Max Verstappen FP2 result offers hope but beware the Red Bull sandbagging

Sam Cooper
Max Verstappen driving the Red Bull RB20 during Bahrain FP2.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

Taken without context, Max Verstappen’s P6 and Sergio Perez’s P10 suggest that Red Bull may not start 2024 in the all-conquering form they finish 2023 in.

FP2 was the first session in what were more similar race conditions than the bright and blustery FP1 and when the chequered flag was waved, there was a flicker of hope that we could be in for a more competitive year.

It was a one-two but instead of the charging bull at the top, it was the three-pointed star of Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton’s effort was almost half a second quicker than Verstappen’s and two tenths ahead of George Russell, suggesting that this revamped W15 may be a little quicker than its predecessor.

Even behind those two, it was Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz and Oscar Piastri, creating a top five of four different teams.

But for as much optimism as this may have brought the neutral fan, the prospect of Red Bull still being the dominant force is not out of the question.

Let us look back over the years and a trend does develop. In the past six editions of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the driver that has topped FP2 has only won the race on one occasion and that comes with the caveat of it being the COVID-hit 2020 season and Bahrain being much further down the calendar.

Last year, it was Alonso who topped the times but he would go on to finish 38.637 seconds behind Verstappen.

The point we are trying to make is that while other teams may have felt more inclined to turn the engines up for this quali simulation, Red Bull look like they were not fazed at all.

Everyone knows the RB20 is not the fifth best car on the grid but of the five timed events this year, a Red Bull driver has topped the leaderboard on just one occasion.

Sandbagging is a term frequently used in the F1 paddock and especially during Mercedes’ dominant year and logic would suggest that Red Bull too are keeping their cards very close to their chest.

With FP3 back in the desert sunshine, it is likely we will now not see just how competitive the RB20 is until Q3 – but anyone writing the team’s obituary just yet may find themselves eating a fair slice of humble pie come the final lap of quali.

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Alpine’s poor start and McLaren better than expected

Away from Red Bull, there were some lessons to be learned.

For a start, Alpine may be just as bad as everyone was predicting. Pierre Gasly was the better of the two drivers but a P16 is hardly anything to write home about.

Meanwhile, Esteban Ocon was down in 18th, over a second and a half slower than Hamilton.

Their position could also have been a lot worse considering Lando Norris made a mistake that sent him to P20, an error he is unlikely to repeat in qualifying.

On the subject of McLaren, their pace looked better than some were predicting before the race with Zak Brown hoping Piastri’s P5 will be more representative of their competitiveness in Bahrain.

RB may have topped the times in FP1 but neither driver cracked the top 10 in FP2 while Williams showed a bit of pace with Alex Albon in 11th and Logan Sargeant in 13th.

Nico Hulkenberg again showed his skill at extracting the most from one lap as he finished P7 while both Stake drivers were low down the order.

Read next: Bahrain Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton heads Mercedes FP2 1-2 as Max Verstappen down in P6