F1 Testing: Red Bull bag P1 double on final day

Jon Wilde
Rear view of pit stop for Red Bull's Max Verstappen. Bahrain March 2022.

Rear view of pit stop for Red Bull's Max Verstappen during pre-season testing. Bahrain March 2022.

Red Bull’s updates, promised the previous day by Sergio Perez, helped them to a P1 double on the final day of pre-season testing in Bahrain.

Perez had said changes to the RB18 would be “easy to spot” on Saturday and so it proved when he emerged from the garage in the morning, the car displaying sculpted sidepods.

It had been a relatively quiet test for Max Verstappen before day three in Bahrain but judging by the pace he was displaying as the test drew to a close, the World Champion has to be favourite for next weekend’s curtain-raising grand prix.

Mercedes – although they may be sandbagging – still appeared to be behind Ferrari, who again looked as though they had pushed themselves into contention for at least a podium finish when the serious action gets under way.

Of the 20 drivers set to contest the season-opener next weekend, 18 were in action on Saturday with the exceptions being Esteban Ocon, who had already completed his running for Alpine, and Daniel Ricciardo as he was suffering from COVID-19.

That meant Lando Norris was in the McLaren for a third consecutive full day and while the MCL36 had been suffering from brake problems all week, at least the Briton had a more productive day mileage-wise thanks to the fix the team had managed to apply.

The day had begun on track in the same way as the previous one ended, with Kevin Magnussen running solo for Haas as – with permission – they made up the time they had lost by missing Thursday morning due to issues with freight arriving late.

The Dane had used the cool evening temperatures to set Friday’s fastest time, but it was the complete opposite on Saturday morning as he completed race-sim rather than qualifying-style laps, also not helped by a water pressure leak and a fuel system problem in the VF-22.

After Perez had set the best time of the morning, Verstappen took over with the fastest lap of the week just over 90 minutes into the afternoon session – but that was before Leclerc had appeared on the circuit.

When he did, the Monegasque driver had assumed Ferrari’s increasingly familiar position at the top of the standings within around 40 minutes, knocking a couple of tenths off Verstappen’s time.

Red flags were not as frequent as on the final day of the unofficial test in Barcelona two weeks ago but Mick Schumacher forced a stoppage when he spun the Haas in the final corner.

That pause lasted only a couple of minutes as the German was able to continue straight into the pits, but there was a lengthier delay when Valtteri Bottas had to stop the Alfa Romeo in the run-off area after Turn 4, stuck in fourth gear.

The Finn had just posted an impressive lap which had propelled him up to P4, but the C42 was not for budging and had to be brought back under covers with Alfa’s test done.

There was still over 25 minutes of the session remaining when the lights went green for the final time and in seemingly about to start a hot lap, Verstappen pirouetted the Red Bull at the final corner – but did not come into the pits and stayed out on the same set of the softest C5 tyres, pushing next time around instead.

The spin did not matter and the Dutchman became the first driver this week to dip below the 1:32 barrier, 0.442sec ahead of Leclerc.

Norris and George Russell were the protagonists of what has become the traditional evening dice to liven things up, and in the final 10 minutes there were smiles and applause in the Red Bull garage as Verstappen went faster again, shaving off another couple of tenths.

Fernando Alonso pushed himself up to P3 in the Alpine just before the final red flags were waved – although of course that was not the case for everyone as Haas still had more mileage to bank.

Times

1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:31.720 (53 laps)
2 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.695 (51)
3 Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +0.978 (122)
4 George Russell (Mercedes) +1.039 (71)
5 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +1.265 (68)
6 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +1.282 (57)
7 Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +1.385 (43)
8 Mick Schumacher (Haas) +1.431 (57)
9 Lando Norris (McLaren) +1.471 (90)
10 Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +2.101 (81)
11 Guanyu Zhou (Alfa Romeo) +2.239 (82)
12 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +3.145 (91)
13 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +3.185 (68)
14 Alex Albon (Williams) +3.451 (18)
15 Nicholas Latifi (Williams) +3.914 (124)
16 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +4.309 (53)
17 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +4.497 (78)
18 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +6.896 (38)