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Perez tops pre-season timesheets


Sergio Perez tops the timesheets in Bahrain as pre-season testing comes to an end, and red flag restart hopefully offers a hint of what's to come.

Like finding the onions under your burger in a Wimpy brunch, or the sax at the end of Walk on the Wild Side, sometimes the best really is saved for last.

And so it was today, when the practice restart provided a few seconds of thrills as the seven drivers on track got in some early practice for next week.

Of which more later.

As expected, the afternoon consisted mainly of long runs, shorts runs, runs of every variation before attention switched to pace in the final hour or so.

Unlike this morning there were no red flag stoppages and as a result, following a busy morning, the 1,399 lap count was up on Thursday (1,276) and Friday (1,317).

Three drivers, Sergio Perez, Valtteri Bottas and Alex Albon were on duty for the whole day, their teammate having been on duty all day yesterday.

"The team are working hard to diagnose and resolve a mechanical issue which brought the C43 to a stop in the morning session," said Alfa Romeo during the lunch break, referring to the (thought to be gearbox related) issue that caused Bottas to stop on track. "Big push to get Valtteri back out this afternoon."

Meanwhile, Ocon, Sainz, Norris, Magnussen and Hamilton got to work, along with Tsunoda whose car appeared to be smothered in flo-vis for much of the afternoon.

"We've managed to work through a lot of laps, tried a lot of set ups," Christian Horner told Sky Sports. "We are focusing on ourselves, and we are in a reasonable place with the car.

"Perez's feedback has been consistent with Max's," he added, "which is important for the development of the car, that the feedback is pretty consistent from both sides of the garage. That's the great things about testing, you get to try all the things you wouldn't try in the race."

Referring to Max he added.

"Max has been in a great place the last few years now. His confidence is very high, he's got that experience. He just gets in and turns it on, and you saw that in the first lap in testing. He's in great shape, physically he's in great shape and ready to start the season.

"The mileage we are doing in testing is big mileage now, so it's a great workout for the car. It becomes a different pressure. It's the first time we've been back in that garage in eight years. Of course now there comes a different pressure of trying to retain those titles, but the mood in the team is sky high."

Finally, asked about the pecking order, he replied: It's very difficult to say. Ferrari look like they are quick. Mercedes' form is very difficult to read. Are they holding something back?

"I think Aston Martin have made a big step. It looks like their concept of car has seen them make a big step. Fernando in particular looks very comfortable."

At which point the Spaniard headed out, immediately going seventh.

Improving to 13th, Hamilton was clearly struggling with a very nervous W14, the rear of the car seemingly having a mind of its own.

Sainz went second to make it a Ferrari 1-2, as Hamilton improved to sixth then fifth.

"Nobody knows what the others are doing, levels of fuel, engine modes..." Fred Vasseur told Sky. "We have to wait until next week. For sure you want to do more as three days is quite short but it is the same for everybody, although if you ask the drivers, they'd want one more week.

"The mood is perfect," he added, "I think we are in good shape today. The championship will be long and difficult but at the end of the day it will be a good challenge. When we are able to put everything together, the pace is there."

Over at Alpine, Ocon appeared to be taking a pounding the Frenchman's car appearing more susceptible to bouncing than any other.

All of which didn't worry former teammate Alonso, who improved to fourth.

As Hamilton improved to third, Norris headed out, the McLaren driver having only completed 13 laps at that point.

Perez improved again and but for a pesky Ferrari might have gone even quicker as attention, now that the circuit was under floodlights, turned to pace.

Perez went quickest, Tsunoda went fifth, while Magnussen, having only just completed his race run, jumped to seventh.

As Perez upped the ante with a 30.305, amidst speculation that Mercedes had run out of soft tyres, Bottas went out on the softest compound but failed to improve.

Hamilton reappeared on mediums but the car still looked very skittish.

As the session came to an end, Red Bull's approach was clear to see, Perez' halo was covered in flo-vis, the team not letting any opposition to acquire data go to waste.

Unlike this morning there were 7 drivers on track for the red flag restart, and unlike this morning, which saw only two drivers head out, it was a rolling start... and they went for it.

Tsunoda led off the line ahead of Norris and Perez who were side-by-side, with Bottas storming down the inside. Into Turn 1, Perez followed Tsunoda, as Bottas went through on the inside of Norris who ran deep and wide, losing out to Hamilton, Alonso and Ocon also.

On-board footage showed Bottas benefitting from a tow from the Red Bull and almost catching Perez on the entry to Turn 1, while at Turn 8, the Finn made a cheeky move on Perez to go second, with Hamilton subsequently passing the Mexican.

A nice end to a busy three days, three days that featured all the usual cliches in terms of what we don't know... fuel loads, are they holding back, etc.

Doubtless the next few days will be spent analysing these three days to death with every minute, every twist and turn put under the microscope, whereas in just seven days we'll know for real.

That said, there are going to be a few happy faces in the paddock tonight, a few looking just a little dubious and others looking downright miserable.

We're pretty sure Christian and Max will be grinning from ear to ear.

Mercedes says it made positive progress with the W14 and logged significant mileage as pre-season testing came to a close, with Russell running in the morning and Hamilton taking over in the afternoon. The drivers combined to complete 148 laps across the day.

Following extensive work trackside and at the factory, initial running focused on evaluating the overnight changes. Russell set about a programme focusing on tyre compound comparisons, using the C5 tyre to set a fastest lap of a 1m31.442s.

A long run programme utilising the C1 and C2 compounds followed before Hamilton got behind the wheel of the W14 for the afternoon. Beginning the post-lunch work with long runs on the C3 tyre, he then mirrored Russell's tyre compound compare from this morning.

The team's fastest lap time of the test was set as night fell; Lewis putting on the C5 compound to set a 1m30.664s.

"A fair bit of work took place overnight to find some refinements to the car specification and recover our direction on the setup," said Andrew Shovlin. "We do seem to have made progress; both drivers felt the car was in a much better place across the range of conditions today and the balance is closer to what they require on single lap and long run.

"It's clear that we still have work to do on car pace but today has given us a much more coherent picture of where we need to focus our efforts. We'll be using the time ahead of next weekend to go through the data we've collected, and aim to extract a bit more lap time."

"We had a much more positive day today," said Russell. "We took a step forward and made progress with the issues we faced yesterday. I believe we have improved the car over the course of testing and got the W14 in a much better window today. There is still plenty of work to do but we're in better shape for next week with more to come."

"It has been an interesting few days," added Hamilton. "There has been a lot of discovery and the whole team has approached it with the same mentality, working hard, not being complacent and staying focused. We're not quite where we want to be but it's a good platform to start from.

"We don't know where we will be next week," he added, "but we will stay positive and continue to push to the maximum."

Check out our Saturday gallery from Bahrain, here.


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