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Leclerc and Sainz overcome damage to set Thursday pace

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On the evidence of the timesheets, the second day of pre-season testing at Bahrain couldn't have gone any better for Ferrari, with Charles Leclerc quickest in the morning and Carlos Sainz setting the best time of all in the afternoon.

Underneath the headline times, however, it was a slightly more mixed Thursday for the pair with Charles Leclerc suffering floor damage to the SF-24 in a freak accident just 80 minutes into the session.

Reminiscent of last year's Las Vegas weekend, Leclerc was the victim of a drain cover that had come loose at turn 11 of the Bahrain International Circuit. He was unable to miss the debris left on track.

“I had no warning. I saw something, but honestly it was so thin that I thought it was a plastic thing," Leclerc said of the incident.

"We see sometimes some of them around the track and we just go on them and nothing is happening. But this time obviously it was metal, so it hurt the car a little bit more.

“It wasn’t huge," Leclerc said of the damage incurred by the car. "There was a bit of a hole in the floor, which we had to change."

The team had time to replace the floor when the morning session was curtailed for track repairs. Leclerc was straight out when the session resumed, with 30 additional minutes in the cockpit before handing over to Sainz.

Circuit workers repair a damaged drain cover at turn 11. 22.02.2024. Formula 1 Testing, Sakhir, Bahrain, Day Two. -, EMail: © Copyright: Bearne / XPB Images

"We made some general changes to the car today and yesterday, with our focus shifting to fine-tuning our set-up on the last day of testing," the Monegasque reported afterwards.

"The first two days have gone well as we have run our full programme, although at this stage, we can’t say how competitive we are. I think the first time we will get an idea of where we stand will be in qualifying next week.

“We have done big changes on the car, and that’s what we were focusing on for these first two days. Tomorrow we’ll go and fine-tune a little bit more the car and go into the details. But the first two days went well for now.

“Tomorrow is the last day, so we’ll hopefully centre the car a bit more in terms of set-up to where we think it’s the best and we’ll fine tune it in order to be fully ready for next week.”

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-24. 22.02.2024. Formula 1 Testing, Sakhir, Bahrain, Day Two. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

Leclerc wisely steered clear of assessing Ferrari's level of performance relative to its rivals, but the five-time Grand Prix winner reckons that Red Bull still holds a comfortable edge at the top of the field.

“It feels like every winter test which means that we don’t understand a thing because for now it’s too early to say," he said.

"However, my initial feeling is Red Bull remains quite a bit ahead. Yesterday they’ve done very impressive lap times but that is only my own times, not looking at data for now.”

Before the drain cover incident, Leclerc's best time was 1:31.750s after 36 laps which was enough to put him on top of the timesheets at the intermission. Sainz then had five hours in the car after lunch, and completed a further 87 laps

"Another day of testing completed according to plan and without issues," Sainz said of his own stint. "We managed to go through the whole afternoon programme smoothly, combining various tests with low and high fuel runs.

"Yesterday we ran a completely new car that seemed to be in a good window straight out of the box. We scanned the whole set-up, the whole up and down with the car, and it seemed to respond and react well.

"It was interesting to get a feel for this year’s car in different configurations. Now I look forward to the last session tomorrow morning where we’ll keep focusing on the long runs."

Sainz produced the best time of the test so far with a time of 1:29.921s, putting him 0.758s ahead of Red Bull's Sergio Perez. However he wasn't getting carried away by initial comparisons with the world champions.

"I obviously have no idea [about how our performance compared], I just can tell that the Red Bull looks very quick. But apart from that, nothing else."

Leclerc had a similar concern: "Let’s be careful, because saying that the two first days went well doesn’t mean anything in terms of competitiveness," he cautioned. "My initial feeling is that Red Bull remains the reference and ahead for now."

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