Lewis Hamilton completed a hat-trick of fastest times during the final practice session for the Bahrain Grand Prix today, and the Briton’s Mercedes team appears to be in unstoppable form ahead of qualifying later today.
Hamilton edged out teammate Nico Rosberg by just one-tenth of a second as the Silver Arrows once again enjoyed a significant advantage over the rest of the field.
Just as we saw in FP1 on Friday, most of the teams elected to wait in the pits at the beginning of the final practice session as the conditions – hot in daytime – were not representative of the night-time running that we will see later today in qualifying. Eventually, most of the teams did venture out after 20 minutes or so, fitted with a set of the harder compound tire.
Despite the likes of Marcus Ericsson and Daniil Kvyat sitting on top of the timesheets at points, Mercedes once again laid down an ominous pace in the first set of runs, continuing its form from yesterday. This time though, Nico Rosberg was the man in P1 ahead of Lewis Hamilton, whilst the Williams drivers posed the closest challenge over eight-tenths behind. After struggling in the wet conditions in Australia and Malaysia, both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas appear to be in better shape this weekend in Bahrain.
Sebastian Vettel’s session came to an early end after a rare mistake by the four-time world champion. Upon starting a new lap, the German driver applied too much power through turn two and spun off into the gravel. His car avoided hitting the wall, meaning that he will be able to run in qualifying without any problem. However, the team will still be unsure of where it lies on the soft tire over one lap, with these runs coming at the end of the session.
The teams soon turned their attention to the quicker soft-tire runs, and once again Mercedes romped to a one-two finish. In a flurry of déjà vu, Hamilton finished ahead of Rosberg by one-tenth of a second, giving the Silver Arrows a clean sweep at the top of the timesheets across all three practice sessions. The surprise package was Force India, who got its drivers well up into the top ten, and could be considered as a dark horse for a podium finish in Bahrain. Sergio Perez finished in third position ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, whilst teammate Nico Hulkenberg ended up in eighth place.
Ultimately, it was another dominant display from Mercedes who cantered to a third straight one-two finish in practice. It is difficult to see any other driver realistically challenging either Hamilton or Rosberg, meaning that it may come down to an inter-team battle for pole position later today.
You can watch qualifying live on CNBC and Live Extra from 11am ET.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.