Max Verstappen was untouchable when he swapped to the soft Pirellis late in FP3 for the Bahrain GP, taking P1 by seventh-tenths over Lewis Hamilton.
Red Bull hinted in pre-season testing that 2021 could be their season, or at least one in which they could be genuine challengers to Mercedes.
So far Verstappen has done just that.
Quickest in FP1 and FP2, he followed that up with a 1:30.577 in final practice at the Sakhir circuit, beating Hamilton by 0.739s.
Pierre Gasly, in the Honda powered AlphaTauri, was third.
Max pounces 🦁
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 27, 2021
With the sun blazing down on the Sakhir circuit, and the track temperature up to 48’C, being quick in FP3 doesn’t count for much, nor could much be learnt.
That meant only one driver even bothered leaving the pits in the first 10 minutes. That was Yuki Tsunoda who did so to check that his AT02 was okay after AlphaTauri’s overnight work. The team broke curfew on Friday night after seeing something on his car that they “didn’t feel right about”.
Bottas, who on Friday night declared that his W12 was “undriveable” at times, was the first driver to start laying down lap times. His first was a 2:17.9 as he ran wide at Turn 1 and his second, a 1:33.4, was deleted for running wide at Turn 4. He would go onto have two additional lap times deleted for Turn 4 track infringements.
Bottas wasn’t the only driver struggling with Charles Leclerc getting it wrong at Turn 1 before dropping in at Turn 2 on his next lap. “The grip is incredibly low, I’m struggling a lot with the car,” he told Ferrari.
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 27, 2021
Nikita Mazepin also brought out the yellow flags as he spun down at Turn 7 in the Haas while Sebastian Vettel experienced a hairy moment as something came off his Aston Martin and hit him in the helmet.
“Box box something came off,” he told the team. “Something from the front left corner and hit me in the face.”
— Sebastian Vettel #5 (@sebvettelnews) March 27, 2021
At the top of the timesheets, Hamilton set the early pace with a 1:32.9 on the soft tyres but that was beaten by Verstappen, a 1:32.6 on the hard Pirellis.
Gasly briefly got involved in the battle for P1, going top with a 1:32.3 on the soft tyres.
However, as the track temperature began to cool, dropping to 43’C, Hamilton laid down a 1:31.3 on a soft tyres to go quickest, Bottas up to second.
Verstappen, out on a set of soft tyres and having put in an extremely slow out-lap, responded with purples in the first, second and third sectors to cross the line with a 1:30.577.
That put him 0.739s up on Hamilton with Gasly third ahead of Bottas, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz.
Vettel was P14 for Aston Martin with Fernando Alonso 15th for Alpine.
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:30.577 10 laps
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.739s 14 laps
3 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1.006s 13 laps
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1.278s 16 laps
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1.331s 11 laps
6 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1.531s 16 laps medium tyres
7 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1.647s 13 laps
8 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1.846s 11 laps
9 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1.854s 13 laps
10 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1.900s 10 laps
11 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1.905s 17 laps medium tyres
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1.923s 11 laps
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 2.132s 13 laps
14 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 2.178s 14 laps
15 Fernando Alonso Alpine 2.243s 15 laps
16 Lando Norris McLaren 2.283s 10 laps
17 George Russell Williams 2.746s 14 laps
18 Mick Schumacher Haas 2.845s 13 laps
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas 3.045s 14 laps
20 Nicholas Latifi Williams 3.382s 16 laps