Perez put Red Bull ahead at the end of pre-season

Perez put Red Bull ahead at the end of pre-season

Sergio Perez and Red Bull finished the 2023 Formula 1 pre-season on top as the Mexican beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to the fastest time on the final day of winter testing in Bahrain.

Under the blazing sun, she dominated the opening stage of the last-chance test before next week’s Bahrain Grand Prix by longer distances, with Perez hoisting the order of 1m31.714s on Pirelli mid-range C3 tyres.

Mercedes’ Hamilton joined the race with a time of 1 minute 31.960 seconds at the same complex during what looked like a more positive afternoon for Mercedes than Friday.

As the sun sets, the track becomes more representative of next week’s qualifying and racing. The cooler afternoon conditions, therefore, prompted more performance runs on the softer Pirelli compounds, with many drivers being faster than the previous criterion.

After Carlos Sainz closed in on team-mate Leclerc’s morning criterium, Hamilton rose to pole position on the softest C5 compound with a time of 1 minute 30.781 seconds, Mercedes’ fastest time yet.

That time proved no match for Perez’s 1m30.616 on the slower C4 tyres, with Hamilton improving after that but still 0.048 seconds behind the Mexican on his next attempt.

In the final hour, with the track constantly increasing speed, Pérez put more distance between himself and the seven-time world champion, achieving a time of 1m 30.305s on C4s which extended his lead to 0.359s.

Valtteri Bottas impressed by going into third place scoring 1m30.827s, remaining just half a second outside of Perez in his Alfa Romeo as both Ferrari drivers jumped.

Behind Leclerc and Sainz, AlphaTaur’s Yuki Tsunoda was sixth with his C4 time, narrowly ahead of afternoon time teammate Kevin Magnussen in a Haas and morning time of George Russell in a Mercedes.

Fernando Alonso took over from Aston Martin reserve driver Felipe Drugovic as the tandem completed the top ten in an impressive long-running showing by the Silverstone team.

It proved another low key day for McLaren as Lando Norris completed just 35 laps to stay in 11th place, despite the Briton setting his fastest time on the slower C3 tyres.

Pierre Gasly finished 13th in what looked like a tough new Alpine machine, ahead of Williams marathoner Alex Albon, who and Perez blanketed the entire Saturday as both drivers covered 130 or more laps.

Morning racers Esteban Ocon, Nico Hulkenberg, Oscar Biastri and Nic de Vries backed the schedules with times in hot conditions that could not be compared to faster evening runs.

As was the case in every session, a late virtual safety car, red flag to check systems and start practice brought an uneventful session to an end.

With the only three-day winter test completed, teams will now have five days to prepare for their first on-track Friday for the 2023 curtain-raiser at the same Bahrain International Circuit.

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