F1 testing: Max Verstappen tops timesheets on first day of testing in Bahrain

F1 testing: Max Verstappen tops timesheets on first day of testing in Bahrain

Max Verstappen and Red Bull laid down an ominous marker for this year’s Formula 1 world championship with a dominant opening day of testing in Bahrain on Thursday.

Completing a total of 157 laps, Verstappen topped the timesheets in both the sessions to suggest his RB19 is once again the car to beat for the season ahead.

The Dutchman successfully defended his first world title with 15 victories in 22 races last season and will again be favourite to win the season opener in Bahrain next week.

Red Bull have been guarded about this year’s challenger, only unveiling its full design for the first time on Thursday morning.

While it is notoriously difficult to read much into early testing times, Verstappen immediately went to the top of the timesheets within the opening few laps.

By the end of the day, his best time of 1:32.837 was a second quicker than the quickest in the same session in Bahrain a year ago, with a 41-year-old Fernando Alonso just a few hundredths of a second outside Verstappen’s fastest time.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Early on, Verstappen had battled for the top spot with Carlos Sainz, whose Ferrari team are one of the great unknowns after their bright start to last season fell apart and ended up with the departure of team principal Mattia Binotto.

It looked a promising pre-season beginning for the prancing horse, which showed some signs of the bouncing which was a issue for many teams in 2022 but looked initially quick and reliable before the lunchtime break.

The other big question mark hangs over Mercedes, who were well off the pace for much of last season before forcing their way back into contention.

Driving the W14 first, which has returned to a predominantly black livery, George Russell found himself in the top-five fastest times early on before handing over the controls of the car to teammate Lewis Hamilton for the afternoon session.

And Hamilton proved quicker still ending up sixth to Russell’s eventual ninth of the 19 cars on track.

Of Mercedes’ teams chances in the season ahead, team boss Toto Wolff said: “We are contemplating ‘is she fast, have we cured some of the problems?’ and that is a big unknown. But we have the tools to develop the car and hopefully give George and Lewis something that works.”

Aston Martin’s Felipe Drugovich, brought in to replace Lance Stroll for the test after the Canadian’s cycling accident, had an electronics issue which was rectified in time for him to take part in the session.