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Verstappen sets ominous pace for Red Bull on opening day of testing

Max Verstappen lay down an early marker for Red Bull with comfortably the fastest time on the opening day of Formula 1 pre-season testing in Bahrain.

The three-time world champion has won those titles in consecutive seasons with increasing dominance, taking victory in 19 of the 22 races last year. Handed a new concept in the form of the RB20 with radically different sidepods and engine cover solutions compared to its predecessor — something technical director Pierre Wache admits is a “risk” — Verstappen enjoyed the ideal start to his title defense.

Alongside George Russell in the Mercedes, Verstappen was one of two drivers to complete the entire day and amassed 143 laps while also setting a fastest time more than a second clear of the rest of the field. The RB20 looked to be a slight handful early on, but it was soon the class of the field on track, notably allowing Verstappen to get on the throttle earlier and more aggressively than any other car.

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The closest team was McLaren, with Lando Norris second fastest but 1.140s adrift of Verstappen’s best lap on the same C3 compound tire. It was the C3 that was used by all but two drivers — Alex Albon on the softer C4 and Esteban Ocon on the harder C1 — to post their quickest times.

Norris was running Gil de Ferran’s Indy 500-winning helmet design in tribute to his former McLaren colleague, and aside from the gap to Red Bull had a largely encouraging start to pre-season. Oscar Piastri’s 57 laps made it a total of 130 for the team, with only Verstappen and Haas managing significantly more.

Carlos Sainz was third quickest after taking over from Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc, who had been second in the morning session. Track conditions tend to be better under the floodlights as temperatures drop, with running ending at 7pm local time, and the top six times all coming in the final part of the day.

Fourth fastest was Daniel Ricciardo in the Visa Cash App RB (VCARB), just 0.015s behind Sainz and looking solid early in pre-season, while Pierre Gasly’s Alpine and the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll rounded out the top six – the latter 1.6s off Verstappen.