RACE DEBRIEF

    Charles Leclerc’s eye-popping lap of 1m 16.231s was good enough to put Ferrari back on top of the pile on the penultimate day of pre-season testing in Barcelona on Thursday – but the Monegasque ended his session on a sour note, after his Ferrari SF90 stopped on track just after Turn 8.

    Before lunch, Leclerc lapped the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya just 0.058s off the pole time set by Lewis Hamilton at the 2018 Spanish Grand Prix, using Pirelli's softest C5 tyres to claim the fastest lap ever seen at this track in pre-season testing.

    But with less than half an hour of the day left to go, his SF90 ended up on a flat-bed truck with smoke seen coming from its rear. It was a bad day for Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly, too, with the Frenchman suffering a heavy impact into the Turn 9 barriers that tore the front and rear wings off his RB15, putting an end to his running.

    Leclerc and Gasly’s incidents both brought out the red flags, while there was a third for Lance Stroll, the Racing Point driver’s RP19 coming to a standstill on circuit. And to add to the collective suffering in the pit lane, Romain Grosjean’s running was limited to just a dozen laps in the Haas after the team detected an issue on the VF-19’s exhaust.

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    Mercedes continued to keep their performance cards close to their chest, Lewis Hamilton posting the team’s fastest time of the day in the morning, a 1m 18.097s on the second hardest C2 tyres – although that time, when analysed through the inexact science of tyre adjustment, would have put the world champion on roughly an even footing with Leclerc’s best lap, had he too been shod with C5 tyres.

    With many teams opting to focus on long-run pace in the afternoon, the top three times of the day remained unchanged after lunch, Leclerc heading the Toro Rosso of Alexander Albon and the McLaren of Lando Norris in third. Gasly posted a pre-crash lap good enough for fourth, while Daniel Ricciardo – out for the second session of the day after team mate Nico Hulkenberg had driven the first – went fifth for Renault.

    So the teams have just one more day of pre-season testing to prove their mettle before attention switches to the Australian Grand Prix and the start of the 2019 Formula 1 season. Ferrari look to be very much a force to be reckoned with, but can anyone put a dent in the Scuderia’s confidence before the teams pack up and leave Barcelona?

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