Pierre Gasly set the pace on the opening day of the final Formula 1 pre-season test in Bahrain, leading the two Ferraris on a day when Mercedes and Haas received plenty of focus.
The morning saw Mercedes roll out a heavily updated car with a radical sidepod design, but the team didn’t get appear to get to grips with it immediately as Lewis Hamilton was struggling with the handling in the morning session and also suffering from porpoising on the straights.
It was a largely similar story for George Russell in the afternoon, although the final finishing positions of ninth for Russell and 11th for Hamilton shouldn’t be read into too much.
That said, Gasly’s late runs on C5 tires — the softest Pirelli compound — understandably took him to the top of the times as the only driver under the 1m34s barrier. Gasly posted a 1m33.902s on a day when he completed 103 laps.
Carlos Sainz was second after taking over from teammate Charles Leclerc — who was third — for the afternoon session. Once again the Ferrari ran solidly, completing 116 laps in total, and encouraging pace appeared to be available for both drivers throughout the day. If nothing more, the 2022 car is a consistent one.
Fourth was Lance Stroll, who was involved in an entertaining battle with Fernando Alonso in the final hour of running after a slightly bizarre incident. The Canadian ran wide at the final corner, and Alonso swept past at speed, on the main straight before backing off, so Stroll accelerated to overtake and Alonso tried to defend, with the pair going side-by-side into Turn 1 and the Aston Martin gaining the inside line to emerge ahead.
Alonso wasn’t finished, though, as he fought back on the exit of Turn 3 and was on the inside into Turn 4, but Stroll similarly held his nerve and braked late, hanging on around the outside of the corner before squeezing the Alpine on exit to end the contest.
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That was the only real point of note for Alonso on another frustrating day for Alpine, as the Spaniard was 12th, one place ahead of team-mate Esteban Ocon. Between them they managed just 66 laps as Alonso was confined to the garage for most of the afternoon before that late action.
It was almost the opposite story for Williams, with Alex Albon completing over 100 laps and fifth fastest, although he did run off-track a number of times at Turn 10 while pushing the limits. He was joined in the run-off area by Lando Norris on one occasion as the McLaren driver made an unexpected appearance filling in for the unwell Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo felt so ill he was not present at the track at any stage – missing the pre-season driver line-up photo on the grid. The change was only confirmed on Thursday morning and the late notice accounted for a slow start for McLaren, but Norris only managed 50 laps in total as other gremlins appeared to hamper his running, finishing sixth.
It wasn’t just Norris and Albon ending up off-track at times, although Sergio Perez’s session-ending spin was more comical than dramatic. After a Virtual Safety Car test late in the day, Perez swapped ends out of the low-speed Turn 8 on cold tires and then let the car roll into the run-off area to stay out of the way of any potential following traffic. Unfortunately for Perez, he failed to see the start of a gravel trap and beached the rear wheels, ending the day eight minutes early.
There was at least some significant running for Alfa Romeo after a tough first test, with Guanyu Zhou completing 54 laps in the morning and Valtteri Bottas adding 66 more on his way to the seventh fastest time in the afternoon.
Haas also got its running underway on Thursday afternoon after its freight was delayed arriving at the track due to an issue with an F1-chartered plane. The team had returning driver Kevin Magnussen trackside but it was Pietro Fittipaldi who carried out driving duties and completed 54 laps after the lunch break, although potential plans to run longer to make up for the delayed start were pushed back.
The team has been offered the chance to run an extra two hours on each of Friday and Saturday nights by the FIA, but wants to simply replace its lost morning like-for-like on Sunday. The request to do so was denied by multiple teams.