George Russell ended his debut timed session as a Mercedes driver at the top of the charts at the Sakhir Grand Prix.
Russell, seconded from Williams to deputize for Lewis Hamilton while the world champion recovers from COVID-19, lapped the 2.202-mile ‘outer loop’ configuration of the Bahrain International Circuit in just 52.564s.
The 22-year-old Briton looked immediately at home in the black car. His feedback via team radio was focused mostly on adjusting to the functions and steering wheel controls of his new machine, and his only major problem appeared to be some shoulder discomfort as he squeezed into a cockpit designed for Hamilton, who stands approximately 4.3 inches shorter than his substitute.
Notwithstanding his adjustments, his best lap was quick enough to beat Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen by 0.176s, though the Dutchman was sighted running wide at Turn 8 on each of his competitive timed laps.
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Alex Albon followed his teammate in third and 0.265s off the pace after a spin almost put him in the barrier on the inside of Turn 2, with Valtteri Bottas fourth in the second Mercedes and 0.322s adrift. The Finn, who is contemplating his best chance to score a third win of the season without teammate Hamilton sharing the garage, failed to extract the most from the favored soft-compound tire around the novel layout with a series of scruffy and abandoned laps.
— Chris Medland (@ChrisMedlandF1) December 4, 2020
The outer loop has never before been used for competition, and the short blast on the rarely used tarmac comprising the second sector proved both bumpy and sandy as drivers fought to find the limit.
Several drivers reported bodywork damage over the bumps and high curbs. Pierre Gasly reported his right-side mirror breaking off its mounting early in the session in the rough ride, though the Frenchman returned to the circuit with repairs to finish the session sixth behind AlphaTauri teammate Daniil Kvyat, 0.6s and 0.4s off the pace respectively.
Renault and Ferrari were engaged in a battle for seventh in the order, with Esteban Ocon leading the way for the French team 0.727s slower than Russell.
Sebastian Vettel followed just 0.008s back in eighth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in ninth and Charles Leclerc in 10th.
Lance Stroll beat Racing Point teammate Sergio Perez to 11th and 12th ahead of Carlos Sainz, who sustained bodywork damage to his McLaren over the bumps. Alfa Romeo teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi followed ahead of Lando Norris in the second McLaren.
Kevin Magnussen was 17th for Haas ahead of Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi, who now fills the role as team leader in Russell’s absence.
Pietro Fittipaldi made his F1 debut for Haas in 19th. The Brazilian, grandson of two-time champion Emerson Fittipaldi, is substituting for Romain Grosjean as the Frenchman recovers from his fiery crash in last weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. The 24-year-old was a second slower than teammate Magnussen and 2.5s off the pace.
Williams reserve driver Jack Aitken, stepping up to replace Russell, was last in the order and 2.6 off the pace in his first F1 practice session since the Styrian Grand Prix in July.
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