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Leclerc tops Bahrain timesheets on final day

NEWS STORY
24/02/2024

Charles Leclerc posted the fastest time of the day in Bahrain today, Ferrari having posted the two best times of the week.

Sadly, as was the case yesterday, the session had to be red-flagged after a drain cover worked lose, however action resumed just over an hour later with the decision taken to scrap the lunch break and allow drivers to continue up to 19:00 (local time) as originally planned.

Of course, the need to change drivers, and thereby set-up the cars accordingly, meant there was still a lack of track time but for the most part the teams appeared unaffected.

Nonetheless, the improved conditions in the afternoon/evening meant that we had to wait for the main running on softs, however unlike previous years there were no real banzai laps with a number of teams still opting not to show their hand.

Charles Leclerc was quickest, though he was unable to eclipse his teammate's time from yesterday. The Monegasque's best time came on the C5 rubber, while Russell used the C4 to post the second best time of the day.

Zhou, Tsunoda and Albon all made it into the top ten courtesy of the red-banded rubber, though Hamilton's best lap this morning on the C5 was only good enough for 12th.

Ominously, Verstappen was only 0.433s off the pace despite sticking with the mediums (C3), while Piastri and Alonso also looked good on the yellow-banded rubber.

The 19 drivers on duty - Sargeant having driven the car all day yesterday - completed 1,240 laps on a day which saw few obvious reliability issues.

Having suffered issues at the rear of the car yesterday, it was worrying that Norris only completed 20 laps this morning however teammate Piastri more than made up for that in the afternoon.

Red Bull aside, there remains no clear indication of the pecking order, either in terms of the main challengers to the Austrian outfit or the midfield, and a strong afternoon from Hulkenberg offers hope that Haas might not be the lost cause we all feared.

"We have some idea of roughly where things are," Dan Fallows told Sky Sports, "but we are concentrating on making sure we've made the step we think we've made over winter. Minor issues that you tend to get with a brand new car but nothing significant, and anything we have found we have resolved very, very quickly."

"It's still difficult to known where we are," admitted Leclerc. "We've gone through our programme, no major issues. Good thing is no major surprises. Everything we expected we got, so that is good. Helps the guys to develop the car, everything seems to make sense.

"How competitive we are, it's difficult to understand. My feeling is that Red Bull are ahead. We have a stronger base compared to last year. Last year, it was difficult to understand which direction to develop. Very different story this year, know where we need to improve, gives us more hope."

In the final couple of hours, around the time the race takes place in just over a week, the teams used the similarity in conditions to carry out their race simulations.

As was the case yesterday, the FIA carried out a systems check which involved red-flagging the session then simulating an abandoned start followed by a full grid start - even though Verstappen, Gasly and Albon, who completed the most laps today, opted not to play.

Sadly, unlike yesterday the drivers behaved themselves and there were no scraps.

After the three days it is too early to draw any conclusions, especially as there is so much the teams keep to themselves, however one feels we'll be hearing the Dutch national anthem next week - or possible the Mexican.

Behind the Bulls it appears to be Ferrari second best, with Mercedes, Aston Martin and McLaren battling for third, ahead of RB and Alpine then Stake, Williams and Haas.

"Overall it was very good today," said Verstappen. "We focused on the long running to get more of an understanding of the car and it was good to see the performance of the car was very strong. We made the plan to not focus on pure lap time and tried different compounds, so I am happy with the laps that we did today.

"As we head into the race weekend it is all about fine tuning the car and also seeing what the race throws at you when you push the car to the limit. We now need to look into the data a bit more and try to come up with a plan for the week ahead. We've had a really positive test and we have learned a lot from everything we changed, so we are looking forward to next week."

"We have got plenty of mileage over the last few days," added Perez. "The run programme that we put together was very good and meant we really made the most out of the days. Now it is time to look forward to the race next weekend, I have a good feeling in the car, so let's see once we get to race it, but the feeling is very positive."

"Today was about tidying up the loose ends from the previous two days of running and giving both drivers and their crews some freedom on the detail in preparation for next week," said Gianpiero Lambiase. "Whilst it has been a globally positive start to the year, the hard work has only just begun as we now have a much more informed understanding of the platform beneath us and the areas that need addressing to kick-start development.

"We will be looking to make the most of the few days back in Milton Keynes before returning for what will hopefully be an exciting season opener."

At Alpine, Gasly finished the day 15 and teammate Ocon 17th, the pair completing 102 laps in total.

"Overall, it was a productive test for us," said Ocon, "probably one of the strongest during my time at the team. Since I jumped in the car, from Day 1 everything has been faultless and strong from an operational standpoint. The car has been working reliably and we managed to complete our testing programme.

"We improved the car and made progress from the first day to the last day. But we have a lot of work to do and it's going to be interesting now to go through all the data and understand where we can make improvements. Three days of testing is short for a new car, so there's still a lot to learn and extract from our package. Thanks to everyone at the team here, at Enstone and Viry for the long hours over the winter. Now it's time to go racing."

"We did a lot of testing this week," added Gasly, "and now we have an important week coming up where we will go through all the data and continue our understanding of this new car concept. It's vital to learn all about the entire package and understanding how we can optimise it. On my side, it's been quite tricky at times especially as we missed out on some running both yesterday and today.

"The red flag was unfortunate on Day 2, then this afternoon we had the wheel brow coming loose from the car and that meant we missed a couple of laps at the end. Still, it's been a productive test for the team across the last three days and that is most important. I'm definitely excited for the first race."

"It's been a solid three-day test for the team where we've focused on ourselves and committed to a comprehensive and important test programme," said Bruno Famin, the French outfit's team principal. "We have been operationally strong all week and demonstrated great teamwork between both factories and the trackside team, which has been good to see.

"Our reliability has been good and that has enabled us to complete our test plan as expected. Now is the time to work through the data and concentrate on optimising the package we have in our hands ahead of next week's first Grand Prix. We know where we stand.

"We are expecting a challenging start to the year as we continue to learn more and more about our A524 to develop it across the season."

Before the red flag. Sainz had completed 15 laps, the most of any driver. When the track reopened for business, the Spaniard continued with his programme, running mainly the C3 compound, after starting the day on a set of C4s he had used yesterday on a qualifying simulation run. He tried the car with different fuel loads as well as various settings. He completed 71 laps with a best time of 1:31.247. Over the whole test his total figure was 227 laps.

Shortly after 15.00, Leclerc took over for the rest of the day, simulating various phases of a GP weekend, including qualifying and the race itself. Copying his team-mate from the previous day, he started off on the C3 compound, setting a time of 1:31.374.

The Monegasque then went out on C4s in qualifying trim, posting his fastest time of 1:30.322. In the final 100 minutes of track time, Leclerc switched to race configuration completing a total of 78 laps using C3, C1 and C2 compounds. His three day total was 196 laps.

"We've wrapped up our third day of testing, having put in a solid number of laps and completed a lot of different tests, which is positive," said Leclerc. "The car is reacting the way that we wanted it to, but it is still difficult to assess its level of competitiveness right now. The feeling is better than the base we started from last year. Now, it's full focus on the race and I can't wait to be back on track next week."

"Overall, it has been a good day," added Sainz, "despite the red flag that disrupted the running, but I enjoyed every single lap in the car today. We tested a lot of different configurations to collect as much data as possible.

"The car seems to be in a decent place and I'm proud of the work that the team has done to complete such a solid test programme."

"We can be pleased with what we've achieved during this test," said Frederic Vasseur, "both in terms of the mileage covered and the raft of data it has provided. On top of that, both Charles and Carlos were happy with how things went.

"These were three productive days," he continued, "with no technical problems, which is what you want most, especially when it's the only session before the start of the season.

""Our first goal was to see if the SF-24 performed predictably, not being overly sensitive to variations in the external conditions and that it was easy to drive. From what Charles and Carlos have said and looking at the consistency of their performance over a long run, it seems we were successful on this front. It's very important to have the car behave like this as it means the driver can quickly get an understanding of its characteristics and then get the most out of it.

""But this is just a test session and now we simply have to wait exactly one week when we will all be back on track together for the first qualifying session of the season. However, I feel I can say that, looking just at our own performance, we have got off on the right foot. I expect several top teams to all be at a very similar level and I can't wait to see exactly how our package compares to that of our competitors."

Check out our Friday gallery from Bahrain, here.

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