Kevin Magnussen fastest return to F1; Ferrari hype rises ahead of Bahrain Grand Prix

SAKHIR, Bahrain – With one day of pre-season testing remaining, Kevin Magnussen, back in F1, posted the fastest lap of the week with a time set during a long period of racing for his team Haas.

Magnussen, who previously raced for Haas from 2017 to 2020, replaced Russian Nikita Mazepin in the squad ahead of this week’s test. On his first day back in the car, he pushed Carlos Sainz to the top of the timesheets with a lap 0.325 seconds faster than the Ferrari driver using the same compound tyre.

The time was set during a long trial period for Haas, which was set after the other nine teams had completed the regular practice session. The extra hour on Friday – as well as three extra hours on Saturday – was given to the team to make up for lost time on Thursday after its freight was delayed on its way to Bahrain.

During the regular eight hours of Friday practice, when all 10 teams were on track, Sainz set the fastest lap with an effort 0.4 seconds behind the rest of the field. The time was also set on the C4 compound tire – the second softest tire offered by Pirelli – and was quick enough to fend off a comparable attempt by Max Verstappen in the Red Bull car on the same compound.

Fuel loads and engine parameters are unknown outside of each team’s garage during testing, so it’s possible Verstappen’s time would have been in a similar ballpark had all things been equal, but it could also be that Sainz extended his lead – as shown by the impressive pace of Magnussen’s lap later in the evening.

Either way, another strong performance from Ferrari on Friday helped bolster the growing view that the Italian team have made the best start to 2022 under F1’s new technical regulations.

And while Ferrari appears to be back at the top of the grid, defending constructors’ champions Mercedes could be in trouble.

The team debuted its heavily revised W13 car on Thursday but struggled to squeeze performance out of it over the two days of testing this week. Lewis Hamilton put in one-lap laps on the softer Pirelli tires towards the end of the session, but his best time on the C5s was still 0.609 seconds behind Sainz on the C4s and 0.934 seconds behind Magnussen.

When asked after the session what the outcome of next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix would be if it took place tomorrow, Hamilton said: “I really don’t know. I think Ferrari…d’ after what i can see today, Ferrari would probably get a 1-2.

“Or maybe Red Bull.”

Sainz played down that conversation at Friday’s press conference when asked about a quote from Hamilton team-mate George Russell suggesting Ferrari were the favorites for the March 20 opener.

“Typical Mercedes, typical George,” Sainz said with a laugh. “Just hype the others up and then come to the first race and blast the competition.

“If it was the first year they did it then I might believe them, but they’ve been doing it for five or six years now and they keep surprising us in the first race.”

Mercedes has won eight consecutive constructors’ championships, an F1 record.

The upgraded Mercedes looked difficult to drive and continued to bounce on the pit straight as the team experimented with ways to address the porpoising issues it had suffered from all week. On the plus side, Russell managed to complete a race simulation in the morning session, which should have provided the team with plenty of data to analyze and find improvements.

Day two of the Bahrain test also proved to be a bit of a car breaker, with 37 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit) heat stretching the cooling solutions to the limit.

The most dramatic failure occurred on the Williams when the rear brakes of Nicholas Latifi’s car caught fire as the desert heat peaked around noon. The first sign of trouble came when smoke started billowing from the rear wheels of the car, but Latifi tried to make it back to the pits in the hope that the airflow would put out the fire.

He went as far as Turn 13 – two corners from the pit lane – when the left rear wheel buckled under the heat and cornering load, causing the car to spin in the area clearance. Flames engulfed the rear of the car once it came to a stop, and a small explosion occurred as a marshal tried to put out the fire.

Latifi and Marshal were unharmed, but the problem ended Williams’ race after just 12 laps. McLaren continued to deal with brake cooling issues during the second day of testing after its Thursday run was also limited by brake issues. Although the team hasn’t experienced anything as dramatic as the Williams fire, Lando Norris was limited to 54 laps on Friday after just 50 laps on Thursday. In the final hour, Norris also stopped on track moments after leaving the pit lane, causing a red flag.

Norris was not supposed to drive the McLaren on Friday but was replaced when Daniel Ricciardo was ruled out for a second consecutive day through illness. Ricciardo felt unwell on Thursday morning meaning he also missed that testing session, but the team confirmed he had not tested positive for COVID-19.

Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo also caused a red flag when his car came to a stop at Turn 9 in the dying minutes of the morning session. The FIA ​​had hoped to test its race restart procedure with a fake grid at the end of the session, but after lining up on the grid for an aborted start procedure, Bottas’ car came to a stop on track at the next lap before the grid can reform for a race-style restart. Bottas finished the day 11th fastest overall.

Esteban Ocon also caused a red flag in the afternoon when his Alpine car stopped on the track. He had had a productive day so far, with 111 total laps under the checkered flag and the sixth-fastest time.

Sebastian Vettel pulled out to the track in the Aston Martin in the final hour of the morning session but quickly returned to the track once the car was collected, suggesting there was no major issue with the car. His teammate Lance Stroll took control of the Aston Martin in the afternoon and set the fourth fastest lap with a time of 0.857 seconds over Magnussen using the same C4 compound.