Pre-season testing – Zhou Guanyu beat Max Verstappen to the top of the times on day two while hydraulic issues put pay to Mercedes’ day.
With the regulations staying pretty much the same as last season, testing is more about refining the upgrades and changes made over the winter break rather than the step into the unknown that testing last year was.
Aside from Red Flag tests at the end of sessions there have only been two real Red Flags thrown over the course of the first two days, one each day. Yesterday’s flag was shown within the first ten minutes of the day when there was an electronics issue on the Aston Martin.
Speaking of Aston Martin, the unlucky driver only getting a few corners on his first venture out was one of their test drivers, current F2 champion Felipe Drugovich. With Lance Stroll’s injury the Brazilian was called in to drive on Thursday morning and, as revealed today, he’ll also be in the car on Saturday morning. The team aren’t being very open about Stroll’s injury but putting their reserve back into the car does suggest that the Canadian being recovered in time for next weekend is in doubt.
The second Red Flag was thrown with just over ninety minutes left of today’s afternoon session when George Russell stopped on track with a hydraulic issue on his Mercedes. The session resumed after twenty minutes and ran pretty smoothly until the final fifteen minutes, when Race Control practice their procedures.
During that time this afternoon though all eyes were on the pitlane as Logan Sargeant stopped outside his garage and jumped out of the car as he would if it was live. The car was displaying a green light to indicate the car was safe so while it was initially thought he was just practicing the process the team then didn’t touch the car and acted as if it was still live and dangerous before it was eventually wheeled into the garage and cordoned off. After leaving everyone questioning what was happening, the commentators found out that it was a procedural rehearsal but a slight issue was found during the practice which they had to resolve.
Williams weren’t the only team that were drawing attention in those final few minutes though as Zhou Guanyu, who had been driving the car all day and was at the top of the times, stopped as he was about to leave the pitlane but his Alfa Romeo wouldn’t engage the clutch from neutral and didn’t sound too healthy when he tried. His mechanics had to collect him and push the car back to the garage.
While Max Verstappen topped both sessions yesterday, ending the day with a best of 1:32.837, he handed the car to Sergio Perez this morning before getting back in this afternoon. The reigning champion improved on his time from yesterday but wasn’t able to best Zhou’s 1:31.610, and wrapped up his time in testing in P2, 0.040 seconds slower than the Chinese driver.
Carlos Sainz put Ferrari on top in the morning session but that part of the day almost ended in shattered bodywork when there was a race start practice and some of the drivers tried to get off the line quickly while the others treated it as a normal, row by row practice start.
On the overall leaderboard today, behind Zhou and Verstappen was Fernando Alonso who, like Zhou and Sargeant, had the car all to himself today. The Aston Martin driver has been having quite a good test so far, ending less day one only a few hundredths behind Verstappen, and taking P3 today although he was over half a second off the others.
Nyck de Vries was P4 ahead of Haas racer Nico Hulkenberg, while Sainz’ morning time saw him P6. Sergeant, in P7, set his fastest time during the morning but put in 80 laps in the afternoon to see him complete a total of 154 laps throughout the day for Williams.
Charles Leclerc was the eighth fastest on the penultimate day of testing while Oscar Piastri was P9 for McLaren and Pierre Gasly took P10 for Alpine, 1.576 seconds slower than Zhou. Thanks to the hydraulic failure that ended his day early, Russell finished with the lowest lap count of the day, with only 26.