The Monegasque set the early benchmark as F1’s pre-season running continued on Thursday at the Bahrain International Circuit, which is hosting the second and final three-day test prior to the upcoming 2022 season. 

Leclerc hit the front early on and went on to extend his advantage two hours into the morning, with his 1m34.531s set on Pirelli’s medium C3 tyres remaining unbeaten at the lunch break. 

Leclerc ended the morning over half a second clear of Alex Albon, whose quickest effort came on the C4 compound during the final hour of running. 

Sebastian Vettel, sporting a helmet design showing solidarity with Ukraine, was third-fastest for Aston Martin, while Sergio Perez racked up the most mileage with 68 laps completed in his RB18 on his way to taking fourth, 1.4s off the pace. 

Despite not setting any headline-grabbing pace, Mercedes were the talk of the town in the Bahrain paddock on Thursday after Lewis Hamilton debuted an updated W13, featuring a radical new sidepod design.

The bold sidepod concept drew particular attention from Red Bull, while F1’s managing director Ross Brawn conceded F1 didn’t anticipate such an “extreme interpretation" of the new rules. 

Hamilton, who finished nearly two seconds down on Leclerc, managed a strong haul of over 60 laps before teammate George Russell takes over in the Mercedes on Thursday afternoon. 

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was sixth ahead of Alfa Romeo’s F1 rookie Guanyu Zhou, while an unspecified issue limited McLaren’s Lando Norris to just 21 laps and Pierre Gasly completed the top-10 order for AlphaTauri. 

Haas did not take part in Thursday’s opening session due to late arriving freight but the American outfit is aiming to get out on track with Pietro Fittipaldi in the afternoon. 

Day one results at lunchtime