Perez makes it 2-for-2 after leading Friday Bahrain test

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Again, in the grand scheme of things, testing times mean little. But Sergio Perez couldn’t have done much better for himself or his new team of Force India after two days of Formula One’s last preseason test in Bahrain.

The Mexican led the timesheets for the second successive day, albeit at a slower best lap than his Thursday flier of 1:35.290. His Friday best was nearly three full tenths off at 1:35.570.

But more important than lap times, again, was lap count. And for a second straight day Perez topped the century mark, at 108 completed in the VJM07-Mercedes. Others cracking that barrier included Fernando Alonso (122), Felipe Massa (103) and Esteban Gutierrez (106).

Alonso, who was second in the Ferrari F14 T at 1:35.634, set a new single-lap high for this F1 testing season with the 122 complete. The 116 set by Valtteri Bottas on Thursday, Feb. 20 (Day 2 of Bahrain test 1) had been the previous high-water mark.

In third, with something to celebrate for once, was Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, with 66 laps completed in the RB10-Renault at a best time of 1:35.743. Both the lap and time marks are by far Red Bull’s best of this troubled preseason, and Ricciardo was a full 2.2 seconds quicker Friday than he had been Thursday. Four-time defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel takes the reins of the car this weekend.

The Toro Rosso team also cracked the 60-lap barrier with Jean-Eric Vergne completing 61 laps. Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson got 55 in before a small fire.

Rounding out the Renault quartet in laps was Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus, who had an unlucky day in the No. 13. The Venezuelan suffered what the team deemed on Twitter: “Sufficient char-grilling to render us out for the rest of today. Causation investigations continue.” Maldonado completed a day-low 31 laps.

Marussia got another good day of running in, which was very much needed after last week’s difficulties. Max Chilton ran 44 laps on Thursday, which was already 15 laps more than they did all last week. Then on Friday, Jules Bianchi took over the car and ran 75 laps, actually ending sixth on the day ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. It marked a huge stride forward for the Anglo-Russian team, with its Ferrari-powered MR03.

FRIDAY TIMES FROM BAHRAIN:
1. Sergio Perez, Force India-Mercedes, 1m 35.570s, 108 Laps
2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, 1m 35.634s, 122
3. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull-Renault, 1m 35.743s, 66
4. Felipe Massa, Williams-Mercedes, 1m 36.507s, 103
5. Jenson Button, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m 36.901s, 52
6. Jules Bianchi, Marussia-Ferrari, 1m 38.092s, 75
7. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1m39.041s, 89
8. Jean-Eric Vergne, Toro Rosso-Renault, 1m 39.636s, 61
9. Esteban Gutierrez, Sauber-Ferrari, 1m 39.976s, 106
10. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus-Renault, 1m 41.613s, 31
11. Marcus Ericsson, Caterham-Renault, 1m 42.516s, 55

Lauda labels Verstappen USGP penalty ‘the worst I’ve ever seen’

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Mercedes Formula 1 non-executive chairman Niki Lauda has called the FIA stewards’ decision to penalize Max Verstappen for his last-lap pass on Kimi Raikkonen in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix as “the worst I’ve ever seen”.

Verstappen charged from 16th on the grid to take third place from Raikkonen on the last lap after a stunning fight through the field, completing the fightback with a bold pass in the final sector.

However, the stewards stripped Verstappen of P3 after he appeared to put all four wheels off the circuit when riding the kerb to pass Raikkonen, causing outcry in the F1 community.

Speaking to reporters after the race in Austin, Lauda condemned the stewards’ decision, slamming them for interfering in the late fight.

“We had meetings at the start of the year to see how far stewards should go in decisions during a race because it always says ‘under investigation’,” Lauda said, as quoted by Crash.net.

“So we complained about that and we agreed all together that the stewards would not interfere – very simple.

“If the driver goes over another and upside down, only then would they weigh in. That was at the beginning of last year.

“For six months it was OK, but this decision was the worst I’ve ever seen. He did nothing wrong.”

Lauda said F1 team bosses would discuss stewarding at the next Strategy Group meeting, which is due to be held in the next two weeks.

“These are racing drivers. We are not on the normal roads and it is ridiculous to destroy the sport with these kind of decisions,” Lauda said.

“At the next strategy meeting, we will put it back on the agenda and start all over again, because we cannot do that.

“They go too far and interfere and there was nothing to interfere with. It was normal overtaking.”