RACE DEBRIEF

    Charles Leclerc may have finished Free Practice 2 for the Bahrain Grand Prix in a relatively lowly P12. But the Monegasque said he’d been encouraged by a strong opening day for Ferrari, as they look to rebuild this year after a trying 2020.

    Ferrari managed to get at least one driver in the top five for both of Friday’s free practice sessions: Leclerc took fifth in Free Practice 1, 0.599s off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen – while in FP2, his new team mate Carlos Sainz claimed an impressive P4, sandwiched between the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, and with the Spaniard having also claimed P8 in FP1 on his first Friday with the team.

    READ MORE: 'Now we have to show what we can do in qualifying' says Verstappen after topping Friday practice

    And Leclerc – who while only finishing P12 in FP2 was just 0.765s off the ultimate pace in the tightly-contested session – said he was pleased with what he’d seen from Ferrari on Friday, after a challenging 2020 for the Scuderia.

    “Today has been a positive day to be honest,” said Leclerc. “We maybe didn’t expect to be as competitive, even though it’s still very early days for now. But FP1 was positive on my side, FP2 a bit less; I’ve been struggling a little bit with the car here and there, and didn’t manage to finish the lap I wanted to.

    F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain - Practice
    Leclerc finished P5 in FP1

    “But overall there is a lot of work [that’s been done]. I can feel there is a lot of motivation in the team, and I can see also, and we can feel, the improvements that have been made since last year, which is good for now. Then tomorrow will be the day when we know exactly where we are compared to the others.

    “It is very, very tight and I think qualifying tomorrow is going to be very, very tight,” added Leclerc, “but this is exciting, this is what we like as drivers, to try and make the last difference on track – even though I still believe that Mercedes and Red Bull are still quite a lot in front, the midfield will be very, very tight.”

    FP2: Verstappen heads Norris to complete clean sweep of Friday sessions in Bahrain

    Sainz may have recorded Ferrari’s best lap of the day in Free Practice 2 – but the Scuderia’s new recruit admitted he was still getting up to speed in the Ferrari SF21, especially when it came to adapting to changes in wind direction and track conditions.

    “It’s tricky,” said Sainz at the end of Friday. “You need to stay mentally disciplined because you don’t want to give too many comments regarding balance, because you know you are also probably under-driving a bit.

    Carlos Sainz needs to 'build confidence' in Ferrari car

    “When you switch teams and cars, as soon as the conditions change, you don’t know how the car is going to react, so you are always under-driving a bit. You don’t want to do stupid mistakes and you want to stay a bit below the limit of the car because you don’t know how the car is going to react.

    “That’s why I always say you need races, you need experience, you need to go through different conditions, to know how the car reacts to the wind, to the temperatures and build a core, a base of experience to know then how to adapt to the conditions… The trick here is let the sessions go by, let the experience build and be patient.”

    READ MORE: Hamilton says Mercedes have improved, but Bottas labels W12 ‘undriveable’ on first day of practice in Bahrain

    We’ll get a better sense of Ferrari’s 2021 performance level – including how strong their new power unit is – when the wicks are turned up for Saturday’s qualifying session at the Bahrain Grand Prix.