Verstappen tops Day 1 of pre-season testing as Mercedes struggle in sandstorm-hit Bahrain
As a sandstorm engulfed the Bahrain International Circuit on the afternoon of day one of pre-season testing, Max Verstappen went fastest for Red Bull – but Mercedes struggled with a gearbox issue and then a lack of pace, finishing the day with just 48 laps, the fewest of all the teams, and well down the time sheets.
Verstappen enjoyed the whole day in the Red Bull RB16B – with team mate Sergio Perez set to drive on Saturday – and finished the morning third, before improving under the floodlights to take first with a fastest time of 1m30.626s on mediums. Bar a spin in the first session, Verstappen's Friday was incident-free.
When afternoon running began the wind was whipping up sand all over the track, robbing the drivers of grip. But later in the day, as the floodlights punched through the darkening sky, conditions cooled and grip increased leading to a late flurry of fast laps. That left Lando Norris second overall for McLaren on mediums, Esteban Ocon third for Alpine on soft tyres and Aston Martin's Lance Stroll fourth with a late effort on prototype Pirelli mediums. Morning leader Daniel Ricciardo finished seventh overall for McLaren.
As for Mercedes, a gearbox issue in the morning meant 17th-place Valtteri Bottas could only complete six laps overall – much to the chagrin of Team Principal Toto Wolff. Lewis Hamilton (10th fastest) took over in the afternoon but added just 42 laps to Mercedes' total, as he failed to make use of the favourable evening conditions and seemed to be struggling for grip and pace. Verstappen, on the other hand, managed 139 laps in all.
Ferrari's Carlos Sainz also improved under the lights and finished fifth, having taken over from 11th-place finisher Charles Leclerc in the afternoon. Behind Sainz was sixth-place Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi, who ran in the afternoon after 12th-place Kimi Raikkonen took the morning session.
AlphaTauri's productive day continued with rookie Yuki Tsunoda making his pre-season testing debut in the Honda-powered AT02. He took ninth overall, half a second off eighth-place team mate Pierre Gasly who ran in the morning.
Sebastian Vettel kicked off testing for Aston Martin in the morning and finished 13th overall, ahead of Williams' sole day one runner, test driver Roy Nissany.
Haas revealed their VF-21 in the pitlane before running began and Mick Schumacher then set his first times, albeit with a gearbox issue limiting his time on track. He managed just 15 laps to finish 16th, with new team mate Nikita Mazepin taking over in the afternoon to complete 70 laps and finish 15th fastest.
Bottas, who only managed to turn six laps with aero rakes on his car, rounded out the standings in P17. The Finn returns on Saturday afternoon as Hamilton takes the wheel in the morning.
Soon, Bahrain's floodlights will switch off and give way to a bright Saturday morning, in which Fernando Alonso will make his Alpine debut, Sergio Perez will take the wheel of Red Bull's RB16B and Nicholas Latifi will drive for Williams – while reigning champions Mercedes have it all to do.
Jolyon Palmer's Analysis
The perfect start for Red Bull, topping the times. Verstappen's looked good the whole day, minus his half spin, which, given the conditions, you could easily put down to driver error rather than any ongoing issue with the Red Bull like they had last year.
It's the perfect way to continue the momentum from the end of last year, while Mercedes are stuttering. But the Mercedes floor looks interesting, and I don't doubt that Mercedes will be able to bounce back.
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