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F1 Testing, Bahrain Day Three: Red Bull's Max Verstappen ahead of Ferrari as Mercedes trail 2022 rivals

Is Max Verstappen heading into his Formula 1 title defence as the favourite? Red Bull show form on final day of testing to beat Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, with Mercedes only fifth; Watch the season-opening Bahrain GP from March 18-20, all live on Sky Sports F1

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It's a job well done for Red Bull as Max Verstappen pushes one last time to take the fastest lap of the week in Bahrain. 

Max Verstappen overhauled Ferrari to ensure an improving Red Bull finished pre-season testing on top in Bahrain, with Mercedes trailing their rivals ahead of a much-anticipated opening race of F1 2022.

Red Bull, having been relatively quiet through the first five days of winter running, debuted new upgrades - including sculpted sidepods - for their RB18 on the very final day and promptly sent warnings to the whole grid with their new-found pace.

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Lewis Hamilton believes Ferrari and Red Bull are favourites to win the Bahrain Grand Prix next week as Max Verstappen clocks the fastest time in final day of testing

Sergio Perez topped the morning before Verstappen surged to the front in the faster evening session, beating Charles Leclerc in the previously fancied Ferrari by 0.7seconds amid a flurry of impressive and consistent laps.

Mick Schumacher vaulted up to second late in the day, half a second off Verstappen, as Haas once again took advantage of their extra testing time and favourable testing conditions to post a notable time.

Verstappen's final time was a 1:31.720, giving him a boost before his maiden title defence starts with the Bahrain GP, all live on Sky Sports F1 on March 18-20.

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Anthony Davidson says George Russell looks as if he lacks confidence as he battles with porpoising on the final day of the Bahrain testing.

Fernando Alonso finished fourth for Alpine, who enjoyed a much better Bahrain test compared to Barcelona, while George Russell put in Mercedes' best lap of the test - but it was a full second off Verstappen and only good enough for fifth.

Paddock consensus is that Mercedes, the sport's dominant team for the past eight seasons, have been holding some speed back - although Lewis Hamilton, who drove in the morning and finished 17th, is adamant about their standing.

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Valtteri Bottas causes a red flag as he's forced to stop with car troubles.

"At the moment I don't think we will be competing for wins," stated Hamilton. "We're not the quickest at the moment. We have a significant amount of pace to find."

Valtteri Bottas was fifth for Alfa Romeo ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, but ended the day with a reliability issue,

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Haas driver Mick Schumacher has caused the first red flag of the day at the Bahrain test.

Lando Norris - filling in for Daniel Ricciardo who has Covid-19 - was ninth for McLaren, who managed to bump up their Bahrain mileage with 90 laps following a difficult start to the test.

Bahrain pre-season test: Final day timesheet

Driver Team Time Tyres Laps
1) Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:31.720 C5 (very soft) 53
2) Mick Schumacher Haas +0.521 C4 81
3) Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.695 C4 (soft) 51
4) Fernando Alonso Alpine +0.978 C4 122
5) George Russell Mercedes +1.039 C5 71
6) Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +1.265 C3 (medium) 68
7) Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +1.282 C4 57
8) Sergio Perez Red Bull +1.385 C3 43
9) Lando Norris McLaren +1.471 C4 90
10) Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +2.101 C3 81
11) Guanyu Zhou Alfa Romeo +2.239 C4 82
12) Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +3.145 C4 91
13) Carlos Sainz Ferrari +3.185 C5 68
14) Alex Albon Williams +3.451 C3 18
15) Lance Stroll Aston Martin +3.914 C3 124
16) Nicholas Latifi Williams +4.309 C3 53
17) Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +4.497 C5 78
18) Kevin Magnussen Haas +6.896 C2 (hard) 38

Red Bull make their move | What's up with Mercedes?

Through the first five days of pre-season testing and particularly the start of the more representative Bahrain event, team bosses, drivers and pundits alike were united in their views was that it was Ferrari and not last year's title rivals Red Bull and Mercedes who were the favourites heading into the opening race of F1's all-new era.

But while Ferrari still appear firmly on track to be in contention come next weekend with their reliable and quick F1-75, it was Red Bull who stole the headlines on the final day and it is Red Bull who now look in best shape.

Their upturn in form came after bringing new parts to the RB18, with a new sidepod design - not one to rival Mercedes' from earlier in the week - but enough to seemingly improve their aerodynamics and pace.

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Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto says that they are learning a lot from testing after Charles Leclerc takes the fastest lap of the week in Bahrain.

All day on Saturday, the car appeared settled and consistently fast, and the evening session provided a comparison as Verstappen, Leclerc and Russell all appeared to be pushing on soft tyres.

And while, as ever with testing, it is unclear of fuel and engine modes, Verstappen finished the day with a mighty advantage on the softest tyre, having also set a competitive time on the harder compounds.

"Red Bull have moved the game on today in terms of raw pace, long run pace," said Brundle, although he also admitted: "They've got a race on their hands with Ferrari, though."

One of the big unknowns from Bahrain, meanwhile, are Mercedes.

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As the final day in Bahrain closes, Martin Brundle and Anthony Davidson discuss their verdict for the pecking order going into the first race of the season.

The world champions turned heads at the start of the test with their radical car design and many expected them to move clear, but the nifty sidepod concept never truly translated into quick lap times and, even when Russell put the softest tyres on late on Saturday, he finished a second down.

Sky F1's Martin Brundle and Anthony Davidson still predicted Mercedes would be in the fight in Bahrain, although were concerned about their 'porpoising' issues. Hamilton, meanwhile, painted a rather negative picture.

"We have some hurdles to overcome and obviously next week we'll get a much better showing of our pace," claimed the seven-time world champion.

"But I think people will be surprised, because people keep talking about whether we're talking ourselves down or not, but it's a bit different this year."

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McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl explains how unexpected problems with the car's brakes have put the team on the back foot during Bahrain testing. 

The rest of the pecking order is tough to predict although McLaren - despite a difficult Bahrain test - are still most expert's favourites to be fourth fastest right now, with Alpine, Aston Martin and AlphaTauri also in the midfield mix.

What's next?

That's an easy and exciting question to answer; the official start of the Formula 1 2022 season.

The Bahrain GP - on the same track as the last test - gets underway next weekend, and Sky Sports F1 will have you covered.

Follow the weekend coverage, from first practice on Friday, March 18 through to the opening race of the season on Sunday, March 20, all live on Sky Sports F1 and our array of pundits out in the desert.

Through the week, there will also be plenty of build-up on our digital platforms, social channels and on Sky Sports News.

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