SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) — Formula One champion Max Verstappen picked up where he left off last season by setting the fastest time in the first session of preseason testing Thursday.
Verstappen lapped the Bahrain International Circuit nearly .3 seconds faster than Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
“Plenty of mileage and some good feedback,” was the verdict from Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
Alex Albon was third fastest as Williams seemed to have improved its pace from last season, but George Russell was only fifth fastest for Mercedes behind Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu.
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 seventh fastest.
Formula Two champion Drugovich 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 just 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, argued Haas driver Kevin Magnussen. “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 are that is much less of an issue, said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff. His team was one of the worst affected last year.
Other than Aston Martin’s early problems, most of the new cars seemed reliable on Thursday. The afternoon session started with Lewis Hamilton taking over from Russell for Mercedes, and Charles Leclerc step in for Sainz at Ferrari. American driver Logan Sargeant drove for Williams.
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