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Mercedes, Red Bull back on top in testing

New rules, same result.

Formula One has debuted its new generation of cars in pre-season testing in Barcelona this week – but in the end, it was still Mercedes and Red Bull dominating.

Lewis Hamilton set the fastest overall time with Mercedes at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit on Friday, ahead of teammate George Russell and the Red Bulls of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen.

The Mercedes duo set their times on softer – and faster – tires.

Mercedes won seven straight driver titles before Hamilton lost the championship to Verstappen on the last lap of the last race in 2021.

“We’re not fully happy with the balance of the car, but we’re here to learn and we’ve made some good experiments,” Russell said.

“We are happy with the direction we are heading in.”

McLaren and Ferrari were not near the top of the time sheets on Friday but had already shown their strength on the previous days.

Lando Norris was fastest with McLaren on the first day, his Australian teammate Daniel Ricciardo went quickest in the morning on Thursday and Charles Leclerc then topped the timesheets for Ferrari in the afternoon.

“I don’t think we’re in an amazing place, but I think we’re in a good place,” Norris said.

“It’s been a good start, we’ve kept things very clean. It’s been productive and we have made progress.”

All of the top teams showed good reliability, although Red Bull struggled with a gearbox issue on the second day.

Ferrari ran the most overall laps over the three days, followed by Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull.

“What was positive is the car was running smooth, I was happy with the balance,” Verstappen said.

“But Bahrain is going to be completely different, so heading into race one the car will be completely different as well.

So for me, I just focused on doing a lot of laps and try to really nail down every single aspect of the car.”

The teams that faced the most problems included Alfa Romeo and Haas, the American-owned outfit that ran Friday’s sessions without the sponsorship of Russian company Uralkali amid increasing disquiet following Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

There were no major incidents during the first two days but the final session was red-flagged five different times in the morning alone as Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly, Sebastian Vettel, and Chinese rookie Zhou Guanyu faced problems.

F1 implemented sweeping new regulations to try to improve racing, including bigger tyres and revamped aerodynamic packages.

Drivers were mostly optimistic that the changes will help increase overtaking.

Another three-day test period is scheduled for March 10-12 in Bahrain ahead of the season-opener there on March 20.

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