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Formula 1Sport

Verstappen sets ominous pace as F1 starts testing in Bahrain

pre season testing
Red Bull's Max Verstappen during pre-season testing in Bahrain

Triple Formula One world champion Max Verstappen set an ominous pace as Red Bull picked up where they left off on the first day of pre-season testing in Bahrain on Wednesday.

Even if the timesheets could be easily dismissed, with teams running different programmes, there was no denying that the new Red Bull already looked a step up from last year’s dominant RB19.

Verstappen was comfortably faster than the quickest lap of the opening day of testing last year, completing 143 laps — two race distances — and wrapping up 1.140 clear of closest rival Lando Norris in the McLaren.

The Dutch driver’s best lap of one minute 31.344 seconds under the evening floodlights compared to last year’s opening day best of 1:32.837 at the same circuit.

The sense of business as usual contrasted with the uncertainty surrounding Verstappen’s team boss Christian Horner, who has denied allegations of inappropriate behaviour levelled against him by a female employee.

Verstappen, who won a record 19 of 22 races last season with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez winning two more, was also top of the morning session in 1:32.548 when he completed 65 laps without any problem.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was second in that one with Fernando Alonso third for Aston Martin and the last driver within a second of Verstappen.

Australian Oscar Piastri lapped fourth fastest for McLaren, handing over to Norris for the second stint.

Alex Albon of Williams was the first driver to experience any notable problem, stopping his car on track due to a fuel pump problem with 21 minutes remaining of the first session.

Team mate Logan Sargeant had a suspected driveshaft problem later on.

Mercedes had George Russell in their car, whose front wing gained plenty of attention, all day — completing 116 laps — with seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton driving on Thursday.

Team boss Toto Wolff said the mood in the team was positive, with Mercedes putting the emphasis on creating a stable platform for development and spending time making changes to the car in the garage.

“We had a filming day yesterday and then some aero running this morning with no relevant lap times,” added the Austrian.

“So far the feedback from the drivers was yes, this is something we can start to work with and that is encouraging.”

Teams have only three days of testing before the season starts in Bahrain next week.

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