Sergio Perez capped off Red Bull’s impressive pre-season testing program by setting the fastest time on the final day of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Bahrain.
Red Bull has looked quick throughout the three days of testing, and Perez completed 133 laps as he drove in both sessions, setting the overall benchmark of 1m30.305s on C4 tires during some lower fuel running late in the day. Perez’s quickest laps came at the same time qualifying will take place next week, and left him with an advantage of 0.359s over Lewis Hamilton.
Fastest in testing = @SChecoPerez ✨
Enjoy his fastest lap here! 👀#F1 #F1Testing @redbullracing pic.twitter.com/fxHEcHTzIV
— Formula 1 (@F1) February 25, 2023
It had looked a tough day for Mercedes for much of Saturday, with Hamilton struggling for traction again in the W14 as had been the case on the opening two days. But his own late lap times were slightly more encouraging, although he needed to use the C5 compound to end up second overall.
The encouragement is also relative, as prior to those laps there were growing feelings within the pit lane that Aston Martin could threaten Mercedes at the season opener after some impressive running. Pirelli estimates there to be as much as half a second in performance between the C4 and C5 tires, and Fernando Alonso’s best lap — albeit 0.8s off Hamilton — was on the C4.
It was Valtteri Bottas who ended up third overall despite causing the second legitimate red flag of the day. While there was a brief interruption for debris in the first 10 minutes, Bottas stopped at Turn 8 due to a mechanical issue with just over an hour remaining in the morning session and didn’t return until the afternoon. That didn’t stop him totaling 131 laps across the day ending up half a second off Perez on the C5 tire.
Ferrari had some more solid running that marks it out as the second-fastest team on the final day, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz separated by just 0.012s after running in that order on Saturday. The pair combined for 143 laps and ran consistently, but were over 0.7s adrift of Perez on the same compound as the Red Bull.
Yuki Tsunoda was the only other driver within a second of the fastest time, finishing sixth as AlphaTauri took the crown for the highest mileage of the test. The team completed 456 laps in total, Tsunoda managing 79 of the 166 it managed on day three. His teammate Nyck de Vries propped up the times after only doing high fuel running in the morning.
Behind Tsunoda, Kevin Magnussen, George Russell, Alonso and Felipe Drugovich rounded out the top 10, but it was the pace of the Aston Martin that caught the eye, Alonso — the busiest driver of the week after driving in four of the six sessions — was quick on high and lower fuel, but didn’t set a representative evening lap time to compare to the top two.
Aston Martin still looks clearly fourth at the very least, with only Alpine appearing capable of having a car that can threaten it in the fight to lead the midfield. Pierre Gasly was 12th and Esteban Ocon 14th, but the team completed its qualifying-style running in the morning heat before focusing on race simulations, with its best times coming on the C3 tires.
Ahead of Gasly was Lando Norris but it was a frustrating day for McLaren, as its front winglets needed strengthening. The team felt it was too aggressive with the design and although it is an easy fix to strengthen the component for the Bahrain Grand Prix, it made for limited running as short runs regularly needed interrupting to address the issue.
Norris’ teammate Oscar Piastri also had one of the more dramatic moments of the morning session, suffering a big spin at Turn 9 having set the fastest overall first sector 45 minutes into the day.
Although he was down in 13th place, Alex Albon managed 136 laps for Williams to leave the team second to AlphaTauri in terms of mileage — ahead of Ferrari, Haas and Red Bull — as it enjoyed a productive test ahead of Logan Sargeant’s debut season.