George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test

Zhou uses soft tyres to pip Verstappen as Mercedes hit trouble

2023 F1 season

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Zhou Guanyu ended the second day of testing fastest ahead of Max Verstappen, while Mercedes’ session was cut short by a suspected hydraulic failure.

The Alfa Romeo driver used the softest C5 compound tyres late in the running to put himself on top of the times, just 0.040s faster than Verstappen in the Red Bull. Fernando Alonso was third fastest, while George Russell and Mercedes’ running ended early due to hydraulic failure late in the day.

After Sergio Perez enjoyed his first run in the RB19 in the earlier session, world champion Max Verstappen took back the Red Bull for the evening. He was joined by Charles Leclerc, Nico Hulkenberg, Pierre Gasly, Oscar Piastri, George Russell and Nyck de Vries, who all took over from their respective team mates. Logan Sargeant, Zhou and Alonso all remained in their cars for the evening session.

When the green light appeared at the end of the pit lane, Zhou immediately rejoined the track to resume his running. He was quickly followed by Verstappen, taking to the track for the first time. Verstappen’s first flying lap was a 1’32.815, quick enough for third place and immediately faster than his own best time on the first day of testing.

Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Zhou put Alfa Romeo on top of the times
After a double cool-down lap, Verstappen improved by almost three-tenths on his second lap to get within half a tenth of Sainz and move into second on the timing screen. Within half an hour, Verstappen was sent back out on C3 tyres and posted a 1’31.863, the first lap of the test under a 1’32 and comfortably the quickest of the test so far.

Leclerc moved up to fifth position with a 1’32.725, almost a second behind Verstappen’s best and a quarter of a second behind Ferrari team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr. Verstappen shaved over a tenth-and-a-half off his own best time, lowering his own benchmark to a 1’31.650, while Hulkenberg used the C4 soft tyres to move into second in the standings, just two-hundredths of a second faster than Sainz’s best time from the morning session but eight tenths slower than Verstappen’s best.

With around 90 minutes of the day’s running remaining, Russell suddenly received a ‘hydraulic failure’ warning message on his steering wheel rounding turn four. After slowing down and staying in fourth gear, he eventually shuddered to a halt on the exit of turn ten, prompting the first red flag of the day and only the second red flag stoppage of the test. The team later confirmed hydraulic failure was believed to be the cause of the problem and Mercedes took no further part in the session.

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Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Gallery: Pre-season testing day two in pictures
Once the W14 was cleared, the session restarted with teams wasting none of the remaining time left. AlphaTauri sent out De Vries on the softest C5 tyres and he immediately jumped up to second place, just over half a second slower than Verstappen. Then Alonso improved his own best time to go third, before moving up into second place, just hundredths of a second ahead of De Vries. Zhou also used soft tyres to moved to third position, eight-thousandths of a second faster than De Vries and only nine-thousandths of a second slower than Alonso.

With half an hour remaining, Zhou headed out on the C5 soft tyres and clocked a 1’31.610, putting Alfa Romeo on top of the times by just four-hundredths of a second over Verstappen. Red Bull sent the world champion back out on C3 tyres, but he did not trouble his own personal best time.

The session was red-flagged with just over ten minutes remaining for another scheduled start procedure test. However, Zhou stopped his car at the end of the pit lane after aborting a practice start and was wheeled back into the Alfa Romeo garage. A second grid start test of the day was carried out and the chequered flag was flown, signalling the end of the day’s running.

Having driven in both sessions, Alonso, Zhou and Sargeant all covered the most distance, with Sargeant covering more laps than any other driver had logged in the test with 154. Russell had the fewest laps of any driver of the day, putting in just 29 laps in the evening session.

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2023 F1 pre-season Bahrain test: Day two times

Pos. Car number Driver Team Model Best time Gap Laps
1 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo C43 1’31.610 133
2 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull RB19 1’31.650 0.040 47
3 14 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin AMR23 1’32.205 0.595 130
4 21 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri AT04 1’32.222 0.612 74
5 27 Nico Hulkenberg Haas VF-23 1’32.466 0.856 68
6 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari SF-23 1’32.486 0.876 70
7 2 Logan Sargeant Williams FW45 1’32.549 0.939 154
8 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari SF-23 1’32.725 1.115 68
9 81 Oscar Piastri McLaren MCL60 1’33.175 1.565 74
10 10 Pierre Gasly Alpine A523 1’33.186 1.576 59
11 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas VF-23 1’33.442 1.832 67
12 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine A523 1’33.490 1.880 49
13 63 George Russell Mercedes W14 1’33.654 2.044 26
14 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull RB19 1’33.751 2.141 76
15 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes W14 1’33.954 2.344 72
16 4 Lando Norris McLaren MCL60 1’35.522 3.912 65
17 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri AT04 1’35.708 4.098 85

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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10 comments on “Zhou uses soft tyres to pip Verstappen as Mercedes hit trouble”

  1. Sameer Cader (@)
    24th February 2023, 17:03

    Aston Martin does look quick. Now i’m not saying they are the no. 2 team on the grid. But i would not be suprised to see Alonso lineup 7th on the grid come next Saturday, have a good start and mix it up with the top 3 teams over the first few laps. Given a few retirements and provided the Aston Martin doesn’t breakdown, Alonso could be looking at a top 5 finish

  2. playstation361
    24th February 2023, 17:07

    I see this as a good sign. I hope Zhou gets applauded by the global crowd in the coming races.

  3. Very nice very long interview with Théo Pourchaire sitting in the commentary box in the morning session of Friday’s testing, if any of you are interested.

    1. @shimks Okay, I didn’t know because I use neither the UK Sky nor F1 TV coverage, but I guess he simply couldn’t stop talking.

  4. Clearly a glory-run thing, but being first is never bad, even if irrelevant in testing.
    Additionally, he made history by becoming the first Chinese driver to hold P1 in any official group session in F1.
    AM seems in good shape for the season disregarding the ultimate performance level aspect, while Alpine & especially Mclaren are seemingly in less good shape comparatively for the upper midfield battle.

  5. Judging the title photo Mercedes used politically correct term ‘hydraulic falure’ for describing that someone has vomited from the cockpit? :-)
    And judging the quantity of laps, Zhou, Alonso and Sargeant are the main candidates for racing weekend failures.

    1. They won’t be using the same running gear.

  6. Nothing special yet. Good amount of laps. Not any big troubles for any of the teams. Times are irrelevant but Charles’ pole time last year was 1.30.5. We are getting closer to that time. Bottas did 1.31.5 on last years q3 so..

  7. Times don’t really tell us anything as I’d expect every team would be able to get into the 1:30’s That said, testing isn’t completely meaningless and signs are starting to show.

    Mercedes is a little bit of a worry. It’s better to find issues now than at a race weekend, but it’s never good to stop on track. The car also looks quite sloppy from the onboards. Higher fuel will do that and Mercedes have never been one to chase lap times in testing, but as the only team to go a different direction it’s a worry they’ve fallen further behind RedBull and Ferrari. They’ll have a tough year ahead too with everyone else running a 2022 RedBull.

    1. 2022 Red Bull wannabes. They are hardly as good as the original. But yeah, if Mercedes hits trouble and these copies give them a run for their money it will be the time to drop this concept for good.

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