Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set the fastest time on the first day of testing, while Mercedes’ main rivals struggled. But are the world champions really in trouble? Read our review and analysis below….

What happened?

  • All ten teams participated in the first three days of testing before the first race of the season two weeks later at the same circuit.
  • A sandstorm in the afternoon made the track incredibly dusty with limited visibility, but the track remained open throughout the day.
  • Verstappen set the fastest time of the day with 1:30.674 on the C3 tyre compound in the afternoon.

After the day, he said: We had a very positive day. We were able to do a lot of laps, even though the conditions were very difficult – very hot, strong wind – and of course we know that the degradation here is quite high and it is not easy to do a lot of laps at once. But I’m very happy with the day. We don’t need to talk about pace or anything, we just worked on our programme, the car felt good and that is always a very positive way to start testing.

  • The Mercedes turned just one lap in the first three hours and 30 minutes of the session after a gearbox problem forced the team to replace the car’s gearbox. The faulty gearbox is now analyzed to understand the cause of the problem.
  • World champion Lewis Hamilton got behind the wheel of the Mercedes in the afternoon. He had an eventful session, complaining about his pedals, a loose fender and struggling with traction on the tenth time of the day.
  • Charles Leclerc caused the only red flag of the morning session when his Ferrari stopped on track in Turn 4 with ten minutes to go. Carlos Sainz drove the Ferrari in the afternoon and set the fastest time for the team.
  • Haas also replaced the gearbox after a hydraulic problem, which reduced Mick Schumacher’s mileage on his debut with the team in the morning.

Joe Portlock/Getty Image

Last time:

1. Verstapen – Red Bull – 1:30.674 – 138 laps
2. Norris – McLaren – +0.215s – 45 laps
3. Ocon – Alpine – + 0.472s – 128 laps
4. Walk – Aston Martin – +1.108s – 46 laps
5. Sainz – Ferrari – +1.245 – 56 laps
6. Giovinazzi – Alfa Romeo – +1.271s – 68 laps7. Ricciardo – McLaren – +1.529s – 45 laps
8. Ghazli – AlfaTauri – +1.557s – 74 laps

9. Tsunoda – AlphaTauri – +2.053s – 37 laps
10. Hamilton – Mercedes – +2.238 – 42 laps
11. Leclerc – Ferrari – +2.568 – 59 laps
12. Raikkonen – Alfa Romeo – +2.646 – 63 laps13. Vettel on Aston Martin – +3.068s – 51 lap14. Nissany – Williams – +4.115s – 83 laps
15. Mazepin at Haas – +4.124s – 69 laps
16th Schumacher for Haas – +5.453s – 15 laps
17. Bottas for Mercedes – +6.176 – 6 laps

Mercedes in trouble?

The first day of pre-season testing in Bahrain did not go according to plan for world champion Mercedes.

On the first lap with the new car on track, Valtteri Bottas reported a gearbox problem and quickly returned to the garage, where the car remained for the next three hours and 25 minutes.

Such problems are not uncommon in pre-season, but with only three test days this year before the first race, Mercedes’ delays represented about 14% of the team’s pre-season track time.

After installing the new gearbox, Bottas drove another five laps in the lead before handing over the car to Lewis Hamilton for the afternoon session, who drove another 42 laps and set the tenth fastest time.

Together Hamilton and Bottas managed just 33% of the distance of their main rival Max Verstappen in the Red Bull.

Verstappen also set the fastest time of the day with 1:30.674, ahead of Lando Norris’ McLaren and Esteban Ocon’s Alpine with 2.238 – not counting Hamilton’s best effort.

Although lap times on the first day of testing are rarely indicative of the race order for the coming season, Mercedes will race against the clock over the next two days in preparation for the first race.

Valtteri Bottas’ first morning in the Mercedes was limited by gearbox problems. Joe Portlock/Getty Images

It was not a good start because we had a problem with the gearbox that we could not yet identify and understand, said team principal Toto Wolff.

If we can get a smoother ride from here, I think we can make it. If we have more stumbling blocks, it’s clear that we can’t do much with three days.

The new Mercedes car took to the track for the first time on Friday, with the world champions foregoing their habit of doing a shakedown on one of the two scheduled recording days.

The recording days will take place outside the strict limitations of Formula 1 testing and will allow the teams to collect photos and videos for promotional purposes on the 100km circuit.

While 100km isn’t much for a Formula One test (just 18 laps at the Bahrain International Circuit, for example), one track day in the past week could have revealed the W12’s reliability problem before the full test begins on Friday.

After that it’s very easy to say [that we should have had a recording day], and now of course we do, yes, we should have done it earlier, Bottas said. But things have been pretty solid over the last few years and some things have stood the test of time in terms of dynamics, etc.

So, yes, we can say that now, but I’m sure we can come back to it next year.

But if there is one team that can recover from a lost test morning and win the first race of the season, it is Mercedes.

Mercedes is in a good position after winning 13 out of 17 races last year and having few reliability problems during the season.

The latest equipment at the Brackley factory – such as the full chassis dyno mentioned by Bottas – means that Friday’s problems can be replicated at base and even lead to the installation of countermeasures to prevent a repeat in the next two days.

Combined with this year’s rules requiring teams to bring a significant amount of parts from last year’s car, Bottas said Mercedes still has plenty of time to recover.

The beauty of this year is that if you miss a few games, you can make up for it with the mileage restrictions. And with all the efficiencies and cost reductions, we don’t work as closely together on other days. Hopefully we can catch up and recover, so I’m looking forward to two good days.

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