Max Verstappen, new teammate Sergio Perez post strong pace for Red Bull in F1 testing

F1 testing Red Bull
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Having won the last race of the 2020 Formula One season, Red Bull showed it might be a strong challenger to Mercedes this year after leading the final day of preseason F1 testing Sunday.

With the evening sun setting on Bahrain’s desert track in Sakhir, Max Verstappen topped the leaderboard after his new teammate Sergio Perez was fastest in the morning run.

“I am pleased with where the car is, there is definitely good potential in it,” Perez said. “The overall picture is a positive one.”

Verstappen, who won the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a commanding drive last December, also topped Friday’s first testing day.

“It was very smooth, as it has been throughout the whole test. I think we can say it has been a good weekend but of course that doesn’t give you any guarantees,” Verstappen said. “We’ll find out for sure in a couple of weeks where we really are, but I would say the car feels good.”

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World champion Lewis Hamilton span his car 360 degrees on track late in Sunday’s session and finished the day only fifth fastest and, encouragingly for Red Bull, about one second behind Verstappen’s time.

Seven-time series champion Lewis Hamilton ranked fifth fastest on the final day of testing his Mercedes at the Bahrain International Circuit (MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images).

Hamilton expects Red Bull to push him hard as he bids for a record eighth F1 title to overtake Michael Schumacher and stand alone among F1 greats.

“Both the drivers, I think, have been looking quite strong,” Hamilton said. “They’re going to be a different animal this year with a real good lineup. It’s going to be a great, long battle with them.”

Perez brings huge experience and racecraft, to back up Verstappen’s abundance of natural ability, audacity and speed.

The 31-year-old Mexican switched from Racing Point, which rebranded as Aston Martin following a takeover and perhaps unfairly replaced him with four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel, who did not get a new contract at Ferrari.

Formula 1 Testing in Bahrain - Day 3
In his debut driving for Red Bull, Sergio Perez has looked strong in the Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda (Joe Portlock/Getty Images).

“It has been the shortest preseason I have ever done, and I still have a lot of things to learn in the car to get the maximum out of it,” said Perez, who won his first F1 race last year for his 10th career podium.

Mercedes struggled on Friday and on Saturday morning before finding its form in Saturday’s afternoon session. On Sunday, Bottas was down in 16th and felt the car’s balance was still not quite right.

“I would say that one of the big issues with the car is the rear,” Bottas said. “It’s quite snappy and it’s quite unforgiving … We’re trying to calm the car down a bit and that way trying to get some more pace.”

The season starts with the Bahrain Grand Prix at the same track on March 28.

The scheduled first race in Australia was postponed to November because of travel restrictions, while testing was moved from Spain and cut from six days to three to save costs amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“I am grateful for these short test days but it is the racing we really enjoy,” said Hamilton, who will go for a record-extending 99th F1 win in two weeks’ time.

He is confident that is long enough for Mercedes to iron out the issues that arose in testing.

“It’s better that it doesn’t go smoothly now and goes smooth once we get into the racing scene,” he said. “I think everyone’s just keeping their heads down. No one is fazed by it. We are a multi championship-winning team, and we know how to pull together.”

For Bottas the last day was more about avoiding further hiccups, and he was content to clock more than 80 laps.

Formula 1 Testing in Bahrain - Day 3
Lewis Hamilton  and Max Verstappen answer questions in a news conference during the final day of preseason F1 testing at Bahrain International Circuit (Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images).

“I can’t say we fully achieved the mileage we wanted to but not that far off, a good amount of laps,” Bottas said. “Considering what happened on day one, how day two went, I am pleased for that.”

It was an encouraging debut for AlphaTauri’s 20-year-old Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda, who ended the day second behind Verstappen and ahead of 41-year-old Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

After enduring a torrid last season with Ferrari, Vettel’s first days with Aston Martin were forgettable.

After completing just a handful of laps on Saturday because of a gearbox problem, he was 17th on Sunday.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media

ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”