Max Verstappen leads opening Bahrain GP practice

Mark Sutton/Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen leads opening Bahrain GP practice

Formula 1

Max Verstappen leads opening Bahrain GP practice


Max Verstappen opened the 2021 Formula 1 season with the fastest time of first practice for Red Bull Racing at the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Dutchman rocketed to the top of the time sheet with a lap of 1m31.394s in the final five minutes of the session with a fresh set of soft tires.

The Honda-powered RB16B was 0.298s quicker than Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas, but the practice hour did little to clarify the competitive order between the two constructor giants.

Red Bull Racing and Mercedes spent the first half of the session rotating through top spot of the order, with Sergio Perez opening proceedings for his new team first before being usurped by Lewis Hamilton and in turn Bottas.
Verstappen went fastest shortly afterwards before another run on worn soft tires put Hamilton back in control at around the 15-minute mark.

But as the track temperature edged lower with the approaching sunset, a run by Lando Norris on fresh rubber saw the McLaren driver take top spot at the halfway mark before Bottas and Verstappen knocked him down the order. Norris would end the hour third quickest and half a second off Verstappen’s headline time. Hamilton followed a further 0.024s adrift.

Charles Leclerc was 0.599s off the pace for Ferrari, with Perez ending his first timed session for Red Bull Racing in sixth and 0.677 slower than his teammate.

The 60-minute practice session — shortened by 30 minutes this year, as has been second practice later on Friday — was run in daylight and therefore unrepresentative of the night-time qualifying and race sessions, with ambient temperatures peaking at around 97 degrees F.

The track also started dusty, particularly in the pit lane — conditions that would be familiar to the drivers, who endured a sandstorm during preseason testing here around two weeks ago.

Pierre Gasly was seventh for AlphaTauri and 0.8s off the pace. Carlos Sainz followed in his official Ferrari debut at 0.972s slower than the benchmark. Daniel Ricciardo opened his McLaren career with ninth in the order ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, who completed the top 10 1.3s off the pace.

Alfa Romeo teammate Kimi Raikkonen followed in 11th, keeping at bay Aston Martin duo Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll. Formula 1 debutant Yuki Tsunoda complained about slow cars in his first official session on his way to 14th.

Alpine teammates Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso were 15th and 16th after spending most of their session with the hard tire when most of the rest of the field burned through the soft compound.

Williams pair George Russell and Nicholas Latifi followed in 18th and 19th ahead of rookie Haas teammates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, both more than three seconds off the pace.

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