What we learned from Day 3 of F1 2024 pre-season testing in Bahrain

Ferrari once again led the way on the final day of 2024 F1 pre-season testing, with Red Bull and Mercedes also looking strong

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Formula 1 testing is officially complete, and teams now have just five days to make any last changes before they hit the Bahrain International Circuit for the first free practice session of the season.

Charles Leclerc and George Russell led the way with Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda also in the top five, but Max Verstappen produced arguably the best lap of the day finishing fourth on used C3 medium tyres.

The competitive running order remains murky at best, particularly behind Red Bull and ahead of Haas and Williams, but the last day in Bahrain (for now) was perhaps the most insightful of the three about who could be battling for the podium next week.

McLaren have work to do

Oscar Piastri during Day 1 of F1 testing 2024 | McLaren

The flying papaya have flattered to deceive a tad over the week, but we saw a bit more of their hand today.

Lando Norris‘ strong one-lap pace on the first day glossed over a potential issue with their floor as the Brit started later than expected after lunch, and he once again missed time on the final morning of testing thanks to a clutch issue.

Norris drove the fewest laps of anyone today with just 20 circumnavigation of the Bahrain International Circuit but wasn’t the only driver having problems.

Oscar Piastri suffered higher than ideal tyre degradation on his race simulation especially on the medium rubber, the Australian was already more impacted by tyre wear issues than Norris in 2023.

That’s understandable given Norris‘ experience but the team would’ve hoped to fix some of those issues over the offseason. However, Piastri was closer to Verstappen on the C2s and McLaren showed in 2023 that they can get on top of much bigger problems – their starting base in 2024 is galaxies ahead of 12 months ago.

We’re not counting them out of podium contention in Bahrain, but they look like they’ve got the most work to do out of last year’s constructors’ top five in order to reach it.

Dark horses?

George Russell gets to grips with the Mercedes W15 at 2024 pre-season testing in Bahrain | LAT Images / Meredes F1 Team

Ferrari understandably grabbed the headlines on day two with Carlos Sainz topping the timesheets and also driving well on the longer runs, and they were impressive once again today with Leclerc taking P1.

However, Mercedes and especially Aston Martin both hinted that they might have more to give despite running outside of the top three for much of the day.

Fernando Alonso was very competitive on the C1 tyre, averaging 1:37.3 over a 13-lap stint in the sun – though Leclerc then went even quicker late on with a stunning run on the hardest rubber.

George Russell was really pushing his W15 at the death and couldn’t quite beat Leclerc‘s headline time, as Mercedes once again look like they’ll be more competitive on Sundays than Saturdays – apart from in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia of course. But he was still strong deep into his C2 stint in the evening, averaging 1:35.9 over 12 laps.

Both teams are probably still behind Ferrari but should both be contenders for the first podium of the season – that looked like it may be in doubt earlier in the test.

Perez starts on the back foot

Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez walk through the Bahrain paddock at the start of 2024 F1 pre-season testing | Clive Mason/Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen indicated at lunchtime he already felt like he’d seen enough of the car before jumping in for the final afternoon of running, which should certainly shiver Sergio Perez‘s timbers.

It’s almost impossible to compare their times with the Bahrain International Circuit seemingly showing an even bigger deficit than usual between morning and evening running on Friday, but Verstappen looked effortless in the RB20 compared to his teammate even with that caveat.

Perez struggled to unlock the Red Bull‘s full potential on day two but Verstappen is already enjoying pushing the car to its limits, despite finishing outside the top three.

To get within half a second of Leclerc‘s time on used tyres two steps harder than the Monegasque’s C5s was mightily impressive, and the rest of the grid will already be eyeing up Bahrain GP qualifying with more than a hint of apprehension.

However, Perez looks genuinely beatable for the rest of 2023’s top five constructors. He started last season so strongly – beating Verstappen to a race win in an equal fight always deserves enormous credit – but Perez seems shorn of confidence even before the first competitive session of 2024.

Reliability is in

Apart from the drain pain, it’s been a remarkably smooth test all round. There were no red flags caused by stricken cars, which could well be a first in F1 testing history – it’s certainly a long way removed from 2014 which saw problem upon problem befall the grid (or 11 tenths of it at least).

While Williams and McLaren did have some problems, they were able to deal with all of them in the garage and these three days were further proof of how F1 continues to raise the bar in all areas.

Lando Norris during Day 1 of F1 testing 2024 | McLaren
Adam Dickinson
Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for Total-Motorsport.com since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, and previously worked for Last-Lap.co.uk and FeederSeries.net in motorsport and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.
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