Max Verstappen builds on promising pre-season for Red Bull by setting early pace in Friday practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix – with world champion Lewis Hamilton only fourth for Mercedes as new Formula One campaign gets underway
Max Verstappen continued his promising pre-season form by setting the fastest time in the opening practice session for the new Formula One season at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Dutchman set the quickest time during the three-day test at the Sakhir circuit ahead of the new season and was once again fastest at the track for Red Bull in the now shortened hour long session.
Mercedes appeared to struggle, relative to their usual dominant displays, during the test and world champion Lewis Hamilton was half-a-second down on Verstappen in fourth showing no immediate sign of improvement.
The Brit heads into the new season looking to win an unprecedented eighth world championship but early signs in Bahrain suggest the 36-year-old could be in for one of his toughest championship battles.
Admittedly the first practice session is not a full gauge of all the teams’ potential but it appears Mercedes won’t have it all their own way this term on early evidence.
The searing heat of the afternoon track conditions will change by race day which will be held at night and Friday’s second practice running will provide a better gauge of times for race pace.
However, Hamilton’s Silver Arrows team-mate Valtteri Bottas was second fastest at just under three tenths down, while Britain’s Lando Norris completed the top three for McLaren just fractionally faster than the world champion.
Ferrari’s endured their worst season since 1980 last term but showed hopes of improvement as Charles Leclerc impressed to take fifth just short of Hamilton’s time, while a further tenth back was Verstappen’s new team-mate Sergio Perez in sixth.
Aston Martin’s return to the grid for the first time since 1960 saw ex-Ferrari man Sebastian Vettel take 12th, with the four-time world champion’s team-mate Lance Stroll just behind.
Fernando Alonso made a low key return to F1 after two years away from the sport with the 16th quickest time for Alpine just behind team-mate Esteban Ocon.
Both Williams cars , including Britain’s George Russell, climbed off the bottom to finish ahead of Haas whose debutant driver pairing saw Mick Schumacher, son of the seven-time world champion Michael, finish ahead of Nikita Mazepin.