Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

Verstappen quickest for Red Bull as sandstorm hits Bahrain test

2021 F1 season

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Max Verstappen set the fastest time on the first day of pre-season testing, covering more than two race distances at Bahrain International Circuit.

The Red Bull driver ended the day two-tenths of a second quicker than Lando Norris’s Mercedes-powered McLaren. Esteban Ocon was third for Alpine, and Lance Stroll over a second behind in fourth place.

The afternoon session was disrupted by a sandstorm which discouraged teams from running immediately after the lunch break. While Ocon and rookies Nikita Mazepin and Yuki Tsunoda went out relatively early, most drivers and teams waited for conditions to improve as cars sent up huge rooster tails of sand behind them.

Although visibility remained poor throughout the session and the track was still covered in sand as darkness fell and the floodlights were switched on in Sakhir, every driver did come out and covered a useful amount of mileage.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Mercedes had a messy start to testing
Lewis Hamilton went some way towards recovering Mercedes’ running deficit after a gearbox change kept Valtteri Bottas off-track during the morning session. However he looked uncomfortable in the W12 and spent most of the four hours this afternoon running outside the top 10 times.

The world champion asked for different pedals to be fitted to his car and was seen fighting it at times through the corners. Towards the end of the session he still seemed to be struggling, with a lock-up followed by a substantial off at turn 10 during his final running.

Verstappen set a quick time early on, despite very poor conditions soon after the session resumed. He never lost his place at the top, while first Norris and later Ocon took the second-fastest times.

Unlike the morning session and despite of spins for both Mazepin and new Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jnr, there were no red flag disruptions. Limited running for Yuki Tsunoda, compared to Pierre Gasly this morning, suggested all was not quite well at AlphaTauri

A virtual safety car neutralised the session in the final four minutes, leading to no further lap time development.

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2021 Bahrain test day one lap times

Pos.Car numberDriverTeamModelBest timeGapLapsTyres
133Max VerstappenRed BullRB16B1’30.674139C3
24Lando NorrisMcLarenMCL35M1’30.8890.21546C3
331Esteban OconAlpineA5211’31.1460.472129C4
418Lance StrollAston MartinAMR211’31.7821.10846P
555Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF211’31.9191.24557C3
699Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoC411’31.9451.27168C3
73Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMCL35M1’32.2031.52945C2
810Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriAT021’32.2311.55774C3
922Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriAT021’32.7272.05337C2
1044Lewis HamiltonMercedesW121’32.9122.23842C2
1116Charles LeclercFerrariSF211’33.2422.56859C3
127Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoC411’33.3202.64663C3
135Sebastian VettelAston MartinAMR211’33.7423.06851P
1445Roy NissanyWilliamsFW43B1’34.7894.11583C3
159Nikita MazepinHaasVF-211’34.7984.12470C3
1647Mick SchumacherHaasVF-211’36.1275.45315C2
1777Valtteri BottasMercedesW121’36.8506.1766C2

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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35 comments on “Verstappen quickest for Red Bull as sandstorm hits Bahrain test”

  1. Maybe for once Red Bull can start this season well, without having to improve on their car constantly to catch-up to Mercedes.

    1. @petterson fingers crossed

  2. Maybe it wasn’t a sandstorm. Maybe Mercedes brought too many sandbags and some broke out.

    1. Comment of the day, week and, probably, month.

    2. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      12th March 2021, 19:01

      Nailed it

    3. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

    4. Nice one :))
      I hope they keep few san bags on board for few initial races, before their “sudden” come back. That would get many people excited and hopeful

    5. Broke out to the sound of Darude.

      1. Ahah, so true.

  3. Yes of course it’s just testing, but as a fan it is always a lot nicer to see your man/team at the top than not. What will we in our armchairs learn from this so far? Very little other than they managed a ton of laps, both RBR and AT, so that bodes well for reliability (depending of course on the amount they were stressing the pu/gearbox), which of course always bodes well for them gathering vital data.

    Nice to see Mercedes struggle for a change, but of course that is said acknowledging that may very well change tomorrow or the next day, and for Bahrain. They are after all the reigning benchmark and that needs to be respected until someone shows otherwise.

    1. Indeed, nice to see mercedes struggle is the key point!

  4. Just realized F1TV was sending live the whole practice. So enjoyable. Even Brundle was on.

    1. I agree, it was surprisingly good to have running in the background @balue.

    2. Not sure if you had the same experience but there was some troublesome sound several times. doubling the voices
      Echos or very low volume interviews..

    3. @balue It was, and Brundle was not grumpy at all.
      And Croft didn’t made me contemplate turning off commentary, Buxton was more cringy.

  5. The article mentions the circuit lights being turned on. Do these practice sessions happen at night as well? If so, I could see how that creates data comparison issues as you always hear the commentators talk about non representative conditions during P1/3 at places like Bahrain & Singapore

    1. @Jim The running ends at 19:00 (local time) each day, and sunset time today was 17:45, 17:45 tomorrow, and 17:46 on Sunday, so yes, floodlit running happens in this test.
      Singapore is a different case from the Gulf region as the ambient temp stays relatively stable throughout the day, unlike Bahrain and Abu Dhabi in the afternoon versus evening. Last year was an exception, but usually.

  6. Hooray, the first time Mercedes on the bottom of accumulated mileage list, perhaps their domination would be ended this year, lol.

    1. I hope so too, but don’t hold your breath lol. It is very early!

  7. Here we go again. Like clockwork. Every pre season.

    Mercedes trundling around in the middle of the time sheets and the car looking a bit tricky, Getting everyones hopes up that we might have some competition on our hands.

    Only for them to rock up at the first race with a few add ons that transforms the car to one that looks on rails, turn everything up and be over half a second a lap faster than anything else.

    1. Yes, except this time they are at the bottom of the lap count and their car looked terrible on track!

      1. That’s exactly what was said in 2019 and look how that ended.

  8. I never pay any attention to these times, I mean Alfa Romeo were top on one of the test days last year and we all know how 2020 went for them! I’m sure Merc will still be the team to beat come qualifying in a couple of weeks time.

    1. I agree, headline-times don’t mean anything in testing, but that wasn’t Mercedes’ problem today.
      Their poor mileage along with the car looking to lack grip compared to other cars (not just the Red Bull) is very unusual for Mercedes. Although they’ve rarely headed the timing sheets in the past few years at testing, they always tried to put in as much laps as possible and their car was very reliable. So far that hasn’t been the case (still very early to tell, I know).
      The long runs offer a much better comparison and even there it didn’t look too good for Mercedes. Verstappen, Hamilton and Sainz did a comparable long run in the afternoon (in terms of stint length, obviously we don’t know fuel loads and engine modes), where they ran without DRS and set several laps in a row. While Verstappen lapped consistently in the in the 1:34s (on C3 tyres), Hamilton only managed 1:35s and 1:36s (on C2 tyres) and even Sainz (also C3s) lapped quicker than Hamilton and pretty quickly closed the gap to the Mercedes.

      Usually I’d say that’s just Mercedes sandbagging, but I’m not so sure about that anymore. Red Bull looked very quick and reliable today, it definitely won’t be as easy for Mercedes to beat them as was the case in the last couple of years.

  9. I can hardly believe my observation… But is Mercedes struggling?

  10. Looks like they left Russell’s pedals in the car :)

  11. I see the new seat and peddle set up was Hamilton’s idea. It seemed to work back at the factory, but before the first lap was out he realised it was a mistake.

  12. I’m happy about McLaren. Considering the engine supply change, they were immediately up to speed and kept the pace Max had at all times – all the while having no issues, at least no significant ones we would know of. An exceptional first day.

  13. The only thing I’m taking from the lap times is that McLaren looks to have transitioned without a problem to Mercedes power.

    1. To be fair, that is the only thing we can take from all of this. Hilaric how these track side reporters can turn it into anything more

  14. That’s how you do, verstappen! Although don’t count mercedes out.

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