Red Bull’s Max Verstappen continued his strong start to the season by going nine hundredths faster than McLaren’s Lando Norris in the second practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Dutchman set his fastest time on the medium tyre which was half a second ahead of Norris while Sir Lewis Hamilton closed the gap to under two tenths to finish third.
Red Bull was predicted to be the favourites this weekend, with Verstappen improving his best lap from FP1 by half a second underlining the slight pace over Mercedes. Hamilton looking stronger than was predicted going into this weekend following testing, his teammate Valtteri Bottas finished fifth fastest.
Red Bull have been the team to beat and today appeared to carry the momentum shown in testing into the weekend, with Verstappen looking to be smooth with the handling of the car, while McLaren look to be leading the midfield. Mercedes have made progress, but Bottas did complain that it was “undrivable” when on his race simulation run late in the second session.
Verstappen said, “It’s been a good day. With the heat, not easy to find a really good balance around the whole lap but it was a positive day. Now we have to show what we can do in qualifying.”
Looking at the race runs Verstappen and Hamilton appeared to be about the same across the stints meaning there could be a race between Red Bull and Mercedes on Sunday. Hamilton seemed to suggest that the stability issues which the team had in testing had improved but weren’t perfect.
He told reporters, “We thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are if not faster. We know they’re leading at the moment. McLaren are looking great, and it’s great to see them taking a step. Stability. It is all about having a stable car and how to make the tyres last. That’s going to be key in this climate and with the wind that we have here.”
While Norris was nine hundredths off the pace, he appears to be playing down McLaren’s chances in qualifying. Saying he expects the team to be close behind Mercedes and Red Bull.
Carlos Sainz continued to show a step forwards for Ferrari, the Spaniard going fourth fastest but was just over four hundredths behind Hamilton. The shorter hour-long session appeared to provide a lot more running as teams tried to fit race runs and qualifying simulations into an hour.
However, the true pace will become clearer in qualifying, Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez was unable to show what he was capable of finishing the session tenth fastest. Bottas was just over a hundredth faster than the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo in what looks to be the closest field in recent years.
Throughout the track running over the last fortnight, it looks as if the top fifteen are split by only three-tenths of a second. Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda was seventh fastest almost two tenths ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly, with the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll splitting the duo.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon was eleventh fastest going a hundredth faster than the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc. The Monacan appeared to find it hard to get his qualifying simulation together and was seven-tenths off his teammate Sainz. Sebastian Vettel was fourteenth fastest going one-thousandth of a second faster than Fernando Alonso.
Antonio Giovinazzi was the leader of the lower end of the field, the Alfa Romeo driver managing to go thirteenth fastest, a tenth behind Vettel. Giovinazzi’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen leads the remainder of the Alfa Romeo-Haas-Williams battle, going sixteenth fastest. The Finn was four and a half tenths ahead of George Russell.
Mick Schumacher ended his first day as an F1 driver eighteenth for Haas a tenth and a half ahead of teammate Nikita Mazepin, with the second Williams of Nicolas Latifi going half a second faster than the Russian.
Red Bull appear to be the team to beat as we were expecting but I still have a feeling that we haven’t seen everything from Mercedes. They did appear closer to Red Bull; we know that these season cars enter parc ferme at the start of FP3 and that could be interesting to see what impact that has on the teams.
I feel it’s too early to say that Mercedes is going to struggle as throughout the last few years we have said on Friday they have under-delivered before topping FP3. I think they are closer than we have seen in testing, but you can’t count out Sir Lewis Hamilton pulling a magic lap in qualifying. I think there has been a lot of progress over the last two weeks with Mercedes.
McLaren’s performance is one to watch Lando Norris nine hundredths behind Verstappen shows a step forward meaning they could challenge for fifth or higher on the grid in qualifying. I am not expecting Sergio Perez to be fighting with Max Verstappen at this stage in the season to be challenging at the front.