Bahrain test day 3: Leclerc fends off Russell in final session


Charles Leclerc put Ferrari on top of the time sheets again on the final day of official pre-season testing at Bahrain International Circuit, after team mate Carlos Sainz had been quickest of the morning runners.

Leclerc's best time of 1:30.322s came after a 74 lap stint in the afternoon following delays for more drain cover problems in the morning. George Russell was just 0.046s slower after a late spurt of flying laps in the Mercedes.

Sauber's Zhou Guanyu ended up third fastest ahead of Max Verstappen, with Red Bull not inclined to show their full hand at this stage leaving Max Verstappen having a muted conclusion to testing consisting mainly of racing simulations.

Although there were some further minor clutch issues for McLaren, there were no further major stoppages during the day once the drain covers had been hammered into place and sealed down.

The cars will be back out on track at Sakhir next week for Free Practice 1 on Thursday ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the first race of the 2024 season.

Bahrain Pre-Season Test - Day 3

1Charles LeclercFerrari1:30.322s C5 74
2George RussellMercedes+0.046s C4 67
3Zhou GuanyuSauber+0.325s C4 85
4Max VerstappenRed Bull+0.433s C3 66
5Yuki TsunodaRB+0.453s C4 53
6Alexander AlbonWilliams+0.662s C4 121
7Oscar PiastriMcLaren+0.708s C3 91
8Fernando AlonsoAston Martin+0.837s C3 75
9Carlos SainzFerrari+0.925s C3 71
10Sergio PérezRed Bull+1.161s C3 53
11Nico HülkenbergHaas+1.364 C3 89
12Lewis HamiltonMercedes+1.677s C5 49
13Lance StrollAston Martin+1.716s C3 46
14Lando NorrisMcLaren+1.786s C3 20
15Pierre GaslyAlpine+1.827s C3 47
16Kevin MagnussenHaas+2.731s C3 80
17Esteban OconAlpine+2.757s C3 55
18Valtteri BottasSauber+3.206s C3 28
19Daniel RicciardoRB+6.693s C1 70

The day had started with another red flag for an errant drain cover, with a second one coming loose at turn 11 within the first half hour. Repairs were swiftly effected and the schedule for the final day of the test duly amended.

It meant that there was no formal break for lunch, with teams able to work through and make their own individual arrangements for changing drivers whenever they saw fit.

Carlos Sainz was topping the timesheets at midday with a best time of 1:31.247s after 71 laps by the time he relinquished the Ferrari to Charles Leclerc for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Oscar Piastri, Nico Hulkenberg, Yuki Tsunoda and George Russell soon joined the action for McLaren, Haas, RB and Mercedes respectively, as Fernando Alonso also handed over the Aston Martin to Lance Stroll.

(L to R): Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing with Gianpiero Lambiase (ITA) Red Bull Racing Engineer.
23.02.2024. Formula 1 Testing, Sakhir, Bahrain, Day Three.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Pierre Gasly was shoehorned into the Alpine in place of the somewhat taller Esteban Ocon, while Zhou Guanyu prised Valtteri Bottas from the Sauber. The only driver staying in place for the whole day was Williams' Alex Albon.

Max Verstappen was also back in the Red Bull for the first time since he topped Wednesday's times. He was initially out on the C3 mediums and clocked a sedate 1:32.669s on his first push lap, a second slower than Sainz on the same compound.

Leclerc was also now running the yellow C3 rubber, and after seven laps he went third on the timesheets with a 1:31.672s. Tsunoda likewise set personal bests in the RB, but he was still two seconds off the top.

Verstappen was now up to speed, and just before 1pm GMT he set a new top time of 1:31.058s to finally depose Sainz by almost two tenths. He soon improved even further to push the target time down to 1:30.763s.


Leclerc accepted the challenge, and just ten minutes later he put Ferrari back on top with a time of 1:30.409s. While Verstappen improved on his own time, it wasn't enough to catch Leclerc who retained a 0.346s advantage.

The Ferrari still had more time left in it to squeeze out, and Leclerc then extended his lead with a new best lap of 1:30.322s on the softer C4 tyres, with a little over two hours remaining of pre-season testing.

Also improving was Piastri, who was into the top four with a new quickest lap of 1:31.216s. His team mate Lando Norris had been restricted to just 20 laps in his morning stint by clutch issues, the latest niggle experienced on the MCL38 this week.

By now the sun was setting over Bahrain, giving the teams a final 'golden hour' opportunity to undertake racing simulations, Verstappen slapping on a set of the hardest C1 compound for his next run.

Zhou Guanyu (CHN) Sauber C44.
23.02.2024. Formula 1 Testing, Sakhir, Bahrain, Day Three.
-, EMail: © Copyright: Bearne / XPB Images

With Verstappen clearly not going for gold today, it was left to Russell to provide some final hour entertainment with an overtake on Leclerc, and subsequently coming within 0.046s of pipping Leclerc in the final minutes. By the time the session was over, Leclerc had completed 74 laps to 67 for Russell

Zhou ended third fastest after 85 laps ahead of Verstappen and Tsunoda. The driver setting the most laps was Albon, the only man in the cockpit for the whole day notched up a final tally of 120 laps in the car and finishing P6 - a welcome show of reliability after Williams' early problems on Wednesday.

The only incident of note in the afternoon came half an hour before the finish when something came loose from Gasly's Alpine. A marshal was commendably quick to run out and retrieve the debris from the racing line without needing a caution.

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