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

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.