F1 champ Verstappen tops last day of testing, Hamilton slow | Car Racing

SAKHIR, Bahrain (AP) — As world champion Max Verstappen topped the charts for Red Bull on the last day of Formula One preseason testing Saturday, title rival Lewis Hamilton was not feeling optimistic about how Mercedes will fare when the season starts next weekend.

Hamilton missed out on a record eighth F1 title on the last lap of the last race last year and is looking to grab his crown back from Verstappen.

Running with the RB18’s upgraded sidepods and floor, Verstappen clocked a leading time of 1 minute, 31.720 seconds, the fastest across the three days of testing in Bahrain. That put him .7 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc as the session ended under floodlights, and in conditions similar to next Sunday’s opening race on the same Sakhir circuit.

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso pushed his Alpine up to third right at the end, sending Hamilton’s teammate George Russell down to fourth. They were both around a second slower than Verstappen.

Hamilton was 4.5 seconds behind Verstappen in 17th spot, although when he drove earlier in the day the conditions were less suitable than in the afternoon and evening.

Still, he wasn’t happy about the way it went.

“We’re not the quickest at the moment, I think Ferrari look to be the quickest. Perhaps Red Bull and then maybe us,” Hamilton said. “But we’re certainly not at the top.”

Hamilton and other drivers have been struggling during preseason testing with what F1 calls “porpoising” — an aerodynamic issue where cars hop and bounce on the track — and with other issues like tire grip.

Hamilton was only ninth best in the morning run, which was topped by Verstappen’s trusty teammate Sergio Perez.

Even Mercedes, with its eight straight constructors’ titles, has been having trouble getting the car under control.

“Everyone’s struggling out on this bumpy track, and we come out of it knowing we still have a lot of work (to do),” Hamilton said. “Everyone’s sliding around, the tires are worse this year. I hope we can maybe get some better tires at some stage, or maybe that work better in places (that are) not so hot this year.”

But even though Hamilton trailed Perez’s time by 3 seconds, he did have some cause for optimism.

“The positive so far is following behind other cars feels a little bit better,” the 37-year-old British driver said.

AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly, who was third fastest in the morning, agreed following is better than in previous years — which was one of F1’s hopes amid a series of regulation changes.

“That makes me quite optimistic in terms of racing,” the Frenchman said. “(The fans) should see some exciting races.”

It was proving a long day for McLaren’s Lando Norris driving alone on the Bahrain International Circuit, with teammate Daniel Ricciardo recovering from the coronavirus.

Norris thinks McLaren has “a lot of work to do” before next week.

“The slower speed corners is where we struggle,” he said. “When you look at Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, they’re quite a long way ahead of us in those types of corners.”

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