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Verstappen quickest on Day 1


Max Verstappen and Red Bull serve an ominous warning as the world champion out-paces his nearest rival by 1.140s on opening day of testing.

OK, it only the first day and we don't know about fuel loads and all that stuff, but the fact is that Max and his team do appear to be picking up where they left off just a couple of months ago.

Indeed, over the course of the day he enjoyed little skirmishes with both Leclerc and Russell, leaving both for dead, much to the obvious delight of his engineer Gianpiero Lambiase.

All in all it was a pretty uneventful day, and while there were a number of lock-ups and Stroll lost a mirror, there were no red flags, and even when Albon stopped on track with a fuel pick-up issue the session was allowed to continue.

18 of the twenty 2024 drivers were on duty, with only Hamilton and Perez sitting it out, and over the course of the eight hours they completed 1,235 laps.

The Red Bull remains as bullet-proof as ever, allowing Verstappen to complete 143 laps ahead of Russell's 122, these two being the only drivers on duty throughout the day.

Unfortunately, with both its drivers experiencing issues, Williams managed just 61 laps with Albon completing 40 in the morning and Sargeant just 21 in the afternoon.

Once again stressing that these are early days, other than the obvious strength of the Red Bull package, McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari are looking good, while Aston Martin has yet to show its hand.

The RB shows some promise, as do Alpine and Stake, while the Haas is every bit as bad as expected.

After the lunch break the wind picked up, and while it was anticipated that lap times would tumble along with the setting sun for the most part this didn't prove to be the case.

"There is very, very little testing these days," Mike Krack told Sky Sports, "so you need to make sure your tools are working.

"This is the start-of-season car but development is continuing," he added. "We'll have different parts tomorrow and the next day. The development race is brutal, but we have put in place a very strong development programme."

Over the course of the test, and certainly next week, we will gradually see the cars evolve as the data extracted is sent back to the various team HQs.

Though F1 bosses are hoping that all the talk of convergence proves true, Verstappen's comfort cushion tonight is sure to be of concern.

That said, we've yet to see the soft tyres in use, and consequently we should have a far better idea of the pecking order by this time on Friday.

"It feels good to be back in an F1 car again, I had fun out on track today," said Verstappen. "We covered a lot of laps and tried quite a few things with the car, which was important, so happy overall with how it went. After the winter break, the first few laps always surprise you a little but then you get back into the swing of things pretty quickly.

"Overall, the car was responding well and considering this was only testing we had a nice day. Looking to tomorrow, we are speaking to our engineers about what the plans will be, but I am looking forward to getting into the car in the afternoon."

"The winter break was fairly short this year," added Gianpiero Lambiase, "but, nonetheless, the amount of work which has gone into the car has been impressive as usual.

"We came to Bahrain with a few unknowns around a relatively new car, but we have tested most of the fundamentals on day one and got the answers we needed to. Now we have a solid base to take onto days two and three, when Checo takes over the car in the morning."

"First of all, I'm really happy to be back behind the wheel," said Norris, who ended the day second on the timesheets. "Our first test with the new car felt very enjoyable and it was reliable on track, so all in all, a positive day.

"We worked through a number of items during the session, as expected in testing, sticking to the plan and executing it well. There are still two long days of testing ahead of us and still a lot to improve and set up, but it's all moving in the right direction. I am looking forward to driving again tomorrow and continuing to put the MCL38 through its paces."

"First day of testing done for me and it all went relatively smoothly," added Piastri. "It was a pretty solid day, and it was nice to be back on track in representative conditions. We'll see what we can work through over the remainder of the test and aim to get a good understanding of the car by the end of it.

"The car felt reasonable and I would say there are some differences from last year which are moving in the right direction. It's been a decent start to testing, and I look forward to getting back in the car for day two tomorrow."

"It's been a good first day of testing for us," said McLaren's head of testing, Jose Manuel Lopez. "We completed a lot of mileage with 130 laps on the board. Both Lando and Oscar completed their programmes.

"We started the day running some aero rakes and learning about the aerodynamic performance of the MCL38. A lot of set-up work was done in the morning with Oscar, and then in the afternoon with Lando we focused on longer runs. The car ran reliably on track all day, and we completed all of our planned running.

"We've collected a lot of information which we will look through this evening, in preparation for the next two days of testing. We're all looking forward to getting back on track tomorrow."

At Ferrari, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz drove the SF-24 for a total of 133 laps, finishing the day 7th and 3rd respectively.

The programme for both drivers was virtually the same, as they lapped with various fuel loads, running the C2 and C3 compound tyres. The team concentrated on the usual first day work, taking measurements from rakes fitted to the car and carrying out an aero mapping of the car, primarily seeing how well the track data correlated to that gathered through digital modelling and in the wind tunnel, while the drivers learned as much as possible about the car.

As soon as the light at the end of the pit lane turned green, Leclerc took to the track for the first of his 64 laps, first on the C2 and then with the softer C3, with which he set his best time of 1:33.247. In the early afternoon, the mechanics then switched the car configuration to suit Sainz and the Spaniard duly completed 69 laps, stopping the clock at 1:32.584 on the C3 compound.

"Our first morning of testing was quite productive," said Leclerc, "especially in terms of mileage. As for the performance, it's just too early to comment or draw conclusions.

"We ran all the tests we planned to and things are going ahead as expected, which is a positive. We will continue working and hope to have two more useful days of testing ahead of the GP."

"It's been a positive first day of testing," added Sainz. "We managed to go through the whole programme without issues, gathering some useful data to better understand the SF-24 together with the engineers.

"As usual with pre-season testing, it's too early to draw any conclusions yet, so we'll keep maximising the upcoming two days of running to get ready for the start of the season next week. It felt good to be back properly behind the wheel after the winter break."

In the wake of the previous two seasons, Mercedes was eager to get going and further its understanding of its 2024 challenger with the focus on gathering information about the new car, rather than performance.

According to the team it was successful day full of data collection, knowledge building and learning, as Russell completed 122 laps which included a full race simulation in the afternoon.

"It was great to drive the W15 for the first time in anger today," said the Briton. "From hitting the ground, it felt like we had a good foundation to start from. We completed lots of laps and have plenty of data to go through tonight. We ended the day in a reasonably good spot, and we can build from here over the next two days. We will be focused on maximising mileage for learning rather than chasing an optimum sweet spot with the car.

"Overall, the W15 does feel nicer to drive than last year's car," he continued. "We know that it's not about the feeling, but the speed. Nevertheless, today was about learning and not about chasing performance.

"We're focused on ourselves at this test, and it will only be next week where we see where we stack up against the others. It was a positive first day and I'm looking forward to being back in the car on Friday."

Following yesterday's filming day, Ocon was first to take the wheel of the Alpine A524 before handing over to Gasly for the afternoon.

"It was the first day of proper running with the new car," said Ocon, "and it was good to get 60 laps under our belt in the morning session. It was also nice to get out on track again and feel the sensation of driving after the winter break.

"We completed the intended programme and found things to work and improve on in the coming days. At this stage of the test, it's about getting a decent feel of the car and for the overall balance. We will keep going and continue working hard for the remainder of the test. I'm back in the car tomorrow afternoon and already looking ahead and working hard with the team."

"It's great to be back in the car to start the 2024 season," added Gasly. "It's been a positive day where we ran our programme accurately and completed all our intended laps. That is the most important thing about testing: to run reliably and complete plenty of laps. The initial feeling in the car is good but now it is important for us to dig into the data, do our analysis and continue to unlock performance. I'm back in the car tomorrow morning and I'm already looking forward to continuing that hard work."

It was a busy day for the Stake team, with Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu (afternoon) totalling more than 130 laps between them with no issues, an auspicious start to the season for the Swiss team.

"We had a productive first morning of testing, and I'm thrilled to be back on track," said Bottas. "It seems that we have made some improvements compared to last year and we were able to get a good feel for our car. The correlation between our simulator data and what we're experiencing on the track is definitely reassuring, especially on the first day of testing. We started with a solid baseline setup for the car and were able to log some good mileage.

"Now, our focus shifts to fine-tuning and understanding raw lap times in the coming days. While our progress feels promising, the true improvement of performance will be revealed next week."

"Today has been a promising day for us," added Zhou, "we were able to complete our programme for the day, focusing on the long runs and on switching between different setups. Our car seems to be heading in the right direction, and even though there is definitely still room for improvement, the feeling is pretty good. I reckon the aggressive approach we have taken over the winter allowed us to make a step forward compared to last year's car, and you can tell the difference out there on track, which is great.

"For the next two days, it'll be important to tick all the boxes, in order to come prepared ahead of next week. It is too early to say anything about our competitors, as of course everyone is going through their own programmes during testing; we will be focusing on our own and aim to get as much mileage and track time as possible."

Check out our Wednesday gallery from Bahrain, here.


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1. Posted by Max Noble, 22/02/2024 10:08

"@Kenji - agree it’s good they are back. I’m actually pleased Toto elected to speak as all the “Nothing to see here!” hands over eyes and ears silence is worse. Given the public exposure and the length of time RB are taking to resolve there is more to this story…

Oh - and all the cars ran in nearly the same order as last year with it looking like 1.0 seconds will cover the top ten! Now if Alonso can just sneak the single non-RB win of the season… :-)

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2. Posted by kenji, 22/02/2024 0:13

"What a relief to finally get the show back on the road. It's a bit like the first day back at school. Catching up with a few mates, exchanging tales and the excitement of getting a new car to play with!! Whilst most team principals stayed well away from the current drama surrounding CH one of them couldn't help himself but launch into a into a pious litany of woke principles that spoiled the day. May meritocracy rule."

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