Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set the pace on the first day of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Bahrain.
The world champion, top of the timesheets for most of the day, ended it 0.029 seconds quicker than Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were third and fourth fastest, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton.
Williams’ Alex Albon was seventh, ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu.
Pre-season testing lap times are notoriously poor indicators of form for the year ahead because teams do not reveal the specification in which they run their cars and fuel loads, engine modes and other factors can have a dramatic effect on performance.
Nevertheless, Red Bull looked impressive throughout the day as the cars took to the track for the first time this year.
The new Red Bull RB19, which had not been seen before Thursday morning, was described by team principal Christian Horner as an “evolution” of last year’s RB18, which dominated the 2022 season as Verstappen broke the record for wins on his way to his second title.
The car features dramatic undercuts on the sidepods in an attempt to refine the airflow to the rear, and its performance did little to erase the impression that Verstappen will start the year as favourite for a third championship.
Verstappen was the only driver to run all day, completing 157 laps, almost three race distances. Every other team split running between two drivers.
Alonso’s fastest time came much later in the day than Verstappen’s, when conditions were more favourable for quick laps, but was nevertheless encouraging for the two-time champion and his new team, who are hoping to make a significant step forwards after finishing seventh last year.
Sainz, who drove in the first session of the day, was 0.416secs slower than Verstappen and just 0.014secs faster than Leclerc, who ran in the afternoon and evening.
Ferrari team principal Frederic Vasseur said: “It’s very early stages but the first feeling was good. The most important thing was to do mileage and we have no issues. We were able to do the run plan and everything is going well.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said their first day of testing was much improved from last year, when major problems with the car’s performance told the team they were in trouble and presaged a difficult campaign.
Wolff said: “It seems to be balanced in the in the right way. We were gathering a lot of data because that was important to correlate, obviously after last year and trying different things.
“We knew that we were in trouble last year because the car was just bouncing around and we really weren’t able to drive it correctly. So that is very different.
“I think we have a solid base now to work from and try to optimise the car, which we haven’t done yet. It’s really just finding out, are there any other any areas that could be real performance hindrance, like like last year with the bouncing? And we have just got to work through the programme.”
McLaren’s day was afflicted by reliability problems, which saw the team have to reinforce the air deflectors over the front wheels and manage fewer laps than many of their rivals.
But Norris gave the team some encouragement with a quick lap late in the day to slot in ahead of Hamilton and 0.625secs off Verstappen’s pace.
Testing continues on Friday and Saturday, ahead of the first race of the season, also in Bahrain, on 3-5 March.
Fastest times from day one of pre-season testing 2023
1 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull one minute 32.837 seconds
2 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Aston Martin 1:32.866
3 Carlos Sainz (Spa) Ferrari 1:33.253
4 Charles Leclerc (My) Ferrari 1:33.267
5 Lando Norris (GB) McLaren 1:33.462
6 Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes 1:33.508
7 Alex Albon (Tha) Williams 1:33.671 *
8 Zhou Guanyu (Chi) Alfa Romeo 1:33.723
9 George Russell (GB) Mercedes 1:34.174
10 Logan Sargeant (USA) Williams 1:34.324
11 Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Haas 1:34.424
12 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Alfa Romeo 1:34.558
13 Nyck De Vries (Down) Alpha Tauri 1:34.559
14 Felipe Drugovich (Bra) Aston Martin 1:34.564
15 Yuki Tsunoda (Jpn) Alpha Tauri 1:34.671
16 Pierre Gasly (Fra) Alpine 1:34.822
17 Esteban Ocon (From) Alpine 1:34.871
18 Oscar Piastri (Aus) McLaren 1:34.888
19 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas 1:35.087
* = time set on softer C5 tyre; all other times on mid-range C3 tyre