F1 Bahrain Testing 2024: Leclerc leads Russell and Zhou on the final day of running

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The final day of testing took place in Bahrain on Friday ahead of the 2024 season starting next week.

However, the action was soon halted as a loose drain cover appeared at the exact same spot that caused an early end to yesterday morning’s running. This time it was Sergio Perez who ran over it on the entry to turn 11.

A 1:31.247 from Carlos Sainz saw the Spaniard leading the way when the session came to a halt. Norris, Albon, Perez, Magnussen, Hamilton and Ricciardo were the other drivers who had a time on the board before the red flag.

After a delay of more than an hour, the session resumed shortly before midday local time. The traditional lunch break at 14:00 got cancelled as the session runs all the way through to 19:00 local time.

When things got back underway, Sergio Perez moved himself into P2 as he got within a quarter of a second of Sainz’s early benchmark on the same tyre.

Seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton was the only other driver to dip into the 1:31s, clocking a 1:31.999 on the softest tyre in the Pirelli range.

Stroll, Norris, Albon, Magnussen, Ocon, Bottas and Ricciardo completed the order of the morning runners.

Norris was limited to just 20 laps as a clutch issue took McLaren a solid amount of time to fix.

Standings halfway through Day 3

1) Carlos Sainz 1:31.247, C3, 67 laps
2) Sergio Perez +0.236s, C3, 51 laps
3) Lewis Hamilton +0.752s, C5, 49 laps
4) Lance Stroll +0.791s, C3, 46 laps
5) Lando Norris +0.861s, C3, 20 laps
6) Alex Albon +1.336s, C3, 35 laps
7) Kevin Magnussen +1.806s, C3, 80 laps
8) Esteban Ocon +1.832s, C3, 55 laps
9) Valtteri Bottas +2.281s, C3, 28 laps
10) Daniel Ricciardo +5.768s, C1, 70 laps

Max Verstappen took over in the RB20 from Sergio Perez and it didn’t take him long to put himself in his customary position of P1. A 1:31.058 gave him a 0.189s over former teammate Sainz.

With just under three hours to go, the three-time defending World Champion went even quicker on the C3s as a 1:30.763 put him 0.484s clear of Sainz.

Before that, Charles Leclerc had moved himself into P3, just behind teammate Carlos Sainz. However, Fernando Alonso would slot into the gap between the Ferraris as he went P3, 0.018s slower than Sainz.

At turn 13, Nico Hülkenberg had a major snap of oversteer in the Haas and got wide, but he avoided spinning or hitting the wall.

The first big runner to run the C4 in the afternoon was Charles Leclerc. The 26-year-old immediately vaulted to the top as a 1:30.409 put him ahead of fierce rival Verstappen.

Another C3 run saw the Dutchman make a small 0.008s improvement on his third flying lap using the C3s to be 0.346s away.

A 1:30.322 from Charles Leclerc lowered the benchmark further at the top by 0.087s on his third set of C4s.

With just over 2 hours to go, Oscar Piastri moved up to P3 on the C3s as a 1:31.029 put him in front of the two Spaniards. Alonso had been P3 for a short while after going purple in the first sector.

After moving up to P6 on the C3s, RB F1’s Yuki Tsunoda put on the C4s and logged a 1:30.835 to join Leclerc and Verstappen in the top 3. The Japanese improved again on a second new set as a 1:30.775 saw him get within 0.020s of Verstappen.

Mercedes started to unleash some speed as well. George Russell jumped up to P4 using the C3s, 0.638s away from Charles Leclerc. He chipped away at it on a separate run later, going 0.090s faster than his previous lap, including a purple final sector.

Alex Albon also moved himself into the top 5 with the Williams on C4s, 0.662s slower than the benchmark time.

Into the final 20 minutes and George Russell bolted on a set of C4s. Two greens and a purple final sector moved him up to P2, 0.046s away from Charles Leclerc.

A late lap from Sauber’s Zhou Guanyu saw him pop up to P3, 0.325s slower than the lap set by Leclerc.

Verstappen, Tsunoda, Albon, Piastri, Alonso, Sainz and Perez completed the top 10 on the final day of running. Seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton was 12th.

On the long runs, Leclerc and Verstappen both looked strong as the hints that Red Bull and Ferrari are the two strongest teams heading into next week gain more momentum.