George Russell was fastest on his debut for Mercedes in the opening practice session for the Sakhir Grand Prix after going a tenth and three-quarters of a second faster than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The Englishman made a perfect start to the weekend.
Russell is replacing seven-times champion, Lewis Hamilton after he tested positive for Coronavirus. The Mercedes driver went fastest on his second soft tyre run after being nine tenths behind Valtteri Bottas in fourth to go ahead of the Red Bulls.
On their second runs Russell went to the top of the timesheets on his first flying lap and Bottas started to make mistakes, apparently over-driving as he sought to match Russell’s time, running wide at Turn Eight and having a wobble through Turn Two.
However, Bottas’s time was without DAS which has been bad for next season as well as suffering damage to his Mercedes. Team principal Toto Wolff said while Russell and Bottas were “like-for-like” in terms of car settings.
Verstappen was fastest but was then left nearly two tenths behind Russell, but still managed to go nine hundredths faster than his teammate Alex Albon. It’s a good start, but the question remains can Red Bull close the gap to Mercedes on the faster outer circuit.
Bottas had a scruffy and messy evening as he appeared to struggle with the outer circuit, locking up several times through the new second sector. The Finn was still, however, a tenth ahead of the Alpha Tauri of Daniil Kvyat, with the Russian going faster than teammate Pierre Gasly.
Alpha Tauri based on the team win at Monza which is similar in terms of speed should be the midfield leaders this weekend. Gasly was forced to pit at one point due to a broken mirror, momentarily causing him to drive one-handed as he used the other to stop the bodywork from falling off.
Esteban Ocon was seventh fastest going almost a hundredth faster than Sebastian Vettel. Their respective teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Charles Leclerc completing the top ten. Leclerc was one of several drivers to struggle with traffic on the shorten Outer Circuit hitting traffic. Vettel also ran wide at Turn Five, and held his teammate up on his fast lap.
Lance Stroll was eleventh faster going two-hundredths faster than his teammate Sergio Perez. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was thirteenth fastest going ahead of both the Alfa Romeo’s, that was despite damage to his car through the new section of track.
Kimi Raikkonen was fourteenth going almost eight hundredths faster than his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi. Haas’s Kevin Magnussen was five-hundredths faster than Nicolas Latifi in the Williams.
In the battle of the debutants, Pietro Fittipaldi was a tenth faster than Jack Aitkin, they are replacing the injured Romain Grosjean and Russell, who is replacing Hamilton.
However, it wasn’t a perfect start for the grandson of two times champion Emerson, he was forced to cut short his running due to a lock-up that flat-spotted his tyres, leaving him with just twenty-four laps.
Aitken was twentieth, going two and a half seconds slower than the man he replaced. Despite a spin, he was just four-tenths behind Fittipaldi which isn’t a bad start.