Red Bull’s Max Verstappen fastest in opening F1 Bahrain testing session

Max Verstappen put Red Bull’s off-track troubles to one side by setting the pace in the opening testing session in Bahrain.

Red Bull’s preparations for the new campaign have been overshadowed by allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” against team principal Christian Horner.

Horner, who is in Bahrain for this week’s three-day test ahead of the opening round, also in the Gulf kingdom, on March 2, emphatically denies the accusations made by a female colleague.

Verstappen won 19 of the 22 races last season as he wrapped up his third world championship, and the Dutch driver laid down an early marker by topping the time charts in his heavily revised Red Bull.

The 26-year-old ended the running nearly seven tenths quicker than Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in third, eight tenths back, and the only other driver within one second of Verstappen.

McLaren’s Oscar Piastri finished fourth, while George Russell was sixth for Mercedes, 1.68 secs off the pace.

Lewis Hamilton gets his first taste of the last Mercedes he will drive on Thursday ahead of his blockbuster switch to Ferrari next year.

Although headline times in testing have to be treated with a degree of caution – as the teams trial different fuel loads and tyre compounds – Verstappen appeared settled in the machine he hopes will carry him to a fourth consecutive title.

His lap count of 65 was more than a race distance in Bahrain. Alonso (77 laps) managed the most miles of the 10 drivers on track.

During a relatively trouble-free first session for the majority of the field, Alex Albon broke down in his Williams following a reliability failure with 20 minutes remaining.

The final four hours of the opening day begins at 1500 local time (1200GMT).