Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas fastest on final day of F1 preseason testing

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MONTMELO, Spain — Valtteri Bottas set the fastest lap time on the final day of Formula One testing on Friday, as Mercedes maintained its status of title favorite heading toward the new season.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo were right behind the Finnish driver within one tenth of a second on the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit.

Last week, Bottas recorded the fastest time of any driver in the six-day preseason.

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari and defending champion Lewis Hamilton put in the fourth -and fifth-best times, respectively, on Friday.

Leclerc was the busiest driver, completing 177 laps while teammate Sebastian Vettel rested.

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto had to acknowledge that Mercedes looked to be way ahead.

“I said I was not optimistic as I was last year, and I think I can confirm it,” Binotto said. “We are certainly not the fastest car in testing.”

Last year at this time, Ferrari had high hopes after setting faster lap times than Mercedes in testing, only for the pair of Hamilton and Bottas to blow them away once the racing began.

The final day of the tests went smoothly for most drivers with no major incidents or red flags.

Alex Albon of Red Bull and Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo spun off the track in the morning half of the session, but both were able to get back going.

Mercedes fixed the oil pressure problem that brought Hamilton’s car to a stop on Thursday, limiting the six-time champion to just 14 laps. On Friday, he put in 90 error-free laps before handing it over to Bottas.

The absence of major changes to the rules for this season appears to give an even bigger advantage to Mercedes, which can just improve on its dominant car from 2019.

Still, Hamilton said that reliability may be their weak spot.

“We’re on our third engine already, so it’s definitely not an easy or relaxed scenario for us,” Hamilton said. “The engine is actually very good, and an improvement from last year. It’s just not quite where we want it to be reliability-wise.

The season-opening Australian GP is on March 15.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.