F1 pre-season testing ends with Bottas fastest for Williams

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Valtteri Bottas has topped the timesheets on the fourth day of the final test in Barcelona as Formula 1’s pre-season came to an end on Sunday.

The Finnish driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:23.063 to finish four-tenths of a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the top of the timesheets, with Sauber’s Felipe Nasr slotting into third place.

Today marked the twelfth and final day of test running ahead of the new season, which kicks off with the Australian Grand Prix on March 15.

In a last-ditch attempt to ready their cars for Melbourne, most of the teams opted to focus on race simulations and long-run pace, with some also performing a qualifying practice to try and find their place in the pecking order.

It was Bottas who set the pace on the super-soft compound tire, with his best lap time coming just before the lunch break in Barcelona. Williams enjoyed another trouble-free day, so much so that it opted to end its running with 90 minutes remaining in the session.

Sebastian Vettel also opted to use the quicker compound, but could only finish four-tenths of a second adrift of Bottas at the top as Ferrari balanced its running. The German driver was hoping to complete a full race simulation like teammate Kimi Raikkonen had on Saturday, but had his run interrupted by a problem on the car. He eventually finished with 129 laps to his name though, as Ferrari once again finished towards the top of the standings.

Like Ferrari, Sauber rediscovered some of its early testing form as Felipe Nasr finished third with a fastest time of 1:24.023 on the super-soft tire. The Brazilian completed more laps than any other driver as his final preparations ahead of his F1 debut went according to plan.

The same could not be said of Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull, though. Just one hour into the day, the Australian ground to a halt at the end of the pit lane with an ERS failure. He was unable to get back out on track until the middle of the afternoon, but did enough to finish 1.5 seconds down on Bottas in fifth place.

Sergio Perez enjoyed his one and only run in the Force India VJM08 ahead of the new season on Sunday, and enjoyed a productive day. The Mexican was lapping consistently in the car and finished a solid sixth in spite of the numerous delays that Force India has suffered over the winter. However, it is likely that the true cost of the time lost will become clear later this month in Australia.

After topping the timesheets on Friday and Saturday, Mercedes had a far more understated day on Sunday as Nico Rosberg could only finish seventh. Last year’s championship runner-up posted his fastest lap time just one hour into the day on the medium-compound tire, before opting to focus on his long runs to end the day with 148 laps on the board.

McLaren’s hopes of finishing the winter on a high were dashed when a problem on the MP4-30 prevented it from getting out early in the morning session. Jenson Button eventually clocked up 30 laps in total, with his super-soft lap being some 2.2 seconds down on Bottas in P1.

Max Verstappen and Pastor Maldonado endured more difficult days, though, as both drivers were responsible for a red flag stoppage. Verstappen was forced to pull over at the side of turn 11 due to an engine problem, but did manage to get back out in the final hour of the day to improve his time, eventually finishing an excellent fourth.

For Maldonado though, his error was far more costly. Just after running had resumed after the break for lunch, the Venezuelan driver spun off at turn four, causing damage to his Lotus E23 Hybrid. He was unable to get back out on track thereafter, meaning that he finished the day with just 36 laps on the board at the foot of the table.

With pre-season testing now over, attention turns to the opening race of the year in Australia on March 15. Mercedes does appear to still enjoy a sizeable advantage over the rest of the field, but with Red Bull, Williams, Ferrari and Lotus closely knit behind, the stage is set for another thrilling season of racing.

Hunter Lawrence defends Haiden Deegan after controversial block pass at Detroit


Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.

Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.

On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.

One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.

After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.

The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.

“It was good racing; it was fun,” Deegan said at about the 27-minute mark in the video above. “I just had some fun doing it.”

Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.

Lawrence defends Deegan
Jordon Smith failed to make the Detroit Supercross Main and fell to sixth in the points. – Feld Motor Sports

“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.

“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”

As Deegan and Smith battled, Jeremy Martin took the lead. Deegan finished second in the heat and backed up his performance with a solid third-place showing in the main, which was his second podium finish in a short six-race career. Deegan’s first podium was earned at Daytona, just two rounds ago.

But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.

Lawrence defends Deegan
A block pass by Haiden Deegan led to a series of events that eventually led to Jordon Smith failing to make the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.

“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”

Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.

“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.

“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”

The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.