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TESTING DEBRIEF: Red Bull's step forward and a more consistent Mercedes – the learnings after Day 2 of testing

F1 Correspondent & Presenter

Lawrence Barretto
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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 22: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG

Mileage was once again the focus on the penultimate day of pre-season testing in Bahrain, with Formula 1 teams keen to learn as much as they can about their respective new machines before the season gets under way at the same venue next weekend.

Sergio Perez was the most productive in terms of laps completed, while Carlos Sainz was the quickest. And while it’s unwise to read too much into anything at testing, given the variety of progammes in play across the field, there are a few things we can learn after a second day of track action at the Bahrain International Circuit…

READ MORE: Sainz sets pace on Day 2 of pre-season testing as he improves on Leclerc’s earlier benchmark

Red Bull remain the team to beat

The chatter on Thursday morning in the Bahraini paddock was centred around Red Bull – and just how good the RB20 looks. One team insider described the team’s pace as “frightening”, so impressed were they by what Max Verstappen delivered on the opening day.

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F1 pre-season testing 2024: Day 2 Highlights

And while things got a little bumpier on day two, with Sergio Perez experiencing a brake fire and possible power issue, the Mexican banked more than a century of laps and reported that the machine is “definitely a step forward in the fight direction.”

Perez focused on set-up work in the afternoon, as he looks to weave in more consistency to his performances on race day this season, with the RB20 looking silky smooth in multiple aspects – from on rails through the fast stuff, to very compliant on the kerbs and silky smooth through the corners.

Perez, last year’s runner up, tried his very best to play down the fact his team look good, so early in testing – but from everything he and his team mate Verstappen have delivered so far, it’s seems the Adrian Newey-led design team at Milton Keynes have delivered another corker of a car.

READ MORE: Perez says field ‘a lot closer than people think’ as he reveals shock at Red Bull’s RB20 concept

Mixed day for Ferrari – but car looks like a decent step forward

It’s not worth reading much into Sainz’s pace-setting time, given we have no idea how much fuel he was running or what configuration the car was in – however, it is understood the data the car is delivering on track is correlating well with what the wind tunnel and CFD suggested over the winter.

Last year, the Scuderia excelled over one lap, but struggled to keep their tyres alive on race day. So, working on reducing degradation has been a key part of their pre-season testing programme – and encouragingly for their loyal Tifosi fanbase, sources say the team’s data suggests they have made decent gains.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 22: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-24 on track

Carlos Sainz set the fastest lap time of pre-season testing so far

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Ferrari on day two, though, as Leclerc hit a drain cover that caused a red flag and required a change of floor. As a result, Leclerc was given a bit of extra track time in the afternoon, before handing the car over to Sainz, who set about trying to make up for lost time.

Having focused on running the harder compounds on day one, Sainz gave the C4 – the second softest in Pirelli’s range – a run out and promptly set the quickest time of the day – becoming the first driver into the 1m 29s in the process.

READ MORE: Leclerc and Sainz give their verdicts on where Ferrari stand relative to Red Bull

New Mercedes looks more consistent and less lairy

Lewis Hamilton got his first taste of the 2024-spec Mercedes on day two – and after spending the morning clocking off a series of aero runs for data gathering, he turned his attention to race simulations and single-lap evaluation in the afternoon.

The seven-time world champion reckons the team have “clearly made an improvement” with this year’s car, the Briton adding it is “much nicer to drive”.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 22: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG

Hamilton believes the new Mercedes W15 is much nicer to drive

That echoed team mate George Russell’s comments from earlier in the day, the Briton saying Mercedes seem to have traded a car that “felt like it was going to bite us every single corner” for one that allows him to “attack the medium and high-speed corners without the rear stepping out”.

It’s only been two days, but the mood is significantly different at Mercedes compared to 12 months ago. This time last year, they knew immediately that the new car wasn’t a match for its rivals. This time, there’s real optimism – though they still believe there is still some way to go before they are in a spot to take the fight to Red Bull.

READ MORE: New Mercedes ‘feels nicer to drive’ than previous car as Russell assesses first day of testing

RB cautious despite impressive early pace

Daniel Ricciardo continued RB’s encouraging start to their new era with a second successive top-five time in pre-season testing.

Given the team’s big push on development at the end of last season (AlphaTauri brought an upgraded floor to the final race in Abu Dhabi), it is believed there’s an acceptance internally that they may pay the price by having a slow start to this season.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 22: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Visa Cash App RB

RB have had an encouraging start to testing

That might still transpire at next weekend’s season opener in Bahrain, however, a collective 244 laps over two days is a solid achievement, with both Ricciardo and team mate Yuki Tsunoda pleased with the way the test has developed.

And while a late push on development may harm them early doors, there’s understood to be stuff in the pipeline that should be delivered this summer and could allow them to kick on and achieve their aim of fighting towards the front of the midfield in the second-half of the campaign.

WATCH: What we learned on the first day of pre-season testing in Bahrain

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