Verstappen sets blistering benchmark to go top on final day of 2022 pre-season testing
Reigning champion Max Verstappen topped the timesheets on the final day of Bahrain pre-season testing, as a captivating time attack capped off the action on Saturday.
Times tumbled as the sun set at Sakhir, the morning leaderboard shuffling constantly. A late red flag caused by Valtteri Bottas's stoppage left 20 minutes for a final time attack – during which Verstappen spun 360-degrees at the final corner before setting the fastest lap and improving to an ultimate benchmark of 1m 31.720s, comfortably the fastest seen across the three days in Bahrain.
LIVE COVERAGE: Day 3 of Pre-Season Testing in Bahrain
That left previous leader Charles Leclerc second, 0.695s off for Ferrari, and Alpine's Fernando Alonso in P3 having set his fastest lap in the dying minutes.
Mercedes' George Russell was thus demoted to P4 – his team mate Lewis Hamilton 17th with 78 laps in the morning.
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With 40 minutes left, Bottas shot to P5 before stopping at Turn 8 on his cool-down lap, triggering the second red flag of the day. The Finn capped off a promising day for the team that saw Zhou Guanyu (P11) begin with 82 laps before lunch.
AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda, P6, went wheel-to-wheel with Russell in the evening – after their respective team mates Pierre Gasly (P12) and Hamilton set a precedent in the morning.
Morning leader Sergio Perez finished seventh overall, ahead of Haas's Mick Schumacher.
Schumacher brought out the first red flag of the day – very briefly – as he spun coming out of the final corner after two hours (39 laps) of running in the afternoon. He was in P8 when the chequered flag flew, but will have two extra hours of running into the night as Haas make up for the time they lost on Thursday morning.
Lando Norris promoted himself to P9 very late on, and with more than 80 laps on the board he managed his highest mileage of the three days – in the absence of Daniel Ricciardo, sidelined with Covid-19.
Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel enjoyed a productive evening of running, more than 80 laps set on his way to P10.
In P13 (behind Gasly) was Ferrari's morning runner Carlos Sainz, a tally of 68 laps leading him to proclaim that the Scuderia had "completed" their test programme satisfactorily.
Fourteenth-place Alex Albon had just 18 tours of Sakhir in the car on Saturday afternoon, Williams putting morning driver Nicholas Latifi (15th) back into the cockpit to bring his total to 124 laps.
With Aston Martin's Lance Stroll 16th and Hamilton 17th, Haas's Kevin Magnussen rounded out the standings having started the day one hour early – the team catching up on their missed running, with Schumacher set to lap into Saturday night.
Bahrain hosts the first round of the 2022 Formula 1 World Championship where the teams' efforts at preparing their new breed of machines will be realised. Who will hit the ground running – and who will be on the back foot – when the lights go out on March 20?