Ferrari's Charles Leclerc heads Russell in Saturday morning running

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F1 Test, Sakhir, Bahrain International Circuitbh

After a series of quick laps on Pirelli's softer compounds, Charles Leclerc found himself on top of the board with a time of 1m31.024s, beating Mercedes racer George Russell by 0.418s to top the final morning of the sole 2023 Pre-Season Testing. F1Technical's Balázs Szabó reports on the opening session of the final day.

The final morning session of the three-day pre-season testing started with teams mounting an array of pitot tubes to measure off-body flow structures. Red Bull sent Sergio Perez with probably the biggest aerodynamic rake on to the Bahrain International Circuit, albeit their measurement runs ended prematurely as one of the sensors came off the all-new RB19, causing the first red flag of the session.

Cars were quick back on the track with most of the drivers putting their focus on balance checks on shorter runs. It was Mercedes driver George Russell to grab attention when the one-time grand prix winner rolled onto the Sakhir track on Pirelli’s C4 soft compound.

The Briton set a 1m31.7s on the red-walled compound before going for another short run, albeit this time he opted for the softest compound of Pirelli’s six-compound range, the C5 tyres. Russell managed to lower the benchmark by over a tenth of a second before opting for another run on the same compound.

The King’s Lynn-born driver, who is set to start his fourth season at the pinnacle of motorsport, set a time of 1m31.442. His lead on top of the leaderboard did not last long though with Charles Leclerc choosing to conduct a similar programme. The Monegasque racer started his qualifying simulation on the C4 compound, beating Russell by over two tenths of a second.

Leclerc rolled then out on the desert track on another fresh set of C4, recording a time of 1m31.024s to set the absolute benchmark of the three-day testing. The Monaco-born driver then opted for the C5 compound, but he was unable to get the best out of the softest compound, losing the rear end of his Ferrari on the exit of Turn 2 which prompted him to abort his lap. Although he attempted another run on the same compound, he failed to lower his previous benchmark, meaning that his previous time stayed on top of the timesheets.

After Fernando Alonso served driving duty alone on Friday, Aston Martin decided to give its reserve driver Felipe Drugovich another outing in the green AMR23. The reigning F2 champion ended up third fastest with 77 laps to his name.

After making his debut in the new RB19 yesterday morning, Sergio Perez finished the morning in P4 for Red Bull. The Mexican concentrated on setup work, logging in 69 laps of running when the chequered flag fell for the lunch break.

Alpine’s newcomer Pierre Gasly ended the morning session fifth fastest, using the medium tyres.

Williams driver Alex Albon followed in sixth position, running the C5s for his best effort. The Thai-British racer completes a full programme today after watching rookie team mate Logan Sargeant rack up laps on Friday.

Making his full-time return to the sport, Nico Hulkenberg set the seventh fastest time while notching up a total of 77 laps. McLaren had another troublesome morning with Oscar Piastri suffering a wild spin through Turn 9 and ruined a set of tyres. The Australian driver, who is set to make his debut in F1 at next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, finished down in P8 with only 44 laps to his name.

Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas racked up a total of 72 laps before grounding to a halt after losing drive and brought out the red flags.

AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries rounded out the top ten with an eye-catching work load that saw the Dutchman rack up a total of 87 laps. With the former F2 and Formula E champion focusing on heavy fuel runs, he finished the morning session over seven seconds off Leclerc’s benchmark time.