F1 testing – What we learned on final day as Mercedes hopes renewed

Hamilton opens up on plans to remain in F1 ahead of new season

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Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton managed to end the final day of Formula One pre-season testing with a much-improved performance after failing to impress on Friday, although it was Sergio Perez who finished as the quickest driver in another strong showing from Red Bull. Ferrari also looked dangerously fast as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz boosted their hopes of finally winning the end-of-season honours in 2023, while Alfa Romeo endured a difficult day as Valtteri Bottas suffered a worrying mechanical failure.

Express Sport looks at five of the biggest talking points from day three of testing at the Bahrain International Circuit…

Mercedes show positive signs

Mercedes managed to recover from a shambolic day on Friday to end the week on a positive note as Hamilton finished as the second-fastest driver on track without any mechanical failures to contend with. The Silver Arrows needed a crisis meeting to discuss what went wrong after a hydraulic issue ended their running on day two but enjoyed a much better time on Saturday as they put the W14 through its paces on the softest available tyres.

Hamilton and George Russell got plenty of running done over the course of the day in optimal track conditions and will be hoping to build on Saturday’s much-improved showing by maintaining their positive momentum at next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. However, it will be crucial for Mercedes to find some much-needed consistency in order to challenge the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari at the top of the standings for the duration of the entire season.

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Hamilton fumes over tyre blankets

Hamilton found time on Saturday morning to air his grievances about the FIA’s plan to get rid of tyre blankets in 2024 after testing a new slick compound at Circuit Paul Ricard earlier this year. A phase-out of tyre warming equipment has been taking place in recent years and Pirelli have been pushing to develop compounds optimised to work without pre-heating ahead of next season, but Hamilton believes that their introduction would pose some big questions regarding driver safety.

“I think it’s dangerous,” he told The Race. “I’ve tested the no blankets and there’s going to be an incident at some stage, so on a safety factor I think it’s the wrong decision. You have to drive multiple laps to get the tyres to work.

“The whole argument is that taking away the blankets is for going more sustainable and more green. In actual fact we just use more fuel to get temperature into the tyres, but more concerning is just when you go out, the car is skating around, it’s very twitchy, and if there’s someone else who’s on tyres that are working you could easily collide with them. It’s a pointless exercise.”

Are Red Bull unstoppable again?

Red Bull continued to set the standard on day three of testing as Perez managed to set the best time of the week despite only using the second-fastest available tyre compound. The Mexican driver was quicker than Hamilton by a margin of three-tenths of a second, which suggests that the RB19 will once again be the machine to beat over the coming weeks and months.

Max Verstappen did not drive on Saturday but was highly impressive behind the wheel on Thursday and Friday and will be hoping that all remains well at Red Bull as he chases a third Drivers’ Championship triumph in as many seasons. It remains to be seen if the Austrian team will eventually be caught by Ferrari or Mercedes as the campaign develops, although it seems as though it could be another fruitful year if their pre-season performances are anything to go by.

Ferrari mean business

Ferrari will be desperate to challenge Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship again this year after wasting their chances in 2022 due to a combination of poor strategy and driver mistakes and will have been left encouraged by their performances over the course of this week’s three-day test. The historic Italian outfit managed to set the pace in the morning on Saturday and stayed close to the top for the rest of the afternoon, which suggests that they could be very competitive when the action begins for real in eight days’ time.

Those in power at Ferrari have already moved to improve their title hopes for the upcoming season by changing their chief strategist, with Ravin Jain having replaced Inaki Rueda in the role in the hope of improving things on the pit wall. However, only time will tell if 2023 will finally be Ferrari’s year as they look to win the end-of-season honours for the first time since 2008.

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Trouble for Alfa Romeo?

Alfa Romeo have experienced the biggest reliability issues of any team this week and their woes continued on Saturday when Bottas was forced to stop on the circuit due to an engine fault in the morning session. It came a day after Zhou Guanyu broke down at the end of the pit lane on Friday despite setting the quickest time of the afternoon to cast doubt over Alfa Romeo’s ability to steer clear of any further mechanical issues when the racing begins next weekend.

This year’s midfield battle is expected to be very close, with the likes of Aston Martin and McLaren likely to be fighting Alfa Romeo to be crowned the best of the rest over the course of the campaign. It could haunt the Italian team if they fail to get to grips with their early reliability issues, which may end up being the difference between fourth place and sixth in the Constructors’ Championship standings if they end up suffering too many retirements between now and the end of the season.

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