SAKHIR TEST DAY ONE – Max Verstappen fastest as Mercedes run into difficulties on the opening day of testing

Testing & Race Reports

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fastest on the opening day of pre-season testing at the Bahrain International Circuit. The Dutchman set a 30.6, while managing 139 laps the most of any team, which put him two tenths faster than the McLaren of Lando Norris who managed forty-six laps in the late afternoon session as he got used to the Mercedes engine.

Red Bull would have wanted a strong start if they wanted to testing, Mercedes dominated this circuit at the end of 2020 arguably they could have won both races.

Ocon delivered a strong lap during the qualifying simulation on used soft tyres before the Red Bull improved to his best time of the day. He Frenchman did manage to improve on his best lap, but it wasn’t enough to stop Norris from making an improvement on the Medium tyres to push Ocon down to third fastest.

Norris’s new teammate had topped Daniel Ricciardo had topped the late morning/lunchtime session with a 32.2, but as the track improved throughout the day he was pushed to seventh. Verstappen had been second when the chequered flag fell at the end of the first session.

McLaren’s running was smooth despite the switch of engine suppliers to Mercedes and they were looking to pick up where they left off in Abu Dhabi, at this early phase they were the leading Mercedes powered team.

Team principal Andreas Seidl said: “It worked out fine. From the Mercedes side, there was no issue. It was also very important that Daniel got his first taste of McLaren in full anger. He has invested a lot of energy to ensure he was ready.”

Sessions in Bahrain are two hours later local time than they were in Barcelona last year, Lunchtime session 10:00-14:00 and late afternoon 15:00-19:00, allowing for night testing for the first time in F1 history, with sunset around 17:00.

As ever testing can be misleading as it is impossible to know the specification in which teams are running their cars and fuel loads and engine modes can make significant differences to performance. Meaning we will need to wait until qualifying in two weeks’ time to truly understand performance.

Lance Stroll was fourth fastest going half a second faster than Carlos Sainz on his first outing for Ferrari. The Aston Martin driver going a tenth faster than the Ferrari, on the development tyre. For Sainz, it appeared to be a solid start to his time at Ferrari going over a second quicker than teammate Charles Leclerc.

Ferrari power clearly recovered some performance with Sainz only a second off the pace, in qualifying at the end of November both cars were knocked out in Q2. Although the times were slower for all the teams.

The biggest surprise however was Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas morning session only saw the seven-times champion complete six laps before a gearshift issue brought his four hours down to just an hour losing three in the garage before getting back into the car with just an hour before lunch.

Sir Lewis Hamilton’s when he returned to the track switched to race runs, however, the car didn’t appear comfortable, he was clearly struggling for grip and having a number of ‘moments’ where he struggled to keep control, ran wide or locked a wheel.

Hamilton ran into similar issues after his first lap, Mercedes decided to change the gearbox and investigate the problem later, but that cost the Finn nearly all his first day’s running and he managed only a further five laps before handing over to Hamilton for the afternoon. Bottas finished the day seventeenth fastest six seconds off the pace, while Hamilton was tenth fastest.

Toto Wolff said “came out of nowhere” – and were confined to the garage for three hours while the unit was changed. It would be too easy to write off Mercedes, they managed less than what each driver managed on every day in Barcelona and less than a race distance between both drivers. Normally each driver manages a race distance each.

Alpha Tauri had a productive day, Pierre Gasly going eighth a second and a half off the pace going half a second ahead of teammate Yuki Tsunoda.

For all the teams the afternoon was difficult with a sandstorm blowing in through out the session, effecting grip and data gathering. Conditions in Sakhir were far from ideal, making the surface slippery.

Nikita Mazepin was first out in that session and ended the day fifteenth over a second ahead of Mick Schumacher, who drove in the afternoon session. The Haas team unveiled their car officially at 9am local time, Schumacher was the first in the car but developed a gearbox issue meaning his day way limited to fifteen laps.

During the first hour drivers did struggle with the grip levels following the sandstorm. Hamilton waiting until the start of the second hour to head out, during the hour Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi was the first to set a real lap time going fourth early on before dropping back to sixth in the final classification.

Saturday will see Fernando Alonso make his return with Alpine his first outing for the Enstone team since Abu Dhabi in 2009. Sergio Perez and Nicolas Latifi will make their first official outings of the year for Red Bull and Williams

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Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.