Bahrain test Day One lunch report: Extreme sidepods, early breakdowns and a P1 for Verstappen

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen leaves the Red Bull garage, Ferrari gantry ahead of him. Bahrain February 2023

Max Verstappen leaves the Red Bull garage, Ferrari gantry ahead of him. Bahrain February 2023

Three months after Formula 1’s last group outing, a farewell to 2022, the 10 teams hit the Bahrain International Circuit on Thursday morning for the beginning of 2023’s pre-season testing.

And what a beginning it was!

There were debutants on the track, undercut sidepod sharp enough to hide the baby and others in which to bath it. There were drivers not-so-sneakily checking out rivals cars, an Aston Martin breaking down, and a Red Bull versus Ferrari battle for P1.

And let’s not forget despite the new floor changes, teams bemoaning that it will cost them downforce, it took all of two fours for four cars to go faster than last year’s Day One P1 time.

This season the teams were granted all of three days for pre-season testing, not a lot of time when one considers those three days are split between two drivers.

As such Mercedes were quickly out on track to see if any downforce they found over the winter heralded the returning of their porpoising problems.

But even before answers could be found they were back in the garage, the session red flagged when Felipe Drugovich, replacing the injured Lance Stroll and possibly auditioning for his seat for his Bahrain Grand Prix should the Canadian not recover in time, broke down.

The AMR23, the car that caught the attention during the launches with its bold design, ground to a halt just 10 minutes into the session with the team’s reserve driver left standing on the side of the tracks with his hands on his hips.

The car was soon back in the garage, the Aston Martin mechanics seen to be working on the front of the power unit, on the intake. Team boss Mike Krack revealed: “Felipe stopped on track due to an electronics issue that has now been resolved.”

It didn’t take the team long to resolve the issue and he was back in the session, Carlos Sainz quickest in the first hour as he ripped through Max Verstappen’s 1:34.895 with a 1:33.767.

Verstappen closed the gap in the second hour, the Red Bull driver down to a 1:33.5 only for Sainz to up his time to a 1:33.2 while Alex Albon in the Williams slotted into third place just a tenth down on the Red Bull.

The leading trio and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu were all faster than last year’s opening day benchmark time of 1:33.9.

Drugovich, with just 14 laps on the board after his earlier stoppage, was slowest of all with a 1:36.907.

Sainz with his 1:33.253 continued to lead the way into the final hour despite Ferrari running a medium load rear wing, Bahrain traditionally being a medium-high load circuit, while Verstappen went into the final hour with front and rear set-up changes on his RB19.

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The Dutchman put that to good use, laying down a 1:32.59 to go almost three tenths clear of Sainz with 15 minutes remaining in the morning’s session. But while the session continued through to 2:15pm local time, the last bit was under a VSC to allow the FIA to run through their procedures.

As such Verstappen finished the morning quickest of all ahead of Sainz, Albon and Zhou.

George Russell was fifth for Mercedes, 1.2s down, while Nico Hulkenberg, back on the grid after three years without a full-time ride, was seventh.

Drugovich, Yuki Tsunoda, Pierre Gasly and Oscar Piastri completed the top ten.

With the Bahrain Grand Prix running for 57 laps, Verstappen, Sainz, Albon, Zhou, Russell and Piastri all completed a full race distance or more.

Times

1 Max VERSTAPPEN 1:32.959 71 laps
2 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.294 72 laps
3 Alexander ALBON Williams +0.712 74 laps
4 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +0.764 67 laps
5 George RUSSELL Mercedes +1.215 68 laps
6 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +1.465 51 laps
7 Felipe DRUGOVICH Aston Martin +1.605 40 laps
8 Yuki TSUNODA +1.712 46 laps
9 Pierre GASLY Alpine +1.863 58 laps
10 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +1.929 52 laps