Guanyu Zhou pipped Max Verstappen to top the timesheets on day two of testing in Bahrain ahead of the 2023 Formula 1 season.
The Alfa Romeo driver was one of three to take part in both the morning and afternoon session and put it to good use, completing 133 laps and posting the fastest time.
Ominously for the rest of the field, Verstappen was just 0.04s slower on tyres two steps harder, once again underlining the pace of the RB19.
The Dutchman’s 1:31.650 was more than a second quicker than his best effort on day one, and put him more than five tenths clear of Fernando Alonso in third.
Alonso has made a promising start to life as an Aston Martin driver and put another 130 laps on the board en route to rounding out the top three. He will make way for Felipe Drugovich tomorrow, who is deputising for the injured Lance Stroll.
Elsewhere, Nyck de Vries finished fourth for AlphaTauri ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in the Haas and Ferrari‘s Carlos Sainz.
Sainz set the pace in the morning as lap times gradually improved but ended the day almost nine tenths down, although he appears to have the early advantage over Charles Leclerc, who could only manage eighth.
Logan Sargeant impressed again in seventh for Williams, with Oscar Piastri and Pierre Gasly clinching ninth and tenth respectively.
Are Mercedes sandbagging?
Elsewhere, Mercedes struggled to 13th and 15th, with Toto Wolff admitting the team took a wrong turn on set-up for Lewis Hamilton in the morning. To make matters worse, George Russell broke down in the afternoon, bringing out the red flag and ending his time in the W14 after just 26 laps.
But contrary to the evidence, word from inside the Mercedes camp has been largely positive throughout pre-season testing, with Wolff admitting to Sky F1’s Rachel Brookes that the team was holding their true performance back.
Whether or not that is true and to what extent remains to be seen but it’s hard to imagine they’ll be fighting for wins from the get-go in 2023.
On a positive note, the porpoising that plagued them in 2022 appears to be gone, which at the very least gives the eight-time constructors’ champions a far better foundation to build on.