Max Verstappen found himself in familiar territory as a productive opening day of Bahrain testing at the wheel of the RB19 yielded P1.
On a Thursday featuring limited on-track interruptions, so much so that Red Bull boss Christian Horner is even advocating for three testing days to become two, it was Verstappen who set the ultimate pace on a day which saw him tick north of 150 laps.
A sighting of Verstappen in P1 is certainly not rare, but to see Fernando Alonso providing very close company in P2 following earlier floor issues, was a bit of an eye-catcher!
Yes, it is only testing, but Alonso’s pace was nonetheless a very encouraging sign for the ambitious Aston Martin team, considering their rather disrupted day.
Ferrari got the closest look at a duo which we would love to see fighting it out in F1 2023!
As the light went green for the first of just three days of pre-season testing in Bahrain, the green car turned the track conditions to red, that being Aston Martin’s Felipe Drugovich who managed all of four corners before the AMR23 called it quits due to an electronic issue.
Fortunately not a problem which ended his morning running, and perhaps audition to take Lance Stroll’s place at the Bahrain season-opener if he is not recovered from his cycling crash in time. Drugovich was able to return to the circuit, while Carlos Sainz set the pace for the first hour, clocking a 1:33.767 in the Ferrari SF-23.
With that the only red flag period of the day, Sainz set about re-establishing his P1 spot for another hour with a 1:33.2, Verstappen having improved to a 1:33.5, while Williams’ Alex Albon was flying the flag as ‘best of the rest’.
The flow-vis paint was highlighting just how pronounced the undercut is on that RB19 which was now on full show, running all the way up to the rear of the car.
And soon it was lighting up the timing screens with Verstappen at the wheel, front and rear set-up changes helping the Dutchman into P1 as the morning session went into its final hour, a 1:32.959 doing the job with 71 laps on the board for Verstappen in that first session. Sainz, Albon, Zhou Guanyu and Mercedes’ George Russell completed the top five.
Alonso was hoping for a bit more luck as he took over the Aston Martin AMR23, but initially it seemed like that had gone out of the window when he was forced to return to the garage after only a couple of laps.
It turned out that the floor had been damaged during pit-stop practice, certainly not what Aston Martin needed. But, there were better times to come!
Elsewhere, Verstappen was continuing to lead the way as he passed the 100-lap mark, while Lando Norris could only dream of such stats as he waited for the chance to head out in the MCL60, work going on around the front of that challenger.
“We’re just conducting some precautionary repairs with the aim of continuing our run plan shortly,” McLaren confirmed as Norris did indeed make it out onto the circuit.
Lewis Hamilton meanwhile was starting to make moves in the Mercedes W14, entering the top three, only for Alonso to draw all-eyes to the monitor as he popped in a time good enough for P2 and only 0.029s shy of Verstappen’s new 1:32.837 benchmark, having set the fastest final sector.
But with Charles Leclerc now at the wheel of the Ferrari SF-23, he decided to bump Hamilton down a spot.
Christian Horner suggests just two days of testing as drivers push for more
Fred Vasseur confirms ‘no issue at all’ with Ferrari S-duct amidst reported rival scrutiny
Good news for Mercedes as Toto Wolff confirms no porpoising for W14 in early test run
Williams rookie Logan Sargeant was also enjoying himself out there as he pulled a DRS-assisted pass on Hamilton down the pit straight. The audacity! The American soon lifted himself into the top 10, but with almost six-tenths to find on Albon’s best time.
Norris had a go at a push lap of his own, but without knowing fuel loads, a deficit of one second to the Aston Martin was alarming. Alonso perhaps could have stretched that advantage further as he had another shot at snatching P1, but a wide moment at the last corner ruined both plans.
There was a much more promising attempt to come from Norris though as he jumped ahead of Hamilton into P5. Such scenes when the competitive action starts would be mind-blowing for McLaren, yet horrific for Mercedes.
Day One timesheet:
Verstappen, Red Bull, 1:32.837 – 157 laps
Alonso, Aston Martin, 1:32.866 – 60 laps
Sainz, Ferrari, 1:33.253 – 72 laps
Leclerc, Ferrari, 1:33.257 – 61 laps
Norris, McLaren, 1:33.762 – 40 laps
Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:33.508 – 81 laps
Albon, Williams, 1:33.671 – 74 laps
Zhou, Alfa Romeo, 1:33.723 – 67 laps
Russell, Mercedes, 1:34.174 – 69 laps
Sargeant, Williams, 1:34.324 – 75 laps
Hulkenberg, Haas, 1:34.424 – 51 laps
Bottas, Alfa Romeo, 1:34.558 – 71 laps
De Vries, AlphaTauri, 1:34.559 – 83 laps
Drugovich, Aston Martin, 1:34.564 – 40 laps
Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, 1:34.671 – 46 laps
Gasly, Alpine, 1:34.822 – 60 laps
Ocon, Alpine, 1:34.871 – 52 laps
Piastri, McLaren, 1:34.888 – 52 laps
Magnussen, Haas, 1:35.087 – 55 laps