Max Verstappen set the fastest time of Formula 1 pre-season testing on the final evening in Bahrain as Red Bull showed the potential of its updated car.
Mercedes’ upgrade had been the main focus of the opening day but on Saturday it was Red Bull getting attention as it bought a new aerodynamic package to its 2022 car. Sergio Perez first emerged in the RB18 after 45 minutes of the morning session, showing off a new sidepod and floor design that was an evolution of the Red Bull concept, and he was quickly top of the times.
But it was in the afternoon that we really saw some impressive pace from Red Bull, when Verstappen took over and was able to complete some shorter runs on the softest C5 tires as the track cooled under the lights.
Verstappen had already improved on a run when he spun out of the final corner when warming up for a lap, but went fastest overall with a 1:31.720 to lead Mick Schumacher by half a second, courtesy of the two hours of extra running enjoyed by Haas in the evening.
There was an eye-catching lap from Schumacher during the normal running as he originally ended up eighth fastest on a 1:33.151 – recovering from an early spin to post the lap on C3 tires. He then tried softer compounds in the cooler temperatures and closed in on Verstappen on the C4s, edging out Charles Leclerc by 0.174s, although Ferrari still impressed.
Leclerc’s best lap came on the C4 compound that might account for some of the deficit, but what was encouraging for Ferrari was the reliability and consistency of its car throughout pre-season. The F1-75 looks strong in all conditions, and the team appears to be in a good place heading into the first race of the season.
The same can’t be said of Mercedes, as George Russell’s fifth place also came on the C5 tire and was over a second slower than Verstappen.
The car remains a handful for the Mercedes drivers and can’t be run too low without suffering issues with porpoising, with Lewis Hamilton admitting after his morning of running that “at the moment I don’t think we’ll be competing for wins”.
While Red Bull and Ferrari have emerged as two of the favorites during pre-season, an Alpine in fourth was a slight surprise after a late lap for Fernando Alonso. Alpine has not had the smoothest time during testing but finished with two strong days, as Alonso exceeded team-mate Esteban Ocon’s total from Friday by adding 122 laps on the final day.
Alonso was just under a second off the overall pace on the C4 compound, ahead of a group of closely-matched cars on overall lap time.
Behind Russell came Valtteri Bottas for Alfa Romeo with a strong 1:32.985 on the C3 compound, while Yuki Tsunoda was 0.017s slower than Bottas but on the C5s.
Lando Norris was 0.04s off what Schumacher had managed on the C3 tire during the regular session, but it was a frustrating day for McLaren as the team struggled with more reliability issues. Although new parts arrived to address overheating brakes, they didn’t appear to have the desired effect and Norris was regularly returning to the garage to have the brakes checked and the engine cover removed.
Sebastian Vettel was just outside the top ten ahead of Guanyu Zhou – who had posted a quick time earlier in the morning when temperatures were higher – and Pierre Gasly. There was a spell in the morning session when Gasly and Hamilton were both on race simulations and the AlphaTauri managed to scrap with the Mercedes for a number of laps, with Gasly admitting he was surprised to come out on top.
While Schumacher used the extra running to climb into the top two, team-mate Kevin Magnussen went from fastest on Friday to slowest on the final morning.
Magnussen had started an hour before the rest of the field and completed 17 laps in that time, but he only added another 21 before a fuel system problem ended his running.
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