Valtteri Bottas claws back fastest time for Mercedes after tough start to testing

F1: Lewis Hamilton extends Mercedes contract

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Valtteri Bottas finally gave Mercedes something to smile about on day two of Formula One’s pre-season testing, despite another tough day in the office for the reigning world champions on Saturday.

With limited time to crunch numbers ahead of the new season, the teams now have just one day left to complete their set-ups ahead of the opening race of the year in Bahrain.

And after losing half a morning of running on Friday due to a gearbox change, Mercedes could’ve done with a smooth day on track.

However, it wasn’t quite as simple as Lewis Hamilton brought out the red flag after losing control of the W12, and subsequently beaching it in the gravel during the morning session. The car had to be lifted out of the gravel trap, with Hamilton forced back to the garage.

With conditions still challenging for the drivers, with strong gusts of wind, the seven-time world champion had been able to complete some running in the morning session before the error, giving the team some precious data, but had to settle for 15th fastest.

In the afternoon session, Valtteri Bottas spent the first hour in the garage, after only completing six laps on Friday.


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However the Finn did get to grips with the softest tyre compound in the afternoon, setting a fastest lap of 1:30:289 late in the session, and promoting Mercedes back to the top of the timing sheets.

But that didn’t tell the full story, as the top three were split by less than two tenths on the softs. Pierre Gasly for Alpha Tauri set the second fastest time of the day, only a tenth behind the Mercedes, with the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll in third, 0.171 behind.

But there were more questions to answer for the Silver Arrows, as Aston Martin, a customer of the manufacturer, were hit by similar gearbox issues on Saturday morning.

Sebastian Vettel was left frustrated as he admitted he “did not have a very productive morning” with just a few laps on the board.

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Speaking to Ted Kravitz on Sky Sports F1, Vettel confessed there’s a lot to get to grips with at a new team.

“A lot of new things for me, obviously a different power unit, all new team, it was good to have a proper day – proper running on the track,” explained Vettel.

“Today is quite windy and the track conditions are not great, but it was very good for me to get a few laps and get a proper feel.

“A lot of things I noticed, a lot of things I need to work on. Different car, different steering, different brakes, different behaviour.

“I need to get up to speed, but it was fun to be back in the car.”

On his return to Formula One after a two year absence, Fernando Alonso got to grips with the Alpine A521 in the morning session, finishing 10th fastest overall.

On another consistently solid day for McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo emerged quickest in the morning with the ninth quickest time.

Lando Norris finished fourth fastest, however was on a different tyre compound from the top three.

Problems for Red Bull today too, after Sergio Perez lost his engine cover along the main straight, bringing out the red flag, finishing 8th fastest.

Quiet day once again for Ferrari, who are looking to bounce back from last season’s disastrous performance, Carlos Sainz Jnr had to settle for 13th.

And one driver we have not yet seen on track is George Russell in the Williams.

Speaking exclusively to the Express, the Brit joked: “I’ve just been chilling out really and talking to you guys, which is lots of fun.

“To be honest I don’t think I missed much yesterday, and in some ways it was almost beneficial not to be driving because it would’ve just been quite frustrating in those terrible conditions, and potentially just confusing yourself.

“I’m not displeased with the run plan, and I’m just excited for tomorrow.”

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