Ninety minutes of Free Practice started the back-to-back weekends at Bahrain International Circuit to complete the shortened 2021 FIA WEC season.
This Saturday brings the 6 Hours of Bahrain, set to be held in full daylight with temperatures in the high 80s expected, whilst the following weekend, the season finale will run over eight hours into darkness under the F1 circuit’s floodlights for a race worth 150% of a normal WEC 6 Hour race points total.
Thursday’s Free Practice 1 was topped by a Toyota one-two, Sebastien Buemi and Jose Maria Lopez in the No.8 and 7 GR010 Hybrids respectively being the only drivers under the 1m51s mark on a baking hot afternoon.
Buemi’s best was a 1m50.571s, 0.4s up on the sister car with Nicolas Lapierre third-fastest in the Hypercar class in the No.36 Alpine A480, just a tenth off Lopez.
But the Alpine though was not third-fastest overall; Lapierre’s best pipped by Antonio Felix da Costa in the No.38 Jota ORECA 07 LMP2 car with a 1m51.083s that was 0.5s off the best Toyota time, and 0.0015s up on the Alpine.
Second-fastest in LMP2 was the fastest of the Pro-Am cars, albeit in the very Pro hands of Loic Duval, 0.129 off da Costa and 0.1s off the Alpine.
Sean Geleal, Giedo van der Garde and Filipe Albuquerque completed the LMP2 top five in, respectively, the second (No.28) Jota, the No.29 Racing Team Nederland and No.22 United Autosports Orecas.
GTE saw a GTE Am post the second-fastest time of the combined GTE field, and a storyline develop that seems set to run through the race meeting.
Porsche factory driver Richard Lietz topped the times in the No.91 Pro car (1:57.983) with Matteo Cairoli second fastest in the GTE combined order with a 1:58.177 from the No.56 Team Project 1 GTE AM Porsche.
They were the top two in a Porsche 1,2,3,4,5 with the No. 92 Pro car followed by the pair of Dempsey Proton GTE Am cars and then the two Am Aston Martins before the first Ferrari in the order – eighth-fastest.
That, though, wasn’t a Pro car. Indeed, three Am class 488 GTEs beat the fastest of the two Pro cars – this after Ferrari made it very clear that they were unhappy with the BoP doled out to its cars here; a power reduction and minor weight adjustment attracting criticism from the Italian camp.
Ferrari talked in a pre-race meeting media release of being forced “to adopt a defensive strategy following the announcement of new Balance of Performance parameters that overrules the automatic BoP.”
But it seems unlikely that the FP1 pace of the Pro cars in particular is representative of their full potential, with several of the Am Ferraris, which have been doled out a less favorable BoP than the Pro 488s, outpacing the Pro cars today.
It is unlikely to be the last we hear of the matter.