Rivals question Red Bull’s ‘sandbag’ count after unexpected practice result

Michelle Foster
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in action in Bahrain.

Will the sandbags come off the Red Bull in qualifying?

Oscar Piastri believes it’s only a question of “how many sandbags come off” the Red Bull in qualifying after Max Verstappen’s P6 in Bahrain practice.

The 2024 Formula 1 season got underway at the Sakhir circuit on Thursday with the season’s opening two practice sessions.

But while an irrelevant FP1 ended with RB driver Daniel Ricciardo on top of the timesheet, FP2’s result was a bit surprising with Lewis Hamilton topping a Mercedes 1-2 ahead of Fernando Alonso.

‘We’ll see how many sandbags come off tomorrow’

As for Max Verstappen, the driver many believed would blitz the competition as he did last year with some predicting his advantage this season could be even bigger, he was down in sixth place.

The Red Bull driver was 0.477s off the pace, also lining up behind Carlos Sainz and Piastri. The latter doesn’t believe that will continue for much longer.

“Red Bull don’t look quite as quick as we thought, [but] we’ll see how many sandbags come off tomorrow,” Piastri told the official F1 website.

“It’s a lot closer than I expected. Mercedes looked quick, Fernando looked quick. It’s always a bit hard to judge on a Friday, but I think we’re sort of around the points.

“With the teams we’re around, being near the podium or near 10th is very much a possibility, so hopefully we can stay near the front of that mix.”

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His team-mate Lando Norris agrees, saying: “It’s clear that Red Bull are still towards the top and Ferrari are close, Mercedes is always a question mark, they were never going to be bad.”

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who topped FP2 with a 1:30.374 to edge his team-mate George Russell by two-tenths, also believes it’s only a matter of time before Verstappen puts his foot flat.

“I think if Max is in the front he will veer off as he has done for the last couple of years,” said the Briton.

He, however, reckons Mercedes will “be in the mix”, adding: “I think we’re there or thereabouts with Ferrari and maybe Aston and McLaren.

“I don’t know exactly where we lie with those guys, but we’re around those so it’s going to be close. A nice battle with us.”

As for Verstappen, the reigning World Champion wasn’t at all worried by Thursday’s timesheet as some rivals may have turned up their engines.

“I think it was not too bad,” Verstappen told Sky F1. “I think it’s very close, maybe some people around us already turned up the engine a bit in terms of top speed.

“I mean, I don’t say everyone around us did that [turned up the engines], but a few did. So I’m not too worried about the gap to P1 for example.

“But it’s going to be very close I think in qualifying, so that’s going to be very nice and then the long run I was a bit happier about that, but again also there are a few little things that we can do better.”

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