F1 Testing: Bottas and Zhou had a “promising” day; Russell had a “positive” day and Verstappen “had fun out on track today”

Photo Credits: Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber
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A successful first official day of F1 testing for many teams over in Bahrain. The ‘Sauber boys’ were pleased with their ‘completely different car’; George Russell was pleased with his ‘positive’ start in the W15 meanwhile reigning F1 Drivers’ World Champion Max Verstappen topped both of Wednesday’s initial sessions at the Bahrain International Circuit which is already an ominous sign for the rest of the field.

The most eye-catching cars on track were certainly the ones being driven by Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas. A busy day for both drivers with Bottas finding his feet in the C44 in the morning before his teammate took over in the afternoon. This driver pairing racked up132 laps between them (63 for Bottas and 69 for Zhou Guanyu) with no noticeable issues.

Bottas told media after his running in the C44: “We had a productive first morning of testing, and I’m thrilled to be back on track. It seems that we have made some improvements compared to last year and we were able to get a good feel for our car. The correlation between our simulator data and what we’re experiencing on the track is definitely reassuring, especially on the first day of testing. We started with a solid baseline setup for the car and were able to log some good mileage. Now, our focus shifts to fine-tuning and understanding raw lap times in the coming days. While our progress feels promising, the true improvement of performance will be revealed next week.” 

Zhou Guanyu reflected on his initial thoughts for the feel of the C44: “Today has been a promising day for us; we were able to complete our programme for the day, focusing on the long runs and on switching between different setups. Our car seems to be heading in the right direction, and even though there is definitely still room for improvement, the feeling is pretty good. I reckon the aggressive approach we have taken over the winter allowed us to make a step forward compared to last year’s car, and you can tell the difference out there on track, which is great. Now, for the next two days, it’ll be important to tick all the boxes, in order to come prepared ahead of next week. It is too early to say anything about our competitors, as of course everyone is going through their own programmes during testing; we will be focusing on our own and aim to get as much mileage and track time as possible.”

No doubt the team will be hoping for more of the same when they return to track action tomorrow albeit in reverse order seeing how Zhou Guanyu will kick off day 2 – for Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber – before Bottas returns to the cockpit in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, another team which was looking for a strong start was Mercedes as the Silver Arrows went through 2023 without a Grand Prix victory. Their most recent win came in the 2022 F1 season in Brazil courtesy of George Russell and it was the British driver who would be out on track all day in Bahrain putting the W15 through its paces.

Mercedes made clear that the intention was “always on gathering information about the new car, rather than performance”, so one can imagine that the team won’t be overly worried seeing Russell finish the day P12 on the timesheets seeing how teams run a variety of race programmes with differing fuel loads as well as different tyre compounds. For this reason, the table is rarely a true reflection of performance so fans should not read much into Russell being – on paper – 2.7 seconds off the pace.

The real question is how the car feels to drive and Russell let the media know his thoughts shortly after stepping out of his W15.

 “It was great to drive the W15 for the first time in anger today.” stated Russell “From hitting the ground, it felt like we had a good foundation to start from. We completed lots of laps and have plenty of data to go through tonight. We ended the day in a reasonably good spot, and we can build from here over the next two days. We will be focused on maximising mileage for learning rather than chasing an optimum sweet spot with the car.”

The main thing that any Mercedes fan will want to know is whether it is a better car than last year’s W14. On that question Russell admitted that overall, the W15 does feel nicer to drive than its predecessor. However, the feel of a car is one thing – how it will perform on track is yet to be known.

“We know that it’s not about the feeling, but the speed,” said Russell. “Nevertheless, today was about learning and not about chasing performance. We’re focused on ourselves at this test, and it will only be next week where we see where we stack up against the others. It was a positive first day and I’m looking forward to being back in the car on Friday.” In the day in between, Russell will be watching how his teammate Lewis Hamilton does as the seven-time F1 Drivers’ Champion begins his final F1 testing for Mercedes on Thursday.

As previously mentioned, the timesheet is rarely a true picture in testing, but Max Verstappen looked very comfortable in his RB20 and his body language and comments after getting out of his car following a full day of running already indicate that Red Bull Racing will be the team to beat once again.

 “It feels good to be back in an F1 car again and I had fun out on track today. We covered a lot of laps and tried quite a few things with the car, which was important, so happy overall with how it went.” explained Verstappen.

The three-time F1 Drivers’ World Champion had plenty of time to get a feel for his RB20 as he ran a distance of more than two Grands Prix. However, Verstappen as supremely talented as he is, is still a human and told media that “the first few laps always surprise you a little” after having had a winter break “but then you get back into the swing of things pretty quickly.”

“Overall, the car was responding well and considering this was only testing we had a nice day.” Max Verstappen

Sergio Perez will be in the cockpit of the RB20 in the morning before Verstappen returns in the afternoon. Before then, Verstappen will be busy speaking to his engineers about what the plans will be. In the meantime, Verstappen’s man in his ear and Head of Race Engineering at Red Bull, Gianpiero Lambiase admitted: “We came to Bahrain with a few unknowns around a relatively new car, but we have tested most of the fundamentals on day one and got the answers we needed to.”

As to whether the teams have the answers to beat Red Bull Racing, time will tell but after day one it seems very much business as usual at the front of the grid for the Milton Keynes-based racing outfit.

Photo Credits: Red Bull Content Pool