RACE DEBRIEF

    Max Verstappen’s first day of the 2021 season couldn’t have gone much better, with the Red Bull driver heading Free Practice 2 for the Bahrain Grand Prix to complete a clean sweep of fastest times across Friday, as McLaren’s Lando Norris pipped the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton to P2.

    Verstappen topped FP1 comfortably from Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, the Dutchman looking supremely at ease in the Red Bull RB16B, and he kept that form going into the more representative evening session under the Bahrain floodlights, posting a fastest time of 1m 30.847s in the 60-minute FP2 session – down from 90 minutes last year – to claim his second P1 of the day.

    FP1: Verstappen quickest in first practice in Bahrain as 2021 season gets up and running

    Perhaps as impressive as Verstappen’s lap was the effort of Norris, who followed up his P3 in FP1 with P2 in the evening session, the Briton lapping just 0.095s off Verstappen’s pace in the new Mercedes-powered McLaren MCL35M.

    Hamilton wound up P3, Mercedes for a second time today unable to get within two-tenths of Verstappen’s Red Bull, as the seven-time champion ended up 0.235s adrift, and 0.045s ahead of Ferrari new boy Carlos Sainz, who put in an impressive qualifying simulation lap of 1m 31.127s in the SF21.

    Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix 2021

    Bahrain 2021

    Practice 2 results

    POSITION TIME
    1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing 1:30.847
    2 Lando Norris NOR McLaren +0.095s
    3 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes +0.235s
    4 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari +0.280s
    5 Valtteri Bottas BOT Mercedes +0.371s

    Bottas was fifth for Mercedes ahead of the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo – another driver bedding in with a new team this weekend – while rookie Yuki Tsunoda put in a fine lap to take P7, two places ahead of team mate Pierre Gasly, with the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll in between them – Tsunoda continuing to create plenty of buzz ahead of his debut race start in F1.

    READ MORE: McLaren gatecrashing Mercedes-Red Bull fight 'unrealistic' in 2021, says Brown

    Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull was 10th, with seemingly more to come from the Mexican, while Esteban Ocon posted the fastest lap for the re-branded Alpine outfit – the Frenchman recovering from a Turn 1 off early doors to take P11, 0.754s off the leading pace.

    Charles Leclerc was 12th in the second Ferrari, ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi, with P14 taken by Sebastian Vettel in the second Aston Martin – the German four-time champion still not looking entirely at ease in his new AMR21 – while there was another multiple champion in P15, namely the returning Fernando Alonso.

    FP2 Highlights: 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

    Sixteenth was the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen, the Finn the first driver in the pack to finish more than 1s adrift of Verstappen, and having caused the main drama in the session when he spun coming out of Turn 2, smashing his Alfa Romeo C41 into the barriers and wiping off the front wing.

    From Raikkonen, there was then a four-tenths gulf to the next fastest car, the Williams of George Russell – with Russell having predicted that his team would struggle in the gusty conditions forecast for Bahrain this weekend.

    READ MORE: Wolff says ‘best scenario’ for Mercedes in Bahrain is to be on Red Bull’s pace

    Haas’ Mick Schumacher was P18 and nearly one second adrift of Russell at the end of his first ever Friday as a fully-fledged F1 driver, beating the second Williams of Nicholas Latifi and Schumacher’s own team mate Nikita Mazepin – who ran wide at Turn 6 early on in the session, complaining of balance issues on his VF-21.

    So after our first truly representative running of 2021, it’s Red Bull and Max Verstappen with the early advantage. But can Mercedes fight back – and are McLaren in the hunt this season? We’ll find out as the weekend progresses.