Perez pips Hamilton as F1 testing wraps up in Bahrain
Sergio Perez topped the timesheets for Red Bull from Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes as pre-season testing wrapped up in Sakhir on Saturday.
Perez has emerged as a crucial cog in teammate Max Verstappen's world championship success over the past two seasons.
And after three days trying out their 2023 cars in the desert all the signs are that Red Bull will be hard to deny next Sunday in the Bahrain Grand Prix, the first of a record 23-race season.
"Red Bull seem to be very strong in these three days," said Ferrari's Charles Leclerc after Verstappen had been quickest on the first day of testing on Thursday.
"I feel we have some work to do," added Leclerc, who will be hoping new Ferrari chief Frederic Vasseur can bring a change of fortune for the Scuderia on raceday after Ferrari's title challenge last term was undone by a mix of poor strategy and reliability.
"The car is working really well," said Verstappen, who is targeting a third straight title after defending his controversially gained 2021 crown four races from the end of last season with a record 15 wins.
Testing concluded with Perez 0.359seconds up on Hamilton as Verstappen sat out the final day.
There was an upbeat mood in the Mercedes garage with the new car performing well and showing no signs of the bouncing that dogged last year's W13.
"We're not quite where we want to be but it's a good platform to start from," commented Hamilton.
Teammate George Russell, who secured his first win in Brazil last year, said: "I believe we have improved the car over the course of testing and got the W14 in a much better window today. There is still plenty of work to do but we're in better shape for next week with more to come."
Valtteri Bottas's Alfa Romeo occupied third from Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari, with Japan's Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri) sixth.
Further down the times in an Aston Martin came Felipe Drugovich, who stood in for Lance Stroll, missing after a cycling accident.
Drugovich, 22 and born in Brazil, won last season's Formula 2 title and is on standby to substitute for Stroll should the Canadian son of team owner Lawrence Stroll be unfit for next weekend's race.
1. Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull) 1:30.305 (133 laps) 2. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 1:30.664 (65) 3. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Alfa Romeo) 1:30.827 (131) 4. Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) 1:31.024 (67) 5. Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari) 1:31.036 (75) 6. Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri) 1:31.261 (79) 7. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas) 1:31.381 (94) 8. George Russell (GBR/Mercedes) 1:31.442 (83) 9. Fernando Alonso (ESP/Aston Martin) 1:31.450 (80) 10. Felipe Drugovich (BRA/Aston Martin) 1:32.075 (77) 11. Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren) 1:32.160 (37) 12. Pierre Gasly (FRA/Alpine) 1:32.762 (56) 13. Alexander Albon (THA/Williams) 1:32.793 (136) 14. Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine) 1:33.257 (76) 15. Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Haas) 1:33.329 (77) 16. Oscar Piastri (AUS/McLaren) 1:33.655 (44) 17. Nyck De Vries (NED/AlphaTauri) 1:38.244 (87)