SAKHIR, Bahrain — Alfa Romeo driver Zhou Guanyu topped the second day of pre-season testing in Bahrain, beating world champion Max Verstappen in the fastest time by 0.040s.
Zhou’s presence at the top of the time sheets served as a reminder of how difficult it is to read the competitive order in testing due to the myriad of variables that dictate lap times.
While Alfa Romeo’s pace has looked respectable over the two days of testing, Red Bull remains the clear favorite after two days of testing with no driver setting a time less than a second shy of pole position. last year for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Verstappen had held the fastest time for most of the afternoon after setting his lap time, 1:31.650, earlier in the afternoon on the C3 compound tyre.
By comparison, Zhou set his time on the softest tire compound in Pirelli’s range, the C5, and once the sun went down, which translates to cooler, faster track conditions.
Other than those clear variables, the fuel loads and engine modes of the two drivers were unknown and likely contributed to helping explain Zhou’s relatively strong performance.
Perhaps most impressive and sinister for Red Bull’s rivals was the world champions’ ability to complete a race simulation in the morning session with Sergio Perez.
Teams try to simulate race conditions in testing to understand how the car will fare over a full grand prix distance, but practice is usually reserved for when the team has a solid understanding of their car. The fact that Red Bull gave it a go on the morning of day two indicates how well prepared they feel ahead of next week’s season-opening Grand Prix in Bahrain.
Ferrari, which appears to be emerging as Red Bull’s closest competition this year, also attempted a race simulation in the afternoon session with Charles Leclerc, but the final stage was interrupted by George Russell’s Mercedes stopping on track. .
Leclerc finished the day eighth fastest, with teammate Carlos Sainz setting the sixth fastest time in the morning session.
“Obviously we’re not showing everything as it’s just testing, but that’s why it’s very, very important for us to focus on ourselves and no team will really show potential here,” Leclerc said. “So we’ll just focus on ourselves, try to get the best feeling out of these three days of testing and be as ready as possible for next week.”
Mercedes appears to be having more trouble amongst the top F1 teams and Russell’s issue, which was related to the car’s hydraulics, brought the team’s day to an early end with 98 laps split between the two drivers.
Lewis Hamilton completed 72 of those laps in the morning, but was visibly struggling with the car’s handling as it spun heavily from corner to corner on several occasions.
The final day should provide a better indication of how the top three teams stack up, but Red Bull and Ferrari seem to be in a better place than Mercedes with two-thirds of the test complete.
Fernando Alonso continued to look fast in the Aston Martin, with the third fastest time. He was 0.555s behind Verstappen using the same C3 compound tires and more than 0.25s behind Sainz for Ferrari, also using the C3.
AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries was fourth fastest using the softer C4 compound, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in fifth for Haas and also on the C4.
American rookie Logan Sargeant completed a mammoth 154 laps in the Williams and set the seventh fastest time. He parked the car in pit lane with an apparent problem with the hybrid system as the Williams mechanics had to take the precaution of wearing rubber gloves while driving the car to avoid a possible electric shock.
McLaren and Alpine, which finished fourth in the manufacturers’ standings last year, split by 0.011sec in Friday’s times as the eighth and ninth fastest teams ahead of slowest of all Mercedes.
While McLaren has downplayed its car’s performance heading into the first race, Alpine seems more confident, suggesting its slower times are simply due to a different approach to testing compared to its rivals.
Final hours of day 2:
1. Zhou Guanyu – Alfa Romeo – 1:31.610 – 132 laps
2. Max Verstappen – Red Bull – +0.040s – 47 laps
3. Fernando Alonso – Aston Martin – +0.595s – 130 laps
4. Nyck de Vries – AlphaTauri – +0.612s – 74 laps
5. Nico Hulkenberg – Haas – +0.856s – 68 laps
6. Carlos Sainz – Ferrari – +0.876s – 70 laps
7. Logan Sargeant – Williams – +0.939s – 154 laps
8. Charles Leclerc – Ferrari – +1,115 – 68 laps
9.Oscar Piastri – McLaren – +1.565s – 74 laps
10 Pierre Gasly – Alpine – +1.576s – 59 laps
11. Kevin Magnussen – Haas – +1.832s – 67 laps
12. Esteban Ocon – Alpine – +1.880s – 49 laps
13 George Russell – Mercedes -0 +2.044s – 26 laps
14 Sergio Pérez – Red Bull – +2.141s – 76 laps
15 Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – +2.344s – 72 laps
16 Lando Norris – McLaren – +3.912s – 65 laps
17. Yuki Tsunoda – AlphaTauri – +4098s – 85 laps