Max Verstappen leaves Mercedes in the dust as Valtteri Bottas encounters testing issues

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set the pace on day one of pre-season testing, leaving Mercedes playing catch up after reliability issues.
In tricky conditions, with the Bahrain International Circuit engulfed in a sandstorm on Friday, Mercedes were forced to play catch up on day one after struggling for much of the morning session with a gearbox issue.

As the second session opened, the track was almost unrecognisable, as the sandstorm set it for the first two hours, before clearing and allowing Max Verstappen to stretch his legs in the Red Bull.

Mercedes were on the back foot, after the morning session was heavily disrupted by a gearbox change.

Valtteri Bottas only managed an initial installation lap after the team discovered an issue with the car and they were forced to make a gearbox change.

After three hours of work, they finally got Bottas back on track, but with just 35 minutes left on the clock, he was limited to just six laps of running all day.

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Mercedes struggle as Verstappen dominates

Mercedes struggle as Verstappen dominates (Image: GETTY)

Explaining the frustrations on Sky Sports F1, Bottas said all is not lost, with two days left.

“I, and of course including the whole team, were really looking forward to getting out on track,” he said. 

“The first lap, the install lap, we realised there was an issue with the gearbox, so we obviously had to localise the issue, and change the gearbox – which takes quite a bit of time,” continued the Finn.

“Only at the very end we got a few more laps, and then it was red-flagged and that was it. Not an ideal start.”

Mercedes opted out of using their two permitted filming days ahead of the pre-season test, and instead will run two days later on Tuesday, March 16.

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Several teams, including Red Bull and McLaren, used one of two permitted filming days to shakedown their 2021 machinery, getting a feel for their new set up.

However Mercedes decided against it, and in hindsight, Bottas says maybe that was the option the team should’ve taken.

“It’s very easy to say afterwards, of course now yes we would’ve done it before, but in recent years everything has been pretty bullet proof,” he explained.

“we could say now, but I’m sure that will be reviewed for next year.

“I think actually the good thing this year, is that if you miss some running, we can actually catch up.”

During the lunch break, team boss Toto Wolff said: “We weren’t very fast this morning, because we only did one lap with an aero rake.

“It wasn’t a good start because we had a gearbox issues that came out of nowhere, we haven’t yet been able to identify and understand.

“So I hope, if we are even to have a smoother ride from here onwards, then I think we can recover.

“If we have more stumbling blocks, then obviously there’s not a lot we can do.”

Due to the sandstorm, conditions were difficult for all drivers. McLaren’s Daniel Riccardo topped the timing screens in the first session with a 1:32.203, with the Red Bull of Verstappen (only use forename in first mention of person) setting a 1:30:674 in the afternoon. Lewis Hamilton finished the session 10th, two seconds behind the Red Bull of Verstappen.

Max Verstappen quickest on day one

Max Verstappen quickest on day one (Image: GETTY)

Speaking to Sky Sports F1, Red Bull boss Christian Horner explained: “Obviously conditions are tricky, they’re tricky for everybody – it’s very windy here, but it’s just to be back out on track and getting some mileage in and learning and getting a feel for the car.

“I think it’s slippy for everyone out there. It is what it is. I think the driver [Verstappen] was pretty happy with the car, so I think it was a positive start.”

And as for any talk of how Mercedes got on today, the team boss was quick to dismiss any interest.

Horner said: “We’re more focused on ourselves than what others are doing. At the moment of course, all teams take pictures of the other cars and information will come in overnight, but our main focus is on that of our own and progress at the moment, and so we’ve got a plan that we’re working through and we’ll continue to do so.”

And speaking of the new partnership at the team, Horner was pleased with initial impressions.

“There’s a good dynamic between [Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez] already, long may it last,” he said.

“I think Checo has got so much experience, he’s a pretty relaxed character, he’s a nice guy -the two of them have known each other for a while anyway, and Max is an easy guy too, so they’re working very well together.”

McLaren impressed on their first day back with Mercedes power since 2014. Riccardo setting the fastest lap of the morning, with Norris 0.215 off Verstappen’s fastest lap in the afternoon, with an encouraging early start to the partnership.

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Ferrari had their own reliability issues, when Charles Leclerc stopped on the track, bringing out the only red flag of the morning session just before lunch.

Ferrari are looking to put a disastrous 2020 season behind them, their worst performance in 40 years, with Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr.

And Haas weren’t without issues either, with Mick Schumacher only putting in 15 laps, as the rookie’s team suffered with gearbox issues too.

Day two gets underway on Saturday with conditions on track set to improve, however there will be plenty of questions for the ten teams, with just two days left to get the answers.

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