Verstappen posted a pair of rapid laps on Pirelli’s softest C5 tyres in the closing hour of running on the final day of pre-season testing in Bahrain to end up quickest in Red Bull’s upgraded RB18. 

The Dutchman had to abort his first flying effort after spinning at the end of a warm-up lap but recovered to pump in the initial benchmark time with a 1m31.973s, before improving by a further two tenths with a late run to extend his advantage at the top of the timing sheets. 

Verstappen was the first and only driver to dip below the 1m32s barrier as he finished 0.695s clear of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who managed his best lap on the slightly harder C4 compound. 

Fernando Alonso went third-quickest thanks to a late C5 tyre run to get within a second of Verstappen, who will begin his title defence in next weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Fourth-placed George Russell was nearly a full second down on Verstappen’s time on the same tyre compound as Mercedes lagged behind its 2021 world championship rival. 

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Earlier on Saturday, Lewis Hamilton insisted that Mercedes’ struggles in testing were genuine and admitted his team is not in contention for wins right now. 

The seven-time world champion was 17th out of the 18 runners on the final day of running after spending the morning focusing on race simulations. 

Hamilton’s former Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was fifth fastest on the medium C3 tyres before his Alfa Romeo broke down at Turn 8, causing the second red flag of the day. 

AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda took sixth ahead of morning pacesetter Sergio Perez

Mick Schumacher is currently eighth fastest as he continues to run for an extra two hours after Haas was granted additional running due to the freight delays that hampered its opening day. 

The German caused the first red flag on Saturday when he spun coming out of the last corner, though he was able to rejoin the action without further drama. 

Lando Norris and Sebastian Vettel completed the top 10 order for McLaren and Aston Martin respectively. 

The 2022 F1 cars will next hit the track for opening practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix on Friday when the world championship’s new era finally begins after months of anticipation.

Full results from the final day of running in Bahrain. 

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