Max Verstappen has opened up his account of the 2021 Formula 1 championship by topping both practice sessions overnight for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Two weeks after the Red Bull driver ended pre-season testing with his tail up, Verstappen has suggested his pace was no fluke.
He ended FP1 three-tenths up on Valtteri Bottas in the Mercedes while fronted the timesheets in qualifying simulations in FP2.
The day’s second one-hour session is the only session held at a similar time and condition to race and qualifying, meaning it gives a clearer insight into who is and who isn’t on the pace.
Verstappen’s best time came midway through the session, pipping Lando Norris for the top spot by 0.095s.
Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton looked to be on course for a purple lap time but had his lap deleted for a track limit infringement.
Still, Hamilton ended the session third quickest.
“I think we thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are, if not faster,” Hamilton said after practice. “So, we know they’re leading at the moment.
“McLaren are looking great and it’s great to see them taking the step. It’ll be interesting to see how the long runs are.”
Despite being beaten over single-lap pace, Mercedes seemed to have shaved a lot of time to Red Bull on long-run performance.
Verstappen and Hamilton were evenly matched on lap times; suggesting strategy could play a vital role in Monday morning’s grand prix.
Carlos Sainz was fourth fastest for Ferrari, ahead of Bottas and new McLaren signing Daniel Ricciardo.
Yuki Tsunoda continued to impress on his F1 debut. The 20-year-old was 14th in FP1 and seventh in FP2, two spots ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly.
After encountering pre-season testing issues, Sebastian Vettel still does not look comfortable in the new-look Aston Martin car.
The four-time world champion was a lowly 12th in opening practice and could only manage 14th in after qualifying simulations.
Kimi Raikkonen experienced a slight mishap in the Alfa Romeo. The Finn got loose on the exit of turn three and speared into the outside Armco barrier.
The collision ripped the nose cone away from Raikkonen’s car, but he would get going again and returned to the pits.
He finished the session 16th, four-tenths quicker than George Russell for Williams.
One more practice session will start at 1.00 am NZT tomorrow before qualifying kicks off at 4.00 am.