Max Verstappen sets pace as F1 preseason testing begins

SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) — Max Verstappen put in the most miles and put up the fastest time Thursday on the first day of Formula One preseason testing.

The defending champion from the Netherlands lapped the Bahrain International Circuit .029 seconds faster than Aston Martin driver Fernando Alonso. Verstappen did 157 laps, far more than any other driver and nearly triple the distance of next week’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

“Plenty of mileage and some good feedback,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said halfway through the day.

Carlos Sainz was third-fastest and Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc was fourth, both just over .4 seconds off Verstappen’s time. For Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton was sixth and George Russell was ninth.

Williams showed signs of being more competitive than last season, with Alex Albon seventh-fastest and new American driver Logan Sargeant 10th.

The session had barely started when Felipe Drugovich ground to a halt on his first run for Aston Martin with what team principal Mike Krack called an “electric glitch.” The session was red-flagged and Drugovich’s car was taken away on a truck under a cover to prevent other teams from taking notes on its design. He was able to return to the track and was 14th fastest.

Drugovich, the Formula Two champion, is stepping in for regular Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll after the Canadian hurt his wrist while cycling as part of his fitness training. The season begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix at the same track next week.

“For precaution reasons we decided it’s better to wait a bit (on Stroll’s recovery) and be ready next week,” Krack said.

With few major rule changes for 2023, there are only three days of preseason testing, with one car per team. That rule is meant to cut costs but favors big teams who can do more advanced analysis off the track, Haas driver Kevin Magnussen said.

“We as small teams don’t have the same tools that they have,” he said.

There were six days of tests last season after major changes including the return of “ground effect” aerodynamics, which caused many cars to suffer from uncontrollable bouncing and vibrations at high speed. Early indications from Thursday’s test indicate that is much less of an issue, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said.

His team was one of the worst affected last year.


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