FP1: Russell makes Merc debut, bags a practice P1

Date published: December 4 2020

George Russell Mercedes

George Russell seized his moment as Lewis Hamilton’s replacement, grabbing his first practice P1 at the Sakhir GP and recording F1’s shortest ever lap time, 54.5s.

The previous shortest lap time was Niki Lauda with a 58.79s in 1974, at the Dijon-Prenois circuit in a Ferrari.

Max Verstappen was second quickest, 0.176s down, with Alex Albon third.

Valtteri Bottas, who is adamant this weekend is not a “showdown” for a Mercedes race seat, was P4, 0.322s slower than Russell.

Formula 1 stepped into the unknown on Friday as the 20 drivers took to the Bahrain International Circuit’s outer oval for the first time ever. And three of them were in new cars.

Russell climbed into the Mercedes W11, replacing Lewis Hamilton who tested positive for Covid-19, with Jack Aitken making his F1 debut with Williams.

Over at Haas, Pietro Fittipaldi substituted for the injured Romain Grosjean as the Frenchman continues his recovery from the burns and sprained ankle he suffered last Sunday when he crashed at Turn 3.

Fittipaldi was the first of the trio to put in an installation lap, followed by Aitken with Russell one of the last drivers out on track. The Brit is squeezing into the cockpit this weekend, even needing to wear shoes a size smaller to fit in. Even the Virtual Safety Car made an appearance before Russell.

Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris were out early, a 56.6s, yip you read that right, as the opening gambit around the 3.5km long circuit. Russel’s opening hot lap was a 58.9s while Daniel Ricciardo went quickest with a 56.2s, his next effort a 55.8s.

Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were second and third while Russell improved to a 56.9. Aitken was a further second behind with Fittipaldi a second adrift of the Williams.

One of the last to exit the pits, Verstappen was immediately aware of the problems that the short circuit posed as he had to wait a few seconds for traffic to pass before there was a gap for him to pull into it. He went second quickest on his first hot lap, 0.5s behind Bottas who had just gone fastest with a 55.1. Verstappen upped his pace but stayed second.

Leclerc had the first notable moment of the evening as he went wide at Turn 4, tried to carry the speed through 5 and went off, eating dirt on he made his way back onto the track. Shortly after Pierre Gasly was seen completing his lap with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding onto his right wing mirror which had come loose of the supporting strut.

40 minutes into the session, that time when the drivers hand their first set of tyres back to Pirelli, and it was Bottas who was P1 ahead of Verstappen, Albon, Ricciardo, Daniil Kvyat, Esteban Ocon, Russel, Gasly, Leclerc and Sergio Perez. Aitken was 19th with Fittipaldi P20.

Back out on track with fresh soft tyres bolted to his W11, Russell laid down a 1:55.0, a tenth up on Bottas’ previous best. Behind him Fittipaldi had a massive lock up and informed Haas that he “destroyed the tyre”. Aitken was checking out the scenery as he spun off the track, taking to the run off on the edge of the gravel trap to get back into the action.

Bottas, coming up on a bit of traffic in the form of Russell and others, made a small mistake and aborted his first hot lap on new soft tyres. His second, which saw him wide at 7 and 8, was slower than his previous best.

Verstappen, running a bit wide at Turn 8, showed that line works as he went fastest in the middle sector on his way to a 54.8 and P1, That, though, was beaten by Albon with a 54.8.

Over at Ferrari, Leclerc had to take to the the run-off at Turn 8 after encountering a slow Vettel at the middle part of the lap. The duo were P7 and P9 with Vettel the faster of the team-mates.

The Mercedes chaps went out for another run with Russell hitting the front, 54.546, and Bottas fourth. Verstappen, again running a bit wide, went second, 0.176s off the pace while Albon spun his RB16 at the exit of Turn 2.

Kvyat dropped to fifth, finishing ahead of his team-mate Gasly, Ocon, Vettel, Ricciardo and Leclerc.

Fittipaldi was 19th, 2.5s down, with Aitken P20, a further tenth off the pace. Aitken’s time was set on the hard tyres.

Times

1 George Russell Mercedes 0:54.546 soft tyres
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.176s soft tyres
3 Alex Albon Red Bull 0.265s soft tyres
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.322s soft tyres
5 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri 0.465s soft tyres
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 0.620s soft tyres
7 Esteban Ocon Renault 0.727s soft tyres
8 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 0.735s soft tyres
9 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 0.833s soft tyres
10 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.903s soft tyres
11 Lance Stroll Racing Point 1.012s soft tyres
12 Sergio Perez Racing Point 1.170s soft tyres
13 Carlos Sainz McLaren 1.211s soft tyres
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1.237s soft tyres
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1.312s soft tyres
16 Lando Norris McLaren 1.532s soft tyres
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1.584s soft tyres
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams 2.218s medium tyres
19 Pietro Fittipaldi Haas 2.531s soft tyres
20 Jack Aitken Williams 2.641s hard tyres

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