Leclerc beats Gasly to fastest time on final day of testing in 2018

ABU DHABI — Ferrari’s new signing Charles Leclerc finished at the top of the timesheets on the final day of Formula One action in 2018.

The second day of Abu Dhabi’s post-season test saw all ten teams take to the Yas Marina circuit as they continued to gain an understanding of next year’s Pirelli tyres.

The Italian tyre manufacturer had both 2018 and 2019 tyres on offer this week and each team had 22 sets to use over the two days. Fourteen of those sets were decided by Pirelli, and included a selection of 2019 compounds plus two sets of 2018 hyper-softs for comparison, and the teams were free to choose the remaining eight sets. Run plans were left to the teams to decide but they were prevented from running 2019 parts and certain sensors to ensure the focus remained on tyres and not car development for next season.

Leclerc, who will replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari next year, set the fastest time of the test with a 1:36.450, beating new teammate Sebastian Vettel’s best effort on Tuesday by 0.362s. Leclerc, who has been a Ferrari junior since 2016 and completd his rookie season with Sauber this year, said his first day as an official Ferrari race driver had been emotional.

“It’s a day I’ve been waiting for for a long time and I never thought it would come, but today this was the reality and I’m very happy,” he said. “I’m also very happy with the work we have done today, so it was very emotional.

“Every time I get in a racing car, I immediately try to find the limit as quickly as possible. But today’s goal was to compare the 2019 tyres with the ones we used this year and, from my point of view, we did a good job and I’m happy with it.”

Red Bull’s 2019 driver Pierre Gasly was second fastest with a 1:37.916 set late in the day, while Force India’s new signing Lance Stroll finished third fastest for the second day in a row — albeit 0.6s down on his time from Tuesday.

Valtteri Bottas was fourth fastest in the last day of running for the world championship-winning Mercedes W09. His best effort was nearly two seconds off Leclerc’s effort, although differing run plans made comparisons between any of the times relatively meaningless.

Former Renault driver Carlos Sainz was fifth on his first day behind the wheel of a McLaren. The Spaniard is replacing his childhood hero Fernando Alonso at the team next year and Wednesday was his first taste of this year’s problematic MCL33 before it becomes an unloved museum piece at the team’s factory in Woking.

Daniel Ricciardo, who is replacing Sainz at Renault next year, was unable to drive this week due to his existing contract with Red Bull, meaning test driver Artem Markelov stepped up for the French manufacturer on Wednesday, setting the sixth fastest time by the end of the day.

Formula 2 champion and 2019 Williams driver, George Russell, was seventh fastest with a 1:38.802, improving on his Tuesday time by 0.7s. He was also 1.4s faster than his new teammate Robert Kubica, who drove the car in the morning before handing over to Russell in the afternoon.

F2 driver Louis Delatraz was ninth in the Haas ahead of Kubica in tenth and Sauber’s new signing Antonio Giovinazzi in 11th. Giovinazzi caused the only red flag of the day when his car stopped in the tunnel at the pit lane exit.

Formula One resumes in 82 days with the first of two pre-season tests at the Circuit de Catalunya outside Barcelona.

1. Leclerc, Ferrari, 1:36.459, 135 laps
2. Gasly, Red Bull, 1:37.916, 129 laps
3. Stroll, Force India, 1:38.044, 120 laps
4. Bottas, Mercedes, 1:38.448, 143 laps
5. Sainz, McLaren, 1:38.547, 149 laps
6. Markelov, Renault, 1:38.590s, 129 laps
7. Russell, Mercedes, 1:38.802, 38 laps
8. Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1:38.862, 155 laps
9. Delatraz, Haas, 1:39.069, 117 laps
10. Kubica, Williams, 1:40.265, 56 laps
11. Giovinazzi, Sauber, 1:40.435, 127 laps