BARCELONA, Spain – Mercedes recovered from its difficult Thursday to go quickest on the final day of preseason, but a late Max Verstappen lap meant Red Bull finished just 0.073s behind the world champions.

Mercedes suffered its worst session of testing on the penultimate day, with an engine issue forcing its car to a halt during Lewis Hamilton’s stint in the car. The team had no such drama on Friday and Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas combined either side of lunch to record 169 laps.

Late in the afternoon Valtteri Bottas set the day’s best time, a 1:16.196, on Pirelli’s quickest tyre, dubbed the ‘C5’. It was set in much cooler conditions than the lap time Bottas set a week earlier, a 1:15.732, which remains the fastest of this test and of any F1 test to have taken place at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Max Verstapen attempted to beat Bottas’ lead time in the closing half hour and got within 0.073s on the ‘C4’ compound. He appeared to be winding up for another attempt but ran wide at the final corner of his warmup lap.

It was the last track time available to the teams ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, which takes place March 13-15.

Red Bull and Ferrari focused on a race simulation — a carbon copy of what they would hope to do during the 66-lap Spanish Grand Prix at the same circuit in May — in the afternoon. It was a busy day for Charles Leclerc, with a mammoth 181 laps to his name at the close of the session.

Mercedes did not complete a proper race simulation, but was so well prepared coming into this test it had already completed its own in the opening week. The German manufacturer still appears to be the benchmark heading to Melbourne, but making confident predictions about the pecking order at that race is difficult.

Daniel Ricciardo was the standout name on the timing screens in the midfield fight, putting his Renault top of the order at lunch. Bottas and Verstappen’s late efforts shuffled his name down to third by the finish.

Renault knows it isn’t in the fight with the top three but a strong showing on the C5 tyre in the morning and a healthy lap tally by the end of the day –140 split between Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon — will leave the team in good spirits. Racing Point continued to look strong, with Sergio Perez completing 154 laps, while McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Alpha Tauri’s Daniil Kvyat also had productive days at the wheel.

The midfield appears to be closer than it was last year heading to Melbourne.

Final classification:

1. Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes – 1:16.196 – 79 laps
2. Max Verstappen – Red Bull – +0.073s – 45 laps
3. Daniel Ricciardo – Renault – +0.083s – 65 laps
4. Charles Leclerc – Ferrari – +0.164s – 181 laps
5. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes – +0.214 – 90 laps
6. Esteban Ocon – Renault – +.0237 – 75 laps
7. Sergio Perez – Racing Point – +0.438 – 154 laps
8. Carlos Sainz – McLaren – +0.624 – 164 laps
9. George Russell – Williams – +0.675s – 143 laps
10. Daniil Kvyat – Alpha Tauri – +0.718s – 158 laps
11. Romain Grosjean – Haas – +0.841s – 86 laps
12. Kimi Raikkonen – Alfa Romeo – +1.219s 0 115 laps
13. Kevin Magnussen – Haas – +1.299s – 25 laps
14. Alex Albon – Red Bull – +1.607 – 59 laps

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