Valtteri Bottas leads Day 2 of F1 testing; Lewis Hamilton in 15th after spin into gravel

F1 Valtteri Bottas testing
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

SAKHIR, Bahrain — It was finally back to business as usual for Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes on the second day of preseason F1 testing on Saturday with the Formula One team overcoming its struggles and topping the leaderboard.

Bottas found speed late in the session to finish 0.124 seconds ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and 0.171 ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll. McLaren’s Lando Norris was fourth fastest with Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, who did 124 laps, placing fifth.

The outcome was a welcome relief for Mercedes after seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton lost the rear of his car and went off into the gravel in the morning, bringing out a red flag as the session was briefly halted.

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The British driver ended the day with 58 laps completed, the same tally as Bottas, but he was 15th overall.

Mercedes had encountered unfamiliar reliability problems on Friday, with Bottas completing just six laps because of a gearbox problem and Hamilton in the unusual position of struggling to be competitive.

Charles Leclerc was sixth for Ferrari on Saturday while Sergio Perez was eighth for Red Bull, which had topped Friday’s first day through Max Verstappen.

F1 Valtteri Bottas testing
Scuderia AlphaTauri team members service the car of Pierre Gasly during day two of F1 testing at Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images).

McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, who clocked the fastest time on Saturday morning, fell down to ninth as the late-afternoon light faded.

Veteran Fernando Alonso, who has replaced Ricciardo at Alpine, looked comfortable on his return to F1 and was 10th quickest, completing 127 laps for the rebranded team formerly called Renault.

“We followed the program that was planned so that is good,” Alonso said. “But we need to sit down now and analyze everything. The car did feel good, but I think we still need to understand the characteristics of the new aero package a bit better.”

F1 Valtteri Bottas testing
Fernando Alonso tests the Alpine A521 Renault at Bahrain International Circuit (Clive Mason/Getty Images).

The two-time F1 champion is driving all season with metal plates in his jaw after fracturing his upper jaw following a cycling accident last month.

“I don’t expect any issues, honestly,” the 39-year-old Spaniard said. “I will have to remove two titanium plates in the upper jaw at the end of the season.”

Ferrari newcomer Carlos Sainz Jr., who joined from McLaren, spun in the afternoon, adding to his two spins on Friday. He finished in 13th place, sandwiched between Haas rookies Michael Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.

Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel, who had a difficult final season with Ferrari last year, managed just six laps before a gearbox problem sent him back to the team garage.

The four-time F1 champion, whose last title was eight years ago with Red Bull, mustered just four more laps afterward and ended the day in a lowly 16th.

There is a third and final testing day on Sunday.

The season will start with the Bahrain Grand Prix at the same Sakhir track on March 28. The scheduled first race of the season in Australia was postponed to November because of travel restrictions.

Testing has been moved from its traditional home in Spain and cut from the usual six days to three as F1 and the teams try to cut costs amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.