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Sainz sets the pace on Day 2 in Bahrain


Carlos Sainz sets the pace on the second day of testing, as Mercedes and Ferrari appear to have taken a significant step forward.

With the morning session being abandoned due to track damage, the afternoon session was extended from four to five hours, causing a number of teams to change their plans either by keeping one driver in the car the entire day or changing their drivers around after an hour.

For the most part it remained uneventful, as is so often the case with testing, though there were a number of locks up and few little scraps, not least Bottas and Stroll having a little fun.

Then, at the very end of the day, as the FIA performed a system check, we got a rolling start, a standing start and a mini-race which saw all seven drivers on track get stuck in, with Bottas making a great move on Norris.

Despite Sainz topping the timesheets the consensus appears to be that Red Bull still leads the way, but with Mercedes and Ferrari close behind.

As the sun set one could see the sparks fly from both the front and rear of the Mercedes, as the German team continues to be very aggressive in terms of its ride height.

However, unlike a year ago the car looks as though it is up to it, and Hamilton appeared to have confidence. Unfortunately a late hot lap was interrupted by the system check.

While Mercedes improvement understandably dominates much of the media, let's not forget Ferrari, which, if nothing else, appears to have resolved the tyres issues which plagued the team last year. Single lap pace was never the problem in 2023 only race pace, and all the signs are that the Maranello outfit has moved on. On the final stint, on hards, Sainz' pace improved despite the lightening fuel load.

Another team that appears to have taken a step forward is RB, which will not go down well with the likes of Zak Brown who continues to vent his frustration at the closeness between the Faenza-based outfit and its sister team.

Aston Martin is clearly opting not to show its hand at present, while Alpine continues to show signs of improvement but also appears to be holding back.

Referring to the incident that brought this morning's session to an early end, Carlos Sainz told Sky Sports: "I was standing in front of the drain cover when it lifted and I was like 'someone is going to hit it' and them boom, my team mate hit it.

"Asked about the SF-24, in which his teammate had set the morning pace, he replied: "First impressions, positive. The car is doing what we wanted it to after the wind tunnel work. More driveable car, with wind sensitivity and predictability and driveability of the car.... For me, it's more focus on the long runs. You saw last year we had some poles so..."

As a precaution, the original floor on the Ferrari which had run over the drain cover, initially displaced by Hamilton, was returned to Maranello.

"The damage was on a small portion of the floor, nothing too worrying," Enrico Cardile, Ferrari's Head of Chassis Area told Sky Sports, "we changed the floor and proceeded with our plan... no drama.

"In terms of driver feedback, they are well aligned," he added, "we didn't find any bad surprises, so that is a good starting point."

Between them the 17 drivers completed 1,219 laps with only Sargeant appearing to lose any significant track time due to reliability issues.

All in all the test is developing into an interesting trailer for next week's race and indeed a record season, however what everyone wants to see - assuming that reliability isn't that much of an issue - is outright pace.

That should come late tomorrow when the track is at its optimum and the drivers seek to throw a marker down.

Currently, while the RB20 is thought to be the pace-setter, it's noticeable that McLaren, Ferrari and RB are quicker than they were in qualifying a year ago.

While much of the attention is on Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari, it is going to be fascinating to see if McLaren is up there, as it was at the end of last season, and whether Aston Martin can repeat its form of twelve months ago.

At Williams, Alex Albon appears confident, though he admits to being impressed by the RB. Bottas is as feisty as ever in the Stake whilst Haas sadly continues to make up the numbers.

"It was unexpected to be in the car all day today," said Perez, "but the delays meant my early runs were cut short, so the team decided to extend my day and I am back in the car again tomorrow morning.

"Generally speaking, I think the RB20 is a step forward for the team and we have gone in the right direction for us. It is a tricky track here from morning to afternoon, dialling in set-up and getting to understand those different set-ups because the track is changing on every outing, so you must base a lot on your feeling.

"I have been working over the winter on understanding last season from a personal perspective, in order to start the season on an upward curve. You are always learning and always want to get better and that's no different for me in 2024."

"It was another solid day's mileage for the team," added Gianpiero Lambiase. "The red flag this morning led us to changing the driver swap we had planned for post-lunch, as it would have otherwise unfairly limited Checo's early impression of the RB20.

"We are accumulating mileage at a good rate which is positive for reliability and systems sign-off, and beyond that, Checo was able to continue to evolve the setup to his liking having taken Max's baseline from day one. We have plenty to analyse overnight ahead of what is an important final day of testing."

At Ferrari, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz completed a total of 141 laps, the numbers could have been higher but for a problem experienced by the issue which led to the session being stopped.

The problem in question was down to an external factor in the shape of a drain cover lifted out of the kerb at turn 11 as Lewis Hamilton drove over it just seconds before Leclerc came along. The Monegasque hit the cover which damaged the floor on the SF-24. The session was red flagged for over an hour to check all the drain covers as a precaution. Up to that point, Leclerc had completed 36 laps with a best time of 1:31.750.

Leclerc was back behind the wheel in the afternoon to complete his programme, continuing an evaluation of the car, trying different settings with various fuel loads, while sticking to the same C3 compound. He did a further 18 laps, without improving on his best time, bringing his total for the day to 54 laps before handing over to Sainz.

With Leclerc's short afternoon session over, the mechanics changed the SF-24 configuration to suit Sainz and the Spaniard stepped into the cockpit at 3pm. He also worked on set-up and evaluating the car running the C3 compound, with a best time of 1:31.397. However, unlike his team-mate, he also ran the C4 and a low fuel load to start looking at a qualifying set-up, setting his personal best time of 1:29.921. After that, he spent the rest of the time doing long runs, completing a total of 87 laps.

For tomorrow's final day, Sainz will be first out on track, with Leclerc taking over for the afternoon.

"Another day of testing completed according to plan and without issues," said Leclerc. "We managed to go through the whole afternoon programme smoothly, combining various tests with low and high fuel runs, so it was interesting to get a feel for this year's car in different configurations. Now I look forward to the last session tomorrow morning where we'll keep focusing on the long runs."

"The first two days have gone well," added Leclerc, "as we have run our full programme, although at this stage, we can't say how competitive we are. I think the first time we will get an idea of where we stand will be in qualifying next week.
We made some general changes to the car today and yesterday, with our focus shifting to fine-tuning our set-up on the last day of testing."

Alpine drivers Ocon and Gasly finished 8th and 14th, completing 111 laps in total.

"It was a very long session today with the extended running in the afternoon," said Ocon. "We missed some track time in the morning due to the stoppage, but we managed to get it back and finish the programme we wanted to complete in the morning. We improved the car throughout the day, and it was nice to try the car in different conditions, which are more reflective of what we'll see next weekend in the Grand Prix.

"We had a bit of racing towards the end which was also fun. This does not usually happen at testing but this time everyone was pretty eager and it was very exciting on the run down to Turn 1 with a number of cars side by side and sparks flying everywhere. I've definitely got the appetite to go racing now!"

"It's been a good day for the team with a lot of testing complete and a lot of data for us to analyse," added Gasly. "On my side, unfortunately, our session was cut short with a red flag. That's never ideal as we could not complete our full programme, but that is the way it is sometimes. I'm looking forward to being back in the car tomorrow afternoon and continuing to optimise the package.

"We continue to understand different things each time the car is on track and we are doing everything we can to maximise our learning before the first race of the season. After a shorter day than I expected, my time in the car tomorrow will be very important."

Check out our Thursday gallery from Bahrain, here.


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