter regulations, teams don’t have much to hide by sandbagging, so it’s not as useful as it is in F1.
What Are Glory Runs In F1?
A glory run is the opposite of sandbagging in Formula 1. This is when the team puts as little fuel in the car as possible, with just enough to last a few laps. This makes the car lighter and faster, designed to collect low-fuel data and to attract the attention of sponsors during preseason testing.
A glory run is essentially a qualifying simulation. Teams will run their cars in qualifying trim by having just enough fuel for two laps or so. They will also bolt on the softest compound of tires they have available to them and reduce as much weight as possible for a fast time.
Glory runs reveal the car’s true pace since the driver will be pushing the car to the limit. During preseason testing, this is usually when the car goes to the top of the timesheets as most other teams will be running their car on harder tire compounds and with more fuel onboard to test things like reliability.
Three Reasons For Glory Runs
There are several reasons a team might want to use a glory run during preseason testing. The first is to see how fast their car can truly go compared to the previous season. This also allows them to collect valuable data on how the car performs on low fuel, simulating qualifying and conditions at the end of a race.
The second reason is that it’s a morale booster for the drivers and engineers as they see their car go to the top of the leader board. After a long winter spent designing a car, it’s rewarding to see just how fast it can go.
Finally, there’s the commercial aspect of glory runs. If a team is close to signing a sponsor, or is struggling to find some, glory runs during testing can help attract that much needed attention. By showing the sponsors that they have a fast car, even if it is just during testing, it can sometimes help bring some additional funding to the team.
Why Do Some Teams Not Use Glory Runs?
Some teams don’t use glory runs at all during preseason testing. This is mainly because they don’t want to reveal their car’s true pace to their opponents, and it gives them the opportunity to hide the potential of their car.
However, some teams choose to focus purely on their race simulations. During this time, they would be monitoring how their car performs under low fuel loads and how harsh their car is on the tires. This is important to understand, both for qualifying sessions and for the end of the races, when the cars naturally have less fuel onboard.
Glory runs can throw a real curveball to other teams during preseason testing because no other team knows how much fuel is on the car. For example, if the slowest team goes fastest, it could be because they have built an incredibly fast car, or they could have done a run with very little fuel onboard. Other teams may then wonder whether a particular team might be a threat for the season ahead.
Sandbagging in Formula 1 is a term used to describe teams actively trying to conceal the true potential of their car during testing and practice sessions. The most effective way to sandbag is to load the car with more fuel, making it heavier, and therefore slower.
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