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What the teams said – Friday in Bahrain

Special Contributor

Becky Hart
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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 26: Antonio Giovinazzi of Italy driving the (99) Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Mercedes

A much better day for the team than they had in pre-season testing, with plenty of running from both drivers. They managed clean laps on the soft compound tyres under the lights, but neither driver could get on the pace of the Red Bull. There or thereabouts, with plenty of data to analyse overnight, but as it stands they are not favourites for pole tomorrow.

Lewis Hamilton – FP1: 1:31.921, P4; FP2: 1:31.082, P3

"The car wasn't where we wanted it by this weekend. It's looking better but still not perfect so we're working as hard as we can. We still have a hill to climb but we're staying positive. We thought Red Bull would be as fast as they are, so we know they are leading at the moment. McLaren are looking great and it's good to see them taking a step. It will be interesting to see how the long runs are.

"Stability - it's all about having a stable car and being able to make the tyres last. That's going to be key in this climate and with the wind we have here.

"(On the forecast of a windy Sunday)... That's not great for us! The rear is unstable as it is but I'm sure everyone will be in the same boat - some a little more, some a little less. For people at home trying to understand, when you approach a corner and the rear moves, you're trying to find that tipping point. The tipping point used to be further away with more downforce on the car - now it falls away much quicker than normal. The performance we've lost on tyres this year doesn't help but we'll work away tonight and try to find a way."

Valtteri Bottas - FP1: 1:31.692, P2; FP2: 1:31.218, P5

"First, the car felt better than in testing. It felt like we're still not yet there with the car balance, but it was a trouble-free day and no big issues. I think the main thing in my mind is that we have plenty of work to do if we want to fight for the pole this weekend.

"Inconsistency in the balance, especially in the rear-end was one area to work on from testing and in terms of set-up approach, things improved and the car does feel better but it's not quite yet where we would want it. We still have tonight and tomorrow morning to try and figure it out.

"The last long run we did was pretty difficult: I couldn't really put any laps together and the car felt nearly undrivable at times. But it's only Friday and that's why we do practice. We're definitely in the mix. McLaren looked strong today, so too Red Bull as expected. I think we are up there - we're aren't the fastest but we're not too far off it. We'll see tomorrow."

Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director

"We've had a productive day. The first session was a bit too hot to be "representative but it was still useful for testing the changes we've made to the car since last week and we do seem to have improved the overall balance. The second session had a much cooler track which better matches qualifying and the race so we were able to focus on some single lap practice and long runs at the end. We've still got quite a bit of work to do, especially on the long runs where we didn't look strong. We need more pace and better degradation in order to be competitive but both those problems are linked to the same cause so hopefully we can make some progress overnight."

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 26: Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes W12 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 26, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Red Bull

Verstappen finished on top of the pile in both sessions, seemingly without breaking a sweat. It wasn’t totally serene progress for the Dutchman, who was caught out in FP2 and ran wide, but nonetheless that RB16B is looking a formidable machine this season. Perez couldn’t quite get on the pace of his team mate, but his race pace was solid and you’d expect him to improve with every lap in his new car.

Max Verstappen - FP1: 1:31.394, P1; FP2: 1:30.847, P1

“It’s been a good day again and with the heat and the wind it is not easy to find a perfect balance around the whole lap but overall I would say it was a positive day. There are still things to improve and look into for tomorrow, tyre wise and a bit of balance tuning, plus I think it will be even more windy which is a challenge for everyone in these cars. I am pretty happy with the start of the weekend but tomorrow is a different day and we have to see whether we can do it in qualifying when it counts.”

Sergio Perez - FP1: 1:32.071, P6; FP2: 1:31.503, P10

“It feels great to finally get into a race weekend and I’m pleased so far with how things are going. I’m settling in well and taking some steps forwards. If I were to summarize today, I’ve got some work to do on the short runs as over one lap I don’t quite feel the car is within me just yet and I still have to think about what the car is doing, but in the long runs I’m more comfortable and I think the pace is there so that’s positive. I think we have some work to do on the soft tyre as there is also room for improvement there, but the car is performing well, we have good pace and tomorrow it will be pretty close in qualifying so we need to make sure we get it right and have a good start to the season.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 26: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 26, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

Ferrari

Definite signs of progress from Ferrari after their sub-standard 2020 season. Sainz already looked more comfortable for the Scuderia than he did in testing, and got the beating of his team mate under the lights. As for Leclerc, he seemed to be pushing the boundaries and came home outside the top 10 in the representative evening session, but both drivers look likely to be challenging for Q3 tomorrow.

Carlos Sainz - FP1: 1:32.366, P8; FP2: 1:31.127, P4

“Today we had very different conditions in the first and second sessions. In FP1 everything felt fairly normal and going into FP2 the conditions changed quite a bit in terms of wind and obviously track temperature. It made the car and the balance trickier, and it brought the field together. We were surprised with how tight the short runs were in terms of performance. “Every lap I do with the car I get to understand it a bit better, how it behaves and how it adapts to the changing conditions. It takes some time, so it was important for me to have a clean Friday and complete our programme. Tomorrow it could be a different story again, with different conditions, especially the wind, so we need to take it step by step, building up to Qualifying.”

Charles Leclerc - FP1: 1:31.993, P5; FP2: 1:31.612, P12

“Today has been a good day and maybe we didn’t expect to be as competitive. Though it’s still very early days for now, FP1 was positive on my side and FP2 a bit less. I’ve been struggling a little bit with the car rear end and didn’t manage to finish the lap I wanted to, but even though overall there’s still a lot of work to do I can feel there’s a lot of motivation in the team and I can see and feel the improvements that have been made since last year. This is good for now.

“Tomorrow will be the day when we’ll know exactly where we are compared to the others as this is when everyone will push to the limit; everything will be clear in qualifying. Even though we expect the usual cars will still be at the front, the field is very very tight and I think qualifying tomorrow will be very tight too but this is exciting and this is what we like as drivers to try and make the difference.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 26: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Scuderia Ferrari SF21 stops in the Pitlane during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 26, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

McLaren

What a day. It might only be Friday practice, but based on that showing McLaren look the pick of the midfield. Norris put his MCL35M in the top three in both sessions, even getting within a tenth of the Red Bull of Verstappen under the lights. Ricciardo couldn’t quite match his team mate as he beds in to his new team, but was solidly in the top 10 after his first ever low fuel run for McLaren.

Daniel Ricciardo - FP1: 1:32.434, P9; FP2: 1:31.230, P6
“I thought having an hour session instead of 90 minutes meant it would be a bit easier, with less time on track – but it was pretty chaotic actually. You feel the half-hour. It goes quick. I think it was quite fortunate that we were here a couple of weeks ago, so we could hit the ground running. I think you need to make the most of that track time. “I’m still getting there, I still want to find a few things in the car and obviously within myself. In FP2 I made some inroads, but hopefully I’ll find another step tomorrow to get more where I want to be.”

Lando Norris - FP1: 1:31.897, P3; FP2: 1:30.942, P2

“A reasonable first day back in the car. I think we started where we left off in testing, which is a good thing. The car has improved in some areas, which is positive, but other areas have got a little bit worse. It’s been a tricky day to put it all together but on the whole I’m happy. Here and there we’ve got some work to do for tomorrow, but if we can put it together, hopefully we can be competitive. We seem to be very close to AlphaTauri, Ferrari and other cars, so tomorrow will definitely be tight, but we’ll see what we can do.”

Andrea Stella, Executive Director, Racing

“The first day of practice for a new season is always very busy, but today was intense, with the length of the sessions reduced from 90 to 60 minutes. Happily, we didn’t have any major problems. The team did a good job to ensure both our busy sessions progressed smoothly, and we completed our programme. “The change of conditions from day to night, and the major variable of the wind always keeps it interesting in Bahrain. In addition, the field looks incredibly compact and competitive, so there’s a lot of work to do to be ready for qualifying and the race – but we’ve started with a productive Friday.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 26: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) McLaren F1 Team MCL35M Mercedes drives on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 26, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Aston Martin

It was a surprisingly quiet day for Aston Martin, who seemed content to run their own programme and leave the headline-grabbing times to their midfield rivals. The good news was that the reliability woes from testing seem to be a thing of the past, with both drivers managing a decent haul of laps. But where are they in the pecking order? That looks set to remain a mystery until qualifying…

Sebastian Vettel – FP1: 1:33.157, P12; FP2: 1:31.769, P14

“It’s very busy with less time in the practice sessions, but we were able to get a lot out of it. Every lap helps me get more used to the car and I’m able to find more of a rhythm. I’m still trying a lot of things and learning as I go, so I’m looking forward to going over the data and coming back tomorrow with the insights we have gained. The car was really promising in some corners and less so in others, but that’s normal at this stage of the season. We will work tonight to find a more consistent balance. As you can see, the midfield is very tight and everyone is learning quickly, but I hope we will be a factor.”

Lance Stroll - FP1: 1:33.233, P13; FP2: 1:31.393, P8

“It was great to be back in the car today and I’m excited to get racing again. Today was the first real indication of everyone’s performance and you can see that the middle of the grid is very close and competitive. It was a little tricky on track with the high winds - a bit like it was in testing at times. Today’s practice sessions also reminded me just how important it is to get the little details right, so we will work hard tonight and go over all the data to find improvements where we can.”

Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal & CEO

“The practice sessions are shorter for everyone this year, but the goals are the same. It’s about making sure you’re able to complete your performance runs and race simulations. We made progress with both of those objectives, collected a large amount of information and have learned more about the car and its characteristics. We’ve made progress since we were here for testing, but the conditions were quite windy in the second session, and it’s still not easy to have a clear picture of where we sit in the pecking order just yet. On Sebastian’s side, he had a disrupted test, so it was about getting him as much track time as possible today. The more comfortable he is with the car, the more he can push. For Lance, it was a productive day and plenty of laps completed as we head into the weekend. We still need to improve our pace over a single lap and that’s one of the priorities as we prepare for final practice and qualifying tomorrow.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Aston Martin AMR21 Mercedes drives on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 26, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Alpine

Alpine had a lacklustre day after appearing there or thereabouts in testing. The team opted to concentrate on longer runs on the hard compound tyre in FP1, but once they bolted on the softs in second practice, neither driver found much in the way of pace. With Alonso in particular unhappy with the handling of his A521, it looks like it might be a long evening for the team tonight to work out what is going wrong.

Esteban Ocon - FP1: 1:33.528, P15; FP2: 1:31.601, P11

“It’s good to be back in the car again in preparation for a race weekend. I think we’ve had a solid day as we made an improvement from FP1 to FP2. We’ve discovered a lot of things between now and testing, so it was good to carry that on during today’s practice. We still need to work hard and find more details, though, and there’s certainly more potential to unlock from the car. It’s only Friday and we know tomorrow is when it counts. I quite enjoyed the shorter practice sessions. It means you have to focus a lot more on each run as every bit of track time counts.”

Fernando Alonso - FP1: 1:33.872, P16; FP2: 1:31.770, P15

"It was fantastic to be back in a free practice session today in Formula 1. You feel the extra adrenaline with the traffic and everything going on around you; it’s very different to testing. It felt good and I felt the racing spirit each lap, which I enjoyed. We got through our programme in the first session in very hot conditions and then some long runs this evening as the track cooled for FP2. We do still need to fine tune some of the car setup and analyse the data a bit more, but, overall, I’m happy with my day."

Davide Brivio, Racing Director

“We did quite a lot of work today. For FP1, we tried some different settings on the car and then, this evening, the team did a good job and we were able to improve the balance of the car. I think we made a step in the second session and we improved our pace. Now it’s time for us to analyse what we’ve done and identify the areas where we can make further improvements. We will keep looking forward as a team and continue to work. The aim is to make another further step for tomorrow’s practice and get ready ahead of qualifying.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 26: Esteban Ocon of France driving the (31) Alpine A521 Renault on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 26, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

AlphaTauri

Tsunoda showed his feisty side in FP1, turning the airwaves blue in frustration as traffic cost him his flying lap. But he quickly put that behind him in a solid session, which he backed up with a good top 10 finish in FP2. As for Gasly, he has very high expectations and seemed frustrated by the handling of his car at times, but was still in the top 10 in both sessions.

Pierre Gasly - FP1: 1:32.195, P7; FP2: 1:31.483, P9

“I think it’s been a good start to the weekend – the car felt strong in both sessions and I’m happy with it. We didn’t quite put it together this evening, on our fast lap, but overall, I think there are a lot of positives to take-away from today and I’m excited now to see what we can do in qualifying tomorrow. The long run with high fuel, that we completed in preparation for the race, felt strong so I think there are some good signs but it’s obviously only the first day, so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We’ll fine-tune everything tonight with the engineers and I think we’ll be in a good position for tomorrow. I hope that we can get into Q3 in qualifying – that’s our target – and if we manage that we should be in a position to fight for some good points come race day.”

Yuki Tsunoda - FP1: 1:33.329, P14; FP2: 1:31.294, P7

“It’s been a great day – I’ve experienced my first practice sessions in the car as a Formula 1 driver and it’s really exciting. I think my passion has really shone through today and I’m looking forward to showing my full potential behind the wheel tomorrow in qualifying. We’ve got great pace this weekend as a team and I’m keen to see how I perform tomorrow in my first F1 qualifying session. I’m still learning a lot in the car and it’s obviously only my first race weekend so I’m keen to not put too much pressure on myself but I’m looking forward to getting out on track for my first race and seeing what we can do.”

Jonathan Eddolls, Chief Race Engineer

“I’m excited to be back on track racing again - we were obviously here testing a few weeks ago but it feels completely different being here in Bahrain for a race weekend. Due to each session only lasting an hour this season, we had a full runplan to get through. It’s difficult to learn a lot from FP1 here, due to the high track temperatures being drastically different to those that we’ll experience in qualifying and the race, so we focused on some aero understanding during that session. FP2 followed a normal plan – with a medium tyre run, followed by the softer compound. Both drivers put in good laps on the performance runs, which was extremely positive in more representative conditions this evening. The longer runs we completed will allow us to confirm that the data gathered during testing here is relevant for the race weekend. Unfortunately, we saw something we weren’t comfortable with in the data on Yuki’s car, so we called him in as a precaution, however this was just a few minutes before the end of the session so had no impact on our running. Overall, I think we had a really positive day today and I’m looking forward to qualifying tomorrow.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 26: Yuki Tsunoda of Scuderia AlphaTauri and Japan during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 26, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Alfa Romeo

Raikkonen had the biggest moment of the day, losing the rear of his C41 and sliding through the gravel into the barriers. Minus one front wing, he limped back to the pits but fortunately the team were able to get him back out before the end of the session. That put the pressure on Giovinazzi to complete the bulk of the laps, which the Italian proved more than capable of. Alfa certainly look to have made progress up the order since 2020, but time will tell.

Kimi Raikkonen - FP1: 1:33.134, P11; FP2: 1:31.862, P16

“A regular first day in which we were able to try various things. Even though the conditions were quite different from what we experienced in testing, the feel of the car was similar, which allowed us to take up where we left off two weeks ago. We had a solid start and were able to work on the set-up. Of course, losing some time because of the incident was not ideal, but we have already so much data from testing that it wasn’t a big setback. We’re looking forward to seeing where we stand tomorrow: we still have to refine a few things tonight but we should be ok.”

Antonio Giovinazzi - FP1: 1:32.786, P10; FP2: 1:31.740, P13

“It was a good start to build on the positive feeling we had after testing. Today’s conditions were quite different, it was way hotter in the day, but we are still happy with our pace in both the short and long runs. The field looks really tight, so we will need to put everything together to gain places in qualifying. The shorter practice sessions didn’t really affect us much: in the end, we spent a lot of time in the garage in FP1 in the old system anyway so now there is a bit more action on track. We now need to go and find another bit of time with the engineers and get ready for qualifying: the target is to get into Q2 and then see what we are able to fight for.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 26: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Alfa Romeo Racing C41 Ferrari during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 26, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Haas

It was a tough first day at the office for the two rookies, with the VF-21 looking off the pace at the back of the field. While Schumacher had a quiet but efficient day, getting the beating of his team mate in both sessions, Mazepin had a slightly harder time of it. In amongst some solid laps, the Russian managed a spin and a few forays off track for his efforts, and will hope to keep his car pointed in the right direction come qualifying tomorrow.

Mick Schumacher – FP1: 1:34.501, P19; FP2: 1:33.297, P18

“FP1 was in really hot conditions, which was something I hadn’t really experienced yet. It was cooking the tires up, and obviously the cockpit as well. But it was good for learning – understanding how the car behaves in those conditions. Moving into FP2, we knew the conditions would be completely different. Unfortunately, the wind also changed, it was something that everybody had to get used to and some people were struggling with it – so were we. Once we got the info on how to approach the corners everything then seemed a bit better. The long run was also interesting for us, and it was more mileage for me really. I felt comfortable in the car, which is a good sign and shows that we did enough work to prepare myself to get in and be comfortable. I know there’s a lot to improve from my side still, as a driver I know I have the tools to improve the lap time. I’ll be working hard on myself to keep improving and keep learning.”

Nikita Mazepin – FP1: 1:34.975, P20; FP2: 1:33.449, P20

“It was very special for me to take part in my first FP1 and FP2 sessions. That alone was very positive. On the technical side the day was quite challenging. There’s been a lot of wind around, and it wasn’t very consistent. These cars, compared to Formula 2, are much more effective with the wind in a positive way and also in a negative way. The car was quite difficult at times. Being realistic, we were very fortunate with the conditions achieved on the final day of testing, they were very fast. The track today was much slower and that made driving today much more challenging – for us at least. With 23 rounds you’re going to experience very different things. It’s about getting the most experience banked and that’s definitely happened today.”

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal

“Even if the results don’t show it – not a bad day for us. I was pretty happy with FP1. We got all our laps in and there were no mistakes made, it was solid throughout. The feedback from the drivers was good and the car had a decent balance. In FP2 we were then struggling to find the balance with both of the guys, but that’s part of the learning curve.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 26: Nikita Mazepin of Russia driving the (9) Haas F1 Team VF-21 Ferrari drives in the Pitlane during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 26, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Williams

Williams seem to be towards the back of the field again on pace, but Russell managed a good programme and initially looked quick on the soft compound tyre too. Latifi did spin early on in FP2 and looks to have his work cut out to get on the pace of his team mate over one lap, with Mr Saturday once again looking the stronger of the two.

George Russell – FP1: 1:34.127, P17; FP2: 1:32.331, P17

“It was obviously tricky conditions today and I think the track temperature was up at about 48 degrees at some points in FP1, which is incredibly hot. FP2 felt pretty good and our high fuel pace was better than expected even with these gusty winds, so I was pleasantly surprised by that. Equally the wind is changing so much at the moment, which affects everybody a huge amount, but I believe our car is more sensitive to these changes. Fingers crossed it is either calm or in a favourable direction tomorrow and Sunday. I think it will be a long and tricky race, but I am looking forward to it.”

Nicholas Latifi - FP1: 1:34.340, P18; FP2: 1:33.400, P19

“It was a difficult one today. It was very tricky, and I was struggling to find the right balance with the car. We had different issues in different practice sessions. FP1 was one thing and we tried to solve it and went too far the other way. I wasn’t satisfied in FP2 on the low or high fuel, so we have a lot of work to do tonight. We need to dig into the data and see what we can find.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 26: Nicholas Latifi of Canada driving the (6) Williams Racing FW43B Mercedes during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 26, 2021 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Pirelli

Mario Isola, Head of F1 and Car Racing

"We saw two busy, exciting and very closely-matched sessions, with three teams in the top three places after each practice hour. From the perspective of the tyres, we're satisfied with the performance, which is very much what we expected with plenty of recent testing in Bahrain. Teams focussed their work on the C4 soft tyre in particular, having already collected a lot of data on the C2 and C3 compounds two weeks ago during testing. The performance gap between medium and soft is a little higher here than we initially thought, while C2 and C3 are very close. This means that all the tyres can play a key role in the race."

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