Verstappen quickest on opening day in Bahrain
Max Verstappen completes almost three race distances on his way to posting the fastest time as pre-season testing gets underway.
Though it is early days, and the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes have yet to show their hands, the RB19’s pace and reliability will surely have rivals already fearing that the Austrian team is picking up where it left off last season.
In total Verstappen completed 157 laps, just five shy of three race distances, the RB19 never missing a beat over the course of the day.
A further concern for his rivals is that the two-time world champion was the only driver on duty for the entire session, the nine other teams opting to split driving duties.
For much of the day it was business as usual as the cars got to stretch their legs for the first time. The day began with the focus on aero rakes and flo-vis before switching to longer runs and finally low fuel runs, the teams understandably more focussed on reliability than pace at this stage.
An added complication, other than having to change the cars over the break due to the driver swaps, was the change in climatic conditions as the sun set and floodlights lit the desert track.
It was in the final hour that the focus turned to pace and Fernando Alonso came within 0.029s of unseating Verstappen at the top of the timesheets.
A subsequent bid to improve saw the Spaniard make a mistake an run wide nonetheless both he and his Silverstone-based team will be pleased with the initial results.
As Lando Norris sought to improve, it was noticeable that the McLaren looked far more nervous, less ‘planted’ on the track than the Aston Martin, the Briton already having lost track time due to a brake issue understood to be a manufacturing fault.
The Ferraris were third and fourth, Carlos Sainz, who drove this morning, and Charles Leclerc separated by just 0.016s.
Lewis Hamilton was sixth quickest, 0.625s off the pace, but as ever his German team opted not to show its hand at this stage, though 83 laps for the Briton and 69 for his teammate suggests that reliability is good.
Furthermore, talking during the lunch break, Toto Wolff said that the W14 was not experiencing any bouncing, which is more than can be said for the Ferrari, which clearly has issues.
Williams had both drivers in the ‘top ten’, Alex Albon looking very impressive this morning, albeit posting his best time on the softer C4, while all the other leading times were posted on C3s.
Alfa Romeo’s test got off to a much better start than last year, Guanyu Zhou finishing the day 8th quickest and teammate Valtteri Bottas 12th.
Both AlphaTauris were over 1.7s off the pace, as were the Alpines, while Kevin Magnussen was unable to match the pace of his teammate earlier.
However, though there were lock-ups and much exceeding of track limits and running over kerbs, which damaged a few floors, including Alonso’s and Hulkenberg’s, Felipe Drugovich’s electrics issue caused the only red flag of the day and other than that there were no serious technical issues.
Verstappen, Sainz, Hamilton, Ocon, Norris, Magnussen and Tsunoda are all in action tomorrow morning before handing over to their teammates, while Zhou and Sargeant are both scheduled to do the full day.
Quotes to follow.