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Has Red Bull shown an early advantage in pre-season testing?

Max Verstappen set the early benchmark, but is Red Bull's advantage as comfortable as it looks on the timesheet?

If you look at the timing screen at the end of the first day of pre-season testing at Bahrain, it might seem like business as usual.

Max Verstappen quickest by over a second, Lando Norris in the McLaren best of the rest, and Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari rounding out the top three.

Many expected Red Bull's gamble on a redesigned sidepod and intake design to be the talking point, in the event that the best chassis designers and Adrian Newey made a mistake with their calculations.

To all intents the RB20 ran without a hiccup, clocking up 143 laps which was second only to the Haas drivers on 148 laps. Verstappen ran all the compounds available to him, producing a quickest time on a 1:31.344s on 127th lap which is just 1.626s off his 2023 pole.

Top 3 Medium tyre runs

Lap VER NOR SAI
1 1:34.764 1:36.689 1:37.107
2 1:34.901 1:36.705 1:37.209
3 1:34.725 1:36.481 1:36.979
4 1:34.874 1:36.697 1:37.371
5 1:34.766 1:36.672 1:37.324
6 1:36.584 1:37.904 1:37.442
7 1:34.882 1:38.264 1:37.634
8 1:38.469 1:37.424

Red Bull lay an early benchmark

The most impressive runs for Verstappen came at the beginning of the afternoon session when he completed long runs on the Hard tyre, consistently staying within the 1:35.6s benchmark.

On the Medium tyre this improved to the high- 1:34s over the course of a seven-lap run, again showcasing the consistency of the RB20 over a race run. For Norris the Medium he only managed times in the mid- 1:36s, while Sainz was trailing in the low- 1:37s during his Medium tyre runs.

This is all presented with the caveat that fuel loads differ, as do run plans for teams throughout the test. It offers an early glimpse into how much on the pace Red Bull is with its new concept, while everyone else plays catch up.

Ricciardo shines as Mercedes find their feet

George Russell was further down the order in P12 after Mercedes were seen tweaking a number of things on his car throughout the session, but he still clocked up a respectable 122 laps.

His before effort was 2.7s off the fastest time, although Mercedes elected to run him on the Hard tyre under the flood lights after sun set on the Hard tyre. From there he was closer to Verstappen's 1:35s, staying consistently within that benchmark.

Daniel Ricciardo was the main stand out in the RB by producing 52 laps which, combined with Yuki Tsunoda's lap count, puts them up to 116 for the day. His best effort came on the Medium tyre after 35 laps on track, as RB appeared to send him out on a few timed efforts midway through the afternoon session.

His quickest lap was a 1:32.781 before he improved by two tenths to a 1:32.599 to put him just 0.015s off Sainz. Encouraging signs for the Red Bull sister team, after all their pre-season hype.

VER and RUS Head-to-Head

Lap RUS (Hard) VER (Hard)
1 1:35.906 1:36.137
2 1:35.652 1:35.696
3 1:35.579 1:35.612
4 1:36.011 1:35.685
5 1:35.874 1:35.614
6 1:35.788 1:35.366
7 1:36.257 1:35.169
8 1:35.823
9 1:35.751
10 1:36.862
11 1:35.614

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