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What we learned from Day 2 of pre-season testing in Bahrain

F1 Correspondent & Presenter

Lawrence Barretto
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The Bahrain International Circuit was a hive of activity once more as Formula 1 teams cracked on gathering data on day two of pre-season testing…

Mileage was still a key focus for teams, though for some, attention turned to performance running. It’s still not worth reading much into the overall times, mind, but there are a few trends starting to form.

READ MORE: Zhou sets the fastest time on Day 2 of pre-season testing after Russell stops on track

Red Bull’s form remains ominous

With Max Verstappen completing his final testing laps on Friday afternoon – as team mate Sergio Perez is doing all the running on the final day – the Dutchman began to push his RB19 a little harder.

His first flying lap was good enough for second, and within the first 30 minutes he went top, only to be toppled by Alfa Romeo driver Zhou Guanyu late on.

Verstappen seemed to unlock pace with ease, generating some remarkable performance on the harder compound tyres, and will head to the first race as the favourite for victory.

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in Bahrain who doesn’t think Red Bull are leading the pack, with a senior source at a rival team suggesting the reigning world champions hold a 0.5s advantage over the field.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 24: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB19

It was another busy day of testing for drivers and teams in Bahrain

Ferrari appear to be in good shape

For the second successive day, Ferrari efficiently ran through their packed programme without a hiccup, leading to chatter in the paddock that they are Red Bull closest challengers.

Strong reliability allowed the team to clock 138 laps on day two, as they ran various tests as part of a sharp focus on set-up.

READ MORE: Leclerc says porpoising ‘not a concern’ as he spots a ‘good sign’ from Ferrari’s testing

Sources suggest reliability improvements to the power unit over the winter will give the team a boost of around 0.2-0.3s per lap – a useful advantage on a power-sensitive track like Bahrain.

As you’d expect, they are playing things down, but there’s no hiding from the fact that as pre-season goes, this has been rather good from the Scuderia.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 24: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-23 on track

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Williams have plenty to smile about

Logan Sargeant completed what he thinks was the most track mileage he’s ever done in a single day (154 laps) to close out his pre-season ahead of his F1 debut.

The American cycled through the softer tyre compounds in the morning before turning his attention to a race run in the afternoon. He joked that he could have done with another day of running, but a lap count that tallied nearly three Grand Prix distances is a mighty fine effort.

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And it marked one of Williams’ best pre-season testing days in recent memory, the British team – who finished last in the constructors’ standings in 2022 – topping the lap count table.

There’s real optimism in this team right now, with both drivers reporting there is a much better balance versus last year’s car. And there is a school of thought they are set to be part of the midfield, rather than cut loose at the back, to put them in contention for points and Q3s on certain circuits.

F1 pre-season testing 2023: Day 2 Highlights

Haas could be a dark horse

One senior source at Haas suggested the American team have had their best-ever winter in terms of preparations and car build, putting them in high spirits in Bahrain.

Both filming days – one at Silverstone, the second in Bahrain – were silky smooth. And their running on day two left them with plenty to smile about as they got 135 laps on the board.

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Who knows where they will stack up in the pecking order come race one in Bahrain, but there is a growing hope internally that they could be in the fight for points on a consistent basis in the early phase of this season.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 23: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Haas F1 VF-23 Ferrari

Haas have a revised driver line-up for the 2023 season as Nico Hulkenberg joins Kevin Magnussen

A test of two halves so far for Mercedes

The joy of the opening day for Mercedes seemed like a lifetime away on day two in Bahrain as an unbalanced car caused significant head-scratching before a hydraulic problem cost George Russell and the team a lot of running.

Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin says the squad have plenty of work to do into the night to understand why the car was so unpredictable across the changing conditions.

READ MORE: Wolff admits Red Bull and Ferrari look ‘fast’ – but says Mercedes are ‘still hiding’ some pace

There are some positives, though. Beyond the bouncing remaining an issue of the past for a second successive day, Russell said the team uncovered some "interesting things” in the data throughout the day.

And while the Briton added that he reckons the Silver Arrows are “a little bit behind Red Bull”, he believes Mercedes “haven’t unlocked everything yet” and “eventually we will be catching them back up”.

Pre-season Testing: Red flag in Friday testing as George Russell stops on track

Alfa Romeo cause a stir

Headline lap times in testing are meaningless, but Zhou ending the day top of the pile will do wonders for his confidence, wrapping up a very smooth and productive pre-season with a 132-lap run.

The C43 is has shown an impressive turn of pace across the test so far, with the reliability gremlins that plagued their pre-season last year not rearing their heads again yet.

ANALYSIS: Who's winning the midfield battle after Day 2 of testing in Bahrain?

Like the works team and fellow customer Haas, they have the reliability-revised Ferrari power unit in the back. Combined with a chassis that is responding well to changes and performing as per the data, they could well be leading the charge to lead the midfield.

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