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What the teams said - Thursday practice in Bahrain

Special Contributor

Becky Hart
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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Pierre Gasly of France driving the (10) Alpine F1 A524 Renault

Mercedes

Like most of the teams, Mercedes concentrated on medium tyre running in the opening session while the track was hot. But under the lights their car came alive, with Hamilton fastest of all on both his first and second set of soft tyres. His gap on the second set of tyres was pretty healthy – which bodes very well going into qualifying tomorrow. Russell was a couple of tenths back, but is a proven performer over one lap and will fancy his chances in qualifying.

READ MORE: 'It’s a shock' – Hamilton left surprised by Mercedes’ early pace in Bahrain

Lewis Hamilton – FP1: 1:33.302, P9; FP2: 1:30.374, P1

"It was very windy in FP1, and the track was very different to during the test. We didn’t know exactly where we would stack up against everyone else, but we had a positive FP2 session. The car was feeling good, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We know there is more to extract, and our long run pace isn’t in the fight with the Red Bulls.

"Overall though, I’m feeling much happier with the car than last year. We’ve made some good improvements and it feels much more like a race car. It’s a really good platform for us to build from. We just need to keep our heads down and keep chasing."

George Russell - FP1: 1:33.251, P7; FP2: 1:30.580, P2

"We’re not going to get carried away after one day of practice. Our qualifying pace did look strong. We made some changes from the test and the improvement did exceed our expectations. But ultimately our long run pace is where it counts. Verstappen looked comfortably quickest, and it was very tight with the Ferraris, the McLarens, and the Aston Martins. So we’ve likely got a real fight on our hands there.

"Nevertheless, we’re pleased with how our day has gone. The car is performing well; we will sit down and understand where the main improvements came from and try to sustain that. We want to be fighting for good positions on Saturday night."

Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director

"Following the test we were most concerned about our single lap pace. We had both drivers in the simulator before returning here. From the running today, it looks like we have improved. We're certainly not getting carried away, as there is plenty of scope within power unit modes and fuel loads for several cars to find a chunk of time before tomorrow. It's encouraging though that the picture we had last week seems to have improved.

"The long run data also looks close. Verstappen is still comfortably out front, as we saw last week, but behind him it's going to be a tight battle for the remaining podium spots. We know we’ve got plenty to fine tune on the balance. It's still early days with the W15, and we're learning how to get lap-time out of it with each run, but it's already feeling very different to the last two years that we have been here."

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team W15 on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 29, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Ferrari

Bar one big lock up from Sainz, FP1 was a quiet session for Ferrari who seemed content to just crack on with their programme on the medium tyres. They opted for some qualifying simulation runs at the start of the evening session, with both drivers very much in the mix. Sainz wound up ahead of his team mate after Leclerc made a mistake in the final corner on his last run – something he was quick to own up to.

Charles Leclerc - FP1: 1:33.268, P8; FP2: 1:31.113, P9

"First day done. Not much to say, as it’s very difficult to read our competitiveness for now but there were no big surprises. It was good to be back in the car alongside all the other drivers to kick off the season. Now we have quite a lot of work to do, especially in terms of balance. Let's see where we stand tomorrow."

Carlos Sainz - FP1: 1:33.385, P11; FP2: 1:30.769, P4

"It was a trickier practice day compared to testing with lower temps and higher winds, which made it more difficult to be consistent on track. We obviously don’t know the run plan of the others, but in terms of competitiveness it looks like we’re more or less where we expected to be. Apart from that, I feel we have had a good Thursday, completing all our programme and tyre testing. Now it’s time to analyse the data and get ready for tomorrow’s quali. I look forward to it, it looks like it’s going to be tight!"

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving (55) the Ferrari SF-24 in the Pitlane during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 29, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Red Bull

Red Bull started the day with some gear shifting issues for Verstappen, although on the medium tyres the Dutchman still looked quick. But come the evening session, Red Bull weren’t a match for Mercedes on the softs. In fact, Verstappen wasn’t a match for Aston Martin, McLaren or Ferrari either and could only finish sixth. With Perez down in P10, are Red Bull struggling or merely sandbagging? Only time will tell.

READ MORE: Verstappen ‘not too worried’ after practice in Bahrain as he predicts ‘very close’ qualifying

Max Verstappen – FP1: 1:33.238, P6; FP2: 1:30.851, P6

“The practice sessions today were not perfect but we weren’t too far off. The long runs were quite decent, and I think we can always do a little better on those laps. There were a few small balance issues that we will work on but I am quite happy with everything with the car overall. Today was just about trying to find that sweet spot and getting the perfect balance in the car. Performing well in qualifying is important, so we will make sure the car is in good shape ahead of tomorrow. I’m not too worried about the gap to P1 and we aren’t looking too much at the others and are just focusing on ourselves at the moment. It’s going to be very close in qualifying but we will try and work a bit more and fight for pole tomorrow.”

Sergio Perez - FP1: 1:33.4413, P12; FP2: 1:31.115, P10

“I think these sessions were key and very interesting, we have a plenty to explore on the car, that we didn’t have the chance to during testing, so we are exploring it now with the mechanical balance here and there. The good thing is that whatever we do on performance runs seems to help the long runs. We just have one aim, which is to make a more balanced car and that will make things better for the race and qualifying. Today was as expected. We heard a lot of people saying that we were a second ahead after testing, which made me smile because I knew things would be a lot closer. It is looking very competitive across the grid, and it is going to be tight on Friday night in quali.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive in the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 29, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

McLaren

McLaren were the only top team in FP1 to run the soft tyres, although they ran them earlier than RB before the track had fully rubbered in. That meant they only had one set of the C3 rubber for FP2, and thus only had one set of flying laps. Piastri nailed his to land firmly in the mix, but Norris made a mistake on his run and that’s why he wound up so far down the order.

READ MORE: ‘Positive’ Piastri believes McLaren are in the mix while Norris rues ‘messy’ practice day

Lando Norris – FP1: 1:32.901, P2; FP2: 1:32.608, P20

“It’s been a reasonable day. I’m happy with how Thursday went overall. We made some progress with the car, there are still plenty of things to improve on, but we improved the balance and I got more comfortable, which is a good thing. I didn’t do a great job in putting a lap together, so it wasn’t a very representative day on the timesheets, but overall, a good first day and a good start to the weekend.”

Oscar Piastri - FP1: 1:33.113, P3; FP2: 1:30.784, P5

“It was a good session. I felt like we were pretty competitive in both low and high fuel running. It’ll be interesting to see what we’re like tomorrow, but I think it was a pretty solid day overall. I was happy with my driving, and we got some good information out of the session. It will be interesting to see what the grid is like when all the sandbags are gone, but I think we’re about where we expected to be and we’re in a good place going into tomorrow.”

Andrea Stella, Team Principal

"Overall, a productive first day of practice. We had no major issues and we got through our test programme. Even though we’ve had three days of testing, there is always a lot to finalise when it comes to the race weekend, and today we worked on setup. It was also important to develop our understanding of the tyres in conditions that were colder in comparison to the test.

“Oscar had a good session both on new tyres and long runs, while Lando couldn’t complete his single timed lap on the Soft, which meant his position in the classification was not very meaningful. But we’re happy with the information we’ve acquired, and we seem to be in a decent position to score points. We’ll try to maximise our package tomorrow and put ourselves in the best position for the rest of the weekend.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren prepares to drive in the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 29, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Aston Martin

Stroll struggled in FP1 after locking up a couple of times, with the wind seeming to upset his balance and rhythm. He fared better under the lights once the wind died down slightly, but he couldn’t quite match his team mate out there. Alonso picked up where he left off here last year, looking exceptionally quick – although he did set his final flying lap slightly later than some, and thus had the advantage of a more rubbered in track.

Fernando Alonso – FP1: 1:33.193, P5; FP2: 1:30.660, P3

"We focused on our programme today and are happy with the work we've done.

"We used Medium tyres during FP1 and then focused our attention more towards the Softs in FP2. We learnt more about the car whilst making some positive setup changes that we're happy with.

"It's important not to read too much into the timesheets at this stage because of a number of different factors and variables, but I’m feeling positive and looking forward to the first Qualifying of the season."

Lance Stroll - FP1: 1:33.868, P14; FP2: 1:30.891, P8

"Overall, it's been a solid day here in Bahrain. I think we made a step in FP2, the car felt good with the setup changes we made.

"I haven't looked fully into the long run pace yet but the car felt pretty good, so that's positive.

"Obviously, it's still early days and we don't know what others were doing with their fuel loads in the session. We'll know a lot more after Qualifying and the Grand Prix."

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) Aston Martin AMR24 Mercedes on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 29, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

RB

Ricciardo topped the timing sheets in FP1, rolling back the years in style. He did do so on the soft compound tyres though, so the result could be seen as slightly flattering with many teams not running that compound. In the second session, RB fell back down the order with Ricciardo on the fringes of the top 10 and Tsunoda slightly further back. That feels like where everyone expected them to be – but they could well have something up their sleeves for qualifying.

Daniel Ricciardo - FP1: 1:32.869, P1; FP2: 1:31.516, P12

“It was a good day and good testing for us. We had our five minutes of fame in the morning, but as much as it was nice to see your name at the top, we knew not many teams put on the soft tyre compound in FP1 and that we’d get a true picture of where we’re at this evening. During the day, it’s sunny, so there’s a lot to take into account for our strong FP1 result, but track conditions change so much at night. We made some adjustments after FP1, and I think there’s a little more we can do, so I’m excited to get stuck into the data. I’m staying optimistic because we know some areas to find more time, and I feel if we put it all together, we can fight for Q3 tomorrow and points on Saturday. Let’s see if we can crack into the top 10.”

Yuki Tsunoda - FP1: 1:33.183, P4; FP2: 1:31.881, P15

“Today wasn’t an easy day and we are not where we want to be yet. That’s normal after the first day of Practice, so there’s nothing to worry about. Even if making it to Q3 seems difficult at the moment, I’m confident we can turn things around in time for Qualifying tomorrow. We now have a lot of things to look at tonight, but our aim still remains to be inside the top 10 tomorrow, which would be great.”

Alan Permane, Racing Director

“Today was a fairly standard day for us. We looked fairly quick in the morning session because we took the soft tyre. We planned to run two sets of the medium and two of the soft compounds today to take one in each session, so we could have a baseline of the car at the end of FP1 to help us with our assessment and changes for FP2. We are reasonably happy with where things are at. We’ll look closely at the changes we made, to understand why we were possibly less competitive in FP2. Overall, it was still a productive day during which we completed all the testing we had on our programme.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Visa Cash App RB prepares to drive in the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 29, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Haas

Both Haas drivers were significantly off the pace in FP1, as they concentrated on testing new parts and refining their set-ups rather than chasing pure speed. But from the very back in FP1, Hulkenberg jumped himself firmly up into the top 10 on his soft tyre run in FP2 in what looks to be some good news for the team. Magnussen couldn’t quite join him up there, the Dane needing to up his game over one-lap after being out-performed by his team mate last year.

Nico Hulkenberg - FP1: 1:37.938, P20; FP2: 1:30.884, P7

“It was a pretty good Friday - the first one of the year - so not much of a reference yet. This morning, we continued to focus on long-run and race-pace stuff, trying a couple of things. This afternoon was more like a normal program. The pace over one lap was maybe a bit unexpected but also there’s no reason to get over-excited or over-ambitious now. I think there were a few people who didn’t do low-fuel runs and have more potential, but it’s going to be tight and fun to see. I expect a very tight field in qualifying, like it was last year, it will continue to be like that – so the smallest mistake can have a big impact. I’m not exactly sure where we'll slot in, but we’ll put everything that we have into tomorrow.”

Kevin Magnussen – FP1: 1:37.477, P19; FP2: 1:31.764, P14

“I think it’s been a pretty decent day. There’s still a big uncertainty on other people’s fuel loads etc. but again we were focusing on race runs and that was actually good – I’m encouraged so far. On low-fuel, it’s still going to be a big learning curve as we haven’t had any running – FP2 was the first real low-fuel run that we did, so lots to learn there. It seems simpler than the high-fuel running, which I feel like we’ve gone in the right direction with in terms of tire-wear at least. I’m curious to learn about the real pace of the car in race conditions but tire degradation is better.”

Ayao Komatsu, Team Principal

“In FP1, it was a continuation of building on from the work of last week – looking at the high-fuel long-run performance – because that’s still our biggest limitation. That’s why looking at the timesheets we were bottom two but we weren’t worried about that, we were focused on our program like we were in testing. I’m happy that we learned a couple of things that led to changes for FP2.

“In FP2, the conditions were very different compared to testing, it was actually quite cold. In both sessions, it was pretty windy and more difficult compared to testing as well. In FP2, we looked at our low-fuel performance for the first time since the third day of testing. Again, we didn’t get the best out of it but having said that, the lap Nico put in was pretty good, but that’s not my main concern. We then did a high-fuel run – and it was okay – but it shows we’ve got a bit more work to do. The things we learned through testing have been reflected today and it shows that we’re in a better place, but we must make another step, so we’re really focused on that.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Nico Hulkenberg of Germany driving the (27) Haas F1 VF-24 Ferrari on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 29, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Williams

After a tricky test where they lost plenty of time to reliability woes, Williams had a much better opening day to the race weekend. Both drivers moved forward up the order from the afternoon to the evening session, with Albon winding up on the cusp of the top 10. His one-lap pace is well known, so he must fancy his chances of what would be a surprise Q3 berth tomorrow.

Alex Albon - FP1: 1:33.583, P13; FP2: 1:31.333, P11

"We were relatively surprised by our pace in FP1 but by FP2, we found a good pace on the Medium tyre, however lost a little bit on the Softs. The cars around us are quicker than I’d like, especially the Haas, so we need to look at what we can do better. The car feels different behind the wheel but it’s not yet translating to performance, so we've got some work to do. Everyone seems to have made a big step over the break as well, so it’s difficult to say but it’s early days and there’s still a lot to learn from the car."

Logan Sargeant - FP1: 1:34.213, P16; FP2: 1:31.715, P13

"Today was good. The car felt like a big step forward from the test and shows that the work that Alex and the team did on day three was a step in the right direction. I’m generally happy with the car and the balance. There’s some fine tuning to do but I’m quite confident with the car I have underneath me, we just need to see where we are pace wise tomorrow. It’s good to be starting my second season this weekend and I’m looking forward to continually improving myself and being consistent through the year."

Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance

"It was good to get the car running again and have all 20 drivers on the track. Inevitably teams start to converge on run programmes once we are into a race weekend and so the competitive picture becomes a little less fuzzy. That said, we won’t know until tomorrow evening what the order really is.

"Both drivers had productive days despite the windy conditions. The FW46 was performing well and reliably, and we were able to test some different setup approaches, which helps to correlate the simulator to the track, and prepares us for hotter events to come.

"We didn’t quite get everything from the Soft tyres today but we can improve that tomorrow. We also need to watch the weather as we will likely face cool and calmer conditions as the event progresses. There is work to do but we have a solid platform to build on."

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Williams FW46 Mercedes on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 29, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Kick Sauber

Zhou struggled with a brake issue at the start of FP1 and did lose some running as a result. The team did bolt on the softs though, one of very few to do so. Their evening session didn’t start well, with Bottas crossing the line at the end of the pit lane before the lights had gone green. The stewards had a look at that, and opted just to hand the Finn a reprimand.

Valtteri Bottas - FP1: 1:33.354, P10; FP2: 1:32.001, P17

“It was good to finally get the season underway with the first practice sessions of the year and get some more mileage in. I reckon we learned a lot since testing last week, working around and discovering more about the setup of our car: still, there is some extra work that needs to be done, especially on the single-lap performance. This’ll be our main task overnight and during the final practice session tomorrow morning. It seems we are still quite close to our main competitors, and it’ll likely come down to a handful of tenths in Qualifying tomorrow.”

Zhou Guanyu - FP1: 1:33.923, P15; FP2: 1:32.048, P19

“It was good to be back on track in an official session. Today’s conditions were quite different from what we experienced during testing, which made it fairly interesting: we had some issues in the morning, but our afternoon went quite smoothly, and we were able to tick all our boxes. Now, our focus is on getting everything ready ahead of tomorrow’s qualifying: it’s difficult to evaluate the true pecking order, as FP2 didn’t show the true potential of our performance and, similarly, we don’t know what everyone else was doing. It’s a very close midfield, once again, and we might have a tight qualifying session.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber prepares to drive in the garage during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 29, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Alpine

Alpine struggled on Thursday in Bahrain, winding up with both drivers down the order in both sessions. That doesn’t bode well for the French outfit, who did say after the end of testing that they didn’t have high expectations going into this one. Ocon complained about the balance of his A524, while Gasly sounded frustrated on the radio at points. Work to do overnight for Alpine.

Esteban Ocon - FP1: 1:34.807, P17; FP2: 1:32.027, P18

“It was a productive day of Practice where we ran through different programmes and learnt more about the car. The morning session was particularly difficult with the windy conditions, but the car felt much better in FP2. We seem to be better in the evening in cooler conditions compared to the morning session. That’s something to be positive about, as they’re the conditions we’ll be Qualifying in tomorrow and racing in on Saturday. We look more competitive in the long runs, but we need to find more pace over a single lap to put us in a better position for Qualifying. We will analyse the data overnight and work hard to unlock some performance, especially in Qualifying trim.”

Pierre Gasly - FP1: 1:35.144, P18; FP2: 1:31.951, P16

“We’re back on track for the first Practice of the season. We tried some things on the car throughout the day, which resulted in some positive learnings. The car was certainly trickier in the first session under the hot and gusty conditions. We reverted some things and I had a better feeling in the car in the evening session. We know the performance is not quite where we want it to be but we’re continuing to understand more and more each time we’re on track. Patience is required and we’ll try to make the best with the package we have in our hands right now. The team and I are working hard to keep finding performance. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow and on Saturday and I’m ready to keep pushing.”

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 29: Pierre Gasly of France driving the (10) Alpine F1 A524 Renault on track during practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on February 29, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Pirelli

Simone Berra, Chief Engineer

“A very interesting day, because we got our first indications of the hierarchy down the pit lane, even if one has to take into account the usual unknown factors such as how much fuel the cars had on board and how the power unit was used. We saw the teams make almost identical choices in terms of tyre usage, with a preference for the C2 in the first session and the C3 in the second, when track conditions were similar to those we can expect for the race, while the two sets of C1 have been saved for the rest of the weekend. The long runs in FP2 were almost all done on the C3 and demonstrated that even the softest compound could be competitive over a long stint. As for the C2, we already saw in testing that the difference in performance compared to the C1 is not so big, but the hardest compound guarantees better consistency and is therefore the preferred choice for the race.”

HIGHLIGHTS: Catch the FP2 action as Hamilton leads the way for Mercedes

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