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Mercedes hits trouble on opening day of testing, Verstappen quickest

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set the fastest time on the opening day of testing as main rivals Mercedes appeared to struggle, but are the world champions really in trouble? Read our recap and analysis below…

What happened?

  • All ten teams were present for the first of three days of testing ahead of the opening race of the season at the same circuit in two weeks’ time.

  • A sandstorm in the afternoon made track conditions incredibly dusty and limited visibility, but the circuit remained open throughout.

  • Verstappen clocked the fastest time of the day, with a 1:30.674 set on the C3 tyre compound in the afternoon.

    After the day, he said: “We had a very positive day. We could do a lot of laps, even though the track conditions were quite difficult – very warm, a lot of wind – and of course we know the degradation around here is quite high and it’s not easy to do a lot of laps in a row. But very happy with today. We don’t need to speak about pace or whatever, we just did our programme, the car felt nice to drive which I think is always very positive to start the test like that.”

  • Mercedes recorded just one lap in the first three hours and 30 minutes of the session after a gearshift issue forced the team to replace the car’s gearbox. The broken transmission will now be analysed to understand the cause of the problem.

  • World champion Lewis Hamilton took over driving duties at Mercedes in the afternoon. He had an eventful session, complaining about his pedals, a loose wing mirror and struggling for grip on his way to the tenth fastest time of the day.

  • Charles Leclerc caused the only red flag of the morning session when his Ferrari stopped on track at Turn 4 with ten minutes remaining in the morning session. Carlos Sainz drove the Ferrari in the afternoon and set the team’s fastest time.

  • Haas also made a gearbox change following a hydraulic issue, limiting Mick Schumacher’s mileage on his debut with the team in the morning.

Final times:

1. Verstapen – Red Bull – 1:30.674 – 138 laps
2. Norris – McLaren – +0.215s – 45 laps
3. Ocon – Alpine – + 0.472s – 128 laps
4. Stroll – Aston Martin – +1.108s – 46 laps
5. Sainz – Ferrari – +1.245 – 56 laps
6. Giovinazzi – Alfa Romeo – +1.271s – 68 laps
7. Ricciardo – McLaren – +1.529s – 45 laps
8. Gasly – AlphaTauri – +1.557s – 74 laps

9. Tsunoda – AlphaTauri – +2.053s – 37 laps
10. Hamilton – Mercedes – +2.238 – 42 laps
11. Leclerc – Ferrari – +2.568 – 59 laps
12. Raikkonen – Alfa Romeo – +2.646 – 63 laps
13. Vettel – Aston Martin – +3.068s – 51 laps
14. Nissany – Williams – +4.115s – 83 laps
15. Mazepin – Haas – + 4.124s – 69 laps
16. Schumacher – Haas – +5.453s – 15 laps
17. Bottas – Mercedes – +6.176 – 6 laps

Is Mercedes in trouble?

The opening day of preseason testing in Bahrain did not go to plan for world champions Mercedes.

On the new car’s first lap out on track, Valtteri Bottas reported a problem shifting gears and promptly returned to the garage, where the car remained for next three hours and 25 minutes.

Such issues are not uncommon during preseason, but with just three days of testing in total this year before the first race, Mercedes’ delay represented a loss of around 14 percent of the team’s preseason track time.

Once a new gearbox was fitted, Bottas managed five more laps before handing the car over to Lewis Hamilton for the afternoon session, in which he notched up another 42 and the tenth fastest time.

Between the two of them, Hamilton and Bottas managed to notch up just 33 percent of the mileage of main rival Max Verstappen in the Red Bull.

What’s more, Verstappen set the fastest time of the day – a 1:30.674 – ahead of the McLaren of Lando Norris and the Alpine of Esteban Ocon and 2.238s clear of Hamilton’s best effort.

Although lap times on the first day of testing rarely offer much insight into the competitive order for the upcoming season, Mercedes will be in a race against time over the next two days to get ready for the first race.

“It wasn’t a good start because we had a gearbox issue that came out of nowhere that we haven’t yet been able to identify and understand,” team principal Toto Wolff said.

“If we are able to have a smoother ride from here onwards then I think we can recover. If we have more stumbling blocks, then obviously with three days there’s not a lot you can do.”

Friday was the first time Mercedes’ new car hit the track after the world champions opted against its usual practice of completing a shakedown at one of its two designated filming days.

Filming days sit outside F1’s tight testing restrictions and allow teams 100km of mileage to collect photography and video footage for promotional purposes.

Although 100km doesn’t amount to much in F1 testing terms (it’s just 18 laps of the Bahrain International Circuit, for example) a track day at some point over the last week may have uncovered W12’s reliability issue before meaningful testing got underway on Friday.

“It’s very easy to say afterwards [that we should have down a filming day] and, of course, now yes we should have done it before,” Bottas said. “But in the recent years everything has been pretty bullet-proof and certain things have been running on the dyno etc.

“So, yeah, we can say that now, but I’m sure that can be reviewed for next year.”

But if any team can recover from a lost morning of testing and still win the opening race of the season, it’s Mercedes.

Mercedes is starting from a high base after winning 13 of 17 races last year with very few reliability issues over the course of the season.

State-of-the-art facilities back at its Brackley factory — such as the full chassis dyno mentioned by Bottas — means the problems experienced on Friday can be replicated at base and may even result in a counter-measured being put in place to avoid a repeat over the next two days.

Combined with this year’s rules requiring teams to carry over a significant number of parts from last year’s car, Bottas said Mercedes still has enough time to recover.

“The good thing this year is if you miss some running you can actually catch up because of the mileage limitation and with all the efficiency and cost cap we are not running a super busy schedule on all the other days. Hopefully we can catch up and recover, so I look forward to two good days.”

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