Home » Hamilton leads Mercedes one-two with Verstappen sixth

Hamilton leads Mercedes one-two with Verstappen sixth

by Marko Florentino
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Lewis Hamilton declared himself “much happier than last year” after Mercedes ended a turbulent first day of the 2024 season with a practice one-two.

In the same month that Hamilton announced he will quit Mercedes to join Ferrari, the 38-year-old would be forgiven for questioning if he has made the right decision.

Having spent two seasons off the pace and in Red Bull’s wake, Hamilton topped the timesheets at the end of second practice in Bahrain, and though he refused to get ahead of himself too early in the new season, he admitted the signs were good.

“We didn’t know exactly where we would stack up against everyone else, but we had a positive FP2 session,” Hamilton said.

“The car was feeling good, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We know there is more to extract, and our long-run pace isn’t in the fight with the Red Bulls.

“Overall though, I’m feeling much happier with the car than last year. We’ve made some good improvements and it feels much more like a race car. It’s a really good platform for us to build from. We just need to keep our heads down and keep chasing.”

Hamilton will move away from Mercedes after their 12th season together, leaving fellow British driver George Russell to lead the team alongside an as-yet unannounced replacement.

“We’re not going to get carried away after one day of practice,” said Russell, echoing Hamilton’s caution.

“Our qualifying pace did look strong. We made some changes from the test and the improvement exceeded our expectations. But ultimately our long-run pace is where it counts. Verstappen looked comfortably quickest, and it was very tight with the Ferraris, the McLarens, and the Aston Martins. So we’ve likely got a real fight on our hands there.

“Nevertheless, we’re pleased with how our day has gone; the car is performing well. We will sit down and understand where the main improvements came from and try to sustain that. We want to be fighting for good positions on Saturday night.”

The pleasure among the Mercedes camp was taken from the fact that reigning world champion Max Verstappen found himself half-a-second off Hamilton’s fastest time, in sixth place on the leaderboard – although the true potential of Red Bull’s 2024 challenger, the RB20, is unlikely to be seen until Friday afternoon’s qualifying session.

Verstappen romped to victory in Bahrain 12 months ago to begin the most dominant season ever witnessed in F1, with Red Bull claiming 21 of the 22 races, and he was not overly concerned with their lack of pace on Thursday.

“It was not too bad. It’s just very close,” Verstappen said, having spent large parts of the session complaining about his gear changes. “Maybe some people around us already turned their engine a bit in terms of top speed.

“We just focus on ourselves. There were a few little balance issues from front to rear but nothing big, it’s just about trying to find that sweet spot.”

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