F1 pre-season testing: Four things learned on day two

Hamilton opens up on plans to remain in F1 ahead of new season

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Zhou Guanyu topped the standings at the end of an eventful second day of Formula One pre-season testing in Bahrain, which saw Mercedes suffer a worrying blow as George Russell was forced to stop with a hydraulic failure in the afternoon. There were also whispers of some teething issues at Red Bull, while McLaren boss Zak Brown gave a brutally honest update on his team’s development progress ahead of next weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Express Sport looks at four takeaways from Friday’s action at the Bahrain International Circuit…

Mercedes suffer worrying failure

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was given some unwanted food for thought ahead of Saturday’s final day of pre-season testing when Russell suffered a hydraulic failure as he made his way around the circuit before grinding to a halt to bring out the red flags. The issue came at the end of an unremarkable day of running for the Silver Arrows, who lost around 90 minutes of testing time in optimal track conditions as a result of the incident.

It seems as though Mercedes are still working to get to grips with their all-new W14 challenger and it will be interesting to see if they manage to sort things out before the season gets underway next weekend, although Russell has already played down any hopes of an opening-day win under the lights in Bahrain with Red Bull and Ferrari looking stronger as things stand.

“They look very strong, very stable,” said Russell. “The car is looking really strong and obviously Max [Verstappen] is performing really well, so I think realistically it will be a stretch for next week.

“But there’s no reason why eventually we can’t get there at some point this year, and we’ve always seen the strength of Mercedes and their development rates. So yeah, definitely, my belief is that.”

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Ferrari lay down early marker

Carlos Sainz topped the morning session on Friday to give Ferrari hope of improving on last year’s pace, which saw them compete with Red Bull on most weekends but lose out in the championship battle due to a combination of poor strategy and driver mistakes. They have since changed their chief strategist in the hope of improving things on the pit wall, with Ravin Jain having replaced Inaki Rueda in the role, and will be encouraged that Sainz was able to go quickest before lunch.

The Spaniard took two-tenths off Max Verstappen’s leading lap time on Thursday and seemed delighted with how things went after the session, saying: “[It was] smooth, very smooth. To be honest, I’m quite happy with how we’ve able to run, the quantity of tests that we’ve managed to do over these first few days, exploring the limits of the setup, trying to put the car in different places and learning a lot from it.

“It was a target that I had from last year that I know we couldn’t do, and this year so far I’m managing to do it. It feels like an evolution of last year. It feels very similar to drive and there hasn’t been major changes going on in the car or the concept, so trying to improve the good pace that we had last year and obviously now putting our focus on our weaknesses of last year.”

Not all plain sailing for Red Bull

Red Bull ran into some problems on Friday despite topping the standings on Thursday, with an oil leak reportedly hampering Verstappen’s progress in the afternoon session. The Dutchman took over the reins from Sergio Perez, who drove in the morning, but was forced to return to the garage at one stage before the Red Bull mechanics took the floor off the car to inspect the problem.

The defending world champion later emerged back on track but only logged 49 laps, which was the second-lowest tally of all 17 drivers with Russell only completing 26 for Mercedes. He was also pipped to the quickest time of the day, with Zhou setting a 1:31.610 to beat Verstappen’s effort by four-hundredths of a second.

It remains to be seen whether reliability will be an issue for Red Bull over the course of this season, with the Austrian team looking to build on last year’s Constructors’ Championship-winning campaign by dominating proceedings once again. They will still go into next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix as the overwhelming favourites to win but will be desperate to get rid of any teething problems with a productive day on Saturday before the action begins for real.

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McLaren set to struggle again?

It seems as though McLaren could be in for a difficult start to the new season if Zak Brown’s latest comments are anything to go by, with the mood at the Woking-based outfit not entirely positive with just nine days until the first Grand Prix of the year. Brown admitted on Friday that the team are on the back foot after failing to reach their proposed development targets, which does not bode well for Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri after struggling with a car that appears nervous in Bahrain this week.

“We know we set some goals for development, which we didn’t hit,” said Brown. “We felt it was better to be honest about that. Like everyone, we have a lot of development coming, so we are encouraged by what we see around the corner.

“I think we will be going into the first race off of our projected targets, but it is hard to really know where that means we will be on the grid. We want to be in the top four by the end of the year. Last year was a bit disappointing.

“Our aspirations are to get back to the front. We know that will take a little bit more time, all the technology infrastructure is either in or going to be pretty much completed this year. We have some good developments coming but so does every other single team in F1. We need to pick up the pace.”

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