BAHRAIN: Valtteri Bottas was fastest as Mercedes made progress on the second day of pre-season testing despite a spin by Lewis Hamilton.
The seven-time world champion lost control into Turn 13 at Bahrain’s Sakhir track during his running and ended up beached in the gravel.
But Mercedes had a much better day than Friday, when they struggled with performance and reliability.
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly was second, with McLaren’s Lando Norris third.
Lance Stroll was fourth quickest in the Aston Martin, while his team-mate Sebastian Vettel suffered gearbox problems in the morning session and managed only seven laps, ending the day slowest of all.
Headline lap times in pre-season testing are notoriously unreliable as indicators of true competitiveness as it is impossible to know the specifications in which the teams are running their cars.
Fuel loads and engine modes can make significant differences to performance.
Red Bull continued the strong impression they made on the first day of running, with new signing Sergio Perez lapping consistently and quickly on the C2 compound tyre, one of the hardest available.
An uncharacteristic error from Hamilton
It is a rare sight indeed to see Hamilton making a driving error at any time, let alone in testing when nothing is at stake. But that is what happened on Saturday morning at Sakhir.
Mercedes were still struggling with both handling balance and inconsistency of car behaviour. That, and a strong gusting tailwind, led to Hamilton losing the rear end at what is effectively the Sakhir track’s penultimate corner.
The car was beached in the gravel but it was recovered by marshals and Hamilton could continue his running after a short break to clean the car.
Hamilton set a time by the end of his running in the morning session that left him 15th quickest as others improved in the cooler conditions after the sun set at the end of the day and the cars ran under lights, as they will at the opening race of the season in two weeks’ time.
Hamilton said the team were still trying to understand the best way to run the car following rule changes that have cut away part of the rear floor with the aim of reducing downforce.
Hamilton said: “It’s very gusty, as I found out into Turn 13. The rear doesn’t feel particularly great with this new regulation change but we are trying to find the sweet spot.
“It’s day two of testing so we’re just focused on doing our job and understanding the car so there is no point being worried just yet.”
Bottas took over in the afternoon and the team made further progress with the car’s behaviour and he vaulted up the time sheets as he ran through the different types of tyres late in the day.
How did Alonso get on?
Fernando Alonso had his first day’s running in his new Alpine car following his return to F1 after two years away and completed 128 laps – more than two race distances.
The 39-year-old two-time champion was true to his word that he would have no problems with his fitness despite breaking his upper jaw in a cycling accident just four weeks ago.
The Spaniard was second fastest in the morning session behind McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo but slipped down the timing screens as Alpine concentrated on long runs on hard tyres in the afternoon.
Nevertheless, it has been an encouraging start to the season for the Anglo-French outfit, which used to be called Renault, and also for McLaren, who have run strongly and reliably through two days with both drivers.
The Alpine car has been notable for its bulbous engine cover, which Alpine executive director Marcin Budkowski said was as a result of the team placing radiators above the engine rather than in the car’s side pods for aerodynamic advantage.
“We found that slimming the side pods was a positive direction, which is nothing new,” Budkowski said, “so we have repackaged and relocated some of the bulky things in the car and put them behind the air inlet.
“So, yes, it gives a fairly spectacularly bulky shape on the car but we found it works for us. Yes, there are centre of gravity compromises but usually the aero performance wins over weight and centre of gravity.”
The final day of testing is on Sunday.