Red Bull’s Max Verstappen fastest in opening F1 Bahrain testing session

By Sports Desk February 21, 2024

Max Verstappen put Red Bull’s off-track troubles to one side by setting the pace in the opening testing session in Bahrain.

Red Bull’s preparations for the new campaign have been overshadowed by allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” against team principal Christian Horner.

Horner, who is in Bahrain for this week’s three-day test ahead of the opening round, also in the Gulf kingdom, on March 2, emphatically denies the accusations made by a female colleague.

Verstappen won 19 of the 22 races last season as he wrapped up his third world championship, and the Dutch driver laid down an early marker by topping the time charts in his heavily revised Red Bull.

The 26-year-old ended the running nearly seven tenths quicker than Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in third, eight tenths back, and the only other driver within one second of Verstappen.

McLaren’s Oscar Piastri finished fourth, while George Russell was sixth for Mercedes, 1.68 secs off the pace.

Lewis Hamilton gets his first taste of the last Mercedes he will drive on Thursday ahead of his blockbuster switch to Ferrari next year.

Although headline times in testing have to be treated with a degree of caution – as the teams trial different fuel loads and tyre compounds – Verstappen appeared settled in the machine he hopes will carry him to a fourth consecutive title.

His lap count of 65 was more than a race distance in Bahrain. Alonso (77 laps) managed the most miles of the 10 drivers on track.

During a relatively trouble-free first session for the majority of the field, Alex Albon broke down in his Williams following a reliability failure with 20 minutes remaining.

The final four hours of the opening day begins at 1500 local time (1200GMT).

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  • Norris: Catching Verstappen more likely than previous seasons Norris: Catching Verstappen more likely than previous seasons

    Max Verstappen is still the favourite to win the Formula One world title, but Lando Norris is more confident that the Red Bull driver can be caught.

    Verstappen is in the hunt for his fourth straight world championship crown, and leads the drivers' standings with five race wins to his name in 2024.

    However, only 31 points separate the Dutchman, who is on 169, and second-placed Charles Leclerc, while McLaren's Norris sits third with 113 following his victory in Miami last month.

    Mercedes, meanwhile, have come back into contention in recent races, with both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton impressing in qualifying, albeit they have been unable to translate that into a victory as of yet.

    But with more contenders, Norris feels the field is opening up.

    "There is more chance and possibilities now, especially if Mercedes are in the fight; more chance of having a bigger swing of points." he said, as per BBC Sport, ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

    "A bad weekend for Max was third but it could be fifth or sixth.

    "And if you can be the guy who wins, within one weekend you can turn quite a lot of points around fairly quickly. If it goes like that, there is a higher chance."

    Norris conceded, though, that Verstappen is still at the very top of his game.

    He added: "Max's bad weekend is never going to be a bad weekend. It's still going to be a good amount of points. He is just strong in all areas. It is rare he makes mistakes or messes up qualifying.

    "But with more pressure you never know how that changes, and always with pressure it is always easier to make mistakes."

    In the world of Mercedes, Hamilton has urged the team's fans to give backing to Russell, who has faced accusations of the team favouring him, given his team-mate is set to join Ferrari next season.

    "I think they know if you look over the years, we've always been a strong team. We've always worked really hard together," Hamilton told reporters.

    "I think we need support, not negativity, and I wasn't actually aware that George was experiencing negativity.

    "George has done nothing but his best every single weekend and is delivering for the team, so he can't be faulted at all.

    "Of course, there can always be things done better within the team, and that comes through conversation, through communication, and that's something that we are consistently working on.

    "But we're all in the same boat. We're all working hard together. We want to finish on a high and feel that we owe that to our long-term relationship that we've had."

  • Norris: Catching Verstappen more likely Norris: Catching Verstappen more likely

    Max Verstappen is still the favourite to win the Formula One world title, but Lando Norris is more confident that the Red Bull driver can be caught.

    Verstappen is in the hunt for his fourth straight world championship crown, and leads the drivers' standings with five race wins to his name in 2024.

    However, only 31 points separate the Dutchman, who is on 169, and second-placed Charles Leclerc, while McLaren's Norris sits third with 113 following his victory in Miami last month.

    Mercedes, meanwhile, have come back into contention in recent races, with both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton impressing in qualifying, albeit they have been unable to translate that into a victory as of yet.

    But with more contenders, Norris feels the field is opening up.

    "There is more chance and possibilities now, especially if Mercedes are in the fight; more chance of having a bigger swing of points." he said, as per BBC Sport, ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

    "A bad weekend for Max was third but it could be fifth or sixth.

    "And if you can be the guy who wins, within one weekend you can turn quite a lot of points around fairly quickly. If it goes like that, there is a higher chance."

    Norris conceded, though, that Verstappen is still at the very top of his game.

    He added: "Max's bad weekend is never going to be a bad weekend. It's still going to be a good amount of points. He is just strong in all areas. It is rare he makes mistakes or messes up qualifying.

    "But with more pressure you never know how that changes, and always with pressure it is always easier to make mistakes."

    In the world of Mercedes, Hamilton has urged the team's fans to give backing to Russell, who has faced accusations of the team favouring him, given his team-mate is set to join Ferrari next season.

    "I think they know if you look over the years, we've always been a strong team. We've always worked really hard together," Hamilton told reporters.

    "I think we need support, not negativity, and I wasn't actually aware that George was experiencing negativity.

    "George has done nothing but his best every single weekend and is delivering for the team, so he can't be faulted at all.

    "Of course, there can always be things done better within the team, and that comes through conversation, through communication, and that's something that we are consistently working on.

    "But we're all in the same boat. We're all working hard together. We want to finish on a high and feel that we owe that to our long-term relationship that we've had."

  • We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix incident We will be back says Perez following Canadian Grand Prix incident

    Sergio Perez has apologised following a second successive retirement at the Canada Grand Prix which left him 87 points behind Red Bull team-mate, Max Vertsappen.

    The 34-year-old remained fifth overall in the world championship and a point behind Ferrari's Carlos Sainz, who was one of five drivers that failed to finish the race. 

    In difficult conditions in Montreal, the Mexican started 16th but hopes of climbing up the pecking order soon faded after damaging his car's front wing on the opening lap when he made contact with Alpine's Pierre Gasly.

    He then crashed into the barriers late in the day after losing control on a damp kerb at turn six, hobbling back to the pits with a broken rear wing. 

    "I'm very sorry for my team, I let them down today. But we will come back no doubt. There’s a very long way to go," Perez said on social media.

    His final incident cost him a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Barcelona, with the stewards punishing him for a breach of the safety rules that require a driver to stop if the car is unsafe.

    "The incident was on me, I touched the wet part into turn six and I couldn’t stop the car, I couldn’t touch the brakes," Perez said on Sunday.

    "It has been a very tough couple of weekends, we will regroup, keep our heads down and learn from the weekend. We identified a couple of issues after qualifying and they meant we would have qualified a lot higher.

    "Hopefully we can be back to our form in Spain and get back to the level we were at earlier in the season. I am confident in that, there are good tracks coming for us."

    Perez recently signed a new two-year deal with Red Bull, ending speculation that the world champions will sign free agent Sainz ahead of the new season. 

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