And in the blink of an eye, pre-season testing for the 2023 season is done and dusted, with Sergio Perez topping the times on the third and final day in Bahrain.
A pecking order started to emerge as a greater focus was placed on performance and race simulations. So, who had the best of it on day three in the desert?
READ MORE: Perez and Red Bull fastest as 2023 pre-season testing comes to an end in Bahrain
Red Bull continue fine form
Testing was as close to perfect as Red Bull could have hoped, the reigning world champions not only running near-issue free but setting a scintillating pace to boot.
Their form on the final day, when Perez did all of the running, was tasty, though boss Christian Horner moved to play it down saying their pace was “reasonable”.
They ran a variety of test items as well as beginning preparations for qualifying and the race next weekend – and on initial investigation, the suspected superior form appears to be very real.
Of course, we won’t know until qualifying next Saturday but it’s likely Red Bull will sleep the more comfortably of all the teams over the next few days.
Ferrari end test on a high
Ferrari had another smooth day of running in Bahrain to complete a very productive pre-season test, Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc clocking 142 laps.
Leclerc did a lot of work on the C3 compound before bolting on the C4 for a qualifying simulation. Sainz alternated between the C2 and C3 on a race sim before going a step softer for a low-fuel run.
READ MORE: ‘The mood in the team is perfect’ says Ferrari boss Vasseur after encouraging pre-season test
Between them, they were happy with their efforts while boss Fred Vasseur said the “mood in the team is perfect”, adding “we are in good shape to start this long season”.
While they don’t look stronger than Red Bull on paper, the Italian outfit appear to be second best and clear of the rest.
Mercedes and Aston Martin look close together
Mercedes recovered from a difficult day to record some chunky mileage (148 laps), splitting the running between George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin says the team have made some progress, with the drivers reporting the car was in a better place across the range of conditions.
READ MORE: Haas driver Magnussen reveals the midfield team he fears most at the end of pre-season testing
However, they appear to still be third in the pecking order ahead of surprise package Aston Martin.
Depending on who you speak to, some have Aston on par with Mercedes while others have them a chunk behind but clear if the rest of the pack.
What’s clear is that the AMR23 is a big step forward versus last year. Their rivals agree. “Aston Martin looked really impressive these three days,” said Haas driver Kevin Magnussen. “I think they may have taken a big step.”
Pre-season Testing: Sergio Pérez sets fastest lap in Bahrain
Alfa Romeo could spring a surprise
Alfa Romeo continued their fine form in pre-season testing with another showing on the final day of running.
Valtteri Bottas lost some track time while the team investigated a potential power unit problem but the Finn was soon back out on track and recovered to complete the team’s planned programme.
READ MORE: Hamilton says Mercedes have made ‘huge step’ in key area but W14 still has ‘underlying’ issues
Their pace looked good, with Bottas clocking the third fastest time of the final day and that was particularly impressive given Technical Director Jan Monchaux said “performance wasn’t yet our main aim”.
Alpine are hard to read
Alpine were the hardest team to read on the opening two days of testing – and that remained the case on the third and final day.
Those inside the team radiate an air of confidence, as they bid to shut the gap to the top three while opening a gap to the rest of the pack.
READ MORE: Perez hails Red Bull’s ‘tremendous’ winter push and warns team will start 2023 ‘much stronger’ than last year
But the car looked stiff out on track – and they never troubled the top of the timesheets, though this is likely because unlike their rivals, they didn’t run the softest compounds.
Technical Director Matt Harman says they have a big upgrade for the first race. The French team are definitely ones to watch when qualifying gets under way on Saturday.