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.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III