Pre-season suggestions that Red Bull could take the fight to Mercedes this year played out in FP1 for the Bahrain GP with Max Verstappen quickest of all.
The Red Bull driver laid down a 1:31.394 to edge Valtteri Bottas by three-tenths of a second.
After their testing troubles, Mercedes had a calmer and more stable W12 at their disposal with Lewis Hamilton finishing fourth quickest.
The Mercedes team-mates were split by Lando Norris with Charles Leclerc fifth fastest in the Ferrari.
— Red Bull Racing Honda (@redbullracing) March 26, 2021
Less than two weeks after Formula 1 wrapped up pre-season testing, the new 2021 championship kicked off in Bahrain with an hour-long FP1.
That meant a busy start to the session with F1’s rookie drivers – Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin – amongst the first out on track.
— Haas F1 Team (@HaasF1Team) March 26, 2021
Also out on track were Fernando Alonso in the Alpine, Sergio Perez in the Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel in the Aston Martin and Daniel Ricciardo in the McLaren, the Aussie and his team-mate Norris setting the early pace.
All eyes were on Mercedes’ first run with Toto Wolff implying there’d be changes to the car ahead of FP1 – “you haven’t even seen what we’re going to put on the car yet” he said ahead of the Bahrain weekend – only for the exact same W12 as the one used in testing to take to the track. Mercedes confirmed nothing had been altered since the final lap of testing.
Reigning World Champion Hamilton, the last of the drivers to sign on for this year’s championship, led the way after 10 minutes, his time a 1:32.844. That put him three-tenths up on Perez with Norris third. Bottas made it a Mercedes 1-2, a tenth faster than Hamilton, with the W12 looking notably calmer than it did in pre-season testing.
Verstappen did his best to quash the ‘here we go again’ naysayers, hitting the front only for Hamilton to put in three purples to retake P1. A 1:32.214 for the Mercedes driver.
— Sebastian Vettel #5 (@sebvettelnews) March 26, 2021
Midway through the session the top ten were Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Perez, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly, Norris, Carlos Sainz, Tsunoda and Vettel. At the bottom were Esteban Ocon, Mazepin and Alonso.
Out on an old set of hard tyres, Hamilton went purple in the first sector only for the back end of his W12 to snap on him, forcing him to abandon the lap.
While Hamilton returned to the pits, Norris went quickest for McLaren with a 1:31.897, Vettel moved up from 11th to seventh in the Aston Martin, slotting in behind his former team-mate, Leclerc, and Alonso jumped to 11th.
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) March 26, 2021
Leclerc rejoined the action on new soft tyres and shot up to second, a tenth down on Norris, while Gasly went third ahead of Hamilton, Sainz and Ricciardo, the latter half a second down on his McLaren team-mate’s P1 time.
New AlphaTauri signing Tsunoda showed early that he is not one to take things lying down, having a go at the “****ing traffic” that he felt ruined his hot lap.
Hamilton, Bottas and Perez headed out with 10 minutes to go, all on fresh tyres and trading purples. Bottas went P1 with a 1:31.692, Hamilton up to third after a scrappy final corner and Perez fifth.
Verstappen responded with a 1:31.394 to bag the opening P1 of the championship. He was three-tenths quicker than Bottas with Norris a further two-tenths down.
Vettel was 12th on his Aston Martin debut, Tsunoda P14 in his first F1 session, Alonso P16 for Alpine with Schumacher and Mazepin the two slowest out on track.
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:31.394 12 laps
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.298s 17 laps
3 Lando Norris McLaren 0.503s 20 laps
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.527s 15 laps
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.599s 14 laps
6 Sergio Perez Red Bull 0.677s 15 laps
7 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 0.801s 23 laps
8 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0.972s 15 laps
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1.040s 20 laps
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1.392s 16 laps
11 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1.740s 18 laps
12 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1.763s 21 laps
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1.839s 20 laps
14 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1.935s 21 laps
15 Esteban Ocon Alpine 2.134s 20 laps
16 Fernando Alonso Alpine 2.478s 18 laps
17 George Russell Williams 2.733s 22 laps
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams 2.946s 22 laps
19 Mick Schumacher Haas 3.107s 16 laps
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas 3.581s 16 laps