Max Verstappen bested an impressive Mick Schumacher in the final five minutes to set the pace on a rain-hit day of Formula 1 testing in Bahrain.
Schumacher had been fastest in the closing stages when Verstappen headed back out on the C3 compound tire and took top spot with a 1m29.379s to edge the Ferrari rookie by 0.6s. Schumacher, son of seven-time world champion Michael, had already completed his day’s running by that stage, but still wound up second-fastest after a busy final hour and a half.
There was huge interest in Schumacher’s first run in the Ferrari, the 20-year-old flanked by cameras on both sides as he drove out of the garage for the first time. It was the same when he returned to the pits, but he was soon able to focus on the team’s testing program until the weather intervened.
While he was surely frustrated by the four-hour rain delay, Schumacher made the most of the time remaining, eventually emerging fastest of all with 25 minutes left in the session, lowering the benchmark to a 1m29.976s using the softest C5 compound until Verstappen ruined the headlines.
The first of two days of testing was delayed at the start by nearly 10 minutes due to a late track inspection, and as the clouds built up, the first raindrops fell in late morning. There was a brief break before rain shortly just before 12:30pm brought a halt to the proceedings.
A full four hours passed until the weather improved enough for cars to return to the track, with Lewis Hamilton and Schumacher the first two to venture out to test conditions, and a host of others following.
The length of the delay was due to a lack of suitable tires, with teams selecting their own allocations for testing and not having mandatory sets. With rain so unlikely in Bahrain, none of the teams had requested any of the intermediate or wet compound tires from Pirelli, meaning they all had to wait for the track to be dry enough for slicks.
Renault and Haas killed time by kicking an AFL football around the paddock, but that fun was interrupted when the ball got stuck high up in a palm tree, and the game had to wait for a forklift to lift someone high enough to recover it.
Teams discussed extending the track time until 20:00 local time due to the weather, with the Bahrain International Circuit featuring floodlights that allow running after dark, but unanimous agreement was required and in the end the idea was abandoned.
The interruption was particularly costly for Lando Norris, Robert Kubica and Pietro Fittipaldi who were all due to drive during the afternoon session only. The trio did get out in the final 90 minutes of the day, but were limited to around 20 laps, with Norris ending up third quickest on a 1m30.800s on the C3 tire.
Romain Grosjean was fastest for much of the day due to the weather interruption, the Haas trying to understand why it was so far off the pace in race trim on Sunday. Grosjean ended up fourth overall, with his time of 1m30.982s also being set on the C3s, leaving him less than 0.2s clear of Alexander Albon and Hamilton on the same compound.
In a largely incident-free day when the track was usable (Lance Stroll brought out the only red flag when he stopped in the final sector with just two minutes to go), the other big story was Fernando Alonso driving a 2019 F1 car for the first time.
Alonso was testing 2020 tires for Pirelli but that meant a day in the current McLaren, and he managed 64 laps – 13 shy of Hamilton’s highest total of 77 – and ended up 11th overall behind Daniel Ricciardo, Stroll, Carlos Sainz and Antonio Giovinazzi.
The other team running two cars was Toro Rosso, as Daniil Kvyat completed tire testing duties for Pirelli, ending up sandwiched between the two Williams drivers of Robert Kubica and George Russell at the bottom of the standings as the Pole again missed out on track time due to the rain.