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Max finishes testing in fourth position: 'No focus on pure lap time'

Published on 23 February 2024 by Kees-Jan Koster

On the final day of the three-day pre-season testing ahead of the new Formula 1 season set Max Verstappen the fourth fastest time. The reigning world champion driving for Oracle Red Bull Racing completed a total of 66 laps and set his fastest time on C3 tyres, while the drivers ahead of him set their time on the softer C4 tyres. Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari set the fastest time ahead of the Mercedes of George Russell and the Sauber of Guanyu Zhou.

“Our plan was not to focus on pure lap time”, says Max after the final day. “It was more important to get the long runs done and get a bit more of an understanding of the car. So, we focussed on that programme, and to be honest it all looked quite positive. Quite happy with how the car was behaving.”

Max continues: “When we head into the race weekend it is about fine tuning the balance around the circumstances that we face.”

Max concludes with: “I am happy with the overall lap times, now we must analyse the data and come up with a plan for the coming race weekend. I am looking forward to next week. There will always be a couple of little surprises during a race weekend, and when you go to the limit you will always find out more about the car, but we could not hope for a better test.”

With three hours and 45 minutes to go gets Max into the RB20 for his final session of the three-day testing. A relatively slow start on C3’s puts him after his first timed lap in P7. This is the start of a 6-lap stint in the Red Bull. The Dutchman moved up into P6 after these six laps, a second behind the fastest time set by Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard set this time during the morning session.

With three and a half hours to go the teams are waiting for the sun to disappear behind the horizon. This will cause the track temperature to come down, and it is expected that teams will do some runs on the softer tyre compounds. Not all teams brought the same tyres. Red Bull Racing for example did not bring any C5 tyres, the softest compound. But Mercedes did bring them, and Lewis Hamilton used them in the morning session setting a time of 1:31.999.

In the meantime, Max has changed to a new set of C3 tyres, with two purple and one green sector the Dutchman sets the fastest time of the day, a 1:31.058. The gap to the Ferrari of Sainz in P2 is just under two tenths of a second. After this lap Max returns to the pits.

Half an hour later, with less than three hours to go, Max comes out again on track. Again, setting two purple and one green sector. The gap to Sainz increases to half a second. Meanwhile, the Aston Martin driven by Fernando Alonso moves up into P3.

The Ferrari of Charles Leclerc sets the fastest time a couple of minutes later and removes Max from P1, three tenths of a second faster on C4 tyres. Then the Aston Martin is going for a quick time as Alonso sets a purple first sector. But with a yellow second and third sector the Spaniard is not improving his time. Meanwhile the mechanics are working on the front suspension of the Red Bull and Max has come out of the car.

Leclerc improves his time not much later and Alonso goes for a faster time too. Again, he only sets a fast first sector and stays in P3. Max comes back out on track, again on C3 tyres. His first sector times seem to point towards a longer run after the earlier short runs.

Oscar Piastri in his McLaren moves up into P3 when it starts to get dark. Verstappen is still working on what seems a race simulation. In the end he makes a stint of fifteen laps with lap times low in the 1:37. Around him others are also doing long runs. Hopefully there will be some more fireworks in the final hour.

With half an hour to go Max comes out with a set of hard tyres on his car, doing a test start at the end of the pitlane. What follows is a long run while the RB20 is full with flow-vis and a likely carries a lot of fuel. The sun has gone down and he sets again low 1:37’s.

When the world champion return to the pits the mechanics immediately start to work on the front wing of the RB20. Max coms out of the car and removes his shoes as it is warm in the narrow cockpit. Twenty minutes later he gets back out on track with a set of hard tyres. Meanwhile the RB of Yuki Tsunodo has moved up into P3 with behind him the Mercedes of George Russell in P4. Max is still doing a long stint on hard tyres, and it is unsure whether we see him again with a set of C4 tyres, the softest compound Red Bull Racing brought with them.

Meanwhile Russell has a set of C4’s on his Mercedes and goes up into P2, moving Max into P3. Guanyu Zhou on soft tyres also goes faster than the Red Bull. With fifteen minutes to go race control starts some system checks and there will not be another chance for a fast lap. Max finishes the pre-season testing in P4 but is the fastest driver on the C3 tyres.