Verstappen tops last day of Bahrain testing; Hamilton says Mercedes has work to do

Verstappen Hamilton preseason testing
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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As world champion Max Verstappen dazzled under the floodlights for Red Bull, easily topping the charts on the last day of Formula One preseason testing on Saturday, and title rival Lewis Hamilton was not optimistic about how Mercedes will fare when the season starts next weekend.

Hamilton missed out on a record eighth F1 title on the last lap of the last race last year and is looking to grab his crown back from Verstappen.

Although it’s only testing, which can be misleading because teams sometimes have something in reserve, the task could prove harder than envisaged for the British veteran with a record 103 race wins.

Verstappen looked to be in that sleek pole position mode – he led F1 with 10 poles last year – beating his own leading time near the end, and going so fast at one point he even did a 360 spin.

Running with the RB18’s upgraded sidepods and floor that clearly worked, Verstappen clocked a leading time of 1 minute, 31.720 seconds, the fastest across the three days of testing in Bahrain.

He was around a half-second ahead of Mick Schumacher, who moved up when driving alone as the American-owned Haas team was granted two extra hours after everyone finished.

That was agreed in order to make up time lost Wednesday after the late arrival of freight shipments left Haas unable to join in Thursday morning’s first session.

Before Schumacher’s late effort, Verstappen placed 0.7 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc when the session ended under floodlights, and in conditions similar to next Sunday’s opening race on the same Sakhir circuit.

“We can’t read too much into the timing,” Verstappen said. “The new parts we tested today worked well, which is what we always hope for.”

But Schumacher’s late run in optimal conditions pushed Leclerc down to third fastest; two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso to fourth, and Hamilton’s teammate George Russell to fifth. They were both around a second slower than Verstappen, who won 10 races last year to Hamilton’s eight.

Hamilton was 4.5 seconds behind Verstappen in 17th spot, though when he drove earlier in the day the conditions were less suitable than in the afternoon and evening.

Still, he wasn’t happy about the way it went (and after Mercedes caused a stir by unveiling its new design earlier in the test).

“We’re not the quickest at the moment, I think Ferrari look to be the quickest. Perhaps Red Bull and then maybe us,” Hamilton said. “But we’re certainly not at the top.”

Hamilton and other drivers have been struggling during preseason testing with what F1 calls “porpoising” – an aerodynamic issue where cars hop and bounce on the track – and with other issues like tire grip.

Hamilton was only ninth best in the morning run, which was topped by Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez.

Even Mercedes, with its eight straight constructors’ titles, has been having trouble getting the car under control.

“Everyone’s struggling out on this bumpy track, and we come out of it knowing we still have a lot of work (to do),” Hamilton said. “Everyone’s sliding around, the tires are worse this year. I hope we can maybe get some better tires at some stage, or maybe that work better in places (that are) not so hot this year.”

Russell agreed with that assessment.

“It’s definitely bouncing around a lot. It’s not the comfiest, in all honesty,” Russell said. “I don’t really care about comfort if the performance is there. But at the moment we do seem a step behind our rivals.”

Mercedes finds itself in the rare position of scrambling to find a solution.

“We’ve yet to find one, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be able to find one ahead of next week, or later in the season,” Russell said. “I do believe the performance is in there, somewhere.”

Hamilton did have some cause for optimism, however.

“The positive so far is following behind other cars feels a little bit better,” the 37-year-old British driver said.

AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly, who was third fastest in the morning, agreed following is better than in previous years – which was one of F1’s hopes amid a series of regulation changes.

“That makes me quite optimistic in terms of racing,” the Frenchman said. “(The fans) should see some exciting races.”

It was proving a long day for McLaren’s Lando Norris driving alone on the Bahrain International Circuit, with teammate Daniel Ricciardo recovering from the coronavirus.

Norris thinks McLaren has “a lot of work to do” before next week.

“The slower speed corners is where we struggle,” he said. “When you look at Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, they’re quite a long way ahead of us in those types of corners.”

Saturday’s Supercross Round 5 in Houston: How to watch, start times, streaming info

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The championship race has tightened up as the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series heads to NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, for Round 5 of the 2023 season.

With his 450 victory in the Anaheim Triple Crown, Chase Sexton has moved within four points of two-time and defending series champion Eli Tomac.

Jason Anderson is coming off a second place in Anaheim after crashing out of the first two rounds while racing in the top five. Ken Roczen earned his first podium last week since the 2022 season opener and the first for Suzuki since Chad Reed at Detroit in 2019.

Here are the pertinent details for watching Round 5 of the 2023 Supercross schedule at NRG Stadium in Houston on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023:


(All times are ET)

BROADCAST/STREAMING SCHEDULE: TV coverage of Round 5 will begin Saturday at 8 p.m. ET streaming on Peacock and will re-air Monday, Feb. 6 at 1 a.m. on CNBC. The Race Day Live show (including qualifying) will begin on Peacock at 2:30 p.m. ET.

NBC Sports will have exclusive live coverage of races, qualifiers and heats for the record 31 events in SuperMotocross. The main events will be presented on Peacock, NBC, USA Network, CNBC, and NBC Sports digital platforms.

Peacock will become the home of the SuperMotocross World Championship series in 2023 with live coverage of all races, qualifying, and heats from January to October. There will be 23 races livestreamed exclusively on Peacock, including a SuperMotocross World Championship Playoff event. The platform also will provide on-demand replays of every race.

ENTRY LISTS: 450 division l 250 division

EVENT SCHEDULE (all times ET):

Here are the start times for Saturday, according to the Monster Energy Supercross schedule from the AMA:

2:05-2:15 p.m.: 250SX Group C Qualifying 1
2:20-2:30 p.m.: 250SX Group B Qualifying 1
2:35-2:45 p.m.: 250SX Group A Qualifying 1
2:50-3 p.m.: 450SX Group A Qualifying 1
3:05-3:15 p.m.: 450SX Group B Qualifying 1
3:20-3:30 p.m.: 450SX Group C Qualifying 1
4:20-4:30 p.m.: 250SX Group C Qualifying 2
4:35-4:45 p.m.: 250SX Group B Qualifying 2
4:50-5 p.m.: 250SX Group A Qualifying 2
5:05-5:15 p.m.: 450SX Group A Qualifying 2
5:20-5:30 p.m.: 450SX Group B Qualifying 2
5:35-5:45 p.m.: 450SX Group C Qualifying 2
8:06 p.m.: 250SX Heat 1
8:20 p.m.: 250SX Heat 2
8:34 p.m.: 450SX Heat 1
8:48 p.m.: 450SX Heat 2
9:22 p.m.: 250SX Last Chance Qualifier
9:33 p.m.: 450SX Last Chance Qualifier
9:53 p.m.: 250SX Main Event
10:27 p.m.: 450SX Main Event

TRACK LAYOUT:

Click here to view the track map

HOW TO WATCH SUPERMOTOCROSS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON IN 2023Full NBC Sports, Peacock schedule

FINAL 2022 STANDINGS: 450 points standings | 250 East points standings250 West points standings


2023 SEASON RECAPS

ROUND 1: Eli Tomac opens title defense with victory

ROUND 2: Oakland postponed by storms

ROUND 3: Tomac holds off Cooper Webb again

ROUND 4: Chase Sexton wins Anaheim Triple Crown


NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE OF SUPERMOTOCROSS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

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