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Sakhir, FP1: Verstappen sets the pace in first practice for Bahrain Grand Prix

Bottas 2nd, Norris 3rd

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By Olivier Ferret

26 March 2021 - 13:36
Sakhir, FP1:  Verstappen sets the (...)

Max Verstappen gave an early confirmation that Red Bull’s pre-season testing pace might carry through to race weekends by setting the fastest time of the first practice session for the opening round of the 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship, the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Dutch driver used soft compound Pirelli tyre to claim top spot in the session, just under three tenths of a second ahead of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, with McLaren’s Lando Norris third. Defending World Champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth.

With Friday’s practice session cut to an hour each this season the session was a busy one with returning two-time champion Fernando Alonso leading the field out of the pit lane in his Alpine when the lights went green to signal the start of the first grand prix track session of the new season.

It was Red Bull who quickly forced their way to the top of the timesheet, however, with new recruit Sergio Pérez claiming top spot as he bolted on a set of soft tyres inside the first quarter of an hour.

Mercedes pursued a similar strategy and Hamilton then went quickest on soft tyres with a time of 1:32.884. Bottas then moved ahead but Verstappen eclipsed everyone with his first flying lap of 1:32.214.

With early soft tyre runs complete teams switched focus to longer running before once again looking at performance in the closing stages.

Norris was the first to move up the timesheet, with the McLaren driver posting a lap of 1:31.897 on soft tyres. With improvements occurring across the order the Red Bull and Mercedes drivers eventually emerged with a little more Hamilton went fastest of anyone in the first sector with just over 10 minutes remaining.

The defending champion seemed to be enjoying a more stable Mercedes than seen in pre-season testing but after setting the fastest first sector the improvement ebbed and he finished the session with a best time of 1:31.921, a tenth behind Norris.

Bottas, though, was able to extract more from the new Mercedes W12 and he posted a time of 1:31.692 to claim P1. Verstappen was still circling, however, and with purple times in the first two sectors he claimed top spot with 0.298 in hand.

Charles Leclerc was fifth for Ferrari, six tenths off Verstappen but less than a tenth behind Hamilton, while Pérez was sixth with a lap of 1:32.071, 0.677 behind his new team-mate, though the Mexican did claim the quickest third sector.

AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly finished seventh in front of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, while Daniel Ricciardo was ninth in the second McLaren ahead of Sauber’s Antonio Giovinazzi.

Pos.DriverCarTimeLaps
01 Max Verstappen Red Bull Honda RB16B 1:31.394 12
02 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes W12 1:31.692 17
03 Lando Norris McLaren Mercedes MCL35M 1:31.897 20
04 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes W12 1:31.921 15
05 Charles Leclerc Ferrari SF21 1:31.993 14
06 Sergio Pérez Red Bull Honda RB16B 1:32.071 15
07 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri Honda AT02 1:32.195 23
08 Carlos Sainz Ferrari SF21 1:32.366 15
09 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes MCL35M 1:32.434 20
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Ferrari C41 1:32.786 16
11 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Ferrari C41 1:33.134 18
12 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin Mercedes AMR21 1:33.157 21
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes AMR21 1:33.233 20
14 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri Honda AT02 1:33.329 21
15 Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault A521 1:33.528 20
16 Fernando Alonso Alpine Renault A521 1:33.872 18
17 George Russell Williams Mercedes FW43B 1:34.127 22
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams Mercedes FW43B 1:34.340 22
19 Mick Schumacher Haas Ferrari VF-21 1:34.501 16
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas Ferrari VF-21 1:34.975 16

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