Red Bull saw out the opening day of Bahrain testing in P1, and Sergio Perez made sure that is how they finished it too.
Having waited patiently for the drivers to really start putting their foot down, the final day of testing in Bahrain did bring us that soft-tyre duel, with Perez comfortably getting the better of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in that battle.
Almost another four-tenths back, Ferrari it is hoped tell no lie when they say they are still hiding pace, with Valtteri Bottas muscling them out of this particular ‘podium’, the Alfa Romeo driver fighting back after problems with the Ferrari power unit brought him to a halt in the morning session.
McLaren also had further troubles with keeping those wheel brows stable on the MCL60, as they face the reality of heading into the Bahrain GP seemingly on the back foot.
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With hours having gone by on Friday without a red flag, this time it was a matter of minutes before Perez did the honours as a sensor made a break for freedom from his RB19, bringing a brief delay to the morning running on the final day of testing in Bahrain.
Oscar Piastri almost halted the session again soon after when he and the McLaren MCL60 got into a spin coming out of Turn 9, but fortunately the generous run-off there allowed him to recover before returning to the pits, where McLaren went to work on those pesky wheel deflectors once again.
“A very minor issue that will be permanently fixed for the grand prix next weekend,” the team assured.
George Russell had been setting the early pace in the Mercedes W14 with the softest C5 tyre, but once Leclerc was back out there with working DRS, he hit the front with a 1:31.024.
Ferrari had started the day with a new more loaded rear wing, but were forced to change back to the medium load wing they ran on the first two days after issues with the right side flap of the DRS.
Leclerc went on to see out the opening session on top, but it did not come to a close without Ferrari-related drama, with Valtteri Bottas forced to park the Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo C43 with a suspected power unit issue.
Felipe Drugovich found himself P3 in the standings for that opening session, continuing Aston Martin’s stay in the lofty positions. He may well take part in his first ever F1 qualifying session a week from now, if Lance Stroll is not fit to compete.
For the afternoon though it was over to Fernando Alonso to see out pre-season testing in the AMR23, and Formula 1’s most experienced driver was soon joined by the second-most experienced in the form of Hamilton, who had inherited the Mercedes W14 from Russell.
Carlos Sainz was also now at the wheel of the SF-23 after a Ferrari switcheroo, while Lando Norris was in action with the McLaren MCL60, a big lock-up at Turn 8 further suggesting that the team has a lot of work ahead, as they have readily admitted.
Soon drivers started ramping up the pace on the softer rubber, Sainz using the C4s to get within a tenth of his team-mate’s benchmark, soon narrowing that deficit to 0.012s.
Aston Martin had been in no rush to throw Alonso out into the action, but once they did, he was able to clock a personal-best 1.31.450 which lifted him up to P4, four-tenths off the Ferraris.
But, with the Bahrain track now in darkness and conditions representative of the Bahrain GP coming to the fore, Hamilton would lap two-tenths shy of the Ferraris on a set of C4s, knocking Alonso down a spot.
Perez meanwhile was also on the move with the C4, though initially not by the margin he had hoped with Sainz rather getting in his way. Further time gained for the Red Bull driver was followed by Hamilton going purple in the first two sectors as he shot up to P1 on the C5s.
We were then well into something of a qualifying simulation, as Perez on the C4s demoted Hamilton to P2, but then here came Hamilton again on the C5s…
But, following the trend of the test, that compound just could not withstand the full lap, Hamilton falling four-hundredths short of Perez, who soon moved the goal posts again when he unlocked another four-tenths to set a 1:30.305.
However, was there an Alfa Romeo-shaped plot twist to come once again? Well, Bottas in the repaired C43 could not quite replicate the heroics of Zhou Guanyu who ended Day Two in P1, but a 1:30.827 on the C4, taking him a couple of tenths ahead of Ferrari on the same compound, was a very handy effort indeed.
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A notable absence from the low-fuel fun were Alpine, team boss Otmar Szafnauer explaining that the sound reliability across the test had allowed for them to run through some experiments, with the need to do a qualy run redundant in their opinion. They remain a mystery then until the season-opener here next weekend.
So, it was Red Bull, like on the opening day, who saw out testing in that P1 spot.
Day Three timesheet:
1 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull 1:30.305 133 laps C4 tyre
2 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.359 65 C5
3 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.522 131 C5
4 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.719 67 C4
5 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.731 76 C4
6 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +0.956 79 C4
7 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +1.076 95 C4
8 George RUSSELL Mercedes +1.137 83 C5
9 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +1.145 80 C4
10 Felipe DRUGOVICH Aston Martin +1.770 77 C5
11 Lando NORRIS McLaren +1.855 37 C3
12 Pierre GASLY Alpine +2.457 56 C3
13 Alexander ALBON Williams +2.488 136 C5
14 Esteban OCON Alpine +2.952 76 C3
15 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +3.024 77 C3
16 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +3.350 44 C3
17 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +7.939 87 C3