SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) — Max Verstappen is displaying his speed in Formula One testing while Mercedes and McLaren struggle.
The defending champion wasn’t quite the fastest Friday in his Red Bull on the second day of preseason testing — that was Alfa Romeo driver Zhou Guanyu — but the Dutchman was only .04 seconds behind and looked consistent on longer runs simulating a race distance.
Fernando Alonso was third-fastest to continue an impressive start at Aston Martin, while Carlos Sainz Jr. was sixth and Charles Leclerc was eighth for Ferrari.
Verstappen took over from teammate Sergio Perez for the Friday afternoon session and racked up 47 more laps to go with the 157 he completed while setting the pace Thursday. Those were the Dutch driver’s last testing laps before next week and practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix at the same venue. Perez will be in the car for Saturday’s runs.
A hydraulic failure left George Russell stranded on the track to end an already disappointing day for Mercedes, which struggled to find the right setup and finished the day with Russell 13th-fastest and Hamilton 15th of 17 drivers.
Russell said earlier in the day that he doubts the team is capable of fighting for the win in next week’s opening race. He managed 26 laps Friday before the car lost power and he had to park.
“We definitely believe eventually we will have a car capable of getting into that fight,” Russell said. “Whether we’re going to have that next weekend in Bahrain I think may be a bit of a stretch.”
Times set in testing offer only a rough guide to a teams’ true speed for the season with the cars often set up in very different ways, sometimes with heavy fuel loads to imitate a full race distance. Title contenders may try to hide their actual pace from rivals, while smaller teams may chase publicity by aiming for fast times over a single lap.
Even so, McLaren could be facing a difficult start to the season with Lando Norris and rookie teammate Oscar Piastri.
“We, like everyone, have a lot of development coming, so we are encouraged at what we see around the corner, but I think we will be going into the the first race off of our projected targets,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown said. “Hard to really know where that means we’ll all be on the grid.”
American driver Logan Sargeant had a solid day with 154 laps and the seventh-fastest time as he prepares to make his debut with Williams next week.
With Lance Stroll still sidelined with a wrist injury from a bicycle accident, Aston Martin will again use Formula Two champion Felipe Drugovich in the third day of testing Saturday. The team hasn’t given a timeline for Stroll to return ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
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