Max Verstappen was fastest in the first practice session for the weekends Bahrain Grand Prix. The Dutchman set a 31.3 on the soft tyre which put him almost three tenths ahead of the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, but his time was slower than he set a fortnight ago in Sakhir.
Red Bull was expected to be the team to beat but the gap has been closed by Mercedes in a largely unrepresentative session given this is a night race. Many expected Mercedes to be closer but the true picture will still not be clear. McLaren’s Lando Norris spilt the Mercedes in third going just over two hundredths faster than Sir Lewis Hamilton.
The session is not necessarily representative of true competitiveness, not only because the teams could have been running their cars in different specifications, but also because conditions in the sunny afternoon are different from in qualifying and race, which take place after dark.
Hamilton however appeared to make a mistake on his fastest lap, after going fastest in the first sector losing time as his lap went on before fighting the car through the final two corners ending the lap half a second down.
However, it underlined the feeling after testing that Red Bull has a slight edge on pace over Mercedes. But the picture will become clear in qualifying tomorrow evening.
There were continuing signs of the recovery from Ferrari, having struggled in Bahrain four months ago Charles Leclerc went fifth fastest but was six tenths off Verstappen’s fastest time. Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly both in between the two Ferraris, with Carlos Sainz nearly half a second behind Leclerc.
At this early stage it appears that the drivers who stayed with the same teams over the winter have the upper hand locking out the top five, while McLaren continued the strong start to the season establishing themselves as the midfield leaders.
Sainz eighth fastest 1.7 seconds behind Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri, while Daniel Ricciardo was ninth ahead of Alfa Romeo Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen. Alfa Romeo has appeared to have made the biggest step forwards over the winter and at this early phase of the season are just outside the points.
Following a troubled test a fortnight ago, Aston Martin looked to have a smoother practice session managing forty laps between Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll. The four-time champion over five hundredths faster than his teammate in twelfth, with Yuki Tsunoda fourteenth.
In his first session back, Fernando Alonso was sixteenth fastest the Alpine driver was first out on the hard tyres with his fastest time being a 33.8, two seconds behind Verstappen’s best time. George Russell retains his position in the Williams-Haas battle going eighteenth fastest two tenths faster than teammate Nicolas Latifi.
Mick Schumacher was nineteenth, half a second faster than Haas teammate Nikita Mazepin.