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World champion Verstappen lays down marker at pre-season F1 testing

World champion Max Verstappen set the pace as pre-season Formula 1 testing got underway in Bahrain on Thursday.

The Red Bull driver edged out two-time world champion Fernando Alonso in an Aston Martin with the two Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc tucked in behind.

“We had a good day today, we completed a lot of laps which is what we wanted — almost three Grand Prix’s worth,” said Verstappen.

“It’s nice to see how the car has evolved from last year. The behaviour is a bit different because of the tyres but otherwise, we are happy.”

In 2022, Verstappen won 15 of 22 races, including nine of the last 11 as he swept to back-to-back world titles.

His final points tally of 454 was comfortably 146 ahead of second-place Leclerc.

The Mercedes of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and George Russell ended the first day of three at the Sakhir circuit with the sixth and ninth best times.

Mercedes endured a roller-coaster season in 2022 when they finished third in the constructors championship behind Red Bull and Ferrari.

Hamilton ended the campaign in sixth place in the drivers standings, two spots behind Russell.

“It’s good to be back in the car here in Bahrain. It was a nice, cool afternoon weather-wise, though windy,” said Hamilton.

“We’ve got to keep pushing, focus on ourselves, and stay focused. It’s difficult to know where we are in the order, but we’ll get a better feeling in the days to come.”

The 2023 season starts at the Sakhir circuit on March 5.

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