After Kevin Magnussen surprised the F1 world with his pace on Thursday, Lewis Hamilton laid down a more impressive marker moving to the top of the timings on day three in Bahrain.
Running on lower fuel for much of the day using both the medium and soft compound tyres, the Mercedes driver beat Magnussen’s 1:34.910 from Thursday on the white marked tyres before beating it by seven tenths of a second on the option rubber setting a best of 1:34.263 in the morning.
With the emphasis apparently shifting from mileage to set-up work it was little surprise the Briton only racked up 67 laps on the day but what they achieved was pretty impressive.
Not one to be put in the shade by his new young team-mate, Jenson Button came second for McLaren matching Magnussen’s time to within a few hundredths of a second crossing the line with a 1:34.976.
The 2009 champion was also the only man over 100 laps with 103 tours of the Sakhir Circuit.
They were the only two men on even the same planet it seemed as the two silver cars were over two and approaching three seconds clear of the rest.
Though times are largely irrelevant in the first few tests the pace of the McLaren and even more the Mercedes certainly move to ease fears that the new cars would be too slow compared to their 2013 predecessors.
In fact even at this early stage in development and with more pace to give, Hamilton’s time was within two seconds of his team-mate Nico Rosberg’s pole position time at the same circuit last year.
Felipe Massa improved late in the day to make it a Mercedes powered 1-2-3 as he took over from team-mate Valtteri Bottas in the afternoon, combined the two driver completed 115 laps though a focus on pit-stop practice meant the Finn did not set a time.
Esteban Gutierrez was the first non-German powered car in the Sauber Ferrari, the Mexican’s steady week in the desert came to an end after completing 95 laps and setting the fourth best time.
He was ahead of countryman Sergio Perez who, despite an early delay waiting for new parts to be fitted, took the Force India to fifth place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen who missed out much of the day as telemetry problems blighted the Ferrari F14-T.
Toro Rosso had another productive day as their Russian rookie Daniily Kvyat added to Vergne’s 58 laps on Thursday with 57 of his own as the Renault powered teams enjoyed better reliability from their units.
Kvyat’s 1:38.974 may not be blistering compared to the Mercedes-powered pair at the front but that time was good enough for seventh on the day and was the best time so far by the STR9.
There was some focus on Pastor Maldonado making his official debut for Lotus on Friday as the Venezuelan’s controversial move from Williams remains a bitter one among most F1 fans.
Maldonado’s first day wasn’t a complete success though as the E22 stopped a couple of times out on circuit and he was restricted to just 26 laps on the day.
If Lotus’s woes are notable so too remain the issues at Red Bull as Daniel Ricciardo endured another difficult day at his new office.
The Australian was forced to finish 25 minutes early after adding just 28 laps to his tally which was in the teens following the difficulties seen at Jerez.
Caterham and Marussia seemingly returned to the natural places welded to the bottom of the timings however it was a complete day of contrast between the two outfits.
Caterham gave the car to Marcus Ericsson and the Swede tallied up an impressive 98 laps, by far the best for any Renault-powered team as the GP2 graduate completed the 300km needed to obtain his super-license ahead of the season.
Meanwhile Marussia, with Briton Max Chilton behind the wheel, achieved just four laps after his V6 engine blew up in the first hour leaving him stranded in the pits for the rest of the day.
Once again the main headline will belong to a silver car put it’s Mercedes this time who’ll be in the spotlight as Hamilton’s lap time wasn’t just three-quarters of a second better than McLaren’s two best times but it was also set on the soft tyre compared to the super-soft used by Button and Magnussen.
On the opposite end of the spectrum Red Bull and Lotus again look in increasing trouble barely managing 50 laps between them and perhaps more concerning for the champions is Ricciardo’s best time 1:40.9 is their best so far.
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