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What the teams said – Friday practice in Bahrain

Special Contributor

Becky Hart
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Teams - Bahrain -

Aston Martin

Well, what an opening. Alonso split the two Red Bulls in FP1, before going one better and topping the timing sheets under the lights by a healthy margin. While his fuel load respective to the Red Bulls is unknown, nonetheless it’s a very eye-catching start. As for Stroll, he wasn’t too far back which was impressive considering he is driving just a few days after wrist surgery with limited mobility as a result.

READ MORE: Alonso gives his take on where Aston Martin stand after table-topping start to 2023 in Bahrain

Fernando Alonso – FP1: 1:33.196, P2; FP2: 1:30.907, P1

“It felt good to drive the car today and it is nice to see both cars high up on the timing sheets especially after only three days of Testing. The team is working together well, and we are still learning a lot about the new car. I think it will not be clear who is on top until after this weekend and probably into the first couple of races at different tracks. For now, we are just concentrating on ourselves and trying to find the right balance with the car. There are a few things we need to evaluate overnight and we will prepare as best we can for the first qualifying session of the season tomorrow. We have our feet on the ground, and we are realistic with our expectations heading into tomorrow.”

Lance Stroll - FP1: 1:34.298, P6; FP2: 1:31.450, P6

“It was so great to be back in the car today and get my first proper laps of 2023 in. It has only been 13 days since my accident and at that point I was not sure I would be back in an F1 car so soon, so be here with the team is amazing. We lost a little bit of time in FP1 with an ignition issue, but once that was fixed we ran well and collected some important data to work through tonight. It is clear that the team have made some really good progress over the winter break; the car was feeling great to drive and I am excited to get back behind the wheel tomorrow.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: Lance Stroll of Canada driving the (18) Aston Martin AMR23 Mercedes on track on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Red Bull

It was a reasonably good opening day for Red Bull, with Perez the pick of the bunch in the first session and nothing to split to two team mates under the lights. They might have been pipped by Alonso in FP2, but with fuel loads an unknown, neither driver should be too unhappy with their progress. The only downside was Verstappen complaining about the handling of his RB19, which he felt wasn’t quite as good as it had been in testing.

READ MORE: Verstappen concedes Aston Martin look 'very competitive' as he and Perez reflect on 'tricky' start to Bahrain weekend

Max Verstappen - FP1: 1:33.375, P3; FP2: 1:31.076, P2

“It was a difficult start to the day. In FP1 we couldn’t get the balance right, which was a bit odd as we didn’t experience this in testing. In FP2, the short run laps weren’t too bad and the car felt a bit more connected and with the long runs, the pace was good. Overall the car isn’t too bad in the long runs. Form FP1 to FP2 we went in the right direction, I just need to find my rhythm again. The Aston Martins are looking competitive, you could see that already from testing. There’s still a bit more work to do, we know we have a competitive car, it’s just about putting it all the pieces together.”

Sergio Perez - FP1: 1:32.758, P1; FP2: 1:31.078, P3

“It was quite tricky out there, the temperature from morning to afternoon changes quite a lot so the only representative session was this evening. We have some work to do over one lap and that should automatically put us in better shape for the long run. We explored the car a bit today and generally we have a good idea on how to set-up for tomorrow. I think everything is close at the top, certainly Aston Martin and Ferrari look strong, and I think it is going to go down to who puts the best lap together in qualifying and who has the better race pace on Sunday.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: A view of Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing in the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari

Ferrari had a tricky first session, with Sainz spinning off and wrecking a set of tyres after hitting a bump on the track, which hampered his morning. Leclerc meanwhile lost some time after the team opted to change to a different spec rear wing. Then in the representative evening session, Sainz had a scruffy quick lap and so wound up down the order, while Leclerc was there or thereabouts near the front.

READ MORE: Leclerc admits Ferrari ‘don’t have the performance for pole’ in Bahrain as Sainz explains wild practice spin

Charles Leclerc - FP1: 1:34.257, P5; FP2: 1:31.367, P4

"Our first day of free practice went OK. We completed a lot of laps and I feel more and more comfortable in the car, which is positive. It is still difficult to tell where we stand as everyone seems to have been running very different plans, but we are focusing on ourselves and will keep pushing in the right direction."

Carlos Sainz - FP1: 1:36.072, P20; FP2: 1:31.956, P14

"A trickier Friday than we initially expected. The balance was different and we were changing the car through the sessions to try and correct its main limitations. It’s only Friday and I’m confident we can analyse everything overnight and take a step forward tomorrow."

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-23 leaves the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Mercedes

It is still hard to ascertain where Mercedes are in the pecking order based on Friday’s running. They seemed to have pretty clean sessions, although Russell complained late on about the increasing wind speeds affecting the handling of his car. But the team opted not to run the soft tyres in FP1 and thus haven’t completed as many laps on that compound as some of their rivals. Where they end up in qualifying will be fascinating to see.

READ MORE: ‘We’ll bring it as soon as we can’ – Mercedes prepping ‘different’ sidepod upgrade

Lewis Hamilton – FP1: 1:34.917, P10; FP2: 1:31.543, P8

"We’ve got a lot to work on. We knew we were behind some of our competitors at testing and today, we found out that we are a long way off. We’ll keep our heads down tonight, go through the data, and continue to work to find some progress for tomorrow. We’ve got to find out if we can add performance overnight. I think I’ve got the car to the best place I can set-up wise.

"On long-run pace, we look similar to Ferrari but are behind Red Bull and Aston Martin. It’s difficult for everyone and it’s not where anyone in this team wants to be. Everyone continues to work so hard and is so courageous and thoughtful in the process. We need to continue to graft away and get ourselves back on the right track."

George Russell - FP1: 1:34.966, P11; FP2: 1:31.882, P13

"We have a lot of data from today that we can look over tonight. We made some big changes from testing to today, so we need to evaluate whether they have worked as anticipated. We have set the car up in a slightly different window to last week; it feels better but that doesn’t always mean that it’s faster.

"It looks like our race pace is slightly stronger than our one-lap pace right now. We will continue to look at this as we need to find more lap time. It’s difficult to say exactly where we are in the order, but we want to be higher up the timing sheets than we were today. It’s only our fourth day with the W14, though, so we need to make sure we have it in the right window and are reaching its full potential."

Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director

"The first session in the hotter conditions was tricky; we ran the medium tyres and even in the test we were finding that compound difficult to get into a good balance window but today seemed little better.

"We made some changes going into the afternoon and the cooler conditions seemed to help in terms of the feel and balance, but the pace is still lacking; single lap seems more of an issue than the long run but neither are good enough, so we’ve clearly got some work to do. We’ve got some ideas to evaluate overnight so hopefully we can put together a package of changes that will help."

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W14 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Alpine

Alpine opted to use FP1 to continue their testing programme, rather than chase pure pace. They did at least bolt on the softs in FP2 for the first time this year, and Gasly found himself in the top 10, which is a good start to proceedings as he continues to bed in at his new team. Ocon was slightly further back, but most of the paddock still believe that Alpine have yet to reveal anything like their full hand out there.

Esteban Ocon - FP1: 1:35.105, P15; FP2: 1:31.608, P11

“After a busy pre-season test, I’m pleased with how the first Friday practice of the season went, and it feels great to be back on track in the environment of a race weekend. We saw today that the car has gained performance since the test and we have a clearer picture of where there are improvements to be made. Things are going in the right direction and we’ll be discussing at length tonight how we can get ready to have a good first qualifying of the season. There’s more to come from us and I’m feeling ready.”

Pierre Gasly - FP1: 1:35.455, P17; FP2: 1:31.475, P7

“It feels great to be back in competitive action and feeling the demands of a Friday Practice day. In testing there’s obviously a bit more time to learn about the car and make changes, but today was a reminder of how fast paced everything is and how concise and accurate you have to be during the sessions. I’m satisfied with how we’ve worked today. We ran through a busy programme, and we’ve built up a good picture on car set-up in the conditions we expect to see for the rest of the weekend. I’d say Free Practice 2 was much more comfortable. The car felt good and there’s more to come from us this weekend. I’m excited for Qualifying tomorrow.”

Pat Fry, Chief Technical Officer

“We’re reasonably happy with our first Friday Practice of the season. Our main objective was to continue learning about our car in representative conditions for what we’re likely to see for the remainder of the weekend. We’ve spent a lot of time working through our learnings from last week and identifying a good direction to follow on car set-up, which will serve us well for tomorrow and Sunday. Free Practice 1 was challenging in the hot conditions but I’m pleased with the improvements we made for Free Practice 2 where track and ambient temperatures were significantly cooler. Still, there’s more hard work ahead of us and there’s definitely more to come. Our upgrades worked in line with our expectations, so credit to the entire team for their tireless work over the past couple of weeks in preparation for the first race.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: Pierre Gasly of France driving the (10) Alpine F1 A523 Renault looks on in the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)

McLaren

Considering McLaren’s struggles from testing, with ‘wheel brow’ reliability concerns, Friday seemed to mark significant progress in the right direction. Norris wound up in the top 10 in both sessions while Piastri had a scruffier day after running wide a number of times and locking up. He will gain from the experience though as the team begin to ramp things up ahead of qualifying.

Lando Norris - FP1: 1:34.165, P4; FP2: 1:31.570, P9

“I think it’s been a reasonable Friday. We put the car in a reasonable place, and I got a bit more comfortable with it both in low-fuel and high-fuel running. We have a lot of lap time to find to be competitive and to fight with the guys we want to fight against, but we’ll keep working hard overnight and look ahead to tomorrow.”

Oscar Piastri - FP1: 1:34.997, P12; FP2: 1:32.024, P15

“My first official Friday done. I feel like I'm making progress, which is good. There are some improvements to find but I feel like I’m getting there. I’m still making a few mistakes here and there, so I’m not 100% happy with my driving but I feel like we’re in a reasonable place. We’ll see where we are properly tomorrow but so far, it’s been good. I’ve enjoyed my first official Friday as an F1 driver.”

Andrea Stella, Team Principal

“It’s been a productive first day of the 2023 season. The cars ran without issue, and we worked through our planned programme, which today meant fine-tuning set-up and developing our understanding of the tyres, for which the evening session under lights was especially valuable. There’s a lot of data to study overnight in preparation for qualifying and Sunday’s race, in which we hope we can score some points.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: Oscar Piastri of Australia driving the (81) McLaren MCL60 Mercedes on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Haas

Hulkenberg managed the best lap of the day for Haas, winding up fifth in the representative evening session. Whether his team mate could have matched that remains an unknown, with Magnussen’s car requiring some set-up changes which cost the Dane some lap time. Haas went well here last season and, based on Hulkenberg’s running, they could well match that sort of performance this weekend.

READ MORE: Hulkenberg reveals the moment he ended feud and ‘broke the ice’ with new Haas team mate Magnussen

Nico Hulkenberg - FP1: 1:35.043, P14; FP2: 1:31.376, P5

“One lap pace is fun but if this is where we are come Sunday, that’s where the gold is, that’s where it matters. That’s where we still have a lot of work to do and some homework – to find pace and work on degradation. It’s going to be difficult but it’s the same for everyone, we need to come up with the best compromise set up for one lap and for the race. Overall, it’s been a good Friday with things to take away to build on and progress.”

Kevin Magnussen – FP1: 1:34.402, P7; FP2: 1:32.110, P16

“FP1 was looking pretty good for us, we’ve been testing quite a bit today and we’ll put it together tomorrow. Some of the things the team have been working on between the test and now, we’ve tried them out and got a few answers. There’s a lot more to try – it was only two practice sessions – but I think we’re in a decent spot. I don’t want to jinx anything, but as usual, it will be very close, and it could be anything.”

Guenther Steiner, Team Principal

“Everything we learned at the test, today we could use. For FP1 we went out and made some set up changes while continuing to learn. In FP2, which is obviously closer to the conditions we’ll have in qualifying, Nico did a very good job and Kevin worked around some further set up changes, and I think there is more to come from him tomorrow. Hopefully it will be a good day, but all-in-all we’re making good progress in learning about the car – the car is very reliable, which is a plus.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 VF-23 Ferrari on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Alfa Romeo

It was a very solid opening day of the season for Alfa Romeo, with both drivers looking evenly matched. Zhou actually got the better of his more experienced team mate in both sessions, and did go well at this track last year when he scored points on debut. He’ll be aiming for a repeat and that means he needs a strong qualifying tomorrow, with Q3 looking possible for the team.

Valtteri Bottas - FP1: 1:34.689, P9; FP2: 1:31.793, P12

“We’ve had a solid day and I feel already confident with the car, especially with the setup we had in FP2. The car behaved as expected, so no surprises there, and now we can just focus on fine-tuning it ahead of qualifying tomorrow. We looked consistent also in our long runs, which was a good practice for the race. As expected, the midfield is extremely close and a small gain or loss can mean a big difference in position: finding a spot in the top ten won’t be easy but it’s a realistic target for us – with both cars. Making predictions is going to be really difficult, but it should make for an exciting day tomorrow.”

Zhou Guanyu - FP1: 1:34.575, P8; FP2: 1:31.586, P10

“Today has been smooth overall. We have been able to complete every task we had set for ourselves ahead of both sessions and the car felt good, it was comfortable straight away. As predicted, everyone is pretty close in the midfield: we must do some homework overnight, looking through the data gathered today, and try to make some gains as every little fraction of a second will matter. I feel we are in a decent spot, in terms of pace, so it’s really a matter of working out a few small details and making sure we are ready for the race.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: Zhou Guanyu of China driving the (24) Alfa Romeo F1 C43 Ferrari on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

AlphaTauri

Much like in testing, AlphaTauri completed a lot of laps but didn’t seem to be making too much of an impression on the timing screens. De Vries nearly came a cropper when he was released into the path of Norris in the pit lane, and had to go see the stewards for good measure. But other than that, the team need to find some pure performance if they want to get into what looks a very tight midfield fight.

Nyck de Vries - FP1: 1:35.402, P16; FP2: 1:32.605, P19

“It was the first time I participated in a FP2 session as a full-time Formula 1 driver. Overall, I am satisfied with the work and progress we made. The conditions from FP1 to FP2 were quite different, but we worked well together as a team. We found ourselves a little on the back foot, but I'm confident that if we stick together and continue improving on the areas we believe we need to find performance in, we can make a step forward. It’s hard to make big changes in one weekend, however, we are aware of our weaknesses compared to our competitors. This track may not suit the characteristics of our car, but it’s early days. After a couple of weekends, we'll be able to have a clearer picture.”

Yuki Tsunoda - FP1: 1:35.015, P13; FP2: 1:32.525, P18

“Today was not the easiest day. The performance itself doesn’t look good compared to our competitors so far. Obviously, we don’t know what programmes they ran, but on our side, there are limitations that we have identified. There is still one more practice session tomorrow and I'm feeling optimistic. We've definitely made a step forward compared to last year, so I'm confident we can continue moving in the right direction. It seems our long-run pace is better than our short-run one, which is maybe good for Bahrain, but there is performance missing. We’ll shift our focus now to qualifying, to improve as much as possible for tomorrow.”

Jonathan Eddolls, Chief Race Engineer

“We came into the race weekend with the benefit of having gathered data from last week’s three-day test, so the engineers have been very busy analysing and pulling this together, finding a good set-up for this week. The first session of the day is significantly hotter than the second session, and this tends to exaggerate any balance issues, so during FP1, we faced ‘a bit of everything'. We made several changes for FP2 which helped, and so too did the lower track temperature. The drivers still didn't have the perfect balance, but it wasn't too far away from the target. That said, the lap times were not competitive, so we have a significant amount of work ahead of us to understand why we seem to have taken a step back compared to the test.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: Yuki Tsunoda of Japan and Scuderia AlphaTauri talks to the media in the Paddock after practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Williams

It was a solid day for Williams, with their drivers looking well matched. Sargeant actually got the beating of Albon in the first session, before the Thai driver returned the compliment in the second. Interestingly, they were the only team to sample the hard compound tyre, with most saving that C1 rubber for Sunday. They could well be going for something brave on strategy, as they seek to jump up the order despite coming up against a highly competitive midfield.

READ MORE: 'This is a very special moment' – Rookie drivers Piastri, De Vries and Sargeant speak ahead of season opener in Bahrain

Logan Sargeant - FP1: 1:35.749, P18; FP2: 1:32.749, P20

"It was nice to experience a full day. As expected, as the temperature came down, the car really came to us. I was quite surprised with how much grip we picked up this evening which is something I need to maximise a little bit better. FP3 tomorrow is during the day when the temperatures are high so today was our best read going into Qualifying tomorrow. We're going to dig deep into the analysis tonight and see what we can go for in Qualifying. In general, it was a good first full day in the office."

Alex Albon - FP1: 1:36.018, P19; FP2: 1:32.440, P17

"FP2 was much better than FP1. We’ve still got a bit of work to do but we’re close. If you look at AlphaTauri and Haas cars, on race pace we are close to them, so that’s who we’re fighting and let’s see tomorrow if we can get those little bits together to get them. Because of the way deg is around here, race pace is a bit more important than qualifying pace. Ease of overtaking is quite high, so if you’re the quicker car you tend to get past. You’re setting up the car for Qualifying, but with one and a half eyes on the race! There’s a bit of an unknown to race one; reliability across the paddock is less than the final races of the year and some teams get on top of their packages earlier than others. Realistically, maybe we don’t have the quickest car on the grid, but we can do a better job than others and maybe finish out of sequence."

Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance

"As usual on Friday in Bahrain, the two opening Free Practice sessions were very different. The drivers were much happier with the car in the cooler conditions of FP2. We were able to run a full programme this evening and get a good sense of how the car will perform in both qualifying and race conditions.

"There are still some things to work on this evening and we will be able to make the car another step better for tomorrow. However, we’ll need to be careful not to get confused in the hotter conditions of FP3.

"Both drivers did a good job today, especially Logan who experienced for the first time the big swing in car performance in the evening session. This was valuable learning and will put him in a strong place to tackle tomorrow.

"There are invariably opportunities at the opening races of the season, and we will be looking to get ourselves into a position to race as many cars as possible on Sunday."

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 03: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Williams FW45 Mercedes on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 03, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Pirelli

Simone Berra – Chief Engineer

"The teams used today mainly to assess the performance of the P Zero Red soft in race conditions. Many of these soft compound runs were done on full fuel, to analyse degradation management on the C3. Apart from a few laps with Williams, the new C1 wasn’t really used today. As we expected, this latest hard compound is set to be a strong race tyre, which is why the teams wanted to hang onto it. Degradation is in line with our simulations as well as the data recorded during the three days of testing last week, on some of the most abrasive asphalt of the year."

HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the best moments from FP2 as Alonso leads the Red Bulls in Bahrain

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