Thought Bahrain would be another Mercedes-Ferrari battle? You may have to think again – at least if Daniel Ricciardo has anything to do with it, after the Australian put Red Bull top in Friday’s opening practice in Sakhir.
FP1: Ricciardo puts Mercedes, Ferrari in the shade
None of the top three teams opted to run the quickest, supersoft tyres, but on the soft rubber, it was Ricciardo from Valtteri Bottas from Kimi Raikkonen at the end of 90 minutes, the two Finns 0.3s and 0.4s respectively off the leading pace.
Sebastian Vettel was also firmly in the mix in fourth, as was Lewis Hamilton in fifth, despite a best time over a second shy of Ricciardo’s. The world champion suffered a heavy lock-up on his fast soft-tyre run and ran wide, after which he did not improve.
The notable absentee at the sharp end was Max Verstappen, whose Red Bull ground to a halt on track after just two laps with a suspected electrical problem. The Dutchman nobly pushed his car back to the nearby pit entry, but did not emerge again.
The midfield fight again looks incredibly tight – and once again it was Haas leading the way, courtesy of a supersoft-shod Romain Grosjean in sixth, 1.4s off P1. From there barely half a second covered the rest of the top ten.
Pierre Gasly provided Toro Rosso – running upgraded Honda engine components here – with huge encouragement as he took seventh, notably on the soft tyres, ahead of Renault’s Carlos Sainz and the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen. Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg completed the top ten.
The surprise sight at the bottom of the timesheets was the two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. However, their times were almost certainly unrepresentative, the team doing their supersoft runs early as they evaluated new components on the VJM11.
Grip and wind proved an issue for some, notable Williams’s Lance Stroll and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, who both survived near-identical spins in what was otherwise a largely uneventful session.
The real question now is will Red Bull retain the advantage in FP2 later, when the cooler, floodlit conditions will be far more like those the teams will experience in qualifying and the race…