George Russell swept Friday practice for his new Mercedes team after teammate Valtteri Bottas had several of his fastest laps deleted at the Sakhir Grand Prix.
Russell — substituting for Lewis Hamilton this weekend after the world champion’s positive COVID test — was unable to improve on his FP1 time, but his lap of 54.713s was enough to keep him 0.128s clear at the head of the time sheet.
Bottas was on track to claim top spot with his first lap on the soft tire, but the Finn fell afoul of freshly instituted track limits at Turn 8, set at the outer edge of the curbs at the exit of the right-hander. His quickest time would have beaten Russell’s best by 0.2s before it and two subsequent laps were deleted for driving off the track, leaving him 11th.
Instead Max Verstappen stood again as Russell’s nearest challenger in second place, though the Red Bull Racing driver complained of “so much understeer” through the back part of the circuit, the rarely used second sector, as well as a lack of straight-line speed.
The Dutchman, however, appeared more competitive over a long run on the soft tire despite his complaints.
Sergio Perez was an early contender for top spot in his Racing Point car and clung on as the field switched to the soft tire. The Mexican and his Mercedes power was only 0.153s slower than Russell at the flag.
Esteban Ocon slotted into fourth for Renault 0.227s adrift, while Alex Albon was fifth in the second Red Bull Racing car, the Thai driver echoing the understeer complaints of teammate Verstappen.
AlphaTauri drivers Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly kept themselves close to the action after first practice, with Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly in sixth and ninth. The pair were split by less than a tenth, with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo slipping between them.
Carlos Sainz completed the top 10 on a difficult evening for McLaren. The Spaniard lost time in FP1 to bodywork damage after traipsing over the curbs and sacrificed yet more time late in FP2 to a gearbox synchronization problem.
Teammate Lando Norris, on the other hand, damaged his floor on the high curbs on his first stint of second practice. Some frantic work got him back out on track, but he subsequently reported what appeared to be deployment problems from his power unit. He ended the session with just 14 laps to his name and down in 17th.
Bottas, whose session was extremely messy, spent mostly running wide and through the gravel, followed Sainz in 11th ahead of Alfa Romeo drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.
Kevin Magnussen in his Haas was the first driver more than a second adrift on the 2.202-mile track ahead of Williams driver Nicholas Latifi.
Sebastian Vettel was the highest placed Ferrari driver on a dreadful night for the Scuderia. Already hampered by an underpowered engine on a power-sensitive track, the team lost Charles Leclerc’s car to a driveshaft problem after only two laps, while Vettel spent the 90 minutes spinning at the circuit’s four traction zones as he struggled with rear grip.
The German was lucky to avoid a crash with Magnussen as he spun past the front of him exiting Turn 5, though he was able to continue to finish 16th.
Norris was 17th ahead of Pietro Fittipaldi in 18th on his first weekend as an F1 driver. The Brazilian was 1.397s off the pace and almost 0.4s slower than Haas teammate Magnussen.
Jack Aitken was the last of the drivers with a timed lap to their name, ending the day 1.5s off the pace and half a second slower than Latifi in the sister Williams, ahead of only the time-less Leclerc.