Max Verstappen kept Red Bull Racing on top in the only night-time practice session at the Bahrain Grand Prix, while McLaren’s Lando Norris was his closest pursuer.
The Dutchman’s lap of 1m30.847s was enough to continue his control of the time sheet after also leading first practice in the heat of the late afternoon sun. Friday evening practice is the only session of the Bahrain Grand Prix representative of the after-dark qualifying and race conditions and is therefore considered a more accurate measure of relative performance.
Norris was the surprise next-quickest driver, only 0.095s adrift. His Mercedes-powered McLaren team suggested the Briton’s soft-shod lap was the car’s first performance run after eschewing low-fuel running during pre-season testing. Lewis Hamilton followed in third as the fastest Mercedes driver, but the Briton was 0.235s off Verstappen’s pace.
The reigning world champion and his title-winning team struggled to fine-tune the seemingly unstable W12 for single-lap performance. Though the car appeared largely cured of the rear-end instability that plagued it during testing, albeit in exchange for pervasive understeer, it also seemed less able to keep the soft tire alive for as long as Red Bull Racing’s RB16B in qualifying simulation.
However, the two rival cars appeared more closely matched on their long-run simulations on the medium tire, with little to pick between Verstappen and Hamilton over a theoretical race distance.
Carlos Sainz was fourth for Ferrari with a 0.28s deficit ahead of Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas in fifth and new McLaren arrival Daniel Ricciardo in sixth, the top six split by less than 0.4s
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly ended the evening seventh and ninth on the time sheet separated by Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, and Sergio Perez rounded out the top 10 for Red Bull Racing.
Esteban Ocon was the best-placed Alpine driver in 11th, the Frenchman three-quarters of a second off the pace in an underwhelming day for Enstone. His teammate, returning two-time champion Fernando Alonso, languished around a second adrift in 15th in a visually recalcitrant car.
Antonio Giovinazzi was 13th for Alfa Romeo ahead of Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin in 14th.
Kimi Raikkonen suffered the year’s first crash when he lost control of his Alfa Romeo exiting Turn 2 around 12 minutes through the hour. The Finn’s car spun across the track to make nose-first contact with the barrier, wiping off his front wing, before rotating to whack the wall with his right-rear corner.
Our first casualty of the barriers in 2021 🤕
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 26, 2021
Raikkonen was able to limp back to the pits under his own power, but he couldn’t return to the circuit to add to the six laps he’d completed at the time, earning him 16th.
Williams driver George Russell was 1.4s off the pace in 17th and a full second ahead of teammate Nicholas Latifi in 19th. Mick Schumacher slotted between them in his Haas car, while his Russian teammate ended the day at the foot of the time sheet.