F1 Testing 2024: Max Verstappen fires first salvo as Williams encounter little gremlins

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen returns to the Red Bull garage.

Max Verstappen tested the Red Bull RB20 in Bahrain.

Any suggestions Red Bull got it wrong with their aggressive RB20 were quashed on Wednesday morning as Max Verstappen was seven-tenths up on Charles Leclerc as pre-season testing began in Bahrain. Of course, it is only testing.

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So that’s 2024 decided, eh?

With just three days of action and the teams only allowed to run one car, the drivers were eager to make the most of their time on track.

George Russell covered the first official lap of pre-season testing with the Briton lining up at the end of the pit lane to make sure he got the most out of his one-and-a-half days in the W15.

He was followed out by Fernando Alonso but there was no sign of Oscar Piastri with McLaren taking a few extra minutes to ready the car.

On a hot morning at the Sakhir circuit and with a mix of tyres in play, fuel loads too, the timesheets were more a hint than an answer as to who came out of the blocks firing.

Charles Leclerc set the early pace with a 1:33.568, but as the drivers laid down the laps, Alonso overhauled him before Max Verstappen went quickest with a 1:33.065.

Despite dealing with an RB20 that at times displayed understeer only to oversteer a few corners later, the reigning World Champion lowered the benchmark time to a 1:32.548 to sit seven-tenths clear of Leclerc heading into the final hour of the morning session.

Several lock-ups for Verstappen had former F1 driver Anthony Davidson calling the RB20 a “heavy car”, and adding that was “not something” he would expect from Red Bull or the World Champion.

But with a smoother final hour, it’s looking very good for Red Bull with Verstappen topping the session by 0.699s ahead of Leclerc with Alonso third.

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Piastri was fourth ahead of Yuki Tsunoda and George Russell, the latter putting in a late lap to move up the timesheet.

Valtteri Bottas was next in line ahead of Alex Albon, who brought out a late yellow flag as he ground to a halt with 22 minutes left in the morning’s session. Williams called it a minor reliability issue.

But arguably the team that seems to have the most difficult morning with their car was Alpine with Esteban Ocon behind the wheel.

Scruffy laps and several moments off the track, the Frenchman fought with his A524 which also suffered a small engine issue that cost him a bit of track time.

Kevin Magnussen was in Haas’ all-too familiar position at the back of the field with his VF-24 looking to be a handful. He also had a close encounter with Russell when a lock-up under braking sent him sliding towards the Mercedes driver.

Times

1. Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:32.548
2. Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.699
3. Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +0.837
4. Oscar Piastri McLaren +1.110
5. Yuki Tsunoda RB +1.588
6. George Russell Mercedes +1.682
8. Valtteri Bottas Stake +1.883
8. Alex Albon Williams +2.039
9. Esteban Ocon Alpine +2.129
10. Kevin Magnussen Haas +3.144

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