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F1 Testing: Charles Leclerc fastest on final day for impressive Ferrari but Red Bull remain strong

Ferrari make it two timesheet-topping days in a row in Bahrain, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen fourth on slower tyres; more drain-cover issues on track in disrupted morning; watch the season-opening Bahrain GP live on Sky Sports F1 starting with free practice on Thursday

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The final moments of testing conjured up some action between George Russell and Charles Leclerc

Charles Leclerc kept Ferrari on top of the timesheet on the third and final day of F1 pre-season testing with Mercedes' George Russell second and Max Verstappen fourth-quickest ahead of next week's season-opening Bahrain GP.

After team-mate Carlos Sainz had topped Thursday's running, Leclerc took timesheet honours on Friday with a best lap of 1:30.22 mid-way through the afternoon on the C5 tyres, the fastest compound available this week.

The morning session of the test was again disrupted for the second successive day by a dislodged drain cover with running red-flagged for over an hour before cars were allowed to return to track.

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Sky Sports' Craig Slater and Ted Kravitz explain why drain cover issues have halted F1 pre-season testing in Bahrain for a second-straight day

Sainz's Day Two time on 1:29.921, on one-step-harder C4s, remained the quickest of the test. Red Bull though recorded the week's fastest time on the yellow-marked C3s, the soft tyre in use at next week's race.

The widely-held belief therefore remains that Red Bull, the reigning double world champions are still the team to beat at the start of the new season after an impressive opening week for their eye-catching new RB20 car.

But Ferrari also enjoyed a strong test too, with their drivers feeling more confident about their car and its handling than this time last year. Mercedes' drivers have also spoken about their latest challenger, the W15, being "nicer to drive" than its two evil-handling predecessors, while McLaren feel they remain right in the chasing pack.

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Charles Leclerc outlines the differences he's experienced in the new Ferrari car

Verstappen, who like Leclerc ran in the afternoon, only used he C3 tyre or harder and his best time of 1:30.755 was fourth tenths slower than Leclerc's on the quicker compound, although tyre-corrected the lap was theoretically quicker.

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"That time on an old C3 tyre really was a real warning shot for what they can do in race pace," said Sky Sports F1's Anthony Davidson. "So I think they have got that covered.

"But Ferrari I'm quite interested in with the qualifying speed of the car. I think the potential could be there for qualifying to maybe be a thorn in Red Bull's side."

Leclerc, who completed 74 laps after taking over the car from Sainz, who had clocked 71, said: "The car is reacting the way that we wanted it to, but it is still difficult to assess its level of competitiveness right now. The feeling is better than the base we started from last year. Now, it's full focus on the race and I can't wait to be back on track next week."

Bahrain pre-season test: Day Three timesheet

Driver Team Time Laps Tyre
1) Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:30.322 74 C5
2) George Russell Mercedes +0.046 67 C4
3) Zhou Guanyu Sauber +0.325 85 C4
4) Max Verstappen Red Bull +0.433 66 C3
5) Yuki Tsunoda RB +0.453 53 C4
6) Alex Albon Williams +0.662 121 C4
7) Oscar Piastri McLaren +0.708 91 C3
8) Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +0.837 75 C3
9) Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.925 71 C3
10) Sergio Perez Red Bull +1.161 53 C3
11) Nico Hulkenberg Haas +1.364 89 C3
12) Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +1.677 49 C5
13) Lance Stroll Aston Martin +1.716 46 C3
14) Lando Norris McLaren +1.786 20 C3
15) Pierre Gasly Alpine +1.827 47 C3
16) Kevin Magnussen Haas +2.731 80 C3
17) Esteban Ocon Alpine +2.757 55 C3
18) Valtteri Bottas Sauber +3.206 28 C3
19) Daniel Ricciardo RB +6.693 70 C1

* the C5 tyre is the softest - and theoretically fastest - compound, while C1 is the hardest - and theoretically slowest - compound

Late show of speeds shuffle final-day order

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Mercedes driver George Russell praises the changes made to the car from last year and hopes they can compete for the top spots

A number of drivers moved up the final timesheet inside the cooler conditions of the final floodlit hour.

Mercedes' Russell was one of those as he switched focus from long to short runs. Initially moving into fifth place on the C3 compound, Russell then took second on the C4 late on, 0.046s adrift of Leclerc.

Sauber's Zhou Guanyu was the latest mover, vaulting up the order to third on the same red-marked compound.

RB's Yuki Tsunoda was another to complete a late qualifying-style run on the C4s and finished fifth after 53 laps.

Alex Albon, the only driver to spend the whole day in the car while the other nine teams split their running, also found late ground to take sixth at the end of 121 laps ahead of McLaren's Oscar Piastri and Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso.

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Lewis Hamilton discusses his reasoning for moving to Ferrari and his relationship with team principal Frederic Vasseur

Sainz was the quickest of the morning runners with Lewis Hamilton, who spoke publicly in the press conference for the first time about his shock 2025 switch to Ferrari, was 12th after 49 laps.

Lando Norris only completed 20 laps due to a clutch problem on his McLaren.

Drain cover problems strike testing again

Underlining the impressive reliability of the latest set of Formula 1 cars given their full track debuts at testing this week, the only two times that track running was suspended across the three days of running was when drain covers on the entry to Turn 11 were ripped up.

The final morning was not even half an hour old when the cover was brought up by Sergio Perez's Red Bull, which escaped damage, with the subsequent red flag lasting 75 minutes while marshals worked to weld down the drain and inspect the rest of the track.

When the session did resume at 11.45am local time, the decision was made that the remainder of the running to 7.10pm would run through the lunch break in order for teams to finally complete some sustained running, which fortunately proved the case.

"Maybe these kind of things can be checked a bit more," said world champion Verstappen.

"We know that this is a potential problem with these cars and when you go to certain tracks, you know where the drain covers are. So I guess before you start driving in the weekend, to double check that everything is solid, I think is a must for the upcoming tracks."

Organisers will now hope to be on top of the issue in time for next week's season-opening Grand Prix, when F1 will open its record 24-race season with the Bahrain GP with the race weekend, shuffled forward a day to normal, starting with practice on Thursday February 29 and concluding with the 57-lap race on Saturday March 2.

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