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F1 testing: Mercedes hit trouble with breakdown on Day Two as Max Verstappen stamps authority despite Zhou Guanyu’s fastest time

George Russell suffers reliability failure to draw a worrying close to Mercedes’ second day of testing; Zhou Guanyu tops impressive Max Verstappen with late “glory run”;watch final day of testing live on Sky Sports F1 at 6.50am on Saturday

Mercedes’ preparations for the new Formula 1 season took a major hit on the second day of pre-season testing after breaking down on track in Bahrain, where Max Verstappen still appears the man to beat despite Zhou Guanyu’s surprise late fastest time.

George Russell was driving Mercedes’ 109th lap of a mixed day – after Lewis Hamilton struggled for handling in the morning session – when he was forced to stop, causing only the second red flag of testing so far.

Mercedes confirmed a hydraulics issue soon after and, while there were 90 minutes remaining in the day, Russell did not get back out on track.

“We’ve not had a strong second day; stopping on track with a reliability issue wasn’t great and we have struggled to get the car balanced well across the changing conditions.,” admitted trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin

Russell finished 13th out of 17 drivers and Hamilton 15th, with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff insisting they are “hiding” their real pace.

Alfa Romeo driver Zhou Guanyu shoots to the top of the timesheet with a 1:31.610, which is almost half a tenth quicker than Max Verstappen

Verstappen and Red Bull, however, cannot seem to hide their speed.

Continuing their ominous start to 2023, Verstappen posted the best time of the test – a 1:31.650 – in the least optimal afternoon conditions on Day Two, before being usurped late on by Zhou in the Alfa Romeo.

Zhou’s effort, 0.040s faster but on softer tyres and in the cooler evening conditions, was described as a testing “glory run” by the Sky Sports F1 pundits, although the team do look like genuine midfield contenders.

Fernando Alonso rubber-stamped Aston Martin’s potential by finishing third, ahead of AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries and Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg.

The genuine rivals for Red Bull ahead of next weekend’s opening Bahrain GP, though, appear to be Ferrari.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen secures the fastest time for his team on the same C3 tyre as the Ferrari

Carlos Sainz comfortably set the pace in the morning session as F1’s most successful team removed the shackles from the opening day, before handing over to Charles Leclerc, who went through a more mundane long-run programme and finished two places behind his team-mate in eighth.

Both drivers were buoyed by Ferrari’s pace, while refusing to comment on battling Red Bull.

They were split by Logan Sargeant, Williams’ US rookie who completed an impressive 154 laps, while Oscar Piastri and Pierre Gasly completed the top 10 for McLaren and Alpine respectively.

The action continues on Saturday with the final day of pre-season testing, live on Sky Sports F1 from 6.50am.

Bahrain pre-season test: Day Two timesheet

Driver Team Time Laps
1) Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:31.610 132
2) Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.040 47
3) Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +0.595 130
4) Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri +0.612 74
5) Nico Hulkenberg Haas +0.856 68
6) Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.876 60
7) Logan Sargeant Williams +0.939 154
8) Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1.115 68
9) Oscar Piastri McLaren +1.565 74
10) Pierre Gasly Alpine +1.576 59
11) Kevin Magnussen Haas +1.832 67
12) Esteban Ocon Alpine +1.880 49
13) George Russell Mercedes +2.044 26
14) Sergio Perez Red Bull +2.141 76
15) Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +2.344 72
16) Lando Norris McLaren +3.912 65
17) Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +4.098 85

Who is standing out at testing so far?

The obvious answer to that question is Red Bull.

After completing the most laps and setting the fastest time on day one, it was a subdued morning session for Perez before Verstappen went for fast lap after fast lap following the lunch break, despite the hot conditions.

He was eight-tenths faster than any other driver before the times dropped under the lights, albeit with Verstappen not taking part in those ‘glory runs’.

There was almost disaster in the second day of testing in Bahrain, as a practice start almost ends in collision.

Aston Martin, meanwhile, appear genuine contenders to lead the midfield, while Alfa Romeo also appear to be in the running. Haas and Williams have also been quicker than predicted.

Ferrari have been quieter than most when it comes to fast times – barring Sainz’s quick run in the morning – but their drivers’ happiness suggests they aren’t too far from Red Bull at all.

“It’s been another positive day,” said Sainz. “Reliability was again very good and we’ve been able to explore all the set-ups we targeted to test.

“We keep exploring the limits of the car and finding potential areas where we can maximise performance.”

At the other end of the spectrum, there can be no denying it’s been a troubling start to testing for Mercedes and McLaren.

Mercedes, while happier with their car and its lack of bouncing, appear set to be the third-quickest team – at best – come the first race and also dropped down the mileage charts after missing a crucial hour and a half of running on Friday.

The fastest laps of Bahrain pre-season testing per team

Team Driver Test Day Time
Alfa Romeo Zhou Guanyu Day Two 1:31.610
Red Bull Max Verstappen Day Two 1:31.650
Aston Martin Fernando Alonsol Day Two 1:32.205
AlphaTauri Nyck de Vries Day Two 1:32.222
Haas Nico Hulkenberg Day Two 1:32.466
Ferrari Carlos Sainz Day Two 1:32.486
Williams Logan Sargeant Day Two 1:32.549
McLaren Oscar Piastri Day Two 1:33.175
Alpine Pierre Gasly Day Two 1:33.186
Mercedes Lewis Hamilton Day One 1:33.508

Before even having the reliability concern, Hamilton was sliding around on track earlier in the day in what Sky F1’s Anthony Davidson described a “snappy” W14.

“It was a difficult morning,” said Hamilton. “The hot temperatures made it challenging with the tyres overheating.”

Russell added: “We haven’t unlocked everything yet in the W14 and everyone is working hard to do so and maximise our final day of testing tomorrow.”

McLaren broke into the top 10 with Piastri to end Friday but also appeared to be in a spot of bother.

Team CEO Zak Brown said earlier: “We know we set some goals for development which we didn’t hit and we felt it was better to be honest about that.

“We have some good developments coming – but so does every other single team in Formula 1. So we need do need to pick up the pace.”

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